Rocket League has remained on the fast track of success since it first launched last July on the PlayStation 4 and PC. The toy car-based soccer game has gone on to inspire a huge following of dedicated fans as it released for Xbox One in February, and it is showing no signs of slowing down. In the past few weeks, the game has made the Batmobile, as seen in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie, available for players to purchase and use. It also announced a cross partnership with the zombie game, Dying Light, so fans of both games can show their support. Then there’s the partnership with Twitch to host a Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) eSports league, which begins its first season later this month.
As if all that weren’t enough, it was announced yesterday that Rocket League is poised to make video game history as the first cross-network game. Microsoft has made it possible for players on the Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4 to all play against each other. If Sony accepts the offer, then Rocket League will accomplish what many developers wished for, but thought impossible.
Jeremy Dunham, VP of Psyonix, talks to [a]listdaily about Rocket League‘s meteoric success, its place in eSports, and how it could be the game that breaks down the walls separating platforms.
How did Psyonix convince Microsoft to open up cross-network play?
I don’t think that it’s just us. I think it was a combination of things. Definitely, the success of our game has helped a lot. We bugged Microsoft a lot about how cross platform is a feature that we’d like to see eventually, and our community is asking for it all the time. But I don’t think that it was just because our game came along that Microsoft decided to do this. I think it was many years with many different games and communities wanting to see this feature. They were listening for so long and weighing it heavily for so long that I think they finally decided to go forward with it. We were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to become the first one selected.
— Rocket League (@RocketLeague) March 14, 2016
I like to hope that we had a positive impact on how that went, but whether or not we were the sole reason is really a question for them. I’m just happy that we’re getting to do it, and we’ve been bursting at the seams to talk about it for weeks. [Now] It really comes down to what Sony decides to do. To be fair to them, they’ve only just heard that this is a possibility, so we understand that they need time to process it and how it impacts their platform. We understand that there won’t be an immediate “yes” or “no” from them, but we like to remain optimistic.
What does it mean to Psyonix that these garden walls may be coming down?
It means a lot to us. Just to think that it’s us over other games is a really big deal. We can’t really compare it to any other accomplishment. We’ve had a surprising amount of success, our community has been fantastic, and we’ve won awards. But to be held in this kind of historical context is something else entirely. I remember clearly, coming out of our call with Microsoft and then letting everybody on the team know that it was approved and it was something we were going to do. Everyone stood up and started applauding each other. It was a great moment as a team, and everyone felt fantastic. Every team meeting since then has been about when the public is going to find out. Now that it’s not a secret anymore, the fun part starts… we have to start building it.
How did the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Batmobile come to be included in the game?
We have some great contacts at Warner Bros. They’re fans of the game, and we’re fans of theirs. We were talking about potential partnerships, and for us, the Batmobile made a lot of sense with the movie coming out. A lot of our were asking for the Batmobile, especially post-DeLorean [from Back to the Future], and it didn’t take long at all.
They said that it was a great fit and we worked directly with them to make sure it was as accurate as possible. Usually, when it comes to having iconic vehicles, there’s a complicated backstory or challenge. But in this case, we just like Batman and Superman a lot, and they liked Rocket League. We asked, they said yes, and that was it. Seeing how well the DeLorean was received also helped assure them that we would do their vehicle justice. I think how we approach the game like a true sport, and no vehicle has an advantage over another, also helped smooth the path into the game. We’re not trying to create an environment where it has an advantage over other vehicles, or vice versa.
Will other Batmobile models be included someday?
One of the things we struggle against is that the way you select cars gets confusing if you have five or six different versions of the Batmobile. Also, does that muddy the value of having the Batmobile by itself, the way it is now? It something that we’ve definitely batted around for not only the Batmobile, but some of our other cars. So far, we’ve stuck to the idea that it’s better to have only one, because that makes each car more unique and interesting, instead of having umpteen version of Octane. It lets you take the vehicle and feel some kind of ownership over it, over it just being another car. Plus, we have such an emphasis on customization for our [non-licensed] vehicles that you can kind of make it whatever you want.
Other than the Dawn of Justice version, what is your favorite Batmobile?
