Back 4 Blood devs on cross-play compromises and the power of Xbox Game Pass

Back 4 Blood
(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Back 4 Blood feels like a game totally suited for the time we're living in. After a year and a half of social isolation, so many of us are craving community. As we make clear in our Back 4 Blood beta hands-on preview, Turtle Rock Studios' co-op survival shooter feels like it is going to fill that gap, giving friend groups that have become exhausted with video chats a new excuse to get together.

That's going to be especially easy with Back 4 Blood. Developer Turtle Rock Studios and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive has worked to ensure that the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead is available on as many platforms as possible, with the game launching October 12, 2021, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Better yet, Back 4 Blood crossplay will be supported from day one – meaning that friends can play together, regardless of what platform they have invested in. Better Better still, Back 4 Blood will be available on Game Pass from day one, meaning Xbox owners have little excuse not to jump into the action. 

Concessions for crossplay

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Warner Bros)
Back 4 Blood hands-on

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Find out why we believe Back 4 Blood is the most fun you'll have with your friends this year in our Back 4 Blood open beta hands-on preview.

It's difficult to believe, but it's been over six years since Turtle Rock Studios released Evolve. Not only has technology and online infrastructure come a hell of a long way in that time, but established communities are beginning to fracture with the arrival of two brand new platforms – the PS5 and Xbox Series X. 

Matt O’Driscoll, who served as executive producer of Turtle Rock's asymmetrical monster hunter, now working as lead producer on Back 4 Blood, tells me that as excited as the team was to get its hands on the new tech it had some bigger considerations to keep at the forefront of its mind. "You're gonna notice on next-gen [that] we've got HDR options and things like things like that, and lots of different options for high-end PCs, but it's kind of… okay, this is kind of important."

"We needed to maintain a certain amount of console parity. We couldn't go, 'oh look, on next-gen you can kill 500 zombies but our current-gen is only 10," says O’Driscoll, speaking to the need to keep the experience consistent across PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. "It wouldn't work, because we're cross-gen and cross play. So we have to keep that kind of thing – like enemy counts and whatnot – the same across the board. We had to be really mindful about what we were developing on. We couldn't just go off and say, 'oh, we're we're on next-gen, who cares about current gen!' We knew we were developing across five platforms; we are at that kind of crossroads in console generation life. We spent a lot of time and effort making next-gen look shiny and all that, but we did have to be careful with console parity so we can maintain cross-play.

There's estimated to be 115 million PS4 and over 50 million Xbox One consoles in circulation. While we're yet to get concrete numbers on the next-gen consoles, it would appear that there are 10 million PS5 systems in distribution and the Xbox Series X is just shy of this figure after the first nine months of being on the market. It makes sense that Turtle Rock would need to target PS4 and Xbox One, but does it want to – given the possibilities afforded by the new generation of consoles? I asked O’Driscoll when the studio would have liked to have focused on the new. He tells me that it's ultimately a battle between creative and business priorities. 

"From a developer perspective? Day one. From a business perspective? Not yet. From a developer [perspective], if you're just on the latest and greatest, yeah, there's probably some more you can think about. But there's a big instal base out there that includes people who will still want to play this game. We're happy to bring it to them as well. We just had to be extra careful and mindful when we were developing [Back 4 Blood] that we've still got good parity across the different systems. So, yeah, it's one of those. Business versus heart, I guess," he laughs. 

Game Pass is a game changer

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Warner Bros. )

I've never launched a game that's had that kind of accessibility from day one

Matt O'Driscoll, lead producer

Back 4 Blood is launching October 12 and it'll be doing so with a massive potential instal base behind it. Turtle Rock's co-op shooter is landing in Xbox Game Pass on day one, opening the servers up to a potential 23 million subscribers before we factor in PC, PS4, and PS5 players – not to mention Xbox owners who are yet to sign up to the service. O’Driscoll has been working in the video game industry since 1995, and he says he's never launched a game quite like this before. 

"Yeah… day one, launching on Game Pass. That's going to be kind of crazy, right? We need a player pool, so that we've got matches going all the time. I think we've got that player pool from day one. I forget what the numbers are for Game Pass, but I think it's 20 million-plus users, right? They will have access to our game from day one, which is kind of mind blowing. I've never launched a game that's had that kind of accessibility from day one."

While these types of publishing decisions are often made late in the development cycle, Back 4 Blood has been delayed numerous times so that the team could finish up the game appropriately whilst dealing with the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on production. So I was curious to know whether any additional changes to the game were made with the additional time, factoring in this massive potential install base through Game Pass alone – onboarding, pacing, difficulty, the way updates will be released, whatever it may be. To put the 23 million (and growing) Game Pass subscribers in perspective, it was estimated back in 2012 – at the height of Left 4 Dead's popularity – that the series had sold 12 million copies

"We didn't really," says O’Driscoll. "So it was kind of super cool for us, that we didn't have to pivot too much at all. There was no, 'oh hey, we're going on Game Pass but we've got to support this or we've got to do this'. It was like, the deal was struck, they [Microsoft] wanted the game on Game Pass – but they wanted the game we were making." 

Back 4 Blood will release October 12, 2021. There's an early access beta running August 5-9 and an open beta August 12-16. Turtle Rock Studios and Warner Bros. are launching the game for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X and, yes, cross-play is supported.

Josh West
UK Managing Editor, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the UK Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. He has over 10 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.