It's been a long five years and a half years for Turtle Rock Studios. The developer perhaps most famous for its darling Left 4 Dead franchise soon became infamous as the people behind the caustic asymmetrical multiplayer shooter Evolve.
A little more than 2 years after Evolve first hit the spotlight it a big way, Turtle Rock Studios has announced that they will no longer be supporting the game. Amid all the knee-jerk reactions, both positive and negative, you have to stop and think: how did we get here?
An Inauspicious Beginning
Strangely enough, the public's knowledge of Evolve's existence started with a bankruptcy. Then under the now-defunct brand THQ, Evolve was predicted to sell 4 million copies. Once THQ filed for bankruptcy in late 2012, the legal documents from which were publicly available, they had to claim the games currently in development. One of them was Evolve from Turtle Rock Studios.
Immediately after that, all of THQ's properties were auctioned off to the highest bidder. One of the bidders for Evolve was, in fact, Turtle Rock Studios themselves, bidding $250,000, an impressive sum for a then-independent game studio, even with the pedigree of Left 4 Dead. In a headline that wrote itself: Turtle Rock was outbid for its own game, with Take-Two interactive furnishing a whopping $11 million bid, an offer THQ obviously couldn't refuse.
It appears that all but one of the titles sold in the THQ bankruptcy either have or will be developed, with the exception of a game called Atlas. Evolve was lucky enough – or unlucky enough, depending on your perspective – to be picked up by a major studio and given the reigns to produce a large product.
The Underdog of E3
Despite picking up some headlines here and there, including a front page of Game Informer, Evolve stood for almost 2 years as an unknown commodity. That all changed at E3 2014. Evolve came into the expo competing for every ray of limelight, reaching its head over the shoulders of heavy hitters like Batman: Arkham Knight and Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor.
But despite the competition, Evolve took home four Game Critics Awards from E3 on six nominations, taking home the gold for Best Console Game, Best Action Game, Best Online Game and the ever-coveted Best of Show. Many people went on to call this the biggest game of 2014 (it was originally slated for fall 2014, but was later delayed).
The underdog of E3 quickly became the front runner in August's Gamescom, and it didn't disappoint.
Everything was going Evolve's way, and it even had a something that almost no other game had at the time. In fact, we didn't even know what to call it. Our modern conception of what we now know as Asymmetrical multiplayer didn't truly exist outside of Evolve. In fact, even 2014's Depth where two players play as sharks trying to kill four player-controlled divers, was being talked about in terms of Evolve, a game that hadn't even released yet.
This was such a unique gimmick that players couldn't wait to get their hands on it. Would I play as the Monster, taking down a whole group of people by myself, or would I work cooperatively and unite with my common man to conquer a greater force?
Both options were so enticing that Evolve's Open Beta, which premiered in January 2015, boasted more than 2.2 million matches played. Suddenly, THQ's 4 million copy estimate was looking rather conservative, and Take-Two Interactive's $11 million bid was looking like a steal.
What Could Go Wrong?
Just as everyone was lining up to pre-order Turtle Rock's latest, some warning signs started to pop up. "A $60 game AND a $25 season pass?" we thought, asking ourselves if such a thing would be worth it. Then finding out that you could pre-order a $100 version of the game that includes the season pass, two hunter and a monster, effectively locking a huge percentage of the game behind a pay wall.
But the village remained quiet, saving their torches and pitchforks for another, much darker day.
Then – and there's really no better way to put this – the shit hit the fan. Specifically, the $136 day-one DLC purchases on top of a $60 base game purchase hit the fan. That day was today.
This figure sort of represented a trap for the developers. The $136 number was found by adding together the total of all the available purchases in the beginning of the game. While this overlooked the fact that several of those purchases were combination packs of other purchases, it put Turtle Rock Studios in a PR pickle. In order to set the record straight, they would have to come out and say "no, our day-one DLC isn't $136, it's actually more like $60 or $70."
When this response came, it was game-set-match for Evolve.
It didn't take long after this controversy for Evolve to feel the effects on both its bottom line and its public perception. The coverage surrounding the game was no longer positive, and it was no longer entirely neutral either. "Did Evolve Go Too Far?" headlines became "Evolve Has Gone Too Far."
Unconfirmed reports put Evovle's launch-month sales at a paltry 300,000 units, not on any sort of pace to meet the 4 million estimate.
Less than 2 months after Evolve's release, the number of people playing it on Steam was in a freefall, bottoming out at 2,000 players on a Saturday night. That number was even less than much older, single-player games around the same time.
Evolve sported a free weekend in early September 2015 to try to coax more people into joining. They also threw in monsters and hunters, previously designed for pay-only, free of charge. It wasn't enough.
A Hail Mary
It took a while, but Evolve had one play left in its book. With everyone labeling Evolve as a $60 free-to-play game, saying it should have been free-to-play in the first place, Turtle Rock Studios decided, a year and a half later, to transform the game into a free-to-play reboot.
They even went so far as to, for the first time ever, criticize their own DLC model, calling it a "shitstorm." That it was.
A beta of Evolve Stage 2 released along with the announcement, giving the people what they wanted all along. Buried under all this controversy was a core game about which, if you read the reviews, only very few people and only very few complaints. This was their last chance to salvage Evolve.
Too Little Too Late
Evidently, it wasn't enough. With today's announcement, Turtle Rock Studios has written the final chapter on a game that defined our modern conception of asymmetrical multiplayer games – that you can see raging today with games like Dead By Daylight and the upcoming Friday the 13th: The Game – and also reshaped our understanding of just how far downloadable content can go before it takes the game down with it.
After E3 2014, many said that Evolve would be the game that defined this gaming generation. For all the wrong reasons, it did.