Bloodhunt, Battle Royals, and Onboarding

I want to talk a bit about Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodhunt.

Let’s put aside for now the fact that this game tries to take Vampire: The Masquerade, a deeply dramatic, gothic horror RPG that deals much more with social interactions and tries to make it about vampires shooting other vampires with exploding crossbow bolts. What I want to talk about is onboarding.

Battle Royale focused games are very popular right now. Such games are always on the top spots of Twitch’s most popular directory. The problem is usually with the new ones. Every once in a while, a new one comes out and very few of them actually penetrate and even fewer dethrone the big players, even if just a little bit. And I think it’s rarely about the theme, even more rarely about the mechanics. I think it’s mostly about the onboarding.

What do I mean by onboarding? For those not fluent with the lingo, onboarding is “the action or process of […] familiarizing a new customer or client with one’s products or services.” In more plain language, a game’s onboarding is the experience a new player gets when they install and run the game for the first time. It’s the main menu, it’s the tutorial, it’s the first 10 minutes to the first few hours of the game. If you’re a known popular developer, you usually get the latter but, if not, you get the former as the time you have to convince players to actually play your game.

This is especially important when the game is free to play. This makes your game easy to get into but also easy to leave. If it’s premium game and you got a player bought in, they already paid money for it, no matter how they got there, and so they will be determined, at first, to get their money’s worth. But, with Fortnite leading the pack, it’s hard to get people invested in a premium BR.

Which is all to say that onboarding is important. That’s the general sentiment. What is it specifically about Battle Royales? I’m getting to it now.

Let’s say you’re a game studio developing a new Battle Royale. You’re getting into a red ocean market, a market that is big and wide but also saturated with a lot of other players in the space. Competition will be hard. So, who is your target audience? Most likely players of other Battle Royales or similar games. While it is often the case that a player will pick the BR they like and stick to it, it is not unlikely that players might like several of them for different reasons at the same time or try a new one to see if they should switch. That is where you should fit in. You should entice them with new mechanics, a new interesting theme, or doing the same thing significantly better with better quality of life. That’s your hard battle.

But your customer-base is also other players of the same genre, and even random players who might want to pick up a new, cool-looking free game. So, your job might also be: How do I convince a random person to play my game? That’s where I come in. I’m not really into BRs but if a new game comes out that is good-looking, based on a known franchise, or just exciting to get into, I’ll definitely try it.

And you need to think about those people because, in a red ocean, it’s usually easier to make the playground bigger than try to steal what space is already occupied. That’s why I mentioned Bloodhunt. That game looks like it tried to meld the known tropes floating in the genre right now, lean more into the verticality seen in Hyper Scape and use The Masquerade’s vampire classes as sort of hero templates, but except using blood feeding as a boost or an upgrade, which isn’t a lot, this game did nothing new that I could see. I also think it was a great misstep to use V:TM as the theme because it’s about as different as you can be from a casual deathmatch; On top of regular ludo-narrative dissonance, this generates more narrative-narrative dissonance.

My guess is that they tried to pull in fans of the theme, gothic lovers, and general White Wolf enthusiasts (White Wolf being the owners of the V:TM franchise) but this game feels like a slap in the face to the reason why those same people enjoy White Wolf products in the first place. As a tabletop RPG, Vampire is one of the big differentiators from the pillar of the hobby, Dungeons & Dragons. In D&D you, basically, kill monsters to get gold and loot so you can get better at killing monsters, etc. but Vampire is the kind of game that says, ‘If you want less murder-hoboing and more deep, dark roleplaying, we’ve got you covered’. You can probably make a BR based on the D&D franchise but Vampire? It doesn’t jive.

In the end, this game feels like an afterthought of design with no real effort put into it, thematically and mechanically, except making it a good looking BR. And that, my friends, is not enough today.

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