Well @#$#@%$. The TLDR is that almost all the Arcen staff are going to lose their jobs, effective Monday.
Starward Rogue is out now, and it’s getting glowing steam reviews (76, all positive, as of this writing) as well as a lot of positive youtube and twitch coverage. Mostly from smaller channels with a few exceptions at the moment, but still. People are playing it and they are really loving it! As in, more than anything else we’ve done since AI War — really?? That’s awesome news!
Oh, but the sales suck. We’re lost in a sea of other titles. About 9,000 people on Steam have wishlisted the title, which is awesome — next time this goes on discount, hopefully they’ll pick it up (but I mean, it’s only $11.99 USD and it’s 10% off already!). By contrast, about 2,100 people have bought the game across Steam and Humble.
I’ll save you the trouble of pointing out that this has happened to us before. Back in 2010 we had a lot of trouble, and then promptly were pulled out of it by an outpouring of support. I still had to lay off about half the team that worked on Tidalis, but the company itself continued on and eventually grew larger than ever before.
We had some more woes in early 2014, right before The Last Federation came out. These were not particularly public, but we lost a bunch of staff then again. By making a lot of personal financial investments and by making the staff cuts, I managed to get us to the finish line on that game without us having to cry for help again. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to do again — particularly after in 2010, that became part of our reputation. This isn’t exactly something you want to be known for.
Anyway, TLF then became our fastest-selling title to date (though it’s total sales have not matched AI War), and we wound up with a large cash buffer. I brought back on some of the staff I had had to lay off previously, albeit more carefully in terms of how many people and how many hours. I didn’t want this to happen again.
Stars Beyond Reach
Wait, I thought we were talking about Starward Rogue? Yeah, but my chief screw-up this time happened in relation to Stars Beyond Reach. You may recall that in early October we decided to push that game back until Q2 2016, citing burn-out on the game and being creatively stagnant, etc. That was after pushing the game back repeatedly, first from May to July, and then to late September.
When we started on Stars Beyond Reach, we were relatively cash-rich. We had over $200k in the bank, solid monthly income, and I was feeling my oats. It was time for that big awesome 4X game I’d always been wanting to make. What better time, right? People had been asking us to do a true 4X for years, too, and now we were finally ready.
What happened next is complicated, and the details are somewhat up for debate. However you look at it, though, it’s my fault. Basically I overreached with the design, is the simplest way to put it. We spent a TON of time in R&D mode, and then went to beta, and found out how much the early versions kinda sucked. So we did more. And more. And more. And it got better with every iteration. The game was becoming fun, inch by inch.
However, all this time spent in extra development more than doubled the cost of making the game, and in the meantime our steady stream of income from our 2014-and-before titles started to dry up. The Steam store changed a lot, and periodic discount sales — as well as the larger store-wide sales — were no longer the huge windfalls they once had been. Our non-discount-period sales were up because of the new changes, so that was good. But the promotional income was gutted, and that was our main source of income. So we started bleeding money.
The Money Bleed
The image to the left shows a pretty good approximation of what happened month by month. You’ll notice that nowhere in there does it include paying me back for the money that I had to put into the company in order to finish The Last Federation (that was around $40k). It does include the company line of credit, which I had put to about a balance of $50k right as TLF was coming out.
In other words, yeah, we ran ourselves down to our last dime making TLF. I say we — I mean me. I mean, there again, it was my fault for being overly ambitious, and then really going through a lot of combat models trying to get things fun, etc. (I thought I had learned my lesson after the TLF project was such a close call, but clearly not.)
Anyway, yeah, first thing to do was pay off the LOC so that we were not being hit with $400 or more in interest payments each month on that. But at any rate, the company was really flying high in 2014. Our income actually has grown every year except for 2015, but in 2014 it jumped a huge amount from our previous high of about $400k gross income (in a company financial sense — not in the sense of gross sales at distributors sites — from that standpoint the $400k was our net income after distributor fees and taxes). Overall our gross income for 2014 was about $700k, which was huge for us.
That meant the gross sales prior to the distributor cuts was well over $1m. Coool! Incidentally, our total gross sales prior to distributor cuts for all our games in the last 6.5 years has now passed over $3.5 million, give or take a bit. Yay us!
I didn’t get paid at all in 2012, and had put at least half my income back into the company in 2013 and 2014 to keep it going, but our overall library of games — and thus pool of long-term income — was growing. When I say it like that, it sounds kind of stupid, but basically it boils down to the fact that I had enough to live on for my needs, enough to pay staff, and enough to keep making games.
Most of our games have made money (well, actually about half of them have earned more than they cost), and out of those some made VASTLY more than they cost to make (AI War in particular, but TLF also did very well on that front). So it’s not completely moronic to say “we’ll worry about that back income later, and right now the important thing is to come out with another game that is awesome and which hopefully has a solid reception like the other games of ours which made money.” All it would take is one more game like TLF and all of that back history would be wiped away, PLUS we’d have a handy war chest as buffer for during future games.
What happened, instead, was our back catalog except for AI War and TLF all pretty much stopped earning any money around mid-2015 when some of the Steam store changes happened. And our ability to gain substantial income from periodic promotions disappeared, so we stopped having “on months and off months” and pretty much just shifted to “off months.”
The First Crossroads
In April of 2015, I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish Stars Beyond Reach in time for a launch in May. So at that point we could either push back the date on that and try to finish the game by July, or we could set it aside and work on some other game. I was getting really excited by the idea that turned into Starward Rogue about that time, so it was suuuper attractive to want to just jump over and work on Starward and give up on SBR for the time being. SBR really wasn’t going all that well at that time, although there were a lot of things that were headed in the right direction.
I am well aware of the sunk cost fallacy, and I considered that a lot when making my decision. I’m also very aware of the “grass is always greener” effect. A project that is in the ideation stage is always more exciting than one in the late slog period of development. After looking at finances and talking to staff and my wife and my parents and looking at various circumstances, I decided to keep going on SBR. Going for early July would actually give us loads of extra time to finish it up really well.
And Then Down From There
Obviously “we’re almost done” kept not being true, because Stars Beyond Reach just kept not being good enough. I have over 160 hours playing the game, and it is a fun and intriguing game in quite a lot of ways. But it is just missing… something. Some of the mechanics just don’t quite work. Enough things are just out of place that the whole isn’t the pleasing masterpiece that I had hoped to create. Not even close. How does it stack up to other strategy games? That’s impossible for me to state objectively. But the game was not (and still is not) at a state it needs to be for me to feel good about trying to sell it to you.
The Biggest Crossroads
October rolled around, and we were basically hitting a point where my projected income put us running out of funds just prior to the end of December. IF things went really smoothly with SBR, which seemed unlikely, then we might be able to release it into the maelstrom that is the November release schedule. That would have been suicidal, and so that would mean releasing SBR in the new year.
But that would be really putting ALL our eggs in that one basket, and if we couldn’t release anything until January anyhow… well, that might just be enough time to make the game that went on to become Starward Rogue. Going for that, and taking on some debt to accelerate the project and thus get it out faster, seemed to make more sense. Even my fiscally conservative mother agreed. Having one project in a semi-finished state and another project finished in that timeframe just made so much more sense.
And I still stand by that! That was the right call, and actually everything went according to plan from then on.
Starward Rogue As A Project
The first thing I did was get Misery from our forums on board, because he’s a whiz at the sort of enemy designs that make up the game. I also got up with my friend Zack, who is excellent as a level designer, to help work on room designs. I wound up pulling in over a dozen other people from November through January to work on a contract basis on aspects of the game. Actually it was probably the best work I’ve ever done as a project manager / producer. Man it was a hellish rush toward the end, and I was sleeping about 3-4 hours per night and then working the rest of the day for the last week or so toward release, but things all came together.
Oh, but one thing. Just a tiny thing. Because of this insane schedule, and the fact that the game was going to be coming hot off the presses right as release happened, there wasn’t going to be time for advanced marketing, PR, awareness, etc. No launch reviews. Ugh! But to combat that, we did a really big promotion with a Bionic Dues giveaway with Humble Store in exchange for a lot of promotional awareness about Starward Rogue.
We knew starting in October that the marketing/PR side of this was going to be a nightmare and likely would harm our launch. But out of a number of bad options that I had in October (based on my own mistakes from earlier in that year), that was the least-bad. And then Erik came up with the idea for the Bionic Dues giveaway, and that was a really huge coup in terms of our ability to get launch-day press and so forth. It was a gamble, sure, but we stacked things in our favor as much as possible given the corner I painted us into with SBR.
And Here We Are
Welp, Starward Rogue is out now. I couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s such a cool game! It’s possibly our best yet, and certainly better than anything other than AI War. Players seem to agree. Our beta testers had started out iffy in late November, and had really helped us shape this into something they were all hopping around excited about. Threads were popping up all over our forums about “I love this game!” and “Where did this come from?” and so on.
In the past when we have done a launch, generally we wind up on the Steam top sellers list in the top 40 at around the low side, and peak somewhere in the top 10. We’ve reached the #6 spot a couple of times, briefly, and if memory serves we might have very very briefly been #2 at one point. Usually we hang out in the teens for a few days and then drop off.
