It’s incredibly tough to launch a new live-service game. In 2023 we’ve already seen a bunch shut down for good, including Rumbleverse, CrossFireX and Knockout City. But at least they all got their shot in the limelight – Hyenas, the hero shooter from Creative Assembly, was canceled by publisher Sega last week, after years in development. It never even made it to open beta, let alone a full launch.
As someone who plays a lot of competitive shooters, Hyenas didn’t really grab my attention that much. I know friends who played the closed beta and had good things to say about it, but I didn’t really like the idea of fighting in zero G. I played Splitgate a fair bit when that came out, and that too had unique ways to get around by creating portals that allowed you to sneak around the back of the enemy. But I found it incredibly tricky to take advantage of, especially in the middle of a firefight when there wasn’t time to plan a clever move. Rather than it being a unique feature that attracted a different audience, it became a barrier to entry for new players. And that’s exactly how I felt when they showed off Hyena’s zero G gameplay for the first time.
It’s an incredibly difficult balance to get right – a new live-service game has to offer something unique to get the audience interested, but if it’s too far removed from what they’re used to it could have the opposite effect. Fortnite is pretty much the only shooter I know that’s really succeeded in delivering an unusual game mechanic and survived – not just survived, thrived – in the live-service space. Of course, Fortnite’s building mechanic has been made fun of a lot but you cannot deny that it adds another dimension to the shooter experience and Fortnite has gone on to be one of the most-played shooters around.
Crucially though, you don’t have to build in Fortnite to have fun – it’s secondary, as are the challenges and ongoing storylines, and it’s the game’s sharp gunplay that keeps players returning. Furthermore, there’s no better feeling than getting a battle royale victory, so much so it’s the reason why you jump back into the lobby to do it all again. That sense of reward and satisfaction is something I still get a kick out of, even after hundreds of hours playing Apex Legends. It makes you feel a tier above the rest for surviving in a battleground of 60 others, and winning a match feels like a real achievement.
For a shooter to survive in the current climate everything needs to be exactly right. Characters and abilities need to be perfectly balanced, not just at launch but continuously throughout its lifecycle, and the gunplay needs to be consistently awesome. If anything is not quite right, the audience won’t stick around.
Hyper Scape, Ubisoft’s battle royale that launched in 2020, struggled in part because its time to kill (TTK) didn’t match the pace of the gameplay. Its TTK was way too slow and its weapons uninspired, so the matches dragged on. Unsurprisingly its servers shut down less than two years after launch. Call of Duty: Vanguard had the opposite problem, where its TTK was extremely high, so if you were not the first person to get a shot in, you’d be immediately killed. It’s examples like these that show how the fine mechanical details of a shooter are vital to its potential lifespan.
I’m sad Hyenas didn’t make it to release because at least then it would’ve been up to the public as to whether it lived or died, rather than a bunch of execs sat in a boardroom. But the truth is it costs hundreds of thousands to keep a live service game running, in addition to the cost of actually making it in the first place, and the stakes have never been higher. As someone who spends a lot of time playing Apex Legends and a bunch of other shooters, I definitely think there’s room for something new – but it has to be truly special for it to pull me away from the games I already cherish so dearly. While we’ll never truly know if Hyenas had what it takes to survive in such a brutal genre, I’m pleased there are developers out there who are still willing to try something different.