Drawn To Death studio The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency headed up by David Jaffe announced its studio closure at the start of the month. The move comes less than a year after the release of the studio’s first title, PS4 brawler arena shooter Drawn To Death. The tragic irony of the game title lies in the bombshell crater it left its developers in. A series of bad in-game and marketing decisions later, Bartlet Jones is officially in the ground. So if Drawn To Death was the explosive catalyst that sent this studio to its early grave, what exactly did it do wrong?
90% of PS4 owners will agree that Drawn To Death was a catastrophic fall. From messy mechanics to unbelievable balance oversights, the multiplayer shooter suffered from a long list of terminal disasters, until Jaffe mercifully shot it clean through the head. For background, check out initial reactions to Drawn To Death here.
That first paragraph sounds harsh, and that 10% of Drawn To Death lovers have hung on like troopers throughout the hate the game has received since its release in April 2017. What first drew me to the game was its aesthetic, and there’s no denying it, they certainly achieved something uniquely innovative with their approach to visual design and character creation. Creative visual aesthetic cannot, however, carry a poorly structured, arbitrarily implemented multiplayer shooter. That’s not necessarily what killed it, though. In a culture of shipping unfinished games, it’s slowly becoming accepted for developers to crunch on things like balance and fine tuning after release day. Drawn To Death however, didn’t.
See, Drawn To Death started life as a free to play title with unlockable tiers of characters, arenas, and skills. In this release model it’s easy to see where extremely high level characters come into play, and why certain weapons and strategies are so seemingly arbitrarily powerful. When this gameplay was shifted over to a traditional paid model, those balance mechanics that make sense for a free to play title weren’t readjusted accordingly. The result; one character available from launch would be able to pretty much destroy any other character with a single button push. Similarly, certain weapons were able to eye-wateringly outgun anything else they came up against, and individual character abilities were wildly unmatched.
The first insight Drawn To Death highlights, then, is that alongside the rise of the f2p retail model comes a rise in brand new ways, not only of progression, but also play. Taking the distinction between f2p retail models and traditional paid structures lightly, then, is becoming increasingly dangerous. That wasn’t the nail in the coffin for Drawn To Death, however.
After release, members of the Drawn To Death community sensed danger. Catastrophic reviews and a mass of disgruntled users pushed even those who had the game free of charge with PS Plus away from the shooter. Those who maintained their grip on the adolscent fantasy world were left waiting in matchmaking lobbies and conversation around game strategies and characters dwindled. As is the case with many new and eccentric titles, that core fanbase was persistently enthusiastic about saving a title they could see dancing over the edge. A $20 retail price and devastating reviews left developer pockets desperately empty and players’ thumbs twiddling. Fan suggestions? Revert back to free to play.
Scrolling through the Drawn To Death forum, you can actually see the point where developers give up. Jaffe’s responses to praise and questions in the beginning are jovial and excited, turning to uncomfortably curt as the tides start to shift, and sadly absent once things start getting dangerous. The players they had managed to retain urged developers repeatedly to look into free to play options to keep their game alive, citing it as the only way to save the title. Regardless of whether or not a reversion back to the F2P model would have proved successful for Drawn To Death, by the time these conversations were happening on their forums, developers were pretty much gone.
Ignoring the community around your product is a cardinal sin. Ignoring that community when it actually runs your product is mind blowing. However, in the final months of Drawn To Death‘s attempts at survival, developers ignored community posts on their forum and pretty much gave up on social media entirely. Transparency isn’t always a one size fits all solution to difficulty behind the curtain, but in such a community-focused game as this, with such a fundamentally required and still enthusiastic, if small, following, transparency was not only a required marketing tactic, it was human decency. Developers went on a difficult journey in the public eye. Fans who were originally on the same side as the developers who had sprawled their creativity beautifully into this game quickly came to believe they no longer cared. And this was the final nail in the coffin.
Whether it was the original move from free to play to a paid model, or whether it was the methods and communications of the developers after these issues became apparent, Drawn To Death was killed by a series of poor decisions that prioritised the ideal concept of the game over actual player experience.