That’s where we make our money. Other things, like positive reviews from some sites or youtube channels, cause a brief spike, but that’s about it. Things taper off and we then have a low-grade income from the game for a while after that. Then the next income pops are pretty much discount promotions — although that started not being the case in 2015 for us, so now that was questionable as well.
However, unfortunately, Starward Rogue has seen financially the worst launch for us except for Tidalis and Shattered Haven. Those two did worse (much worse), but we were not as large at that point. The Tidalis flop is what precipitated the 2010 money woes that were public, though. Shattered Haven was fortunately not really more than a disappointing blip in 2013, financially speaking (there are honestly people in our fanbase for whom that is their favorite Arcen title — I know the steam reviews are “mostly negative” and I get that most people don’t like the game, but it wasn’t something that nobody could enjoy).
Anyway, Starward: we have mostly hung out in the 200s instead of in the teens, and mostly in the 250s at that, top-seller-chart-wise. We peaked, briefly, at #98. That lasted under 3 hours. Our clickthrough rate on our marketing run was over double the store-wide average, but it still ended early compared to what happened with TLF. I’m not sure why that was, but we were still getting other kinds of featuring, so there were some solid hits coming in.
What Didn’t Happen
This was supposed to be a month of high earnings to recoup recent past losses, and to provide a nest egg that would support us as we finish up Stars Beyond Reach in a manner that we feel we actually want to release (there are some very heavy revisions that we have planned on that front). Instead, it looks like the company will be taking another loss for the month — this one about $6k, give or take a little (final numbers are not in).
To put it another way: owwwww.
I look at the reviews and the player comments and so forth and I get so happy. I look at the sales numbers and… yeah. This is literally unprecedented for us. We’ve had rocky response and reasonable or poor sales. We’ve had good response and good sales. We’ve had poor response and poor sales, and mixed response and poor sales. What we’ve never had is awesome response and poor sales.
What Happens Now (Assuming Nothing Changes)
I’ll have to pull another $30k or so out of my personal money, taking a hit on stock sales since the market is down. The LOC is pretty well maxed out. I’m not going to default on any debts (good lord I would never put myself in a position to do that), but I don’t have any extra money to spend.
Based on the current income level, we will only be able to maintain a fulltime staff of two — Keith and myself — but I’ll stretch it to three in order to keep our artist Blue on as well. We need an artist on staff. Everyone else, including Pablo, our awesome composer who has been with me from the start, gets laid off. If things don’t improve, then after another month or three Blue also gets laid off.
Some of the contractors on Starward Rogue were originally fans and have now offered to donate some of their time to helping maintain the game post-launch and continue curating player content and creating some more content of their own, etc.
In the last two months we have had six people fulltime, four more with > 10 hours per week, and another seven with regularly-recurring work generally paid by the piece. That’s the team it took in order to make Starward Rogue in such a short amount of time — and it doesn’t count voice actors or some one-off contract artists, etc. Most of that team was just on for some limited contracting in the first place, but seven of those have had a work relationship with us for at least a year (if not three or six years).
To some of them it’s just a disappointment. To others it’s the loss of a dream job. For two of them, this disruption comes at a time when they have new babies on the way. For Pablo, he’s a new dad as of less than two months ago (his paternity leave is why there isn’t more music in the Starward Rogue track list, but he is adding more since returning to work). On the flip side, and what I have to remind myself: nobody is dying, and most of them have spouses that either can or do work; and/or they have other job prospects beyond just Arcen.
But still. These people are my friends, my colleagues, and people whose livelihoods are my responsibility. I have made all the choices I have in good faith, and usually in lengthy consultation with the rest of them. But there’s been a lot of trust that they put in me that I knew what the hell I was doing.
It just so happens that I may not know what the hell I am doing. Either I never understood the market as well as I thought I did, or the market changed while we had our heads in the sand developing SBR, or both. Whatever the case, it’s something I deeply regret. The fact that they are all being so nice and understanding with me makes it all the worse, honestly.
Why Am I Telling You?
I don’t know. I kinda thought that Starward Rogue was good enough that this would be a new chance to live life properly and not run around with my hair on fire all the time. Instead we have this gut punch.
I mean, obviously, I’m hoping that you’ll tell all your friends and family and shout to the high heavens how much the game if you do. Nobody writes a post like this without hoping for some help, and it would be disingenuous for me to suggest otherwise. This post is definitely a request for help, if you feel that you want to give it.
It’s very embarrassing for me to come back and do this a second time; that pretty much cements that as part of my identity in your mind, doesn’t it? I’m now the guy who can’t manage the finances of his company right. Well… so be it. There are many worse things to be. Someone who doesn’t take a last-ditch opportunity to try and salvage his staff is one of them.
How Can You Help?
This is why I said “I don’t know” in answer to the above question. Our problem seems to be one of exposure for Starward Rogue. Unless I am very much missing something, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it shouldn’t be happily finding a smiling audience about now. If you have a way of helping get the word out about the game along with whatever your opinion of it is (if you think it sucks and want to tell people that, I guess that’s certainly better than them not knowing at all).
Some of your wind up being inclined to start giving us monetary tips through paypal. And while that is certainly very much appreciated, that’s kind of a “sprinkling water on a heavy blaze” sort of situation. In order for me to salvage staff at anything close to the levels we had in 2015, let alone what we’ve had recently, we need sustained sales from a wider audience — an audience that I feel like the game would appeal to, if only they knew about it properly and actually bought it instead of wishlisting it.
“Give a man a fish,” and all that. Not that we don’t appreciate the fish, but if you give us money and then see us still have a massive layoff I imagine that’s going to feel like a gut punch to you. So I mean… I’m really not wanting charity here.
If the game doesn’t deserve to sell, then it doesn’t deserve to sell, and that’s the way it goes. In that case, then the appropriate thing that usually happens in a company is a layoff. Yay capitalism.
The only thing that I’m wanting is for the game to have a chance to actually find its audience, and for them to either support us or not by deciding to purchase the thing we have on offer for them. That’s why we made this in the first place! (Aside from the fact we wanted to play it, I mean.) If that’s simply not meant to be, as was the case with Shattered Haven or Tidalis, then so be it. But that’s not at all the vibe I’m getting so far.
What About Stars Beyond Reach?
I’ve brought this up several times in this post, so I need to go ahead and address this game’s status. Yes, we are still planning on releasing this in Q2 of this year. It will be undergoing a major overhaul of a lot of the low-level mechanics (but not the high-level spirit) under the direction of Keith, while I pretty much step back from the project (we can’t have two head chefs and he’s the one with a really good plan for the game that I’m really excited about).
I and the former-contractors now-volunteers will be maintaining Starward Rogue. I’ll be doing playtesting and giving feedback on Stars Beyond Reach along with the other 250ish testers we have for that game. And I’ll be working on another project on my own. I’m not needed on SBR in a fulltime capacity right now, and so far SR isn’t showing signs that it can support me doing fulltime post-release content for it like I had hoped, so it’s time for me to split my time with something new that will hopefully do a better job of sustaining our new tiny staff if that’s what we shrink to.
In short, if the sole reason you care about the fate of our company is because you want to see Stars Beyond Reach become a reality, then please don’t support us extra at the moment. That’s a lot of pressure on SBR — what if you don’t like it? What if, god forbid, we just can’t get it right and scrap it? None of that will be affected by what goes on with our staff-at-large anyhow at this point. SBR is in no way a hostage to our current circumstances.
Time To Wrap This Up
I don’t have any rallying cry to close this, or anything like that. I’m exhausted, the whole team is, and right now we’re feeling this really strange mixture of being very happy and proud and also being… a bit crushed. You might say “that’s life,” and you’d be right. You might point out that game companies big and small get shuttered every week, and you’d also be right. And we’re not being shuttered.
But a lot of people I care about did a lot of hard work to bring to life something that I think you’ll enjoy, and they’re going to be losing their jobs in about half a week because of me. I figured I ought to at least give you a heads up.
Official forum post on this topic.
This is so awful 🙁
Arcen have become my favourite developers by a country mile since i discovered Bionic Dues. Since then I’ve bought almost all your games and loved them all.
Is thete any way of quickly and cheaply exposing your titles to new markets? Surely Bionic Dues, VBW and a few others would work as mobile titles? Or what about the console market? I would buy multiple copies!
Could you do something similar to a Patreon, like a virtual donations box?
All the best for the future and know your dedicated fans will stand by you!
I love hearing how people find their way to us as a company through our less-popular titles. Bionic Dues was received well, but due to a variety of reasons it has never broken even. Aka, I spent more money making it than I’ve made back from sales of it. I’d have to check the numbers for exact figures, but we may break even on that one in late 2017 if current trends hold. Before the Steam Store shift happened, it looked like we were on track to have it break even by the end of 2015 I think it was. But that one dropped off a cliff in terms of sales sometime in 2015, same as all our other titles except AI War and TLF. Or was it 2014? I can’t keep track, honestly — I have to refer back to old reports and spreadsheets and so forth to be sure.
While I would love to move to new platforms, and we’ve considered that in the past, there are a number of problems with that.
1. These are complex new markets that we don’t understand at all. They have their own media, their own expectations, and so on. We’re completely out of our element there.
2. We don’t have anyone on staff who actually knows how to do that. We could learn it, but how long would that take? It’s a big unknown, and in the meantime that would stop us from making other things that are actually new.
