Evolve never really took off like many people thought it would. For months, it was touted as the next big thing in eSports: the dawn of a new 4v1 era, where teams didn't always need to be perfectly balanced to have a highly competitive match.
Judging by the pre-release publishing, Evolve was going to be huge — and yet, when the game finally launched back in 2015, the community disappeared almost instantly. In just a few months, it was almost as if the game had never launched in the first place.
For a long time, most people assumed that Turtle Rock Studios was simply working on its next project. Support for the game slowed to a crawl, and the community continued to shrink until only a few dozen players were logging in at a time. Simply put, Evolve had essentially died.
Then, Turtle Rock Studios did something drastic. Instead of continuing to try and support a game that no one was playing, the team completely reworked how Evolve was structured. Players no longer had to pay for the game — instead, a new free-to-play system was introduced, with players instead purchasing individual characters and customization options.
It was a huge change, but it looks like the new system is working: according to Steam Charts, the new free-to-play version of Evolve is now home to several thousand players at any given time, with upwards of 25,000 unique users during peak hours.
The level of growth that Evolve has seen is unprecedented. Bringing a game back from the dead is no easy task, especially one that most people had forgotten about. It goes to show that, while the launch version of Evolve was flawed, the core idea of the game is one that still resonates with a lot of people. The Steam Chart numbers don't lie: player counts of a few hundred suddenly jumped to tens of thousands overnight.
With any luck, the numbers will only continue to grow: the free-to-play Evolve is still in beta, and there are balance changes and updates on the way. One could assume that, once the new Evolve is ready for a public release, the player population will only continue to grow.
From there, it's up to Turtle Rock Studios to continue supporting the game. Evolve was one of the first major shooters to offer its multiplayer maps for free, but the dwindling player population meant that the team's generosity mostly fell on deaf ears. It'll be interesting to see how the game grows and evolves (no pun intended) over time — will Turtle Rock use the same strategy a second time, or will the team try something new?