Rocket League has been an unconventional success story from the very beginning. The self-published title from Psyonix built a following greater and more consistent than many AAA games in the multiplayer realm. While it has had some difficulties, growing early from its PS Plus offering to launch on pretty much every modern platform, it now boasts many hundreds of thousands of concurrent players. Averaging more than 72,000 on Steam alone this month.
Despite dipping down to around $10 several times, there are still plenty of people who don’t own this game though. That’s all set to change after nearly five years. Rocket League will now be free to play later this summer. While there isn’t a date set for this changeover, it does come with some caveats. The most important is that the game will no longer be available on Steam for the PC. When it launches, it will swap over to the Epic Games Store.
It does appear that players who purchased the game before July 21, 2020, will receive several notable bonuses. This includes all of the Rogue League-branded DLC released before the date it becomes free. Psyonix has stated that the game will still be playable on Steam, but cannot be “downloaded.” I’m not sure if that means it can’t be downloaded at all (which is rare for Steam) or just simply can’t be added to new accounts. Whatever the case, fans of Steam and those that dislike Epic will probably be ok with this situation if it lets them keep playing as usual.
This Epic exclusivity deal is another step toward getting people opening that digital storefront application and playing more games. The dozens of games they’ve given away have certainly cost them millions of dollars and I’m sure this strange shift won’t be cheap either. The real winner here is Psyonix who gets to grow their player base and sell all future DLC and Battle Passes to a much larger audience.
The issue here is the downsides that could come with a free to play game. The biggest of which is the potential to open things up to hackers. Free to play games are often the most hacked because a banned account doesn’t cost the hacker anything. They can just create a new one and attempt more illicit behavior until the next ban-hammer falls. I don’t know that Rocket League has faced much cheating in the past, but when the only hurdle is making a new Epic account, it might become a larger issue.
Another potential problem is that Psyonix could devalue the brand. Once a game is free to play, any potential for a franchise is limited. The expectation for players is maintaining that free game perpetually in many cases. I can’t imagine what a “Rocket League 2” would entail, but I also doubt will have to see as they expand the original with more vehicles, cosmetics, and game modes. This, of course, may be a non-issue for a company that has skyrocketed to success with a single game. If at some point they do decide to branch out, it will probably be in a new direction much like Riot Games has – though hopefully with more variety.
Whatever the future holds for Rocket League, it will invariably be shared with many more people. The game stands to become even more common than its current household-name status. People swarm to free PC games, but I think the Nintendo Switch might benefit the most. The number of free games on the Switch is limited and the ones that are there are very popular. Every Switch having access to Rocket League, combined with the other platforms, means we’re going to see a lot of flying cars and soccer balls for years to come.