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Raleigh video game maker Boss Key Productions shuts down

Game developer Cliff Bleszinski announced via Twitter that his studio, Boss Key Productions, is closing.
Game developer Cliff Bleszinski announced via Twitter that his studio, Boss Key Productions, is closing. rgronberg@heraldsun.com

A video-gaming start-up that once hoped to give the publishers of games like "Overwatch" and "Fortnite" a run for their money admitted defeat on Monday when its co-founder posted on Twitter that the company "is effectively no more."

Boss Key Productions' demise began after its first-person shooter, "LawBreakers," "unfortunately failed to gain traction," the studio's co-founder and chief Cliff Bleszinksi said in his tweet. Boss Key released a follow-up attempt to break into the battle-royale genre, "Radical Heights," in April but that proved "too little too late."

The decision ended the Raleigh company's four-year run. Its staff "worked tirelessly to produce quality products and, while we had our ups and downs, I'd like to think we had fun doing it," Bleszinski said in the statement he posted to Twitter.

Bleszinski rose to prominence in the industry as the lead designer for Epic Games' Xbox-based "Gears of War" franchise. He left Epic in 2012 and founded Boss Key Productions in 2014.

The company's initial objective was the creation of a so-called "arena shooter," the project that eventually became "LawBreakers." Its business strategy for the title changed significantly along the way, with the game morphing from a free-to-play model into a pay-up-front one before its release for the PC and PlayStation 4 last August.

"LawBreakers" quickly became a victim of bad timing, as it hit the market just as competitors like "Fortnite" and "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" (also known as PUBG) were changing it. Those games embraced and helped popularize the battle royale format, which makes players compete to become the last person or team standing.

Boss Key, which as of September employed 65 people, tried to regroup by focusing its effort on "Radical Heights." That game debuted in April, via an early-access release on Steam, but questions quickly surfaced about whether it was ready to play even under the loose expectations of an early-access release.

That begged the question of whether there was room for another battle royale title at the moment given the popularity of "Fortnite" and "PUBG," currently the first- and third-most-watched games on Twitch.tv.

Bleszinski argued that there was, but Boss Key's other co-founder, Arjan Brussee, left at the end of the 2017 to rejoin Epic and lead work on adaptions of "Fortnite" for Apple and Android mobile devices.

Nor was Brussee necessarily Epic's last recruiting target. Just three days after the release of "Radical Heights," Bleszinski tweeted that Epic "was trying to hire away my team."

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg

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