3. Word through the grapevine from other developers has been that unless a game is already massively popular, it doesn’t do well when ported to iOS or Android. Those markets are so incredibly over-saturated, and the discoverability of new games is so poor, that it’s almost always a financial loss.
3.a. Which is a good time to note that I absolutely love all the things that the Steam Store has been doing to promote discoverability of games as their indie catalog has exploded. It’s the best of any store that I’ve seen, and I only wish that the curators system had worked out better. I hope that Steam keeps improving their processes, and that other stores take note.
3.b. GOG’s response seems to be to start curating the games they carry more heavily, thus giving more attention to each title that comes on their platform. That approach worked very well for Steam in the past, and it’s an approach I understand and can respect. Unfortunately through this process they looked at a quite-incomplete build of Starward and decided not to carry the game, so that really backfired on us in that instance.
4. When it comes to XBox and Playstation, those are ones where the game has to really work in a gamepad-only mode. Right now the only game we have that works in that fashion is Starward Rogue. Which would seemingly be awesome. But it takes time to get on those platforms, and the only worthwhile way is to be a full XBLA title or similar — the XBLIG market, if that even still exists, is not something that sells well last I heard. Other consoles like the Wii and Wii U have never to no digital sales for indies from what I’ve heard, and the same is true for the Vita, 3DS, Ouya, etc, etc.
5. Porting games to XBox or Playstation is supported by our game engine, Unity 3D, but it costs a nontrivial amount. I’m not sure the exact numbers, but it is between $15k and $30k per coder depending on the platform. So the only way to really get around that is to have a publisher agreement with somebody like Microsoft when it comes to XBLA.
6. The consoles themselves are SO much more closed-off than the PC. They want to go through multi-month QA sessions which are apparently both infuriating and time-consuming. And then releasing patches is also hard. As someone who sometimes releases three patches in a day, and likes to release early and often, this is a big problem. Evidently Microsoft was charging something like $50k for each patch after the first, if memory from the debacle with Fez serves. Actually, looks like that changed in 2013, so that’s awesome news: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-06-26-microsoft-no-longer-charges-developers-to-patch-their-xbox-360-games You can tell how up to date on console news I am. 😉 PC is where my heart is.
In terms of a virtual donations box, we do have a way for tipping us that is just a simple paypal link that doesn’t take a big cut like patreon does: https://arcengames.com/tips/ But that’s what I was trying to say about the whole “give a man a fish” parable thing. I mean, we appreciate fish for sure. And every little bit does help. But right now our gap is somewhere between $10k and $40k per month in terms of how short we are with the current staffing levels. The reasons for the large spread there are:
1. I don’t yet know how Starward will perform on a non-discount basis as we go forward.
2. I don’t yet know how the various inevitable discount promotions will go now that they include hopefully three games that will gain interest in them.
3. Where we get paid from makes a big difference. Tips through paypal typically either have no transaction fee or just 2%. Sales through most stores has a 30% fee, generally. and with VAT and whatnot I typically figure it as 33%.
Anyway, it’s just a tough situation. The bottom line is that there’s what seems to be a huge market for this sort of game on PC, if Isaac and Nuclear Throne and so forth are any example. Expecting their level of success would be quite a bit of hubris, but I’d be happy with a tenth of the sales of Nuclear Throne. Right now we’re at something closer to 1/280th of their sales, which is just… very very different.
– TLF, for instance, has moved 1/10th of the number of units that Nuclear Throne has, and it’s a far more niche game and much more of an acquired taste (though a very cool game) even within that niche. So I mean, what I’m talking about numbers-wise is not some sort of pipe dream that we’ve never done before.
– Even A Valley Without Wind actually passed 56k units sold on Steam now. Granted, most at a steep steep discount, and it took years, and that game was super costly to make so it still hasn’t broken even, but still.
I just don’t know. I do know that luck plays a huge part in any sort of process like this, and some of our other titles (both AI War and TLF) have been the recipient of very good luck as well as having all the hard work and quality and so on. Starward just seems to have come up “snake eyes” so far.
So, on point 4, from my understanding, that’s not quite right on the Vita. Indie sales on the Vita tend to be booming, simply because it really is a fantastic handheld, fans tend to buy *a lot* of product* for it, and Sony’s more-or-less abandoned it in the West so there’s a bit of an appetite for good games.
That said – based on the number of Indie games that promise to release for it then either don’t, or wind up tacking on multi-year delays – it’s really doesn’t sound like a good path to be looking down right now, if you’ll forgive my presumptions. (As much as I’d love to see Starward Rogue on the Vita).
Completely unrelated, I’m sorry to hear about this. 🙁 Arcen’s always been one of my favorite devs, and I really like the kind of games you guys put out. Starward Rogue sounded extremely interesting, and I did put it on my mental wishlist, so I’ll pick it up tomorrow.
* 2ish year old stats from 2013 E3 conference cite the average Vita owner buying 10+ games for the system, with ~60% of purchases done digitally. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=DmoZAPDV3ew#t=2335s
Gotcha, good to know about the Vita. My understanding has been that it’s gone downhill a lot since 2013 at the very least, though. I don’t remember who it was (that would be kinda important for this to mean much), but some indie I was speaking to recently was talking about how the vita was doing poorly and a variety of others chimed in. So… anecdotal at best.
Thank you again for the kind words and support!
Very sad to hear GOG does not accepted Starward Rogue 🙁 I don’t know what happened, but for some reasons GOG staff made some questionable decisions in past months and I would say this one is clearly on the list.
That said, I would try to make my girlfriend to buy me Starward Rogue for Valentine’s Day 🙂
Our hope had been that the game would sell well and they would reconsider. You never know, I guess?
Well, they rejected HuniePop at first and changed their minds later, so it is possible.
For sure — I’ve heard a lot of similar stories. Evidently the same thing happened with Hacknet.
Thanks for the comprehensive reply!
I appreciate that many Arcen games are pretty niche, but damnit there should be room in the market for you. I just figured exposing your products to wider markets would be ‘casting the net wider’. But if costs to port are excessive… :
Controversy sells, maybe you could say all the robots in Bionic Dues are minors and it’s an exploration of child soldiers?
Hahaha, that’s a good one. 😀
If GOG turned it down to do a bad earlier build, maybe you could try again with the finished game.
I hope to, although I am kind of giving it a bit of time just to not bug them constantly.
I know you mean well, but suggesting for Arcen to go on consoles is like putting the nail in the coffin. Sorry, I own almost every Arcen game and I can tell you – they would not sell there. I am not trying to offend console players, it is not “you are to stupid to play it” posts. It is a simple fact that games like that does not sell on consoles for whatever reason. AI War is great, but it will not does well on the market where even Civilization failed.
I think that’s probably pretty accurate from what I can tell. MAYBE Starward Rogue would be an exception.
Thanks for the laugh — I needed that. 🙂
To be clear, people wishlisting stuff doesn’t offend me. I mean, I wishlist stuff all the time. We can’t buy all the things all the time, and if we tried to that would actually be a big problem, heh.
Anyway, thanks for the smile, however you meant it.
I was one of those people who added Starward Rogue to his wishlist. This post gave me the extra push to buy the game, which is at 25% at the moment.
It’s very good, and i’m glad i bought it. I love both bullet hell shmups and roguelikes, and it doesn’t have that problem that Binding of Isaac has when our bullets feel too slow and weak.
Only problem is that i absolutely hate the soundtrack, to the point I had to turn it off, which is a shame since i usually like videogame music.
Anyway, it’s loads of fun, and i hope this is a slow burner when it comes to sales. I’m sure word of mouth will make it the success it deserves.
Thank you very much for your support! I’m really sorry to hear that you don’t like the soundtrack — that’s been a real high point for most people, although obviously tastes greatly differ. It’s certainly really different from most of what Pablo has composed.
The reason for it being 25% of is because of 15% loyalty coupon that gets auto-applied at both Humble and Steam if you’ve ever bought something from Arcen before. So double bonus!
I agree with you about the problem with the early runs feeling too weak in Isaac a lot of the time. For that reason I tend to favor characters or challenges in that game where you start out with a cool build, and then it only gets more awesome from there. That was something we tried to consciously switch up here.
It does have the side effect that sometimes you might prefer not to change one of your guns and instead just get passive upgrades, drones, attachments, and consumables. While in some ways that’s a bit regrettable if that happens to someone, I’d rather have them have fun from moment one of playing.
So, where does Starward Rogue get to be 25% off? I have AI War, and the game still shows only 10% off in the cart?
Is this on Steam or in Humble? If Humble, you should have been mailed a coupon. I guess you have to apply that directly, but it might also show up in your account under downloads. On Steam, it should simply be applying it. Or… maybe it only is doing that for TLF and Bionic owners? I am confused now — sooo many conversations.
I have Ai war and TLF on steam but it only shows 10% for me as well
Erik sent me a note about that last night:
So… err, sorry about that. We had like 2 minutes to make that call, literally.
Thanks for the detailed response (and for some reason I can’t reply to it, so I’m replying to this).
I asked about it not because that extra 15% is the most important thing (although it does drop the price below $9.99, which is psychologically significant), but because what you’re looking for now is a way to get people to notice Starward Rogue.
If I understand correctly you issued that coupon to have better launch sales. I think that even now a coupon will help. If all players of your games got a tradeable coupon in their Steam inventory, then more people would notice the game, and people who don’t want it might put it up for trade, post about the coupon on forums, and so generate more awareness for the game.
