A group of former Ubisoft developers, with experience on properties such as The Division as well as IO Interactive's Hitman, founded a studio in 2017, announcing shortly after that their first title would be a multiplayer game for PC and consoles. All other details were kept a secret until late 2020.
That studio was Sharkmob, and the game became Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt, a free-to-play battle royale game featuring vampires, supernatural powers and a clear lack of garlic. After a period of early access, Bloodhunt became a sensation, now standing at over six million players – not bad for the team's debut title.
Since then, Sharkmob has opened a second studio in London, where the staff has been working alongside the Malmö team on several games, including Bloodhunt.
Looking back at how the project came to be and its reception, Martin Hultberg, IP and communications director and co-founder of Sharkmob, considers it a rare opportunity in the best possible ways.
“It is a rare opportunity to be part of the creation of a studio, a team, a game, and the processes needed to make that work all at the same time,” he says. “There is so much to learn and experience going through that, both as a developer and as a person. We have seen people really rise to the occasion and grow within their respective crafts. The fact is that not only have we managed to grow the crew at Sharkmob but we have also had a quite low number of people leave for other opportunities – which is quite rare in this industry.”
But the development process wasn’t without its fair share of obstacles, as well as some unexpected shifts that the team had to work around. Paradox Interactive's Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 was announced back in 2019, and by the time Bloodhunt started to take form, the team believed that the sequel to the cult RPG would release first. But this wasn’t the case.
Bloodlines 2 was delayed indefinitely and that team saw layoffs and departures of some key members. Suddenly, all eyes were on Sharkmob’s project — during a time in which veteran fans were hoping for an RPG, not a battle royale.
“We knew we were breaking new ground for the franchise with Bloodhunt, with a more action and combat-oriented experience, so the fact that the existing fanbase would get their highly-awaited sequel before our game felt good,” Hultberg says. “Then it didn’t work out that way, sadly. And we came out first. Which initially made it a bit more frictional, maybe, [than] we had hoped. I do think we managed to convey our vision to people, though, and it seems that most either simply settled for this not being their cup of tea or it being a fresh, new addition to an already strong universe of products.”
As Hultberg explains, opting for an early access phase gave the team a chance to showcase the game and explain what their vision of a battle royale game set around Vampire: The Masquerade was to those longtime fans. And, of course, it allowed people to get their hands (or fangs, rather) on it ahead of release. This decision also helped to gauge the community of players that would be engaging with Bloodhunt, as well as more granular tests and results around mechanics and designs.
Way before early access, however, the team had a clear idea of how they wanted to iterate on the genre, as well as integrate the concept of what playing as vampires meant in terms of design. It all started with the vision of setting the game in a city at night, mixed with a focus on verticality and rapid-fire pacing. While weapons are still present, players can make use of different skills depending on the clan and archetypes that they choose to play as. The Nosferatu, for example, excel at stealth powers and tracking down enemy locations. This ended up being one of the ways in which the long-running lore was integrated.
The vampire theme, a focus on movement capabilities to keep up the pace without the need for vehicles, as well as player expression and customisation options were some of the elements that marked the foundation. The spike in popularity led to players hosting tournaments, which Sharkmob often shares and highlights on social media, as well as the Bloodhunt Inner Circle, which is a program for content creators.
“Bloodhunt is the platform we built our studio on,” Hultberg says. “Without it, there would be no Sharkmob. It is also a series of hard-earned lessons on how we want to develop and run our online games.”
Such lessons have been invaluable for the other projects at the studio. The decision to work on multiple titles came up early on, as Sharkmob saw this as essential for future proofing the company and ensuring job security for the team. As Hultberg explains, with multiple projects the studio can move people from one to another during different phases of development, as well as help solve common issues across projects or temporarily boost specific areas if needed.
At the moment Bloodhunt is developed at and operated from the Malmö studio, whereas the other two projects are directed from one studio each (London and Malmö respectively), with assistance given to one another as the projects vary in terms of phases of development. In terms of the future, the team is shifting from regular season passes and instead focusing on monthly updates, adding new modes such as Team Deathmatch and tweaking existing features based on player feedback.
Four months after the global release, Hultberg looks back and reflects on the decision of kicking off the studio’s portfolio with a battle royale.
“It made sense at the time, with the genre being in its infancy and showing great potential,” he says. “There is no point looking back and speculating, because hindsight is always 20/20. But obviously, with the knowledge we have now, we might have made a few other design decisions and prioritisations along the way.
"Still, I prefer to look at what we actually did achieve with Bloodhunt; a technically smooth launch, a visually stunning game, AAA production value, a fun gaming experience, and a growing fanbase of more than six million. On top of that, we built a dev team and opened studios in two locations – pretty okay considering it’s Sharkmob’s first game and it was developed during a global pandemic with growing unrest in Europe. We shipped it, people enjoy it, and it is something we are very proud of.”