Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodhunt may be a game about the undead, but developer Sharkmob doesn’t want a tombstone in the battle royale graveyard.
Developer Sharkmob doesn’t want Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodhunt to get its own gravestone in the battle royale graveyard – even if the game is about the undead. That’s why it completely revamps Bloodhunt’s live service model, introducing a Team Deathmatch game mode to help new players woo and, above all, respond to player feedback. This is all in an effort to ensure the game has lasting potential – especially since it took five years of development time to get it into the hands of PC and PS5 gamers. In a hyper-saturated Battle Royale genre, Sharkmob knows that Bloodhunt must evolve to stay alive.
More cookie cutters
Bloodhunt’s major update, due out on July 14, is based entirely on three months of player feedback and development experience. Product Manager David Sirland tells me that Sharkmob realized the “cookie cutter” live service approach of a 12-week, 100-rank battle pass wasn’t the right fit. for the team – and not for the reason you might think. Rather than the live-service model causing unnecessary crisis, Sirland says it was quite the opposite.
“[The cookie-cutter approach] doesn’t really suit our team and the way we want to work. We need to revamp that…with that comes separating gameplay updates from content. When you do a 12-week season, it’s a massive package that has it all. But if something fails, everything is also delayed,” he explains. “We realized that the turnaround time if we missed the seasonal update with a major hotfix was over 12 weeks, basically. That’s not really enough.” Instead, Sharkmob wants to have faster reaction times for necessary bug fixes that will help build a “happy and hopefully growing” player base, according to Sirland.
That’s why Bloodhunt is dropping a Season 2 in favor of its upcoming “Summer Update”, which will include an all-new discounted Battle Pass ($5.99 down from $9.99), an 8v8 Team mode Deathmatch and several quality of life updates. The update will also segregate players more based on skill when matchmaking (although not to the point of increasing wait times) to hopefully prevent new players from getting beat up by vets. And there are some major gameplay updates coming, including a controller settings overhaul and fixes for what Sharkmob calls “hydra” bugs like the persistent reload bug. “Reload bugs, should I say, because there are really 12 of them,” admits Sirland. “We cut a head that was recorded in that first pre-launch test, and then we had the real problem.”
With Sharkmob initially following a seasonal cadence of 12 weeks for any sort of major updates, bugs have lingered longer than developers and players would like. “We actually had several times where we had a patch ready or a feature ready or a new thing done, but there was an outfit that was delayed for seasonal release, so everything was delayed. multiple times. So we want to decouple that,” says Sirland.
Small and fast
According to Sharkmob, Bloodhunt has had over six million installs since its release in April. It’s unclear how high his retention is, though we can assume it might not be as high as the studio would like given the changes on the horizon. But the game’s dedicated playerbase is active and passionate both in-game and on the Reddit Blood Hunt (opens in a new tab) and Discord (opens in a new tab)reporting bugs in a dedicated channel and giving detailed feedback for Season 1 (which includes frequent references to the Hydra reload bug).
I ask if the team has found live service player requests a little overwhelming, but communications director Martin Hultberg sees it a little differently. “I think it’s fair enough that live game players are demanding, that’s kind of the point, right? Because you have a closer relationship with the developer, and that’s what we’ve wanted since the beginning,” he said. “We said early on that we view the live phase as the second stage of development, where we take a base platform and then evolve and change it with whoever ends up playing it. I think going from a season from 12 weeks to a shorter season, faster updates are certainly a reflection of what the community wants and needs right now.If the community needs change, and if the way she plays the game changes so you should react to that so they should be demanding in that sense because who guides us and helps us to make a better game as long as they are polite about that they can demand that that they want.
Both Hultberg and Sirland come from big AAA developers (Ubisoft and DICE, respectively), and they recognize that there are certain advantages given to these well-established studios when it comes to working on live games. “I think one of the biggest benefits and also the biggest challenges is that we’re a new studio, we don’t have a lot of baggage in terms of process and legacy,” Hultberg tells me. “But you have to relate to everything that’s going on in this business and how things are working and what other products are doing and how you’re setting up your online strategy and whatever. And to some extent I think that it makes you less flexible in some areas.While we – I think it’s wrong to say we can do whatever we want, we can’t – but we have a lot of room to decide how we want to work with the live service games.
I point to examples of major studios still working to implement a successful live-service model after a game’s launch, such as 343 Industries and its struggle with Halo Infinite’s cadence. “If you can’t be big and strong, you have to be small and fast,” says Hultberg. “But if there was a simple formula for that, everybody would be hitting home runs all the time. So there’s a certain degree of luck, there’s a certain degree of skill, and then there’s a certain degree of, as we say in Swedish, ‘jävlar anamma’ which simply means to be stubborn.”
Sharkmob’s anamma jävlar and flexibility helps create a live service model that can be applied to the other two, and as yet unannounced, live service games it is currently working on. Whatever the devs working on Bloodhunt learn from release cadences, bug fixes, and player feedback, they share with other games’ teams, Hultberg assures me. Think of it as a live science experiment, with results that will define the future of the studio.
In the immediate future, the team hopes that more frequent updates will invigorate both players and developers. “That monthly update rate is super addictive, and it’s super creative, it’s so much fun. It’s the most fun game I’ve ever had in a game,” says Sirland. “When you have a stable game and you have an audience doing things they like and you can figure out what they like next, you can also try things. You can hit a wall. And that is good because you have 10 other things happen.” Hultberg chimes in, saying, “It goes both ways. It’s one thing when we engage with the community, but we have to wait 12 weeks for them to see the changes, but if they can see the changes on a monthly basis, they know what they are talking about is actually being heard.”
The team’s flexibility and respect for its playerbase doesn’t necessarily mean Bloodhunt will end up being a wildly successful battle royale with a lifecycle that stretches years into the future – but they hope it will. case. “We obviously want it – it’s our baby, our first game, it’s very important to us – we want it to succeed. And I think the best way to make it successful is to be very flexible and to determine who wants to play our game,” says Sirland. In the battle for battle royale supremacy, it will be interesting to see how a new studio willing to contort itself into new forms will fare.
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