Battle Royale Slugfest The Culling Returns To Xbox With Heavily Criticized Monetization Model
There’s no debating that the Battle Royale market dominates the gaming industry. A game like Resident Evil is successful when it sells over a million copies. The whole Resident Evil franchise has just passed the point where it sold 100 million copies in its whole 24-year lifespan. Fortnite made 1.8 billion dollars in 2019. And the game is free. It’s no wonder that so many new franchises try to cash-in on this wildly profitable trend. Hell, when Call of Duty is copying another game, you know it must be cash money. But there was a time when it was unclear who would come out on top of the Battle Royale battle royale. Though you might not recognize the name now, back in 2016 that game could have been The Culling.
Originally released into Early Access in March of 2016, The Culling was one of the 10 most played games on Steam for some time after launch. Though The Culling would lose a significant chunk of its audience due to the subsequent popularity of games like PUBG and Fortnite, the game had a dedicated fan base. And for good reason. The Culling focused on intense melee combat. Most projectiles were just weapons you threw. Bows were very slow and unwieldy. If you were lucky enough to get a gun, the limited ammo meant that rifle felt like your BFG-9000. Instead of sprawling arenas designed to house up to 100 combatants, The Culling instead dropped players into a more reasonable 16-player arena. This smaller space allowed players to plant effective traps and ambush without waiting in a bush for hours. Even when someone got the drop on you, it actually felt like skill mattered. Most battles boiled down to who was the toughest dude in the room. It wasn’t just about getting sniped every game.
Unfortunately, things soured for The Culling early into production. Developer Xaviant rolled out frequent patches that would more often than not confusingly completely alter or break a core mechanic. It was like every criticism would cause them to run back to the drawing board and come back with a complete overhaul. Obviously, such frequent fundamental changes confuses the audience. More vexingly, there wasn’t enough time between builds to make sure the new mechanics were actually better than the old ones. By the time it reached full release in October 2017, the numbers had dropped significantly. By December, Xaviant announced that they would stop developing The Culling. They would instead be focusing on The Culling 2.
The failure of The Culling 2 is the stuff of legitimate internet legend. That isn’t hyperbole. Released just seven months after the development of The Culling ended, The Culling 2 hit storefronts to the kind of negative reception usually reserved for people that murder dogs. Not eight days after the game released, Xaviant pulled The Culling 2 from store shelves forever. The servers are down, the game is no longer purchasable, and never will be. If you did not play The Culling 2 in the week after it launched, you never will. There are no plans to ever revive the project. Instead, Xaviant announced it would return to The Culling with a reboot titled The Culling: Origins. By March 2019, The Culling: Origins was dead and pulled from storefronts like The Culling 2.
I was one of the people rooting for The Culling at launch. I even wrote an overview of the Early Access back in my Dread Central days. I was the guy trying to get my friends to come try this wild new game out. I even had some success. But like many fans, the constantly changing mechanics eventually pushed me away. I tried The Culling: Origins out when it returned, but by then I was too busy with other life stuff to give it any real attention. To this day, if the conversation about the Battle Royale genre comes up, I’ll still fondly tell tales of the early days of The Culling and the game that could have been amazing.
So imagine my delight when I heard that The Culling was returning yet again. Technically, it was the reboot getting a re-release this time. Released back on the Xbox One on May 14th, The Culling: Origins was returned to the store shelves once again. I was pretty stoked to see this. It felt a bit weird it was only on Xbox, but consoles generally have better sales then PC. Perhaps the console success might bring the game to the PC once again. Besides, the Battle Royale market is less slammed than it was a couple of years ago. Fortnite and PUBG still reign supreme, but there’s a little more space for indie titles to squeeze in. Perhaps nostalgic players would return to The Culling once again and the game would have a bold resurgence! These were thoughts I entertained for only a moment. Then I got to the part of the press release where they talked about monetization.
In a baffling move, the new The Culling: Origins is nickle-and-diming players to an extent generally reserved for Raid: Shadow Legends. Players will have to pay $6 to buy The Culling: Origins (to be fair, this can be bypassed if you previously owned the game). Then, players can play a single match each day for free. After that, they can spend “match tokens” to play more rounds. you can get 3 match tokens for $1, 10 tokens for $3, and 20 tokens for $5. You can also earn a token by winning a match. This is an insane move for a game where you can easily die in the first 30-seconds of a match. These tokens are clearly meant to still players towards the comparatively sane subscription model. You can play unlimited matches for 7 days for $2, or get a 30 day pass for $6. This would make The Culling: Origins the first pay-2-pay-2-play Battle Royale game on the market.
At this point, the rest of the changes are a moot point. There are no more cosmetic crates, which is generally how Battle Royale games make most of their money. This is a pretty inoffensive way to make cash. Only the most frothing of gamer’s rights advocates decry having to spend money on fictional hats. But pretty much everyone agrees you should be able to play the game you pay money for (this isn’t even mentioning the dosh you’ll have to pony up for Xbox Live). The only kinds of games people willingly pay to play after purchase are MMOs. And lets be real, The Culling is no MMO level of content.
Gamers were unsurprisingly furious at this announcement. So furious in fact that Xaviant backpedaled almost immediately. Which honestly, is in line with how they’ve handled the series thus far. Just two days after The Culling: Origins re-launched, Xaviant released at tweet stating that thy amount of free daily matches was set to 10 and that they are working on a new monetization model.
I truly do hope that something good comes from The Culling. Like I said before, I have genuinely good feelings about the game I played all those years ago. But this is just another in a long list of poorly received changes that do not bode well for the overall design. This is a company that pulled a new game just seven days after it was released. I wouldn’t be shocked if we’re about to see that happen again. If you want to check out The Culling: Origins before it possibly disappears again for good, you can find it on the Microsoft Store here.