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How did Rocket League become free? A deep dive into Psyonix‘s pivotal move

If you‘re an avid gamer, you‘ve likely heard about or even played the wildly popular Rocket League. But did you know this multiplayer sensation was once a paid title before going completely free-to-play in 2020?

Rocket League‘s transition to a free model marked a major milestone that unlocked the game‘s full mainstream potential. In this deep dive, we‘ll explore why Psyonix decided to make Rocket League free, when it happened, and the impact on the game‘s success.

Why Rocket League went free: Analyzing Psyonix‘s motivations

First, let‘s look at why Psyonix decided to drop the upfront price tag after having sold Rocket League as a premium game for 5 years.

As a fellow gamer myself, I can certainly see the rationale behind the move to free-to-play:

  • More players can try Rocket League for the first time
  • Friends are more likely to all download and play together
  • Bigger player base benefits matchmaking and esports ecosystem
  • Ongoing revenue from cosmetics replaces one-time purchase

But we need to dig deeper to understand the market forces and strategy behind this transition. According to research firm Newzoo, here are three key factors that motivated Psyonix:

1. Maximizing the player base for esports

Rocket League had grown into a flagship esports title with tournaments like RLCS and Collegiate Rocket League. A Newzoo report shows esports viewership rising, with Rocket League pulling in 201 million hours watched in 2020.

Going free-to-play allowed Rocket League to expand its potential esports audience. Psyonix wanted to turn more gameplay fans into esports spectators to maximize engagement.

2. Synergizing with Epic Games

After Epic Games acquired Psyonix in 2019, Rocket League aligned closely with Epic‘s live operations services. Epic already found huge free-to-play success with Fortnite. Analysts saw Rocket League as the perfect test for bringing one of Epic‘s proven F2P titles to full cross-platform play.

Integrating into Epic‘s ecosystem meant adopting their battle-tested blueprint. Making Rocket League free accelerated this synergy.

3. Shift to games-as-a-service model

Like Fortnite, Psyonix wanted to transition Rocket League into a long-term games-as-a-service title. This meant moving from one-time purchases to ongoing spending.

F2P allowed them to gear monetization towards rocket pass subscriptions, cosmetic DLC, and seasonal events. As Psyonix put it, it was the perfect time to “open up the world of Rocket League to new players all over the globe.”

Evaluating these factors makes Psyonix‘s decision logical. Although risky, the benefits of going free-to-play outweighed potential drawbacks. Next, let‘s look at the timeline of events.

When exactly did Rocket League go free? A look at the transition

Rocket League‘s full launch as a free-to-play title across all platforms happened on September 23, 2020. But this only capped off a months-long transition project by Psyonix.

Here‘s an overview of key milestones in Rocket League‘s journey to free-to-play:

  • July 2015: Rocket League launches at $19.99 price point
  • July 21, 2020: Psyonix announces upcoming F2P shift
  • August 2020: Steam players must migrate to Epic Games accounts
  • September 16, 2020: Cross-platform progression enabled
  • September 23, 2020: Free-to-play launch on all platforms

This strategic preparation smoothed out the transition. Well in advance, Psyonix communicated that change was coming. For example, they upgraded backend infrastructure to support cross-platform inventories and friends lists.

The result by September was a seamless introduction to free Rocket League. Servers held up with minimal downtime or hitches. Both loyal and new players got to experience the same great gameplay for zero upfront cost.

Rocket League‘s original price and Legacy player rewards

Prior to going free, Rocket League carried a $19.99 price tag ever since its launch in 2015 across PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC. That‘s quite budget-friendly compared to AAA titles that often launch at $59.99.

According to price tracker Dealabs, Rocket League saw discounts but always returned to $19.99. Psyonix likely kept this price consistent to avoid devaluing the product before transitioning to free.

For players who purchased Rocket League before F2P, Psyonix granted "Legacy" status with exclusive items. These included:

  • All DLC packs unlocked
  • Over $10 in Legacy currency
  • Golden Cosmos rocket boost
  • Legacy Wheels and player banner
  • "Est 20XX" title based on first year played

This Legacy bundle rewarded loyal players with over $50 of bonus content. Players appreciated these status symbols that set them apart from newcomers.

Monetization strategy: Item Shop and Rocket Pass

With Rocket League now free, let‘s examine how Psyonix monetizes engaged players through in-game purchases.

The Item Shop allows buying individual cosmetic items on daily and weekly rotations. Players might buy a sick new car design or funny goal explosion for 100-2000 Credits.

For $9.99, Rocket Pass Premium unlocks 100 tiers of cosmetics versus just 30 free tiers. Premium buyers also get XP boosts to accelerate progression.

Below are examples of Item Shop and Rocket Pass offerings and pricing:

Item ShopPriceRocket PassPrice
Titanium White Octane2000 CreditsPremium (100 tiers)1000 Credits ($9.99)
Big Splash goal explosion1300 CreditsArtemis GXT bodyTier 12 (Premium)
NFL 2021 decal300 CreditsEST 2019 player titleTier 42 (Premium)
NASCAR 2021 fan pack500 CreditsXP boostsPremium only

With millions of players and fun customizations, these monetization streams deliver revenue through sheer scale and cool cosmetic appeal.

Community response and impact of going free

For passionate Rocket League players, Psyonix changing this iconic paid game to free sparked mixed reactions.

Many welcomed the move as Rocket League deserved to be accessible for all. They saw untapped potential in the massive flood of newcomers.

But for longtime fans, this signaled the end of an era. Some players feared an influx of toxicity or smurfs disrupting the community. Others felt Prestige items lost exclusivity when new players got the game for free.

However, after the launch, most concerns faded away. The reality was an active community booming with new friends to play with and new competitors to test their skills against.

Here are some of the impressive stats showing the positive impact of going free:

  • 1 million new players in first month
  • Record high online users in October 2020
  • Highest total active players since launch
  • Renewed esports interest with 303 million hours watched in 2021

Rocket League succeeded in opening the floodgates to new fans while retaining loyal supporters. It was a prudent evolution that gave this indie hit a second wind.

Conclusion: The past and future of Rocket League

Transitioning to free-to-play opened up Rocket League for a new generation of gamers. As a fellow player, I believe Psyonix struck an excellent balance.

Loyal fans got to retain their Legacy status. Fresh players now have easy access to join in the fun. The result is a revitalized community driving Rocket League forward into the 2020s and beyond.

Going free propelled Rocket League to new heights. It fulfilled the developer‘s vision of Rocket League as an enduring competitive gaming phenomenon. Six years after launching as a paid title, the game found an even brighter future as a free service accessible to all.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.