It would have to be the 1989 version, because that was the Batman movie that got me when I was a kid. I think it has a great, iconic, shape that a lot of the movies that came after it tried to emulate. I really like the Tumbler too, and the Arkham Knight Batmobile. I think they did a really good job with the vehicle in that game. What’s really cool about Batman vehicles over the years is that they keep finding ways to reinvent it so that it makes sense for the era that it’s in.
How did Psyonix come together with Twitch to form a Rocket League Championship Series?
That was sort of a progression of our relationship with them. In the beginning, we were doing very well on Twitch. We were a very popular game, especially during pre-launch, launch week, and the launch month on PlayStation 4. Twitch recognized that we were a fun sport to watch, and we got into discussions about what we could do to make the game more compatible with Twitch and find more ways for casters and players to do cooler things.
At the same time, they asked us what our long-term plans were for the game as a sport. So, it became this sort of mutual realization over time that we should partner up and go all-in on a league together. They had plenty of time to understand their audience, and have both official and unofficial tournaments airing on Twitch all the time, so they deal with plenty of vendors of leagues all the time to know what works and what doesn’t. Our game is really well-versed in terms of watchability as an eSport, in that it doesn’t have any special abilities or killer vehicles that are better than others, so it’s a true skill-based game.
There’s a lot of mutual attraction, and it took many months to hash out the details, but it was worth it and we’re excited to see where it goes. Registration opens on the 25th of this month, then we’re going to start to talk about when the games themselves are going to be played.
Are there challenges in promoting a game like Rocket League as an eSport?
Normally, I would say yes, but in this case we lucked out and had a community that embraced it as an eSport before it actually became a true one. That’s one of the key moments of any game that’s chosen as an eSport—the community has to deem it worthy. A lot folks just want to come out and say, “let’s get into eSports.” They throw a lot of money at something, get tournaments together, and try to make people get involved. In our opinion, it’s a much more effective eSports strategy to make the most fun and balanced game that you can and let the community decide if they want to watch it and play competitively.
Our community has been so passionate, competitive, and (in many respects) has taken it upon themselves to create a eSports scene. That was enough validation for us to acknowledge that this is worthy of an eSport. We always hoped that it would be, but the missing link was the fans and whether they thought it was worth it, and they have. So, it was an easy transition for us.
The Championship Series was announced for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. Will there be a separate Xbox One league?
PC and PS4 RLCS will be happening at the same time. The game is cross-compatible, and they’ll be able to play with each other. When we made the RLCS announcement, we said, “Xbox details coming later.” The reason we said that is because we know that we’d be going cross-platform between the Xbox One and PC, but were not yet sure if PS4, PC, and Xbox would be a viable option.
We still don’t know. As I mentioned before, we have to find out what Sony’s position is. Once we know more about that, we’ll know whether we need a separate league or if we can reach a fantastic milestone for eSports, and that’s to allow all players on all platforms to compete against each other in a single league. That would get rid of the notion of just being the best player on PlayStation or Xbox and make so that you are the best player period.
That’s what we’re hoping for, but we’re going to see where season one takes us and adjust season two accordingly.
What do you think it is about Rocket League that inspires such a passionate fan base across three different platforms?
I don’t think it’s any one thing, and I also think it depends on who you ask here at the studio. Everyone has their own answer, and I think the actual answer is all of them. It’s a combination of how Rocket League is really watchable and easy to understand. You’re hitting a goal from one end to the other, and it’s completely skill-based, so you’re viewing the strategy and talent of the player first-hand. It [winning] isn’t some pre-conceived ability, animation, or special power. It’s completely on the player, which adds a real level of tension and excitement.
We also have a lot of customization options so that you can make your car look any way you want and take ownership over it. There are also a lot of different ways to play the game, with single player, multiplayer, and even four-player splitscreen mode. There’s no major violence—it’s all cartoon explosions—and there are no guns. All these different elements have helped make the game what it is.
I also like to think that the fact that we’ve shown our community how much they mean to us, and our aggressive support of the game with the continued goal of making it better, is proving itself to people. We don’t have any plans of slowing down anytime soon, and we hope that that’s rubbing off in a positive way.