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What Really Went Wrong With Amazon's Crucible

Amazon's first foray into video game production, Crucible, made news headlines for all the wrong reasons. Shortly after the game exited beta, Crucible backtracked so hard it unreleased and went back into closed beta. Not long after, Amazon quickly threw up its hands in defeat and announced Crucible's impending closure, solidifying the title's position in the 2020 game flops hall of shame.

While a video game being shuffled back into beta is a heavy blow, it isn't necessarily a fatal one. Final Fantasy 14, for example, launched in what some believed to be a poor state and was eventually put out of its misery by a dragon god. However, the game subsequently relaunched and became a title that many gamers still enjoy today. Crucible, meanwhile, just sputtered out of existence.

So what went wrong with Crucible? Could the title have been salvaged, or were the developers merely delaying the inevitable when they pushed it back into beta? Let's find out.

Crucible wasn't ready for launch

Crucible was a mess from the word go. Reviews complained about a cavalcade of problems, many of which were encoded into the game's DNA. Crucible was remarkably unbalanced because characters weren't created equal, and players could fill their teams full of clones. The map was far too big and characters were not fast enough to traverse it in a reasonable amount of time. Combat design exhibited the cardinal gaming sins of sloth and monotony. Any one of these issues on their own could have been fixed, but all of them coalesced into a tangled ball of problems that repulsed gamers.

Moreover, on June 4, 2020, the Crucible development team released an update blog that possibly revealed more than intended. Among the promises made in the blog, one stood out more than others. The team stated it would focus on the Heart of the Hives mode and phase out Harvest Commander and Alpha Hunters for the "foreseeable future." Why? As the blog put it, "to refine the design of core systems without the compromises we needed to support three game modes." In other words, The devs bit off more than they could chew and released a product they probably knew was not ready.

Had the team focused on Heart of the Hives from the beginning, tailored the game around it, and worried about adding new modes after the game launched, Crucible might have fared better.

Crucible was hemorrhaging players

Under normal circumstances, if a game undergoes a radical design shift, it can stay afloat if audiences keep it populated. However, since development on Crucible stopped on Oct. 9, 2020, someone at Amazon clearly didn't see a healthy population in the cards, and for good reason.

When Crucible initially launched in May 2020, it had a solid player base that peaked around 10 thousand gamers and averaged 3.5 thousand. Not too big, but not too small, either. However, that was the biggest Crucible's population ever got. As time wore on, more and more players left. One month after the game's release — around the time the developers announced they were placing Alpha Hunters and Harvest Command into cold storage — Crucible's population was one-tenth its original size. Come October when Amazon announced Crucible's closure, the game was simply unsustainable. Some days you could count the active player population on one finger.

No matter how much effort Amazon put into Crucible, the writing had been on the wall for a long time. The final update blog stated the team didn't see the game having a "healthy, sustainable future," and you have to admit, it's hard to sustain a multiplayer game when there's only one player.

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