Available for a limited time only.
It’s a sad fact that even the best online multiplayer games peter out over time. Maintaining a healthy population of engaged players to keep them going is a monumental challenge that only becomes more difficult as games age. Eventually, entropy (or progress, depending on your perspective) claims us all.
Dutch development studio Vogelsap seems to get this, and is taking an unusual approach to multiplayer game design with their debut project, The Flock. A first-person horror game set in a ruined Earth, players assume the role of wretched creatures roaming the surface (known collectively as “The Flock”), drawn toward an artifact which will either transform or destroy them. It is a particular brand of asymmetrical stealth-horror seemed like an interesting (and thoroughly creepy) basis for a multiplayer game. It turns out that isn’t even the most interesting thing about it.
Today, developer Vogelsap revealed that The Flock will be available this autumn—but only for a limited time. There’s a hard limit on how long it can played, after which it will go permanently offline.
“With each death in the game,” explained Vogelsap, “one life will be taken from the Flock’s population. When the Flock’s population reaches zero, the game will never be purchasable again.”
According to the developer, this extinction event will trigger a “climactic finale” that can only be played by those who already have the game in their Steam library. After that ending, the game will go offline permanently. It’s a bold move—albeit one that does assume enough players for the community to deplete that population cap.
“A multiplayer game can take players to incredible heights, but at some point gamers will start to play less, get disinterested and stop playing altogether,” said creative director Jeroen Van Hasselt via a press release. “In opposition to other multiplayer games, we want The Flock’s experience to inspire a sense of awe, to keep players eagerly anticipating what is coming next and to end with a memorable climax.”
Players start each round as a member of the titular Flock, until a Light Artifact spawns on the map. The first player to touch it becomes The Carrier, and will be hunted by other players. The Carrier can kill members of the Flock by shining a light on them. If they move within the light, they’re dead—and now, it turns out, will reduce the overall population by one.
I guess the obvious question: would you buy a multiplayer game with an expiration date?