It's been quite a year for Population: One, a battle royale game that's anything but ordinary. So far in the year since its original launch, we've seen three full seasons of free content updates, several new weapons come and go, ethereal gameplay modes that only hang around for a short period, and the promise of great new experiences ahead.
I got the chance to have a session of team deathmatch with Eric Morrill, BigBox VR's Community Manager, and asked him plenty of questions along the way, ranging from how BigBox VR decided on team deathmatch for Population: One to what we can expect in the coming months from the game.
I walked away with plenty of answers and even a sneak peek of the upcoming winter content update, which will run from December 16 to December 24 and even features the lovable PJ character handing out gifts to all the good little boys and girls as they play.
Growing beyond just One
Four months into its journey, Population: One became one of the few titles that had amassed over $10 million in revenue. Seeing its success and the team's promise, Oculus Studios acquired BigBox VR just eight months after the launch of the game.
Population: One became one of the Quest 2's early success stories even before being acquired by Oculus Studios.
Since then, as Morrill puts it, "POP1 has become one of the top sellers on the platform and continues to grow." I couldn't get an updated, specific revenue number from BigBox VR during the interview, but it's clear that the game's success has continued to keep the team creating new content every month since launch.
Team Deathmatch Reloaded just began about a week ago and runs until December 16, right up until the start of the Winter event. We first saw deathmatch appear during the season 2 event in the summer, but BigBox VR cooked up something different from the usual experience this time around.
Morrill says, "when we first explored a Team Deathmatch game mode, we wanted it to be a fun addition to our Battle Royale mode. It had familiar POP1 gameplay and used the same looting mechanics. This time, we wanted to make Team Deathmatch stand on its own. Team Deathmatch Reloaded is available now -- go play!"
I'm generally not a fan of deathmatch-style shooters, including the Population: One deathmatch event this summer. And because of work, I hadn't had a chance to try the new Team Deathmatch Reloaded game type until my gameplay session with Morrill. But I actually had a great time with the new mode.
As Morrill pointed out, one new improvement is the new loadout system, which lets players choose one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, and one support item before spawning in the world.
BigBox VR took care to prevent spawn camping by allowing players to walk around in ghost form at a much faster pace than in most game modes. Plus, you'll earn XP while playing this mode, unlike past custom game lobbies that were only for fun.
As with most of the recent Population: One events, this one is only available for a limited time — until December 16, specifically — so you'll need to jump in ASAP to take advantage of it.
Expect to see more traditional first-person shooter modes, as well as recurring game modes, in the future.
Given how much fun Deathmatch was, I asked Morrill about the possibility of seeing it and other classic first-person shooter gameplay modes in the future — like capture the flag or king of the hill. I was extremely happy to hear that "more traditional modes, as well as recurring game modes, are planned for the future." That's great news for regular players.
Managing success and balancing criticism
No one can prepare you for success. BigBox VR was founded back in 2016 by a handful of individuals and aimed to launch "the first FreeMotion battle royale VR game" by 2019. While it got delayed at least a full year until the tail-end of 2020, the results couldn't have been better.
Every time I've asked the team how they manage expectations, they've always been a bit coy with responses but have stuck with saying that the "main goal is as always, to provide a VR gaming experience that is welcoming to all, that helps build lasting relationships, and is always fun and exciting."
Even after the acquisition, the team culture, including their love of bananas and sodas in VR and IRL, remains strong.
Despite being put on the map extremely quickly and then subsequently acquired by one of the world's largest companies, Morrill says "the team culture, including our love of bananas and sodas in VR and IRL, remains strong," referencing the power-ups and support items players find when playing Population: One.
I can attest, having been a regular player for the better part of 2021, that humor and self-awareness remains strong in the game's themes and updates, clueing me in to the idea that people who work at BigBox VR seem to love their jobs. It also goes to show that being acquired doesn't always mean the death of a company's individual culture, which is something I've been a personal part of in more than one job in my lifetime.
What's next for Population: One?
Once Team Deathmatch Reloaded ends on December 16, players will find themselves in a Winter Wonderland filled with snow. Buildings will transform into giant ornaments, presents will be scattered around the environment for players to find, and even Santa PJ will drop loot from his sleigh for all players to enjoy.
Hopefully, PJ has a better time playing Santa than Jack Skellington did.
Beyond that, a New Year's celebration event is planned which, I would assume, will last from sometime after Christmas day — that's December 25 — until probably a week after the New Year if it follows the same schedule as previous events. BigBox VR wouldn't reveal anything specific about this upcoming event but I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more shiny gold jackets flying around the arena if it sticks with a traditional New Year's party theme.
The map will continue to evolve throughout 2022, including a return to the original story featuring the Game Bureau.
Throughout 2021, the game's themes felt pretty random, by all accounts. It's no match for the sheer random smorgasbord that you'll find in Fortnite, but mixing the Wild West with medieval European castles on what's clearly an original map with its own story made me scratch my head at least a few times, even if I was having a ton of fun in the process.
So, of course, I asked the team if we could expect more from Season One's original story that involved the Game Bureau, the giant tower in the middle of the map, and those katana-wielding towerhead soldiers everyone loves to shoot.
Morrill assured me that "there is an interesting backstory with the Game Bureau, but we're not quite ready to divulge more details yet. The look and feel of the map will continue to evolve over time."
Considering how much the map has changed over just the past year — the Kingdom and the Frontier, in particular — it's exciting to hear that the team has plenty of additional events planned for the game that will continue to evolve the map in similar ways.
Beyond that, I had a few more "out-there" requests to make of the team. First, as a person who played far too many hours of Tribes back in the day, I absolutely had to know if the team would consider adding jetpacks to Population: One. Given that gliding is as easy as spreading your arms out when jumping off any vertical structure, it makes total sense.
Jetpacks aren't out of the realm of possibility and, as a former Tribes player, that makes me inordinately happy.
Morrill agreed, further saying, "considering the vertical combat system developed for POP1, a jetpack isn't out of the realm of possibilities."
When pressed further about the inclusion of vehicles in the game — a request I've seen mentioned more than once on Reddit and other VR communities who are longing for a Tribes or Battlefield 1942-style game — Morrill wouldn't take the bone, ending only with "it's a fun idea!"
Hey, I can try.
Based on what we now know, the next few seasons should be incredibly exciting for new and veteran players, alike. It's hard to say how radically the gameplay will change over the next year and whether or not we'll see things like jetpacks or vehicles introduced in that time, but I'm feeling quite confident that we'll see some major map in the very near future.
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