Last week it appeared that Paragon might be circling the drain.
I am a Paragon player. I started playing towards the end of their closed Alpha. It wasn’t the most fun I had playing a game, but there was something in that Alpha that definitely felt sticky. Perhaps it was seeing a game early in development, or the third person shooter feel of a MOBA when most in the genre use an almost top down view. Whatever it was, when I got the opportunity to jump back into the closed Beta I took it. Paragon had grown further into its own skin at this point, but wasn’t yet the game it would become. That took many updates, system re-works, speed adjustments, entire meta changes, and a brand new map to work out. I think it was worth it though. Paragon today plays faster, has (generally) short match times, and its more visceral than many of the other MOBA’s that are out there. That is why I play it-it’s fast, it’s pretty, it’s in your face, and I enjoy the hell out of it. If the game can grab players like myself, players who don’t play MOBA’s at all, and make a hardcore fan base out of them, it must be doing well!
It would seem that’s not the case.
Last week, Epic posted a lengthy message in their Paragon sub-Reddit. You can read the full text on their forum here. The short version is more or less the following: “Paragon isn’t growing at the pace we need it to in order for us to continue to devote the resources to it we have been during development. Fortnite: Battle Royale has become so huge that we’re needing to focus on it more and that is going to have to hurt Paragon short term. Long term, because of our inability to grow the play base as much as we like, we’re looking at our options.”
Paragon, one of the few competitive online games I play, might be circling the drain.
I have been involved with one other MOBA in my gaming and professional career. Unlike Paragon, where I am a player, I was a developer on the art team. Like Paragon, the MOBA I worked on eventually started seeing player numbers drop and as soon as it was officially released, it started circling the drain. You can’t even play it anymore.
That MOBA is Infinite Crisis.
Because of my involvement with Infinite Crisis, I think I have a few ideas as to what is going on with Paragon and how it might be able to remain a viable, consistent product for Epic Games amidst the success of Fortnite. Both games can exist simultaneously as two sides of the same coin, or two or more of the pillars of Epic’s current gaming catalogue.
- Player Retention. Paragon hasn’t been able to grow at the rate Epic would like to see. The last big growth spike, based on what I can estimate from agora.gg (unofficial, but you can make guesses based on their numbers), was during the big Monolith Map update. This is the biggest problem Epic seems to have internally.
- Infinite Crisis ran into player retention issues later in development. During my time on the game, the community was super excited and pumped about having a DC Comics based MOBA to play. WB thought it was going to be a huge franchise and funded and pushed it as such. Unfortunately, IC ended up having a very long Beta period, and the developers eventually disabled what the community considered the best map (I don’t know why, I was gone). By the time the game launched, IC had already lost a number of players, and I would imagine WB was off the ship as well.
- Pessimism in the Core Community. When the Monolith Map was introduced and replaced Legacy, many in the core community were crushed. Legacy was and is a beloved map by the players at the time but Monolith was needed to drive down match times, speed up the pace of play, and work on a less complicated Jungler role. This comes with good and bad, but with a number of core players refusing to get past this change, Paragon’s most fervent fans ended up being less enthused about the game.
- Lack of a True Competitive Mode. Paragon does not have ranked play, yet it’s been in open Beta for almost a year at this point.
- This is the opposite of what Infinite Crisis attempted to do. WB and Turbine saw IC as having a huge E-Sports following and it was immediately marketed as such. It had a ranked mode pretty early on in development. I don’t think that was necessarily a bad game plan. Paragon has taken the opposite approach; casuals and players like me first, then introduce the ranked modes. I don’t think that was a bad approach either. They just haven’t given competitive modes a solid push yet and I think the lack of urgency on this point of development has been a huge miss for Epic.
I think the problems all feed on themselves. Player Retention will be driven by either the core community feeling positive and jazzed about the game, or by these new players having an officially ranked mode within the game that pushes them to grind for a higher rank. It’s the only reason I play Rocket League. Without a ranked mode, there really isn’t a point to grind and improve unless you care about agora.gg, and realistically you shouldn’t as it’s not an official ranking site. With no official ranked play, less players stick around chasing the high of competition. With some of the older, core players longing for a mode of play that won’t be coming back (this is on that group of players, not Epic) the core community shows some toxicity towards Epic online, which pushes away new players as well.
- Get ranked play operational quickly, regardless of it being a perfect system. This will galvanize some of the core players who have a competitive spirit and hopefully keep around a few more new players who also love competing.
- As part of this, the PS4 version needs some additional tweaks so players on PS4 can be competitive with PC players. I had to move to PC once Monolith came out. The pace of play got too fast for me to be effective on console.
- Also on PS4, fix the game. I’ve seen many more disconnects lately than usual and I think it’s the PS4 players. Maybe that’s a PS4 network issue that isn’t related to Paragon…but it should be looked into.
- Plan an update that adds a new game mode based around the old Legacy Map. This wouldn’t be a “bring back Legacy” change so much as the map is introduced as a secondary way to play the game, unranked at first, using the existing systems. It’ll be a little unbalanced and broken, but it’ll be a fun playground for players and that hardcore audience who won’t shut up about Legacy might come back.
- If possible, combine these updates into a huge patch that comes with a marketing push. This will get people in and playing and hopefully sticking around.
- Exit Beta with these updates. Infinite Crisis was in Beta far too long and that slow plodding development course helped kill the game. Paragon needs to become a released product with a push (and aimed at PS4 frankly) to drive its player numbers.
I personally think Paragon will only circle the drain as much as Epic allows it to. I don’t see it ever doing DOTA or LoL numbers, but I believe it can be a sustainable game with good player numbers and a really great competitive scene as long as Epic takes the foundation they have, which is a great one, and build on it in a meaningful way. It’s not about changing the meta this or balancing tanks for this because of how some individual players feel. If the data supports the current meta, then keep it as is and focus on bigger issues.
Those are my thoughts on the current state of Paragon. I’m still playing for damn sure.