I definitely would be interested in doing that, although it’s not something we can control too directly unfortunately.
You did great work on game.
But awful on advertising it.
It is not in twitch game list, you simply cannot find it.
But most terrible thing is when someone hears about it and tries to read more… he cannot.
Because Google doesn’t know about it, if you look by TITLE you can find literally nothing.
I won’t argue with you there — it is a challenge, and we knew that going in.
We have been actively trying to get the game listed in twitch for half a week now, and it’s been sloooow. We didn’t know the process would be that challenging or slow.
For google, that was an unexpected result. It keeps trying to correct the search terms to something about star wars rogue one or similar. Facepalm. I didn’t see that one coming, either. That one is something that simply will take time: as google finds more and more stuff that says “starward rogue” on various pages around the internet, it will start actually recognizing that as what you meant to type. In the meantime… yeah, limbo.
This post doesn’t so much cement you in my mind as ‘the guy who can’t manage his finances’ (the numbers you put there all seem pretty conservative and carefully considered – it’s not like you’re spending xx.000 on licensing fees or putting 50 contractors on in a month).
It does cement you as the canary in the coal mine though. Whatever the change was to the Steam Store – it has clearly had some undesirable side effects. I notice you’re back in the ‘popular new releases’ list on Steam so either someone (let’s say it’s Gaben) manually put you back there, or there’s a few folks whose wishlists are being shortened.
I appreciate that. In terms of the numbers, I think that a lot of people who don’t run companies see something like “you made a million dollars and you spent it all?” and kind of flip out. A million dollars is a lot to a person, but to a company it’s not all that much. Revenues for a retail store I used to work at were $2m yearly, so we’re smaller than a moderately-small retail store if you want to make that comparison, heh. Context is a really strange thing.
If anything positive comes out of this with discoverability for smaller titles on the Steam Store, then I will be really happy. Not just for myself, but for basically all those “midlist author” type of indie companies. There are some large sites asking me questions on this front for some articles they are writing, so I hope that those will catch the attention of those at Valve and perhaps lead to positive changes in the store. The guys at Valve are super smart and super nice, and legitimately are looking out for the people they work with (and their customers). But they also seem conservative in how fast they move on changes, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
In terms of us being back on the popular new releases, that’s certainly encouraging! Our hourly income has already tripled since 6am this morning. It’s back to the not-great levels from earlier in the week, but is definitely preferable to the super-terrible levels from the last day or two. We shall see what happens. Hopefully this is the start of something much bigger. We have already made more today than we did in all of yesterday (and that’s based on it being 10:30am at the time of this writing for purposes of those metrics — if you’re in Europe or Australia or similar, then “today” doesn’t mean quite the same thing).
I blame Lars.
Ever since I laid him off in 2010 he’s been nothing but trouble! 😉
Seriously a good friend and he has been very happy in his work since leaving Arcen, though. I knew him from way back in the dark ages of the internet, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
Just bought it after reading this post, it was already wishlisted. Good luck with future games, which i will probably also buy.
Thank you for your support!
Chin up Chris (ps. haven’t seen you “around” for a long while). For what it’s worth it seems we’re all in the same boat. I quit full time games development to do contract work instead and keep the other two guys at Puppygames afloat while they make more games and I do a bit in my spare time – it’s working out well, and it’s a refreshing change from the stress of never knowing if you’re going to have any money from one month to the next.
Whew, that’s really rough Cas — I’m sorry to hear that you’ve quite fulltime games development. You were a staple in the market as far as I’m concerned. I can certainly see where it would be refreshing not to have the constant stress of this sort, though. It seems like this industry just wants to chew people up and spit us out no matter what we do.
The “I take the money and run” attitude from the Fez guy made a lot of emotional sense to me at the time, despite me not having any desire to do that. But I could totally see where he was coming from.
The smartest strategy in this market is probably to try to make enough money that you can live off of investment interest, then stop making games and just coast off that. Making new games is expensive and risky. But I want to make more games, dammit!
I was interested in Starward, but didn’t buy it because I have so many unplayed games. However, I definitely appreciate your situation and decided to buy it in support. Good luck and I will spread the word, not that the few people I can reach will turn the tide or anything! But every little bit, I suppose…
Indeed, every little bit. If you play it and feel like writing a steam review with whatever your feelings are, that is always a help as well. Getting more reviews and hopefully moving from “very positive” to “overwhelmingly positive” (if the trend of ratios of people liking it hold true) would increase our visibility in the store dramatically. Only 915 review left to go at the moment! 😉
Thanks again, I really appreciate it.
I think you guys had a great misfortune 🙁 When you made the decision about putting SBR in the fridge and concentrate on Starward Rogue, the January didn’t seemed a busy month. And then it happened that Deserts of Kharak, Dragon’s Dogma, Darkest Dungeon and Rise of Tomb Raider hit. Add to that people were very likely recovering financially from Christmas, and XCom 2 is coming out at the beginning of February, that it is no surprise a game that pops out of nowhere like Starward Rogue gets buried under all of it.
This is true, I suppose. Still, a lot of other indie games are selling well, since ours is so far down in the sales charts. So it’s not entirely market-wide forces (aka people not having money left over after Christmas). Overall store sales don’t look to be slumped. But I think you are right that perhaps we’re getting crowded out by other games that popped up here. And us just poofing onto the scene didn’t help anything.
Hunted down your games on GoG and bought a few with what little money I have available. All I could do.
I appreciate it greatly!
I bought them on GoG because (out of Steam and GoG) I thought they may give you the best percentage from the sales compared to the share that Valve takes?
All the major stores are the same, no worries.
My name is Jeremy, and I used to be very much into games like The Binding of Isaac and it’s sequel, Rebirth. I haven’t played these types of games for a little while now, but I still feel like I know enough about the style and game play to comment in an intelligent manner.
First things first: I haven’t even heard of Starward Rogue. I don’t necessarily look for games like this, but I do frequent some gaming-related subreddits and listen to some gaming talk shows/watch some gaming shows on Youtube. I therefore agree with you when you say you aren’t reaching your audience, as I consider myself someone who might be interested in purchasing your game.
Second: After watching a couple gameplay videos on your youtube (without sound, but that’s purely due to my girlfriend who is trying to sleep right next to me), I can say that you have made a lot of progress since early alpha. The game looks much more polished and clean, and I can tell that you and your whole team put a lot of work into it. It’s something that I would have been proud to work on if I had been on your team, that’s for sure. So, for what it’s worth, good job.
Lastly: Again, I have very little knowledge of this game, so if I’m being ignorant, excuse me. One of the things that threw me off about the game while I was watching it is that while it’s a space game, you are confined to a room-based map, very similar to the way The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’s map is. Why? I know there may be programming reasons or style reasons why you chose to make the game this way, but I’m more interested in how your game’s universe works. Isaac explores rooms in his basement, which he didn’t even know existed. How does your “main character” fit into this world where there are spaceships flying around, spraying bullets everywhere, and there’s walls surrounding you?
I’m still considering purchasing Starward Rogue. My best friend bought me Steredenn, another bullet-hell space game, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’m also considering doing some streaming or youtube videos. Not that anyone would watch, I’m not that great at playing games in the first place, but it might be fun. If I buy it and enjoy it, I’ll surely talk to my friend about picking it up as well.
Thanks for all of your hard work, and I hope that things work out.
Thank you for the kind words on the game, we did put a lot of work into it.
“One of the things that threw me off about the game while I was watching it is that while it’s a space game, you are confined to a room-based map, very similar to the way The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’s map is. Why? I know there may be programming reasons or style reasons why you chose to make the game this way, but I’m more interested in how your game’s universe works.”
Well, from a mechanics standpoint it’s a lot more interesting to explore places where there is terrain than to explore open space. Terrain creates interesting tactical situations, cool challenges, and so on. Empty space does not. With TLF we did empty space and used the bullets themselves to make for a form of pseudo-terrain, but I didn’t want to repeat that here. For one thing, in realtime it just was going to be too difficult. For another, it would be lacking that exploration aspect that I like so much. For yet another, when there are literally no barriers then you can often just run away from fights if you want to explore, versus having to actually stop and solve challenges that you see. This sort of thing becomes an issue in Valley 2 at times.
“Isaac explores rooms in his basement, which he didn’t even know existed. How does your “main character” fit into this world where there are spaceships flying around, spraying bullets everywhere, and there’s walls surrounding you?”
The trailer actually explains it. Basically you’re going into The Megalith to rescue a robot named Rodney who is trapped inside there. It’s a huge mysterious structure and you’re delving ever deeper into. You just send in one of your hydral heads in a mech, while your body and the rest of your heads wait outside in your own spaceship.
Oh. I guess I missed that in the trailer, but that was probably due to the no sound thing. I’ll re-watch it later, for sure.
How supported is the mod support that is mentioned in the trailer? I’ve never modded a game before, but I’ve seen some amazing stuff and this game kind of inspires me to get back into coding a bit.
Careful what you wish for with the modding, haha: https://arcengames.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=Starward_Rogue:Main#XML_Documentation
It’s like 80 pages of documentation there; probably more now. There is also a fledgling modding subforum on our site.
Bought it too, just well, because 🙂 Now I just need some time to play it, some day !
