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Payday 3 is finally getting an offline mode as Starbreeze CEO admits sales and player numbers are ‘significantly lower’ than he would like

In case there was any doubt, Starbreeze is not happy with how things are working out for Payday 3, the much-troubled heist-shooter that launched in September 2023. In its year-end financial report for 2023, CEO Tobias Sjögren said sales and player numbers are “at significantly lower levels than we would like,” but it’s not giving up on efforts to turn things around.

Payday 3 ran headlong into technical troubles with its servers when it went live, which was a major problem: Players are forced to be online even when they’re playing by themselves, so issues with servers meant that even solo players were forced to wait in long queues to play the game. The situation got worse as the first patch was repeatedly delayed, ultimately not arriving until more than a month after the release of the game. But that didn’t put the problems to rest, as players were also less than thrilled with the state of the game when it did work.

The net result was predictable: A “mixed” rating on Steam (with no sign of an upturn anytime soon—recent reviews have been “mostly negative”) and a tiny player count that’s currently sitting at just 249. That’s not a healthy situation for any game, let alone one that relies on a large player base for microtransaction sales.

So, Sjögren’s comments are hardly a bolt from the blue. “Payday 3’s sales and player activity are currently at significantly lower levels than we would like,” he said. “Our biggest focus and absolute priority, both during and after the quarter, are the efforts needed to ensure that the game lives up to expectations. We are working closely with our co-publishing partner Plaion to identify the changes that we will implement, in both the short- and long-term, that add the most value to the gaming experience.”

Sjögren said the Payday team would unveil its plans for changes to the game in February (which is the current month) and sure enough, a few hours after the Starbreeze financials were released, Operation Medic Bag was revealed. And it is big: The challenge-based progression system is being scrapped, matchmaking is being overhauled and a quickplay option added, developers are “looking into” bringing back a server browser, the UI is being overhauled, and—this is the big one—an offline mode is coming. Eventually.

“It is clear to us that the community wants the ability to play Payday 3 reliably and on your own terms,” Starbreeze said. “In order to meet that need, we will be doing two major changes to the current implementation. Firstly, we will be developing a stand-alone solo mode you can get into without going through the matchmaking flow. This will be a local game, on your own machine, thereby circumventing the need to connect to a server.”

The solo mode will be rolled out in two phases. Initially, solo players will be able to bypass the matchmaking queue but will still require an online connection for progression and unlocks; eventually, the dev team plans to make the game playable offline, with only occasional connections required to upload progression.

“As playing co-op will always be dependent on connecting to another machine somewhere, we are seeking to implement the solution that provides the best balance between reliability, latency and overall experience,” Starbreeze said. “Our technical leadership have been evaluating options for the past months and will be able to share more details on the solution in the near future.”

Starbreeze has also shelved the planned upgrade to Unreal Engine 5 so developers can focus on fixing the game instead, and DLC pricing is being “reviewed.” The plan to release three DLCs is still on, and a new free heist is also in the works. There’s no time frame on any of this work but it’s clearly a long-term project in whole: Starbreeze said it will “revisit” plans for the Payday 3 in-game store in 2025, “once we are satisfied with the improvements we’re intending to make to Payday 3.” For the record, it’s currently February 2024.

The big question is whether this effort, Herculean though it may be, will be enough to save Payday 3. Its average concurrent player count over the past 30 days, according to Steam Charts, is just 379, a disastrously low number for a co-op shooter. Despite the need to basically start over from zero, Sjögren said the opportunity to turn Payday 3 into a successful game is still on the table.

“There are many examples from the game industry, where a problematic initial time on the market is turned into long-term success,” he said. “There is no simple recipe available, but a common thread from the positive examples is to take players’ criticism to heart, dare to support your game and keeping an open and honest dialogue with your stakeholders. That is exactly what we are now doing with Payday 3.”

Interestingly, while Payday 3 is deep in the tank, Payday 2 is still banging: Sjögren said that game “fared slightly better than expected financially, and its average concurrent player count for the past 30 days was just a hair over 25,000—roughly 100 times the number of people playing Payday 3 right now.

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