Let’s get the obvious out of the way: We are all – in some way – perversely intrigued by the idea of vampires.
Maybe it was Bram Stoker’s Gothic masterpiece, Bela Lugosi, The Lost Boys or The Twilight Saga that hooked you or rendered you unable to look away. No matter where the dark appeal originated, we mere mortals have been intrigued by the midnight bloodsuckers since the legends emerged in 17th century Europe. To date, we’ve always kept them at stake’s length, gawking from a distance, garlic chain around our neck, silver bullet at the ready.
But what if you could actually BE a vampire, and not just any vampire, but your own vampire, with your personality, fighting style with a posse of like-minded bloodsucking friends? That’s the idea behind Sharkmob’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt. Bloodhunt was released for early access on Steam in early September. While well-received with seven-figure sign-ups, users weren’t shy about pointing out the game’s growing pains.
The Level Infinite team sat down with the Swedish development studio’s co-founder, Martin Hultberg, and Marketing Director André Persson and got a refreshingly candid discussion about success, setbacks and staying true to the brand. The following is part one of a two-part article.
Level Infinite: Do you have any regrets about the early release testing phase after some of the backlash you received from players? It was a pretty gutsy move to go full early release, rather than the typical alpha-beta testing route, right?
André Persson (AP): I mean, the early access phase is exactly that. It’s not a marketing gimmick. For us, early access has always been an alpha tryout, the beta stage and then we launch. It’s all feedback from the community, so that’s the good part. It’s like, “you asked for it, so here you go.”
LI: Over 2 million people took part, that’s a lot of feedback.
AP: Yes, I think that’s the whole point. I mean, we could ship the game as is, but the expectations from the community are very loud. They’re comparing us to the best of the best. With that type of expectation, we need to get there.
LI: What are you guys addressing so that you can ensure the final game is at that top level gamers expect from Sharkmob?
AP: Think about it, when we started, “battle royale” wasn’t even a genre, it was a game mode, for one game. Now, you’re competing with studios that have a thousand developers creating different game modes. The demands for the whole genre have grown into something fanatical, which is a good thing. We’re focused on improving performance and that takes time. Our fans are expecting a lot.
LI: You talk about improving performance. What specific areas got the most feedback from gamers? Did it kind of fall into separate buckets, or was it more overall comments about how to make the game better?
AP: We’ve learned a lot about expectations from the early release, that’s for sure, I’m grateful we did it. The other option would’ve been doing more alpha testing. There is a risk that comes with allowing early access. There are a lot of critics, but it opens the door to ideas that I don’t think we would’ve gotten with just testing here and there. It also shows you clearly what is and is not working, as far as retention, and where our priorities should be. Our main priorities right now are creating a stable gameplay experience, improving performance and making it harder for players caught cheating to create new accounts.
LI: Another risk you took was switching genres, from a role-playing game to a battle royale. That’s never an easy sell to the players who are already familiar with you and your games.
AP: We knew from the get-go that our RPG audience was going to be like, “what the hell are you doing with our RPG brand?” The RPG audience is a very passionate and engaged bunch.
LI: Explain that tension.
AP: I mean that audience, it’s a 30-year-old brand now, so every generation wants and expects different things. We knew we were going to have to maneuver very carefully to get everyone on board.
Martin Hultberg (MH): One of the original goals was that we were supposed to come out on the heels of Bloodlines 2, and we were aiming for that to happen. Our hope was that Bloodlines 2 would satisfy the hunger of the hardcore RPG fans, which would make them more open to a different, new kind of experience.
LI: How do you feel about being compared to wildly successful games like Call of Duty?
AP: I think we have something that they don’t have. The pace of the game is more like Fortnite. It’s very fast-paced, which gives you immediate freedom and immediate power. As soon as you step into that map, you can start jumping, climbing, exploring – it’s just a completely different feel. We have the guns, we have the weapons, but it’s the setting, the supernatural powers and the verticality that is unique.
LI: The trailers I’ve seen look amazing: dark, broody almost romantic.
AP: There’s a mature feel about it that’s almost intimate in a way. The setting is an old European city, Prague, which is just something completely different. You can immediately see it, even from a graphic standpoint.
LI: I know you’re still focused on Bloodhunt, but looking beyond that, what’s next for Sharkmob?
MH: This is just the beginning for Sharkmob. We have two other projects in the pipe, shared between our Sweden and UK studios. Even for Bloodhunt, this is just the start of the journey and once live, we will continue expanding on the experience together with the community.
LI: And to your critics?
MH: Well, people reacting to what we put out means they care. So getting no reaction would be way worse than getting a hot reaction. We are open to all forms of criticism and will keep developing the game together with the community.
LI: OK, so for the fans out there, when should they expect to see Bloodhunt return? Any idea of a release date? When do we get to play again?
AP: We can say for sure 2022.
Next up, we sit down with Sharkmob co-founder Martin Hultberg to discuss Sharkmob’s origin story, the development of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt, their new London studio and silencing the critics.
Sharkmob, founded in 2017 makes multiplayer games with a focus on the player and the community. Many of us come from a PC and console background and we always push for AAA production value in our projects. We love to constantly challenge ourselves – pushing technology to the max while applying every ounce of skill and creativity we have.