Anyway, hope it’ll help, if only a bit. I’m in China so the price I pay (particularly with 25% discount) isn’t likely to bring you much more than a cup of coffee though…
Still, I appreciate it!
Just bought the game and a second one, I own now pretty much all your titles. 🙂 I really appreciate that you support Linux too.
Best wishes for you and your company!
Thank you! And we’re happy to support linux and glad we can. 🙂 For a number of years there we could not, so it’s been a great change in the last 2ish years.
Hi. I writw from mobile becouse i have all games pages censored at my work so i will be brief on my suggestion:
How easy is to launch a demo on steam? Maybe only one floor with 2/3 posible bosses.
Perhaps that encourage the people to try it and later to purchase it
The general experience with demos on steam is “don’t do demos on steam,” because that tends to make sales plummet. It’s basically putting a “defer buying decision until later” next to the “buy now?” button. This has been our experience as well as what we’ve heard from others. It’s why you don’t see more demos on steam.
For our games where people really wanted demos, we’ve been doing them quietly on our own forums. So that way someone who wants one can have one, but it doesn’t have the big negative impact that a demo on steam would.
I’m buying Starward Rogue now ! (I’m unemployed too… cheers mate 🙂 )
Man, I doubly appreciate that. Thank you.
Yes, the games that dont sell should die and etc. But why not? People ask money for ideas or early alphas. With Arcen pedegree you will get money on you current game and future ones. Getting funded is better than losing everything, right?
Arcen is one of 2 companies i will miss. And im crying right now. Each of your games are uniqe, i always waiting on what you do next. Different genres, styles, ideas. How can you even dare to go under? Thats really unfair. EA and ubisoft can die and i will only enjoy their crush but not you,
We won’t go out of business completely, don’t worry! It sucks for our staff and that part breaks my heart, but we’re not disappearing from the world or anything like that. There may be a kickstarter in our future for the “other” project that I’ll be working on while Keith finishes SBR.
if obsidian can loot millions on kickstarter for 3 game than you defenetly allowed to do that.
I love Arcen Games for making what others won’t. TLF scratches every single itch I have (turn-based, emergent, sandbox), so I bought it on release. Bionic Dues – turn-based, customizable mechs, meta-game component – bought on release. Grabbed Skyward Collapse almost on release due to the idea sounding novel. SBR – a dream game for me, so while I have a beta copy, I’m definitely grabbing few copies for my friends just to show my gratitude to the team.
SR on the other hand… Just not a kind of game that I enjoy playing, however well it may have been executed. Same was true for AVWW, same was true for Tidalis – maybe, just maybe core Arcen game fans aren’t interested in some of the genres that you are experimenting with (I have no idea why Bionic Dues sold poorly, though). I still mourn the “alien planet Oregon Trail” game that was scrapped. That sounds like something I’d buy in a heartbeat. I guess that’s what most people want from Arcen Games – something different, something thoughtful, however rough around the edges it might be.
Terribly sorry to hear about your current situation, and while I do understand your hesitation to accept cash for SBR which may never properly happen, I really don’t want to get a copy of SR – to be honest, that’s not the kind of a game that I want Arcen to keep making. I think I’ll buy a copy of TLF for someone I know instead.
Wish you all the best luck. Hope it all turns around for you, for you deserve much, much better – you are a truly unique voice on a game development scene and a real inspiration.
Totally understood on that, and no worries. When we make the more action-y games, that definitely tends to split our playerbase more. Some love that sort of thing, some feel more like “stick to strategy stuff, doofus!” 😉 Which I can totally understand. We just like to do more than one type of thing, if we can. Keeps us fresh.
Is there a reason that Starward Rogue isn’t DRM-free at Humble? Arcen have been one of my favorite developers for years because of your Linux support, and the DRM-free availability of your games. I own every Arcen game except for Starward Rogue.
The only reason I haven’t purchased Starward Rogue already is that it isn’t DRM-free.
We just haven’t had time to split that out and get it to them yet, is literally the only reason. It will happen.
Good stuff. I picked Starward Rogue and Lost Technologies (the only other Arcen I was missing!) from Humble today. It will be interesting to see if I get the DRM free version from Humble once it’s available.
Good luck with everything. I look forward to Stars Beyond Reach.
You will — those alternative versions get auto-added to your account when they are there. Thank you!
How are you finding people playing it on Twitch? I cannot list the game in the game browser or on the dashboard. Twitch support claims giantbomb needs to have a non-stub listing for the game but GB is terribly moderated and it is taking forever to get a proper listing.
I really like the game and think others should also give it a try…
We’re working our best on getting GB to finish getting the stuff approved. I’m told it will be very soon now.
Despite my extensive backlog I picked up Starward Rogue instead of just wishlisting it as I was about to do :). I look forward to playing it this weekend! From one indie dev to another, best of luck to you and your team!
I think the problem is you didn’t have enough cat themed anime styled big tittied space women on your ads.
I knew we were forgetting something! 🙁
But seriously, though, it’s a shame that that may be true. Look at all the “sakura” cat eared cat tailed japanime space weeaboo crap you see on Steam —-none of which are good games, but they are featured so incredibly much that it’s sickening.
My eyes just pass right over them on the way to Not Interested. 😉
This is actually an interesting one. The most well known of the bullet hell genre CAVE (now largely defunct) on the arcade side and Shanghai Alice/ Zun (Touhou Project) on the indie side have most/all their games led by “anime” styled girls.
See the Steam release of Mushihimesama or the xbox360 release of Deathsmiles.
There seems to be a lack of character(s) in Starward rouge.
Will make non-reply post about other stuff.
I’m sorry to hear that this promising game has found very little traction. Are you active on Reddit or Imgur at all? As communities, I’ve seen them really jump into new and interesting indie games with both feet. I actually found your article through Reddit, and went from having not heard about the game to wishlisting it for later perusal. It could be worth thinking about doing a Reddit AMA; your journey in the game development industry has clearly been an interesting one, and it could help spread the word and generate interest about Starward Rogue.
Yeah, I’m /u/x4000 on reddit. I don’t do much in the way of anything related to my job with that account. Erik does more with his. It would be a good way to do things, but I’m never sure how much people want to actually hear an AMA with random developers. I suppose I could be wrong. I also don’t know which subreddit would really be appropriate for that in my case.
I believe there’s a subreddit specifically for AMAs[Yep. r/IamA]. I don’t know how legitimate it actually is since I don’t frequent it, but I suppose it’s an idea. Considering that you’ve also got actual product to show I’m rather sure that you would get interest. I’m no expert on this stuff though.
Sorry to here that man… but maybe the future is brighter…
Thanks for the Linux-Support! I think its time now to support you back by buying all your games!
(BTW: Maybe a humblebundle might be a good option!)
Thank you very much! And we have done a weekly bundle before, although it was in… 2013? Or 2014? I can’t remember. Anyway, it featured all Arcen stuff, but not the last two AI War expansions or anything TLF-or-after. We certainly have a lot more goodness in our roster since then.
I have always respected your work Chris, your games have always been an interesting mix of original ideas and designs. So I hate hearing about you having all these problems. I hope you can recover quickly from this.
I think you should take a break from trying to beta test versions in House. I honestly think you should explore Early Access and utilizing it instead. I think it would expose your games more during development. You’ll also get a large Q&A work force. Early access is far better than it once was, it’s a good system now 🙂
You have more than enough time to do this with Start Beyond Reach now, I honestly think that the exposure alone would help get your numbers up. Early Access Is nothing like it once was, it’s an amazing platform for helping an in development game get some exposure on steam.
You interact with your community far more than most devs, so I really think you should open that part of you to outside your website. I have no doubt you can recover from this. I look forward to what comes next my good friend 🙂
In terms of Early Access, it is something that I want to explore with the “other” upcoming game. That said, there’s a big stigma for a lot of folks around EA games (the type not the company), and “you only get one release on Steam.” Aka, releasing in early access is the only time you show up in the new releases and whatnot if you do that; you can’t then turn around and have that again on 1.0. So the judgments and so forth start coming as soon as you put it out there as EA.
With Stars Beyond Reach, we have 250+ testers signed up outside of EA, which is plenty for our purposes. With Starward Rogue, we had right around 100. So the main reason for us to do EA would be for publicity, and I don’t think that SBR is really ready for that right now. We’re going to rip some of the guts out of it again and rebuild it better, and I don’t want people to form judgement on the current build. I also don’t really want people to buy the current build, yet. I prefer people to get a finished product unless the unfinished one is already awesome and it’s going to be a long time until it’s finished, and therefore EA makes sense.
Having you tell me you want to gut and rebuild, makes me all the more willing to convince you otherwise on EA, I haven’t had the chance to try Stars Beyond Reach. So my opinion on that game is fairly small. But if you feel you need to gut and rebuild, I’d say getting a judgement on what you got before doing that is worth the risk.
Getting some judgement from a more diverse audience might just be what you need to figure out how to rebuild. You could probably easily adopt the free Starward Rogue as part of the early access purchase. 250+ testers help, but if those testers are all from the same pool, then you might need more outside feedback. Like players who have never played an Arcen game, or even a RTS before.(not sure what your test groups are like, but I assume most have tested with you before?)
