Working in games media, I see a lot of titles fall flat at launch. Sometimes an overly-niche idea is to blame, which can’t attract enough players. At other times, it can be poor marketing, with players simply not knowing that the game even exists. It can also come down to the developer and how they are perceived by the gaming community. The Culling 2 is the latest game to fall spectacularly on its face, and could well be considered as having the worst video game launch of all time!
Despite jumping aboard the battle royale hype train, which you might think would guarantee some form of success, The Culling 2’s high price tag and detachment from the original game’s strengths led to its early demise just weeks after it launched in July. The poor timing of the release date also pitted the title against Fortnite, which was launching its fifth season of content, which stole away any remaining attention. It was seriously bad planning.
Those tasked with reviewing The Culling 2 had an exceptionally tricky time. Despite game lobbies being able to hold up to 50 players — a number which was already half of what the battle royale kings, Fortnite and PUBG, were capable of supporting — matches often started with less than 10 people. There simply weren’t enough players matchmaking at the same time to fill those 50 slots. The game would begin after a certain number of minutes, regardless of how full the lobby was. Rounds with a single-digit number of players were common, dropping players down onto a massive island with very few enemy combatants to face. This essentially turned the game into a running simulator for the bulk of the match. You’d occasionally find a player, fight it out in an awkward and laggy fashion, and then go right back to being lonely again.
The gameplay wasn’t just awkward and laggy, either. It was also carried out from a third-person view, going in a completely different direction to what the original game had succeeded with. To me, it’s clear that Xaviant Games were looking at PUBG and Fortnite’s third-person modes, believed that the new game would attract more players if it looked similar, and decided to go with that.
The Culling 2 was a sequel in name only, and this greatly disappointed fans of the original. After the developers had finished changing and adapting the original to the point where it was unrecognizable from the launch build, the devs then moved on to the “sequel.” The remaining players hoped for a fresh start and new foundation to build upon. Of course, that didn’t happen, which left a very bitter taste in the mouths of the small, yet dedicated and passionate, playerbase.
Before it had even launched, The Culling 2 was hit with negative comments and feedback on Steam, Reddit, and YouTube. And while it’s often said that even bad press is still press, holding some kind of promotional value, curious players were met with a steep entry fee. The game was priced at $20, immediately putting it at a severe disadvantage.
I’m not saying that battle royale experiences must be free — though many of them are — I’m just trying to highlight the fact that, if you really want to make a paid-for battle royale game work at this time, you need to have a unique selling point. Your game needs to have something that no other battle royale title out there already has. With The Culling, that used to be a game show theme, where players were fighting to be the most entertaining. This was basically dropped for the sequel, and all originality was lost.
I honestly don’t know who the target audience for this game was. Was there any chance of players dropping $20 on a game that was entering an already crowded market, without doing anything unique, and with no attempt to bring in existing fans? I can only imagine the pressure felt on the team during development, as I’ve no doubt they knew just how bad the game was shaping up, and how it would be received.
Thankfully, for us gamers at least, this tragic tale has a happy ending. Xaviant Games is finally going to give the original game the attention it deserved all along, moving the title back to its 2016 build and starting again. The developers have promised to work more closely with the community, to make something that the players actually want. While this can only go on for so long, as the game isn’t massively popular, and the developer only has limited resources, it’s good to see Xaviant Games try to fix its mistakes.
The Culling 2 is an example of what not to do when launching a game. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and now the game’s head is sat on a pike outside of Game Development Hell’s gates, as a warning to all those who might make the same mistakes.
Unfortunately, just a few of weeks following the controversy, the original game has reverted back to having only a handful of people online. At time of writing, The Culling: Day 1 Reference has two people playing, with a 24-hour peak of seven (via SteamDB). The Culling fairs a little better with 11 players currently in-game, and with a 24-hour peak of 15 (via SteamCharts). Even with the media spotlight shining brightly overhead, The Culling has lost most of its popularity. Despite the support promised by the developers, gamers just don’t seem to care anymore. It’s a shame, but not exactly a surprise.