“Moments ago on Blaseball dot com, The Coin was melted and a black hole swallowed the universe.”
That’s what The Game Band designer Stephen Bell said when I asked him, creative director Sam Rosenthal, and game design lead Joel Clark to remind me what the most recent happenings in the world of Blaseball were. Bell eagerly volunteered to deliver that explanation, saying he’d “been practicing.”
Of course, “moments ago” in the world of Blaseball was almost exactly a year ago, when the “Expansion Era” came to an explosive conclusion. The rest of the context doesn’t actually matter though. A black hole swallowed everything Blaseball was, and now The Game Band is ready to bring Blaseball back so that its audience can decide what it will be.
As Rosenthal described it when I interviewed him last year, Blaseball is an “absurdist horror take on fantasy baseball.” It involves a bunch of fictional baseball teams with names like the Canada Moist Talkers, Kansas City Breath Mints, and Charleston Shoe Thieves playing fictional games of baseball run by a simulator over the course of a week.
Its audience “plays” Blaseball by placing bets (in fictional currency, no real money involved) on the outcome of those games. Their winnings are exchanged for votes in a weekly election, where the community decides on new rules for future games. Then the week starts over again, with increasingly ridiculous games being played. Past rule changes have introduced elements like player-incinerating umpires, fourth bases, and even a giant god-like peanut. For those who have been able to follow the increasingly ridiculous plotlines, it’s all been a blast. But by the end of 2021’s Expansion Era, Blaseball had become so lore-heavy and complex that many former fans had stepped away, and new fans weren’t coming in as readily.
But The Game Band wants to change that, hence the year-long hiatus (or “Grand Siesta” in the game’s parlance)
“More than anything, we were using it as a space to take a step back and figure out what we want this to be for the long haul,” Rosenthal tells me. “If we continued to just push forward at the pace that we were at, we had a good sense for where it was going to go…We were having a harder time getting new people into the fold, [hearing] the same refrain over again: ‘I feel like I missed the boat, there’s so much happening here all the time, it’s so hard to catch up on.’”
At Our Mercy
It was maybe inevitable that The Game Band would end up in this situation. After all, Blaseball was never intended to be the overnight cult hit it quickly became when it launched in 2020. It was initially conceived as a goofy side project while The Game Band worked out what their next full game would be after the release of Where Cards Fall. But it took off unexpectedly, forcing The Game Band to pivot their studio strategy to maintain it. It was a lot of sudden and unexpected work for a team that numbered around six developers.
The Game Band development team has since grown to 27 members, and now it’s launching Fall Ball: a prologue to the next era of Blaseball. Over the next several weeks, various players from Blaseball past will be falling out of the aforementioned black hole (Get it? FALL Ball?), landing randomly in different teams. While that’s going on, the audience can sign up via email to obtain “commemorative rewards” that will be unlocked by the entire fanbase as they reach certain milestone numbers of sign-ups. There won’t be any games during this time, but those are coming at an unannounced date following Fall Ball.
Previously, Blaseball has been a fully browser-based experience, but no more. Alongside Fall Ball, The Game Band is unveiling an app for iOS and Android that will launch alongside the new era. The app will have full parity with features on the website, as well as push notifications, giving Blaseball the flavor of a more traditional sports app like ESPN.
This dovetails nicely with some of the changes audiences should expect to see when Blaseball returns for its new era. It’s still the same structure – a week of games, a championship, voting on Sunday – but Rosenthal says they’re aiming to make it more friendly for folks who can’t stare at the website all day long watching games. He won’t share specific details yet, but does say it will be easier to bet on games in advance. Community social features are coming, too, making it easier for teams to collaborate on voting strategies without individuals having to be dialed into a specific Discord server or Twitter.
In the midst of all this, Blaseball will remain free-to-play. But while it was previously funded largely through weekly sponsorships from various companies, the coming era will see the introduction of optional paid transactions. The team reassures that nothing with real money attached will impact the game of Blaseball itself – it’s all tied to elements that will allow individuals to customize their user experience, especially in conjunction with Blaseball’s social elements.
Most critically, Blaseball remains at the mercy of its fans. The year-long siesta has enabled The Game Band to play out what Clark calls the “possibility space” much further in advance than before. The team is moving away from the grand, overarching storylines that characterized the first two eras in favor of more of a “monster of the week” format that allows fans to dip in and out without reading pages of wiki articles about what happened months ago. But the stories told week to week will remain in the hands of the sim and the fans.
“We have had a lot more time to plan, so we have a lot more thought out in advance,” Clark says. “But part of that is allowing the space for improvisation, the nature of the simulation being essentially an emergent narrative engine. We have to improvise, right? There’s going to be things that the sim does that we can’t expect, there’s going to be stories the fans tell around the sim that we can’t expect. And there’s going to be things that they find that they can do that we can’t expect. So we’re designing the possibility space and trying to give ourselves the tools to be able to improvise and have those ready ahead of time, so we’re not building stuff on the fly, but that we have things that we can bring in if necessary.”
An Era of Sustainability
With that comes the hope (if not the promise) that Blaseball is done with year-long siestas like this last one. It is about sustainability, the team tells me – something they have discussed in the past. Clark acknowledges The Game Band has learning a lot about what exactly sustainability means over time. Rosenthal, meanwhile, is optimistic about Blaseball’s prospects now that it has a much larger team to support it and a “much more stable foundation.”
The trio adds that their internal processes will likely still need some refinement. After all, many of the 27 members of The Game Band were hired in the last year, and have never been on the team while games are being played, fans are voting on decisions, and Blaseball is shifting beneath everyone’s feet. It’s daunting, but it’s also an exciting creative challenge for the team.
That push for sustainability extends not just to the team, but to the community creating the story of Blaseball along with them.
“I think that’s all we keep returning to, because we heard that and we felt it through two eras of people saying, ‘This was interesting to me, but I bumped off it or I can’t find my way in,’” Bell says. “So [success would mean] keeping Blaseball’s energy, still getting to do the weird chaos stuff that we like doing, but not blocking the door from new fans.”
Blaseball’s Fall Ball website update is up now, with the first player scheduled to fall out of a black hole on October 28, and the Blaseball app planned for launch at the same unannounced, upcoming time as the next Era.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.
Source: IGN Video Games All