You could also do a Reddit AMA, or perhaps start making some developer diary videos. Might even look into live streaming as you develop the game? Get more in touch with social media networks, and journalists basically. I’d love to see some online interviews, Maybe a GDC panel someday 😛
Good Luck 🙂
I appreciate it! We’ll definitely talk about it internally.
Please Chris, you don’t have to have qualms about Early Access. The steam community give good reviews for early access games all the time if they find the idea interesting. Since many of Arcen’s games are so damn interesting, the Early Access launch will surely be rated highly!
Generally speaking we do a high amount of R&D during the alpha period in particular. That means that the style and features of a game can change DRAMATICALLY. Way more than a lot of other games, because we’re trying to figure out what is ideal and tread some new ground that is actually fun (and many of our early ideas are not so fun in practice despite sounding great on paper). My worries are two: 1) that people try an earlier un-fun idea and rate it poorly (of course); 2) that people try an earlier un-fun idea and like the concept behind it better than whatever the game winds up morphing into, and feel betrayed by purchasing something that we changed dramatically on them.
Generally speaking I’d rather go for Early Access after the feature set has settled down.
Ok, just bought the Skyward Rogue on Steam. Hope it helps you guys, even if a little bit 🙂
Hey Arcen Games,
I’ve been a big fan for years! Loved AI War, The Last Federation. Honestly that lack of a press/marketing push I think has been your main culprit. For whatever reason, reviews and Youtubes just don’t cut it anymore.
Case in point, I’m a big fan of Arcen and I plan on buying this game now- but I would have bought it sooner had I actually heard of it. It never showed up on my Steam or anything like that. I’m not super active in terms of gaming as a consumer, so until this showed up in Industry news- I’d never heard of Starward Rogue, nor would I have known you guys had made it!
I feel like if you guys had kept on top of an email driven campaign and worked more on Arcen branding, that would help. One big issue is that I just don’t know when I’m looking at a game on the Steam store that it’s an Arcen game-
Your titles and artwork are just vague enough that they kinda seem like every other game (Sorry!) Stardock is a very similar company to you guys, but they really make themselves a brand. You know a stardock game when you see it- partially because they slap that logo on everything, partially because I’m on their mailing list (derp)
You raise some really interesting points. One of the things, though, that I would mention is that we can’t really build a mailing list since I don’t have your email. Steam, GOG, Humble, etc, do. If you buy direct from us, then sure, I have your email. But you didn’t give me consent to send you information about offers, either, so I can’t.
We could do a better job of publicizing the one teeny little mailing list we have, but oh well.
I was going to make some suggestions, but it actually looks like you’re doing all the right things. Aside from shameless self-promotion and branding on the loading screens (which you might consider, and possibly even have some fun with ;), you have mods, a wiki, forums, and a blog. They just aren’t as prominent as they could be on the various UIs.
Well, I’m going to buy this for all my Steam friends. I had it wishlisted and my brother bought it for me after reading this. Hopefully it will help them find your other games too! I’m not sure what kind of market pay-forward/word of mouth marketing will bear, but you’ve got it.
Well… then I think its time to say Thank You for the Linux support… and also time to give something back… just bought all your games on GOG!
Better times will come… dont worry to much!
I wish I had the money to buy Starward, alas…
These kinds of problems are probably why most developers get a publisher I suppose. Handling promotion and advertising isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Big respect for owning up to your mistakes. It takes a pretty big man to do something like this instead of just mailing everyone that they’re fired and selling everything.
Most indie developers don’t have a publisher, honestly. Only when you get into the really sky high budgets does that tend to happen. There’s a whole category of companies that we fit snugly in, but I’m getting increasing news from other peers in this segment that they have also been having troubles of various degrees. I had no idea until now; I’ve been out of the loop of that crowd, busy with my head down developing, for too long.
I think the video games market is shifting, similar to what happened when ebooks first got big.
At first people followed sales or new releases closely because they were used to needing to buy a book when it was new or it wouldn’t be easily available. Then indie publishing tools got better and better until indie books were in spitting distance of published books quality-wise, and indistinguishable to the user when shopping online. Then readers realized that ebooks don’t really go out of print, and that there are so many books it’s not worth building up a huge backlog because backlogs will probably never be read. So people started buying only what they’re interested in when they’re interested in it, or just wishlisting things and waiting until their favorite goes on sale instead of actively tracking what’s on sale that week.
I think the same thing is happening with games. We’re in the shift to a sort of post-scarcity mode where people are fatigued with all the constant new games and assume that games will be around when they want to buy them instead of reacting strongly to sales or new releases.
I’d previously wishlisted Starward Rogue – I’m not a shmup-type player usually, but saw it was by you guys and have been hugely impressed both by the design of all your games (even those that aren’t my ‘type’) and by your approach to your fans/customers (the fact that I got the new and improved AVWW2 because I’d purchased AVWW raised a huge amount of respect from me), so figured I’d add it to my list for when I was looking for something different to play.
I’ve now bought it. I agree that visibility hasn’t been high for it – it only caught my eye because I recognise Arcen’s stuff nowadays. Hope the sales pick up and things improve! All the best.
Thank you — and I hope you enjoy it!
This blog post came up in a forum conversation. I read the post, then I checked out your games. They look interesting and I’m thinking about purchasing a couple. They appear to be more interesting then the usual drivel of FPS and walking simulators.
Anyhow just some thoughts I had. The videos and pictures on the steam store don’t really explain the games very well. None of them really grab you and say hey you need to play this because it has these really cool and fun aspects, or here is what you’ll be doing. The AI War video is a little better, bit it still doesn’t really explain the game. The video for Starward Rogue is solid I feel like you get the jist of the game from the video. Also thinking of buying that one since it kind of seems like a modern take on Robotron 2084 which is an old favorite of mine.
The new game Stars Beyond Reach looks really good you can really see the growth thats taken place. Again though aside from having played other games in this style I’m not sure what the gameplay is like. The 2 cartoons were good, and I think I get how they relate to the game but it still feels like I’m guessing about what it is I’ll be playing exactly. Just as a suggestion you might want to revisit your steam videos. Maybe take a look at the videos for Wasteland 2 Directors cut to get some ideas of what I’m talking about. The first 2 are fluff pieces the other 2 are more detailed discussions on the real gameplay.
It just feels like your games are missing some explanation. Anyhow just my .2. Hope your new release is a success!
Thanks for the tip on Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut. That’s very specific and useful. I really like hearing examples of things that people felt were done right when it comes to this sort of thing, because we can then concretely analyze that sort of thing. Goodness knows we’ve been trying to nail the art of trailer-making for 6+ years now, and everybody has different opinions on it. AI War has had 8 trailers, and I think #3 is still people’s favorite. So it goes, I guess. When we do a trailer for Stars Beyond Reach, I’ll definitely be trying for clarity on there.
Got about halfway through this post and then bought SR. I had wishlisted it on the store as soon as I saw it, but probably wouldn’t have bought it for a long while if I hadn’t seen this post. But I knew I wanted to, so it might as well be now.
Things have gotten to the point where I normally skip over any action-roguelike that shows up on Steam. There are just sooo many of them in the past half-year or so, and I already own several that I don’t even have time to play. I definitely only wislisted this one because I’ve played other games of yours, and had a sense that this one would be unique from similar titles. However, if I had just randomly run across this game without knowing anything about it, I doubt I would’ve given it time to prove itself. Though the positive reviews may have kept me around, hard to say.
Beyond leaving a review, there’s probably not much I can do to help visibility, but good luck to you guys. Looking forward to SBR, even though I’m not even close to done playing AI War and TLF.
Thank you for your support! And the perspective. 🙂
Thank you for writing this in-depth and very honest article. Have you considered writing similar articles (or postmortems, or lessons learned) over on Gamasutra? Or maybe giving talks at GDC or other conferences about insights you’ve gained over the years you’ve been developing games / running Arcen? Doing so might give Arcen and your games more exposure, but I’m not really sure if the return would be worth the time, especially given how stretched you already are.
I’ve done a number of postmortems and similar, mostly here, though some also went to Gamasutra or were quoted in Develop or whatnot. A couple were slashdotted or went to the front page of reddit. Mostly that was long ago, though. The ones on the AI in AI War were really the most popular ones. If you click the Game Development category of posts on the right, then it shows you the ones that touch on those sorts of topics.
I do wish I could do more of this sort of thing, though. In terms of giving talks at GDC and whatnot, I do love traveling and I love talking to people in person and to crowds. But I don’t like being away from my family, and so I’ve not done much traveling (without family in tow) since my son was born. It’s also really expensive and hasn’t seemed to have a net positive return in terms of finances.
I’ve been a steady customer and maybe a fan of Arcen Games for 3-4 years. Starward Rogue was a game I heard nothing about until after it was released- a surprise release. Cool, a new Arcen Game. So I put it on my Steam wishlist until I could find out more about it. I had no idea what the game is about and looking at the description of the game and seeing the videos on the store page didn’t help me figure out what the game play was like. Since I’m a fan of Arcen, I went the extra mile to watch a few videos on You Tube. To me the store page and independent let’s play type videos don’t match. The lets play videos make me want to purchase, the store page, no. I thought the store page was accidently misleading. It looked like Galaga or even Asteroids at quick glance… Will others go the extra mile? Doubtful.
