Rocket League has been a huge success for developer Psyonix. Since launching 5 years ago (as of next week), in July 2015, it’s changed a great deal. There have been experiments with arena designs, game modes, items and battle-cars; some of which were successful and others not so much. Business models have been adjusted, gameplay mechanics have been tweaked and the developer was bought by Epic Games in 2019. Now, with over 50 million registered players, a thriving Esports scene and an outstanding contingent of content creators showcasing their game on Twitch & YouTube, it’s time to take a look into what the future might look like for a game that’s carved itself a compelling niche.
The community has several theories about what the future might look like and debates rage on about whether the game will go free to play or if it’ll get a sequel. There are 3 key perspectives to consider when imagining what the future will look like for Rocket League. First is, of course, the developers at Psyonix. They are going to be working on this in whatever form it takes so it’s got to be of interest to them. Second is the players, new and old. The challenge for Psyonix when they make changes is to carry their players and fans with them; or as many of them as possible. Keeping current players and fans happy helps attract new players and stops the whole thing fizzling out. Finally, the new company in the equation, Epic Games. They bought Psyonix a year ago and clearly have their own aims and objectives, what those are will have an impact on the future direction of Rocket League and Psyonix for good or ill.
Let’s start with Epic Games, in big picture terms, what do they want? Profit, obviously, but what else besides that? With the Epic Games Store they are making a big push to compete with Steam for the crown of premier Online PC games storefront. Steam is well established and will take some toppling but Epic’s moves to secure exclusivity and offer games for free shows they are not messing around. They’ve also got Unreal Engine to push as much as possible. Anyone can use it and their adjusted fee model for Unreal Engine 5 (due to launch in 2021) means only successful games using it will have to pay for the licence. Unreal Engine is in common usage anyway by a lot of Developers big and small, but there could always be more using it. It would make sense to me that Epic Games would use the studios it owns to showcase what their new game engine can do. Much like how Sony and Microsoft use their owned studios to highlight what their new console hardware is capable of.
I have no doubt that Psyonix wants to continue with Rocket League regardless of what form it takes moving forward. They haven’t stopped supporting the game and funding its Esports scene so the dedication is there still. They spent years trying to get it off the ground and now that they’ve seen success with it why would they stop? Unless they’ve got another game in mind that they’ve always wanted to make of course. The question is, how do they go about taking it forward? Rocket League works because it’s simple to grasp but difficult to master. The rules are simple, you’re on one of two teams, there’s 5 minutes and you’ve to put the ball in the other team’s goal more than they put the ball in yours. The team with the most goals at the end wins. It’s that simple. However, a quick look at a YouTube compilation from experienced players or pros will show you that there is a lot more you can do. It’s got advanced mechanics up the wazoo and they are entirely skill-based so anyone can, with enough time and dedication, learn them all. So, if your formula works so well, how do you keep it fresh without ruining it by adding too many ingredients or changing too much? That’s the challenge they face.
I mentioned earlier that there is a contingent of outstanding content creators out there, many of which have weighed in on this topic themselves. Lists of things they’d like to see added, improvements they want to see and problems that need addressing have all been covered; by one or more of them at some point. They, alongside the professional players, make their living off this game so they want to see it succeed; their opinions are invaluable because their audiences and experiences cover the breadth of the player base. Keeping them onside is a major consideration I’d be keeping in mind if I were making any decisions on the future of the game. Between these creators a significant percentage, if not a majority, of Rocket League players will watch their videos, either occasionally or regularly. They have the potential to influence wider opinion positively or negatively. Aiming for positive input from them is a must for Psyonix and Epic Games.
To bring it all together then, with those perspectives in mind, what do I think the future of Rocket League will look like? First, I think we will get a sequel, Rocket League 2 will be basically the same but built in Unreal Engine 5 to take advantage of the new tech on offer and “advertise the engine” to other developers. Being a physics-based, fast-paced, competitive multiplayer game it will really put the new engine through its paces. I think it will be free to play, if not entirely then it will be at launch for a limited time at least, they’ll offer Rocket (season) Passes for players to purchase similar to now. The item shop will continue too with a new suite of items and variants with returning favourites reappearing alongside new ones. It will feature a broader set of Battle-Car hitbox profiles rather than the limited number we have now. To negate the need for the Steam Workshop, since the Epic Games Store doesn’t have an equivalent, an expanded creative toolkit will be on offer from the start; all in-game. So custom training, maps, modes and more will not only be easily accessible in-game on all platforms, it’ll be fully supported as well. I also expect that, given Epic’s push for Storefront market share, that the sequel will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store on PC.
Other than some minor changes to the playlists on offer, like replacing Solo Standard with a Team Only mode, cosmetic upgrades and other quality of life improvements – such as bringing the MMR value (the number that determines your rank which goes up and down as you win or lose) front of house so everyone can see it all the time without the need for a mod – I don’t see much changing. Maybe Psyonix will throw some surprises in there, I suspect they will, but a winning formula is a winning formula so I don’t anticipate any major deviation from it.
Launching a sequel that has incorporated all the lessons and improvements from 5 years of Rocket League could be a massive hit. Taking advantage of the new willingness from the console side to have cross-play across all versions, keeping the player base unified, from the start. To have all of that there day 1 can see them turn the success of Rocket League into an absolute phenomenon with Rocket League 2.
Will I be right? Probably not, but it was fun to speculate all the same. I love this game and I’d love to see it stick around or grow with a well executed sequel for many more years to come.