Phoenix Labs has been trying to make Dauntless happen for more than two years now. With big money investment and veteran developers from companies like Blizzard, it's pushing to become for the Fortnite to Monster Hunter's PUBG. Dauntless entered full release earlier this week as part of its big push on to PS4 and Xbox One; and assuming it gets its myriad server issues under control, there are signs that it could start to catch on.
Assuming that winds up being the case, it couldn't happen at a better time. If history is any guide, summer is when new multiplayer games break out, and established multiplayer games get even bigger. It's the period when new releases are at low ebb; kids are whiling away their summer vacations, and people are diving into their backlogs. What better way to spend a lazy summer than indoors in front of a multiplayer game?
Most of my best summer gaming memories revolve around high-quality multiplayer. In 1997, I played X-wing vs. TIE Fighter for hours on end over our extremely bad 56k modem. In 2002, I worked at night and played WarCraft 3 during the day.
More recently, some of the biggest multiplayer games have hit during the summer months. Rocket League was beautifully positioned when it came out in July 2015: it was an amazing game, it was available free to PlayStation Plus subscribers, and it came out during one of the quietest periods of the release schedule. Journalists, streamers, and gamers alike happily jumped on it for want of anything better to play, and a phenomenon was born.
Just about a year later, Blizzard put out Overwatch, which launched shortly before Memorial Day. Overwatch was good enough that it could have succeeded at any time of year, but summer was an especially fortuitous release window for Blizzard's newly-minted hero shooter. With little in the way of meaningful competition outside of The Division, it was able to build up a huge amount of momentum and subsequently dominate much of the year.
It's not a hard rule, per se, but there's usually at least one multiplayer game that winds up owning the summer months in some way. In 2013, Dota 2 launched to much success; in summer 2014, Hearthstone launched its first expansion as the popularity of CCGs suddenly exploded; in 2015, it was Rocket League; in 2016, Overwatch and Pokemon Go. Fortnite Battle Royale was already very successful by this time last year-Drake famously joined Ninja's stream in March 2018-but by summer it was all-consuming, picking up even more steam thanks to a successful Switch launch in June.
Looking ahead, Harry Potter Wizards Unite-Niantic's follow-up to Pokemon Go-seems well-positioned to dominate this summer. Niantic will surely be hoping for scenes similar to two years ago, when hordes of players were seen surging into Central Park in search of rare monsters. Apex Legends similarly has a chance to be this summer's multiplayer game du jour, but only if it gets significant improvements for Season 2. Unlike Fortnite, Respawn's battle royale has seen its momentum dissipate thanks to a poor Battle Pass and slow updates (though it's still very good overall).
As for Dauntless, it will mostly depend on whether the game itself holds up. Right now, a lot of curious gamers-many of them doubtlessly just out of school-are surging in to see whether Dauntless can fill the gap. It may well be too simple to make much of an impact. After all, Monster Hunter isn't Fortnite-simple mechanics and battles aren't exactly the recipe for a robust endgame.
But this feels like the right time for Dauntless to make a bid to break out and compete with other heavyweight multiplayer games. Too early, and it would have to compete with spring blockbusters and exams. Too late, and it risks running afoul of Call of Duty, Iceborne, and the general noise of the holiday period.
Launching in the summer is no guarantee of success, but it's as good an opportunity as any to get your multiplayer game in front of bored gamers hungry for something new. We'll soon see if Dauntless is the latest of these increasingly common summer success stories.
Major Game Releases: May 27 to May 31
Here are the major releases for the week of May 27 to May 31. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Little Friends: Dogs & Cats [May 28, Switch]: "Uhhh...meoooow? It's been a hot minute since Nintendo gave us a Nintendogs and/or Nintencats game, but Little Friends might fill that yawning virtual pet gap quite nicely. You raise a selection of dogs and cats in a nice suburban home, where they all romp together. Yes, it's dogs and cats living together. No mass hysteria, though. Everything seems kind of nice and calm.
- Oxygen Not Included [May 28, PC]: After being in early access for a couple of years, Klei's space colony simulator is ready to hit the big time and suck all the oxygen out of the room. You command a subterranean colony of interplanetary settlers who get to experience the thrill of being space-pioneers. But what good is the spirit of exploration without a little danger, e.g. bad air, space viruses, crippling depression, and freezing temperatures?
- Trover Saves the Universe [May 31, PC]: Aw jeez, Rick. Justin Roiland, the creator of Rick and Morty, has a VR adventure that's all about saving the universe. More accurately, you save the universe by way of saving your two adorable puppies, who've been absconded by a space lord currently using them for his eyes. Trover Saves the Universe takes the term "puppy dog eyes" to a horrifying new level.
This Week's News and Notes
- Happy Memorial Day! We're taking the day off at USG-yes, even Nadia, who's playing pretend-American for the day. She'll take her rest where she can get it: All the excitement with the Raptors makes it hard to sleep these days.
- Hard to imagine there was a time when the ESA stood up and said "No, let us regulate ourselves, we'll take care of it" when politicians started to get concerned about video game violence. That's how we got the ESRB. Unfortunately, the ESA looked up at the ceiling when politicians threatened to regulate loot boxes, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. "Wait!" The ESA cries, "These guys have no idea what they're talking about! They shouldn't be regulating us." Well now! You don't say!
- Slay the Spire is coming to Switch soon. If you'd like to warn up with a decent little deck-builder that's a lot of fun, Steamworld Quest is worth your time.
- In fact, why don't you start whittling down your Switch backlog, period?
- Axe of the Blood God: Our Console RPG Quest continues with an in-depth look at the RPG legacy of the Sega Master System and Game Gear! While neither system has an RPG legacy on par with the NES/Famicom, there's still tons to talk about-especially since the Master System was kind of, you know, strong-armed out of the North American market. For most of us, the NES' main competitor was little more than a phantom. That doesn't mean it didn't have some great RPGs.