Another reason I probably missed it was the proliferation of games on Steam that frankly I have no interest in. So I probably skipped right over the game for a few days until I realized it was an Arcen product.
To my mind this is an Arcen marketing failure to let the base know about the game.
That said I will download this on payday. I’m sure it is a great game based on the reviews and my past purchases of Arcen games. Just wish I had known it existed….
Huh! That’s… fascinating and terrifying, actually. I suppose I need to do a gameplay video and get that uploaded to the steam store page alongside the trailer. Perhaps that will help.
And yep, this was something of a marketing failure to be sure, although Erik really did an incredible job given the next-to-nothing I gave him to work with.
But another thing is: I have no direct way to reach you and tell you things unless steam or some other store lets me. And even if you bought from our store, I can’t legally start sending you spam about our new releases without your consent. So it’s very tricky, because we can’t even reach our existing customers. For the bulk of our existing customers, we don’t even know who they are!
Galactic Civilizations 3 has a simple registration that will give the person registering a free downloadable DLC (ship designer). Maybe something like a new type of starting character bot or whatever its called to create a list for Starward Rogue. They would have to agree to receive emails to get the free DLC. Maybe something like that for each game you publish to build up the mailing list?
It’s a smart idea!
Sorry to hear your problems. You guys were one of my favorite small development shops along with Jeff Vogel. I agree with the guy above who said the videos and screenshots do not match the gameplay. I saw it pop up on steam, and it looked like a generic bullet hell game. I then looked over at the developer and got very confused by your surprise release. Anyhow, I purchased it, and a couple of expansions for the other games that I missed previously. I wish you guys a lot of luck, the games industry will be a worse place if Arcen disappears.
Er, Jeff Vogel. If I’m going to mention someone, I’d better at least get his name right.
I’ll be doing another video for the game today, to hopefully help fix that. Thanks for your support! I edited your post to fix the name of Jeff (which you mentioned), but touched nothing else. 🙂
I’d never heard of this game before, but I like both Binding of Isaac and bullet hell shooters, so this looks right up my alley. I would’ve normally waited until later, but I bought it now to support you guys. I have some of your older games too, and I really like how original they all are. I hope you’ll make it through this, so good luck.
Thank you very much!
Hey there Chris! We may not be the biggest group out there, but us Linux gamers have your back and are doing what we can: https://www.reddit.com/r/linux_gaming/comments/432s2s/a_company_that_truly_supports_linux_is_going/
Thanks for your commitment to us… now we can help you out as well. I’m excited to check out Starward Rogue tonight, and am eagerly looking forward to Stars Beyond Reach!
Once my money hits on Friday, I’ll grab Starward Rogue, but that’s secondary to why I’m here. I came over after hearing the news on Rock Paper Shotgun. I’d like to offer my support and services in a voluntary capacity, I’ve spent the better part of my life gaming, I’m not a skilled artist or coder or musician (although I can occasionally hack together a few interesting sound effects from time to time).
What I can supply is design ideas, and the whetstone that can hone in on fun. I’ve been jokingly referred to as a “rubber duck” by a lot of my friends who use me to bounce ideas off of, and I’ve thrown pitches before to a few people, some of them have been useful. You might see my pawprints in a few games from time to time.
Due to illness, I’m not physically as strong as I once was, but Arcen is a game company I look up to, and consider valuable to the gaming ecosphere. If this old Tiger can help, in any way possible, well, the offer is there.
Thank you very much! I’d love to have you in our alphas/betas for sure, as the people in those help to shape our games enormously. We’re going to be really ramping up that side of things with Stars Beyond Reach again very soon, so stay tuned.
I’m a big fan of Arcen games since the very beginning (AI War is still my favourite, sorry), and I bought all your games at launch except Starward Rogue. Why? Well, I’ll try it doesn’t sound very harsh (english is not my first language, as you probably already noticed), but I think I should be completely honest: I’m tired of roguelikes/roguelites/whatever. Currently there are dozens of survival, zombie… and roguelike games (specially in the indie scene), and it feels like an exhausted trend. Rogue in the title was a big no-no for me from the start.
Additionally, and I believe this is more important, the Steam Store page doesn’t help to change my mind about it. In fact, after checking the Steam page I remember thinking “Well, seems like a rushed moneygrab until they finish Stars Beyond Reach. No problem with it.”, and I didn’t even search for more information about it in YouTube or Google.
I’m sorry for you, guys, and I wish you the best of luck. Hopefully SBR will become a massive hit.
Fair enough! If the genre is not for you, or you are tired of the genre, then absolutely. This is a game that was made because we wanted to, though, and felt it filled a hole in this particular genre. We’d been itching to make it since well back in the middle of last year. Making it during the time off with SBR was a way to turn around a product more quickly to make money, for sure — but it was also a game we’d been itching to make.
As a seasoned Linux user I really appreciate company’s effort to publish games on a Linux platform. I came across Last Federation a month age while browsing the Steam store and was immediately intrigued and purchased it a few days later. Unfortunately Starward Rogue is not my cup of tea so instead I bought AI War as a gesture of support.
I wish you and the company best of luck and thank you once again for supporting our beloved platform.
Thank you! And I hope to see more and more things on Linux, too. 🙂
Thanks very much for this article Chris. It’s always difficult sometimes to find other devs willing to talk about the practical side of $$$ and post actual figures. So as a fellow indie dev team jsut getting started this is priceless info for us. In the market at the moment we have really reached the decision where we are going to be super careful about any sort of expansion plans. Unless there is a few million in the bank its just such a risk for a small indie company to bring on new workers as you almost have to expect that a title is going to fail at some point and you will need the cash to ride that period out. Hope things look up for you and an influx of sales heads your way!
It’s my pleasure — the market changes constantly, so it’s really something to always keep an eye on. I had not realized how much it changed since mid-2014, is one of the challenges here.
I bought Starward Rouge – good game overall.
We are experiencing the same – typical sales from game don’t cover the costs of development. Market is just oversatured and gamers become too accustomed to deep discounts (why wouldn’t they?).
Maybe in few years it will change when there is less games released, there is a little we can do about it IMHO. Just keep working on games in spare time (that’s what we do).
Cheers, I appreciate it! Good luck to you as well.
We aren’t closing up shop completely, though. This will still be the fulltime job for at least 3 of us.
I realize this is a delicate question and understand if you want to refrain from replying, but is there any chance of Starward Rogue being distributed via GoG or with a DRM free option on Humble Bundle? I’d like to purchase it (as I’ve purchased Valley Without Wind, AI War, and Bionic dues), but I’d also like to avoid purchasing on Steam for reasons that can likely be inferred. One sale is meaningless in the face of financial difficulties, but it’s there if you think selling the game DRM free is worth it.
I do plan to get the game DRM-free onto Humble at the very least, and also our site. I had hoped to do it this week, but that’s not going to happen, clearly. It will within the next couple of weeks, though. In terms of GOG, I have no idea: they turned down an earlier build of the game, and have yet to reconsider. If they are interested at some point, I’d gladly have the game on their platform.
Having run a couple small development shops (though not in gaming), I feel your pain. When your bottom line is only 5 or 6 figures and you can only take on very few projects at a time, it can be very hard to maintain profitability or even to really know when you’re facing down trouble.
That said… despite your self-effacement regarding being “the guy who can’t manage the finances of his company right”… I don’t see a remedy here, or even the start of one. While I’m all for supporting small development shops (self-servingly so!), I think you should consider addressing how exactly next time would be different.
It happens once, OK, that could just be bad luck or the market. It happens twice, you should start to wonder… and apparently it’s happened to you three times, with only two being public. While it absolutely could still be mostly just bad luck, at that point, it’s hard not to assume otherwise.
Which doesn’t mean I don’t hope things go well for you! I definitely do. I just think it’s time to consider doing a few things:
1. Admitting to yourself that fundamental things need to change, otherwise this is likely to continue to happen.
2. Looking carefully (and objectively) at what’s happened so far and doing your best to figure out why (with the help of others, ideally at least someone with more industry experience in addition to a financial professional).
3. Planning out concrete action to address the causes of those previous crises as well as whatever adjustments to the way the company operates might be necessary or helpful.
4. Informing the community openly of your findings and your updated direction.
Reading this gives the impression of “we had the same problems again, please help if you want us to continue,” when “we had these problems, but here is our plan to avoid them in the future, and that’s why we’re comfortable asking for your help” might be a little more appealing.
Well, there’s a lot of context being missed, though I appreciate your point of view for sure. We’ve reassessed and tried different things after every launch with a game if it went poorly, and if it went well we’ve tried to make those things more of a standard practice. The problem has been that the market keeps shifting. For a few years there, we could reliably do a few things and make money. Then things changed and we had to change. That’s happened repeatedly.
Overall a lot of what the problem has been is trying to exist in kind of an awkward size: a bit too large to be comfortable financially, and a bit too small to be able to put out the sort of games with certain production values, or with certain marketing spends, or with certain buffers of time between finishing the game and launching it. We always seemed within grasping distance of being able to solve a lot of those problems and get to the next level, but never have quite made it. Instead it looks like we are going the other direction, and shifting down to a smaller size where we are not so financially stretched all the time and thus have the extra time because we don’t have to race around so much.
I already own all of Arcen’s games (except Tidalis, which never grabbed me) and I am myself a niche game designer on Steam, so I know your company’s trials and pain quite well. Below is purely my own opinion, from my own experiences, observations and talking with other devs on Steam.
