Even if the blissful image of cars desperately flipping against each other as a bloated ball slowly drifts into a goal doesn’t fill your heart with glee – and let’s be honest, if not, who even are you? – there’s no denying that Psyonix’s “Rocket League” remains one of the biggest indie hits of the decade. Even three years after launch, Psyonix continues to haul in millions of new players a month, which has transformed the scrappy runt behind the ludicrously-named prequel “Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars” into a veritable gaming behemoth, with many fans slavering to know what the studio will produce next. While that remains to be seen, Scott Rudi – the newly-minted director of the game – announced a wide variety of changes to the core progression of Psyonix’s much-lauded cash cow that might not save the doomed angle of your failed aerials, but nevertheless represent something akin to a total overhaul of the game’s loot structure.
For one thing, the exponential leveling of old-school “RL” is no more, replaced with a flat curve that results in a one-up every two to three hours. Players that are capped at the current ceiling of 75 – now kaput – will find themselves rejiggered to a higher level, depending on how long they’ve been hanging there, with comparatively-ancient players enjoying a bigger boost for their trouble. Particularly adept car-ballers will receive the usual rewards for dextrous play, and, crucially, the legions of jerks who leave matches early en masse will now find themselves slapped with a sizable XP penalty on the following matches, a move that Rudi calls a “gentle reminder” to stick around and play fair. As an additional bonus, players will now receive an uncommon item or better when they level up – just another way for Psyonix to show you they care. You can also now party up across shared platforms, such as PS4 or PC, but the usual caveats hold – if you have a PlayStation and your buddy has an Xbox One, one of you needs to bite the bullet and finally upgrade your old laptop.
Rudi’s splashiest reveal was the “Rocket Pass,” a limited-duration item-redemption system that models itself after some of the most lucrative games out there, such as “Counter-Strike” and “Fortnite.” Everyone can participate with the Pass without paying a cent: when you gain a level of experience, you gain a tier in your current Rocket Pass. Every few tiers, you gain a free item, all the way up to level 70 – the same item that every other freeloader got at that level, to boot, for as long as the pass lasts, which could be up to three months. However, if you upgrade to the premium package for $10, you get an additional reward item on every tier, and your rates of XP accrual go up dramatically, too. Once you slide past 70, you start to receive exclusive versions of the loot you got from the previous tiers, but perhaps it’s in a custom color, or maybe it displays your number of “epic saves” – or both, if you’re well and truly lucky.
From Rudi’s perspective, the Rocket Pass is just another way for Psyonix to shower items onto the dyed-in-the-wool rocket-freaks who’ve already put thousands of hours into mastering the subtleties of their hit game. “We didn’t even really think about it from a financial perspective,” he says. “We have enough new players each month to sustain the game, frankly. It’s more about having a short-term experience that engages with players all across the spectrum. I’m a big believer in the one-more-turn compulsion – this idea that, well, I’m only one game away from getting my next tier, so let’s go again.”
Though Rudi says the Rocket League team is cognizant of the gaming community’s fervent, pseudo-militant opposition to loot boxes and other forms of “monetization” beyond a traditional single-purchase model, he believes that the game’s commitment to solely-cosmetic items speaks for itself. “I mean, hey, they’re all cosmetics. No impact on gameplay whatsoever,” he says. “We even let the premium players pay keys to move up a few tiers. If you want the crazy hat, you can just go, man. It doesn’t really matter, you know?”
Overall, while these choices might seem like a matter of inches this late in the game, for the die-hard “Rocket Leaguers” out there, it’s clear that this patch will have a distinct impact on their day-to-day scrims moving forward. “We just want to promote a good gameplay experience,” says Rudi. “I think if we keep doing that, who knows? We might have another interview in ten years about this. We’re getting bigger and bigger, and we’ve never been doing better. I think ‘Rocket League’ is here to stay with the big boys, like “League [of Legends]” and “Counter-Strike.” As long as we keep it fun, I think we’re doing a really good job.”