Last weekend, Respawn Entertainment released a major content update for Titanfall 2, including a remastered version of Angel City, the previous game's most-beloved map. To promote the patch, Titanfall 2 multiplayer was free to play over the weekend. For dedicated players, the update was a welcome sign of life. Despite universally positive reviews, the game's first months have been tense. Many in the community already fear that Respawn's latest will meet the same fate as the first Titanfall, which never managed to gain a foothold amongst the most popular multiplayer shooters. (Respawn didn't respond to a request for comment on this story.)
FrothyOmen – who declined to give us his full name – is a prolific Titanfall YouTuber who creates instructional videos popular enough that Respawn regularly links to them in blog posts. He blames the first game's relative obscurity on the lack of a single-player mode and a host of other bells-and-whistles that are standard on most modern blockbuster shooters. "People were so spoiled by Call of Duty and Battlefield," he says. "It's hard to compete with engines that huge when you're a smaller development team... How do you compete with games that are essentially three-in-one for 60 bucks when you've got sub-100 developers?"
Titanfall 2 added a single-player campaign, which earned considerable praise for its experimentation with puzzle and platformer elements, but it's unclear whether this will lead to a long-term rejuvenation of the multiplayer scene. In addition to Call of Duty and Battlefield, Titanfall must now contend with Overwatch, Blizzard's FPS juggernaut. In such a crowded space, it doesn’t take much to send a game into a death spiral.
"So many people stopped playing [Titanfall 1] due to a perceived notion that the game was dying," FrothyOmen says. "They saw the player count dip by a hundred people, and... saw that as an indicator that they too should jump ship."
This reverse-snowball effect afflicts many multiplayer communities. When player counts dip, it takes longer to find a match, and the likelihood of finding an even match decreases. This drives more players away, compounding the problem. In Titanfall 2, certain game modes are already inaccessible – there simply aren't enough players searching, so nobody bothers to queue for those. (Not that this is a Titanfall-specific problem – on PC at least, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has many equally underpopulated modes.)