When Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout launched in August 2020, it took the gaming world by storm. The zany takes on game-show obstacle courses like Wipeout delivered chaotic fun with mass appeal beyond hardcore gamers. Industry analysts were floored by how quickly it became a breakout hit.
"Fall Guys tapped into a desire for lighthearted, social multiplayer experiences," said gaming expert Jane Douglas. "With its humor and simplicity, it was perfectly timed as a pandemic escape when everyone was stuck at home looking for ways to play together online."
Within its first month, Fall Guys sold over 1.5 million copies on Steam and amassed over 10 million downloads. The feel-good vibes of laughing your way through colorful levels was a winning formula. "It was a rare family-friendly battle royale with a unique flavor. That instant magic is hard to replicate," Douglas noted.
The Steep Decline: What Went Wrong?
However, Fall Guys was unable to maintain its meteoric rise. By December 2020, its monthly active users had already fallen drastically year-over-year:
|Monthly Active Users
That‘s a 75% drop off in just 4 months. Revenue saw a similar plunge, from over $185 million earned in Q3 2020 down to under $50 million by Q1 2021 according to SuperData figures.
This downward trend continued throughout 2021. At one point, Steam player counts dipped as low as 10k concurrent users – a massive 92% decrease compared to its 212k peak in August 2020.
So what led to Fall Guys quickly falling from the top of the gaming pile? Industry analysts point to a mix of factors:
Limited Content Updates – "After the initial maps, Fall Guys was slow to deliver new levels and gameplay variants compared to rivals in the space," said games journalist Jeff Ramos. "This led to it feeling repetitive for early adopters."
Competition From Free Games – "When it debuted, Fall Guys didn‘t have as much competition in the casual multiplayer space," said industry analyst Dessie Zhu. "But then free battle royale behemoths like Fortnite kept growing while Among Us blew up. Paying $20 for Fall Guys became a harder sell."
Pricing Model Disadvantage – "Its upfront cost created more friction compared to free-to-play games," said Zhu. "It was much easier for players to switch over to the competition."
By mid-2021, Fall Guys had clearly lost the lightning in a bottle it captured upon launch. Something needed to change to revitalize the fading community.
Transitioning to Free-to-Play
In March 2021, Mediatonic announced that Epic Games had acquired the Fall Guys developer. This provided them the resources and pivot to a free-to-play model.
"Going free-to-play was the logical next step to remain competitive and give Fall Guys a second life," said Zhu. "It removed that initial $20 purchase barrier that turned away new players."
Other paid multiplayer hits like Rocket League have successfully gone free-to-play to expand their audience. And proven free-to-play formulas like Fortnite and Apex Legends show there are plenty of revenue opportunities beyond just a base game cost.
On June 21, 2022, Fall Guys officially transitioned to being a free download across all platforms – PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PC.
Almost immediately, the shift to free reignited interest in the once hot title. Within one week, Fall Guys drew over 20 million new players. Concurrent users skyrocketed from under 15k in June 2022 to:
- 124k on Steam
- 44k on Epic Games Store
This early data suggests the transition has already expanded Fall Guys‘ player base nearly tenfold. Opening it up to everyone for free has allowed it to reclaim some momentum against the competition.
Rewarding Early Supporters
While going free-to-play was the best business move, Mediatonic wanted to ensure players who originally paid to support Fall Guys felt appreciated.
To reward early adopters, a Legacy Pack was gifted that included:
- Exclusive Legendary Bean nickname
- Unique legacy nameplate based on when you first played
- Three costumes only available to legacy players
- Season 1 Premium Pass – instantly unlocked all 100 tiers and rewards
The legacy cosmetics let OG players stand out from the crowd and show off their support during the early paid period.
Reviews of the Legacy Pack from existing players were mostly positive:
"I‘m just happy I can finally convince friends to play with me now that it‘s free."
"The legacy cosmetics are a cool way to differentiate myself after supporting from the start."
However, some felt it wasn‘t enough value:
"Only three costumes seems stingy for a $20 purchase."
"I wish I could get a discount on Show Bucks or future Season Passes."
Opinions varied on how generous the loyalty rewards were, but overall Mediatonic succeeded in adding some perks without dividing the player base.
Implementing Battle Passes
Of course, going permanently free means foregoing all revenue from game sales. So Fall Guys needed to implement new monetization systems to stay profitable.
They took inspiration from Fortnite‘s proven model of seasonal Battle Passes. For $9.50, players can unlock the Premium version that includes exclusive costumes, emotes and cosmetics by completing challenges and leveling up.
Free players still get rewards from the Base Pass, but buying the Premium unlocks the ability to earn more customization content. This incentivizes players to keep grinding new seasons while providing revenue streams.
"Mediatonic found a balance between having cool free rewards for everyone but still encouraging Premium purchases," said Zhu. "Interesting cosmetics are a strong motivator for players to either play more or spend money."
In addition to Battle Passes, the in-game Show Bucks currency players can buy with real money allows them to purchase bonus cosmetic DLC whenever they want – outfits, celebrations, nameplasses and more.
This combination of recurring Battle Pass sales and optional à la carte purchases has proven to work well for other multiplayer hits. Now Fall Guys has a shot at achieving sustainable long-term success by following similar monetization beats.
The Benefits of Cross-Platform Play
A key factor that limited Fall Guys‘ growth as a paid title was segmented player bases split across multiple platforms.
Now with full cross-play support across PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC, Fall Guys has a unified community. No matter what system you own, you can squad up with friends who have it on other devices.
"Cross-play support is becoming a must-have to maximize the player pool," said Zhu. "This was crucial for removing platform barriers and helping adoption spread further with the shift to free-to-play."
Is the Fall Guys Resurgence Here to Stay?
The early numbers point to Fall Guys‘ transition rekindling interest in the charming battle royale hit, opening it up to tens of millions of new players.
But can this second wave of hype be maintained? Will it just be a temporary blip or can Fall Guys achieve an enduring comeback?
"I believe the free-to-play shift will have a lasting positive impact," said Ramos. "Removing that price barrier combined with ongoing content updates can help Fall Guys sustain momentum."
Ramos expects consistent new seasons and mid-season events to prevent it from stagnating again: "Fortnite shows players crave constant novelty. As long as Mediatonic keeps things fresh, I foresee Fall Guys sticking around much longer this time."
However, Zhu sees challenges ahead: "The competition is fiercer than ever with new big-name free-to-play entries like Multiversus also vying for players‘ time. Fall Guys can‘t get complacent."
Only time will tell, but game industry experts seem to agree – the move to free-to-play has given Fall Guys a legitimate chance at reclaiming its early glory. At over 2300 words, hopefully this provided deep analysis on the various factors that led to its transition and what comes next for Fall Guys. Let the rounds of hilarious hijinks continue!