Hawken was the unexpected darling of E3 two years ago; a time bereft of mech titles, even on the horizon.
At the time, we didn’t know about Titantfall, and Mechwarrior Online hadn’t (and some would argue still hasn’t) really caught on with people outside of the fiercely dedicated niche community of Mechwarrior. Hawken seemed poised to capture the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere with incredible visuals, tight, responsive controls, and mech combat that finally felt like the perfect balance of visceral firefights, and lumbering power.
Still, we must take into consideration that just two years ago, Hawken was essentially a really wonderful playable tech demo. It represented the basic idea, and framework of the game, and did little to elaborate on what a complete experience would look like. Patient expectation and curiosity turned to dismay for some when Hawken set out to become a multiplayer-only game, depriving a select few of the memories of their former Mechwarrior glory.
Sure it would have been nice to run missions through a carefully crafted story, but it still had giant mechs right? Yep. And so there was still an audience ready to consume the product on that base level of accomplishment. It also makes for a great box quote… “HAWKEN – STILL HAS GIANT MECHS”
As time passed and Adhesive Games had more time to flesh out just what Hawken should and would be, they also picked up some publishing support from Meteor Entertainment. Meteor pumped some cash into the machine and pushed the product into beta ready status. Meteor also revealed their intent to turn the title into a Free-to-Play model focused on competitive play, a move was likely made as a way of having a revenue strategy before a product was officially released into an open market. This meant that even at the earliest stages of closed beta testing users were able to purchase digital goods with very real money.
In most cases these are simple cosmetic additions to your robo pal, and do little if anything to affect your performance in game. And though it is entirely plausible to buy gear with real money and skip some of the unlock line without the time spent on the battlefield learning to use it, it’s sort of a tool without practical application, thus avoiding play to win. Hawken marched from closed to open beta, and began the infinite work of balancing the game.
But 2013 was the herald of an usurper to the mech combat throne, and Titanfall was announced. While Adhesive and Meteor seemed nonplussed at the announcement, the public was obviously more aware of Titanfall. Who could blame them? The title was pushed and promoted by the behemoth EA, and developed by the talent pool of former Call of Duty staff. Titanfall looked amazing, had more depth of combat and abilities, and had major publishing support that would ensure it hit big box retailers as a physical full priced product. They even managed to snag an exclusive with Xbox One… not too shabby.
So what would become of Hawken? Well for the most part, the community remained faithful and continued to play the game through its various incarnations of beta. When Hawken announced its move to Steam Early Access the community grumbled a bit more than usual, but again, they stuck around. The dramatic moment of change was indisputably when we all heard “Prepare for Titan fall…” the first time. Jaw dropping when we then saw it happen.
Titanfall has since moved $925,000 in SKUS and has DLC ready to release in May to supplement the base game with three additional maps. Meanwhile Hawken is still plodding along in open beta on Steam’s Early Access with its strategy firmly in place and no clear picture of a final release date.
Is there still room for Hawken to succeed? Absolutely, but it does so in EA’s shadow now. EA has the market presence, and they delivered a stellar product that speaks directly to the same audience Hawken was trying to capture. Strangely enough the mea culpa here may have been that there wasn’t anything else like Hawken when they first showed it. It was likely easy for them to imagine that there wouldn’t be much in the realm of competition, giving the development and publishing teams the illusion of luxurious turnaround windows and benchmarks that leave a title in open beta for over a year.
Do I still play? Yes, and I will continue to do so, but Adhesive, and Meteor would do well to hit full release as soon as possible and start work on something else. The damage is done and the perception is that Hawken’s development staff was beat at their own game by another title despite having a two year headstart.