The Flock might be the first video game with built-in obsolescence.
The first-person, multiplayer thriller takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of the year 3000, one where players compete for a mysterious object known as the "light artifact." As you battle you can, like in most games, die. But each death brings The Flock closer to its ultimate conclusion. Dutch studio Vogelsap has set a counter, and once the in-game death toll reaches 215,358,979, new players won’t be able to purchase the game, and the story for those who are playing will move into the final phase.
"A tragic race doomed to extinction."
According to Jeroen Van Hasselt, creative director at Vogelsap, the unique set-up was designed to help get around the challenge of telling a story in a multiplayer game — in particular the ending. You’ll play as one of the Flock, "a hideous race of skeletal beasts" that have risen up after humanity’s extinction. "We always had this story; the Flock are a tragic race doomed to extinction," says Van Hasselt. "During development we had several ideas how to convey that story into multiplayer. It was only when we tried to come up with a solution for a multiplayer game's often anticlimactic ending that both ideas clicked. That’s how the population idea came to life."
The seemingly random population number was created by a combination of factors, including the story and the studio taking into consideration just how many players may end up playing. The goal was to make the game last for a reasonable amount of time, but not drag on until players lose interest. "By our own estimations the game will probably last roughly a year, but we really don’t know," admits Van Hasselt. "We leave it up to the players, as it’s their battle and adventure. Safe to say, the number is substantial and we don’t expect it to end in mere months." The studio has said that it won’t add to the population count unless the game — which is due to launch on PC on August 21st — makes its way to additional platforms, like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.
If nothing else, the scheme feels like a clever way to get around one of the biggest problems with multiplayer-focused games: few of them last for very long. For every Destiny or World of Warcraft, there’s a mountain of failed RPGs or shooters that couldn’t muster a large enough audience to stay interesting for more than a few months. There’s a good chance that The Flock, a relatively unknown game from a small studio, would suffer a similar fate.
"So we decided to sacrifice the ability to play the game in a few years’ time, because we think those players wouldn’t be getting a very good experience anyway," Van Hasselt says. "Either there will be no one online to play against or just a bunch of players who are either very good or very bad. We don’t think that’s fun, so instead we decided we want to improve the experience for most players when they are actually playing the game.
"This will make it a one of a kind adventure of which players can be a part of."