Rocket League developer Psyonix has discussed its decision to give the game away for free through Sony’s PlayStation Plus service. Speaking in a two-part documentary created by former GameSpot video producer Danny O’Dwyer, the studio said its inability to market the game itself was a “large factor.”
“We didn’t have any money to spend,” explained Jeremy Dunham, vice president of the San Diego-based independent developer. “Our budget for marketing and PR was practically nothing. Our big challenge was how we get it out to other people.”
The studio’s solution was to let Sony promote its soccer-with-cars title, as it does with all the games it offers for free via PlayStation Plus.
“Our strategy was, ‘If we don’t have the money to market this game, why don’t we let Sony market it for us, because they put in millions of dollars a year in marketing PlayStation Plus games and they do it month after month regardless of what the game is.'”
This was a risky move, considering it would mean that, after spending a great deal of its own money on developing Rocket League, Psyonix would be giving it away for at least a month after launch.
“It was a difficult decision,” Dunham continued. “It took a lot of discussions … Almost up until the game was announced for PlayStation Plus, we were on the fence.”
“It was a big worry because we didn’t know if it was the right decision. We had a lot of fear that we would just make no money on the game,” added Corey Davis, design director at Psyonix. “Obviously, developers can’t go into the details of the deal they have with Sony, but you fight for an amount that they pay you and hope that’s enough if nothing else happens.
“It was really concerning that we may just sign away all this money and then the game just drops off. Even within the first month, yeah it blew up on PlayStation Plus, but what if five million people download it and then no one else buys it ever again and we’ve made nothing and have to pay for servers for five million people.”
Of course, that’s not what happened and, in fact, Rocket League became a bona fide sensation. Word of mouth and online buzz made it one of the most downloaded PlayStation Plus games of all time. It went on to make $110 million for the studio and, by August 2016, amassed 21 million total players. Psyonix counts individual players in this figure, so those that haven’t purchased the game but play through split-screen are included.
In August it was also reported that Rocket League had sold 7 million copies across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The exact number of copies that were downloaded through PlayStation Plus has not been specified and Sony never releases this information. However, during the documentary Dunham said Rocket League has now sold 8 million copies and has “almost 22 million players.”
The two-part documentary is a fascinating insight into the history of Psyonix and how it created one of the best games in recent years. Watch it here.
Since launch, Psyonix has supported Rocket League with new downloadable content. It recently introduced a new arena that’s set under the sea, which is available for free alongside two new paid DLC cars based on the deep sea theme.
The studio also told GameSpot that it’s considering a PS4 Pro patch that could upgrade various aspects of the game.