How NOT to Launch a Product
I’m bending the rules here and sharing a non-startup story – there was too much to learn from this to not write about it!
Today, we’ll learn from a disastrous game that was released a few years ago in 2016, called Battleborn.
It came out the same month as a juggernaut you have probably heard of, Overwatch. As of May 2018, it’s had an astounding 40 million players according to Statista.
Despite the games being first-person shooters, they were very different, and users wouldn’t have compared them if not for the similar release dates.
Gearbox (the developers, best known for the Borderlands series) are not a small company. They have a solid track record and a significant publisher to boot! Blizzard, however, was having none of that.
Blizzard marketed Overwatch like crazy at the time, and I remember seeing ads for it on TV regularly. It hit me like a heavyweight punch “Oh, they’re going hard on this one,” and they blew Battleborn out of the water on the marketing front.
The Price Was Not Right
That said, there’s much more to this story than just releasing on the wrong date.
The price of the two games was an immediate point of contention. Battleborn’s price at launch was $60, while Overwatch’s was $40. While the price isn’t everything – this was an immediate disadvantage.
There was also a season pass that cost $20 – this provided additional heroes to play as and skins as well as story content. But for that price on top of already paying more in the first place?
There’s a lot to be said for being aware of what your competitors are charging. Then there’s taking it to the next level and nickel and diming your customers. No one likes that, especially people looking to have some fun with a game.
Very quickly, Gearbox reduced the game’s price by $20, but the damage was already done. A year later, in a move of desperation, they switched over to a free to play monetization model.
On top of the previous issues, the game had numerous balance issues as well as a cumbersome user interface. UX (User Experience) is something you don’t want to overlook in the creation process.
As founders, it’s easy to think our project makes sense: we built it from the ground up. Any time your user has to look around for a button or gets confused with the workflow, it creates friction.
Products with less friction than their competitors have an edge in user retention and as a result, word of mouth marketing.
Battleborn also proved to be rough for new players getting into the game. After the initial population died down, they ditched the matchmaking system in favor of lowering wait times for games. Big surprise – newbies don’t enjoy getting stomped by experienced players!
It was one more mistake in the pile that ensured the game wouldn’t last much longer.
The big picture and how to avoid the same fate
While Gearbox / 2K Games made errors across the spectrum here, their biggest downfall was their business decisions:
- Releasing the same month as Overwatch
- Expensive and complicated pricing
- Poor user experience (this one is toeing the line, but I’m putting it here anyway)
You should be aware of the competition before you dive into a niche. Primarily what differentiates your product from theirs. Had the marketing message for Battleborn been a clear message of what the game was, it would have helped separate them from Overwatch.
Releasing in the same month made that almost impossible to do though, and it made the pricing an even worse issue.
I would never advise a race to the bottom with pricing. However, if you’re going to charge more than a competitor, you better be offering more features for the money or a superior product.
User experience is the icing on the cake. Rarely is UX bad enough to ruin things, but when it’s done right, it puts the experience over the top. You can immediately tell when you’re using a well-designed product. The user interface makes sense, and you don’t have to continually refer to the documentation to see how to do something minor.
The most crucial lesson here is to have a holistic approach to your project. If you over commit to your launch and rush things, it can have a cascading effect where you’re plugging holes in a sinking ship.