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One of the worst performing AAA games to come out this year is Battleborn. People just did not flock to the stores or the digital distributors to pick up a copy. The slow sales could have influenced Take-Two and Gearbox to pursue an alternative monetary model for the game, including going free-to-play.
According to Kotaku, Battleborn could be going free-to-play as soon as mid-November. This comes amid Take-Two Interactive's CEO Strauss Zelnick admitting that the game underperformed on the market.
Kotaku is reporting that an anonymous individual close to the project has told them that Gearbox has wanted to make the game go free-to-play for a while, but have been putting it off for as long as possible.
According to Steam Spy, the game has moved more than 280,000 copies on Steam. That's actually not that bad. However, to be a AAA title from a major studio, it's also not that impressive either. For comparison purposes, while it took Battleborn to move 280,000 copies on Steam from May to the end of September, according to Steam Spy, it only took How To Survive 2 three weeks to move 290,000 copies and it didn't even have a marketing campaign.
Worse yet is that people just aren't playing Battleborn. According to the Steam player statistics, the game doesn't even break the top 100 most played games a day. Gearbox Software's Borderlands 2 actually made the list before Battleborn did and that game came out back in 2012.
The player stats and sales for the Xbox One and PS4 versions of Gearbox game aren't readily available, but it's safe to assume that the stats likely aren't far off from the PC version.
A lot of people have contributed the poor sales to a similar game that released against it, Blizzard's Overwatch.
Overwatch has moved millions of copies and has millions upon millions of active players. Both games have a similar hero-themed MOBA setup, and objectively speaking Battleborn actually has the better gameplay mechanics, but Overwatch simply has better characters, better world building and better lore. A lot of gamers could easily get attached to fun-loving characters like Tracer, and the sexy but deadly Widowmaker. Battleborn didn't really have any standout characters that were relatable, even though they had a few cool characters like the tweedpunk robot butler with Victorian-themed sniper weapons.
Going free-to-play might help the game regain some prestige, but it will be an uphill battle. The free-to-play gimmick worked well for Turtle Rock Studios' Evolve, which launched last year to very little fanfare. While the free-to-play move brought in tens of thousands of concurrent players each day for Evolve, there's really no telling what the revenue intake is now that it's free-to-play or if players will stick around for the game for the long haul.
Gearbox has been dealing with various missteps, and ever since Aliens: Colonial Marines there's been a spreading sense of distrust by gamers within the broader communities. If the developers can't turn around the issues with Battleborn by making it go free-to-play then there won't be any saving the game. We'll see if the mid-November rumor turns out to be true and if going free-to-play can breathe some life into the deflated property.