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When it launched in mid-2022, the MultiVersus open beta was the talk of the town. It was around this time last year, however, that the wheels started to fall off.
After an extremely strong release in July 2022, the free-to-play fighting game hit a peak of more than 143,000 players on Steam on day one, rising up to 153,433 the following day.
Within two months, Warner Bros was proudly stating that over 20 million players had already downloaded and played the game across all formats, suggesting a strong player base on which to build.
On paper, it’s clear to see why. A free-to-play crossover fighting game in the style of Super Smash Bros, with Warner Bros characters covering the gamut of IPs from animated classics like Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo and Tom & Jerry, to modern animations like Steven Universe and Adventure Time, to even DC superheroes and live-action shows like Game of Thrones? The possibilities for continued growth were clear.
It appeared that these possibilities were being well supported with new content too. Over the course of its first three-month season, the roster grew from 17 to 22, with new additions including two characters from Rick and Morty, two from Gremlins and a new DC character in Black Adam.
Eyebrows were raised at the game’s monetisation system, which saw its better skins (some of which even had new voice acting) locked off at prices of up to $15 each, but the free-to-play nature meant some benefit of the doubt was given.
The addition of a timed Halloween event, in which players had to play over 780 matches in a month to unlock everything (or ‘only’ around 400 if they bought a premium skin to accelerate it), caused even more unease.
Then Season 2 launched in November 2022 and things started going downhill rather quickly. More paid skins arrived, along with a full in-game store with even more things to buy. The amount of XP required to clear the Battle Pass was doubled, too, in the name of making it “feel both engaging and rewarding”.
A week into Season 2 the game’s 23rd character, Marvin the Martian, was added on November 21. And then… nothing. For the next three months, there were no new characters, just a lengthy Battle Pass which took twice as long to grind. It appeared as though the game’s content roadmap had already run out of steam.
The start of Season 3 was kicked further down the road, with developer Player First Games claiming it wanted to give players more time to complete the Battle Pass. Meanwhile, a drastic plunge in daily players saw the peak player count on Steam dropping by more than 99% in seven months.
It was a disastrous result for a live service game that needs to maintain a regular player base, and while free-to-play rival Brawlhalla continued to regularly enjoy healthy concurrents despite having been released nearly six years earlier (hitting 21,000 in January 2023, for example), MultiVersus was dropping to fewer than 900, a far cry from the six-figure counts it was hitting at launch.
“After enjoying possibly the most successful launch of any fighting game ever, it now faces a very different situation. It can no longer rely on another explosive start, not when so many of its regular players will now be approaching it with a ‘fool me once’ mindset.”
Eventually, it was announced that there would be no Season 3, and that the game would be taken offline in June 2023 to “prepare for the launch of MultiVersus, which we are targeting for early 2024”.
Although MultiVersus had always been called an ‘Open Beta’ since launch, the fact that it was packed with premium content – not to mention three Founder’s Packs costing between $40 and $100 – and that it started with Season 1 then moved onto Season 2, gave the impression that Warner Bros and Player First Games were going to just transition it to a ‘final’ version at some point.
Instead, it’s now been offline for half a year, with no refunds given to those who forked out for the Founder’s Packs, or for those who decided the premium skins were worth it and paid $15 for a Gold Superman, or $20 for a Samurai Batman.
It’s not an enormous stretch, then, to say that MultiVersus has a lot to do when it returns. After enjoying possibly the most successful launch of any fighting game ever with 20 million players in its first two months, it now faces a very different situation. It can no longer rely on another explosive start, not when so many of its regular players will now be approaching it with a “fool me once” mindset.
There’s still so much potential for the game. While it was still online, regular leaks and datamines found references to a bunch of new characters, including the likes of the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, Beetlejuice, Johnny Bravo, the Flintstones, the Powerpuff Girls, the Animaniacs, Daffy Duck, Scorpion from Mortal Kombat and even Ted Lasso.
There’s also now evidence from other crossover games that this can work if the roadmap is followed properly. Disney Speedstorm – which is basically MultiVersus but with karting and Disney characters – launched in ‘early access’ in April with 18 characters, transitioned seamlessly to free-to-play in September and is now on its fifth season with 45 characters available.
There’s obviously the argument to be made that a fighting game is different from a karting game in that adding a new character can completely upend the balance (even though Speedstorm has had its own issues in that regard). But when you release a fighting game whose central gimmick is that new characters are going to be coming on a regular basis, it should be taken as read that each new fighter will create some teething problems until the community finds out their strengths and weaknesses and they’re nerfed or buffed accordingly.
At VGC, we want to see MultiVersus reach the level it initially promised it would reach. This writer in particular was a daily MultiVersus player and championed the game where possible. We hope this downtime has been spent preparing properly for the game’s relaunch, and that the same mistakes won’t be made again.
“We know there’s still a lot of work to do,” Player First Games co-founder and game director Tony Huynh said when it was announced the game was going offline. “As a result, we have a clearer view of what we need to focus on, specifically the content cadence of new characters, maps and modes to give you more ways to enjoy the game, along with updated netcode and more matchmaking improvements.”
If this time has been spent working on all those issues, along with the promised reworking of the game’s progression system, then MultiVersus might just pull off a brilliant comeback when it returns for Round 2. Based on the initial excitement and potential it offered when it first appeared, it’s certainly a comeback that’s worth fighting for.