As crowded as the marketplace is these days, especially on Steam, budgets on games have to be tighter than ever, and operations have to be lean and efficient. Gone are the days of releasing a game on Steam and grabbing the front page for days due to no competition. Now there’s an average of 3-8 games released fresh on Steam every day, and more often than not, games slide down quickly unless you have a huge spike or get a little lucky. You don’t have to be as extreme as myself with your budget (my latest game cost $265 to make!), but a game company is like any other company and the same rules apply. These days, it’s go lean or go under.
Good marketing, media relations and carefully cultivating a fan base is more important than ever, otherwise no one will know about you (as these comments have demonstrated), simply put.
I surely hope you pull out of this and can survive, as the indie game world needs innovators and chance-takers like yourself to truly be whole and healthy. Crossing my fingers for Arcen!
Bought AI War with a bundle because it had Linux support. Bought the Last Federation because of TotalBiscuit’s review. Really liked TLF, until you introduced super abilities which would either improve or reduce the federation’s standing 1%. Couldn’t figure out how to play the game after that and hoped you would introduce an option to remove it (Civilization has an option).
Alot of your lack of sales seems to be self inflicted.
I looked at The Last Federation page. Why haven’t you embedded TotalBiscuit’s review on your website? He has alot of hardcore fans (and getting more) that would mesh with your kind of games.
Blastpop’s advice on gameplay demonstrations would be very useful too.
I would also change the color of your website and humble widget. At first I had trouble telling which would allow me to buy. The direct option and the widget are right next to each other and at first I just look at graphics so I was a little confused on what to buy. My eyes actually skipped the steam widget, because, once again, same color as your website. This isn’t first time that has happened as I have been on your website before and wondered why you didn’t have a steam widget.
When the color is the same as the page, you make it difficult to tell which is which. Use a clear, seperate styling like ftlgame.com This demonstrates your connected with 3rd party services and builds social cred. If people are on the fence about buying, having a difficult way to buy your games means lost sales.
Making your website better, more professional should be your top priority. Look up Defender’s Quest blog post on his sales. Half of his sales came from his website. You should stop relying on Steam for your audience and offer an option to collect emails (not a popup, just a little widget to the right).
I think the indies that are able to sell directly through their site are very lucky, but also outliers. I’ve been in contact with a number of them, including some who have managed that sort of thing for years, but recently have been eaten more by Steam in terms of where their sales volume comes from. Right now there’s a limit to how many things we can do at once, and getting people to the game website has not been a strategy that has worked for very many developers in our size class.
I think you should try. The two easiest things would be:
– embedding famous youtubers videos talking about your games on the game pages.
– changing the color scheme for the humble bundle widget so that it stands out more.
Both of these only take a few hours, tops.
And it can only help if you embed youtubers that have a hardcore audience that haven’t heard of your (new) games.
Okay so I’m an Arcen fan from the shmup community.
Love the game thus far, I only just found this release on steam and this post gained far better reach (despite being close to the games ideal customer)
Let’s begin, you released a month or two following two months of major shmup releases on Steam; Mushihimesama, and Darius Burst CS. Those are as close to AAA as shmups get and we haven’t had a major release in the west in about 2 years. You got ignored by a community that might love to support you, by poor release timing.
Lack of score system and leader boards. No idea how to make a balanced score game out of this, I suppose a few courses with fixed map seeds. Boss attack mode?
That could be a deal breaker for a lot of vary jaded hardcore fans.
Makes sense! We’ve been aiming mainly at the action roguelite crowd rather than the SHMUP crowd, but I can definitely see your points.
I’m really saddened to hear that you guys are struggling. Arcen is a great company that is always willing to try something new with its games and for that reason I think the indie scene will be poorer if you guys have to shut up shop.
So anyway, I just wanted to wish you well and I hope that sales pick up and pull you out of this hole. Personally, I have just bought Starward Rogue and am looking forward to playing it when I get home (I’ll tell my friends about it too as I know a fair few bullet-hell addicts) I also sent a little tip which is basically just giving you back the 25% discount that I got on Steam. Its not much but I hope it helps!
Good luck guys.
I really appreciate it! And don’t worry, we’re not going to completely close up shop anytime soon.
Okay, I adore AI Wars and love your studio’s originality, so I had a look on steam and might have some criticism that could shed light on the sales.
For me it’s the trailer. Even by Arcen standards it feels bit chaotic and doesn’t really invest me in wanting to find out more about what I’m sure is another great game.
That large metallic font feels awkward to read, especially at the pace it appears on screen. The dubstep music is a little harsh, does somewhat match the gameplay, but clashes a bit with the beautiful concepts and the narrator who seems like he’s trying to instill a bit of a sense of mystery.
All I can say is, as the main first impression when I click through Steam, that video feels like it’s giving me more reasons to move on than to wishlist what I’m confident knowing your studio is likely a very good game. If Arcen was unknown to me though…
Admittedly, this reminds me a bit of TLF’s trailer too.
Hope that came off as constructive as I meant it, best of luck to you guys.
Interesting — thanks for the feedback, for sure. We used two different companies for the trailers for TLF and Starward, so it’s definitely interesting that they were reminiscent. Some of our trailers we have done in-house, others not, and we get so many mixed reactions on all of them. Ironically this was our most expensive trailer ever, by far.
Well, damn ;(
I never quite caught to AI Wars, but TLF and Bionic Dues are really awesome games.. I was excited about Starward Rogue, though i have yet to seriously play it, and I’m a bit sad that one fine games company has to be faced with tough choices like this.
Stars Beyond reach is already on my wishlist, and i’ll be sure to gift a few copies of TLF/Bionic Dues/Starward Rogue to anyone that might enjoy it.
I appreciate the support!
Steam recommended Starward Rogue on the storefront to me. When I saw Arcen games it was an instant purchase. As a price signaling hint; would have paid double to triple (~$30) without blinking, but … disposable income and market are whacky :/
Sad that such a well produced indie game isn’t getting the audience it deserves.
Good luck and hoping the market affords enough runway learn vs folding
Thank you very much for your support — and I’m glad that the store recommended it to you; that’s always a good sign!
This touched me. In the day an age where games often seem lacking in innovation, and have a nasty tendency to be dummied out and tell you how to win, I’ve seen this company’s name mentioned many times when people talked about needing ‘games with a unique concept.’
I’ve always vowed to one day get good enough to play AI Wars, though I had a good friend with more than a thousand hours of playtime invested (probably triple that by now X.X) and as a 4X fan myself (though still playing MOO2 until I get good enough for things like AIW and Distant Worlds Universe), I could really see what he meant when he said something akin to what has been said in a TotalBiscuit review of The Last Federation that I watched. Arcen Games tries, they don’t always get it spot on, but sometimes they just NAIL IT.
In the 80’s and early nineties, the video game development cycle, as far as I know, had an inner circle that focused on INNOVATION. Bringing a unique experience, not just the same old, Leading to games like Earthworm Jim 2 (which I’m convinced that the concept of was drafted on a combination of LSD and Heavily aged blue cheese) and Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (Let’s write a novel about the ethics of human nature, philosophy and power in a situation where science and technology gets everyone so power hungry that in the end, only the authorithan, bible-thumping Mother Superior goes like… “guys, this isn’t supposed to BE.”)
Both of them nailed it. Both of them brought an experience that you seldom have with games. A sense of something new, and interesting.
There were sadly also many experimental game devs who didn’t finish their Magnum Opus due to monetary problems, rushed development or something else.
To this day I can shed a literal tear when I think about what it could have been were Holistic Designs to complete each, or almost each and every idea they had for the little known game called Emperor of the Fading Suns. Lord knows I would play it in-and-out for the rest of my life, and purchase every new expansion, if there were any. Donate to any promising modification. Alas.
In today’s market, Indie developers are the only suppliers of the occasional new and interesting, something which is termed ‘experimental’ but I can only describe as ‘different, refreshing and noteworthy’.
Now with you and your company, who nailed it debatably two to three times ,(probably more times to you guys’ hearts than to the indifferent mass market)
I think it would be a wonderful waste of good, artistic brain mass if something were to happen to the quality of future and current games just because SOME error, which could be marketing or something else, I’m not an analyst (at least not the math kind), would cut creative resources and people who know how to ‘get the good s*** done’. While I understand there’s no prevention measure right now, I do think that with careful analysis done and professional opinion consulted, you could do measures that would bring your happy place back into the green, in the long term, and maybe get back the workers who sound really loyal to you, and also that you trust.
An idea that I had could be contacting TotalBiscuit, showing him this post, and asking him to upload a few good words in your support in regarding to your financial situation. He’s a popular figure that could sway some hearts. Couldn’t find any way to pass it to him myself.
It would be a real shame to lose new and interesting concepts,
and that’s why your post touched me so much. Because it seems that you care about making them like that.
Also, Finish your Magnum Opus, no matter how long it takes, don’t EVER rush or submit to demands, tweak it a thousand times for the better, exactly according to your vision. There is quite a lot of time in this world, and nobody wants to leave a mark on history as “could have been revolutionary, came out unfinished\ordinary”.
It could make mouths drool for generations and bad memories in the album. Learn from the lesson of the Fading Suns.
-BTW: Bought Starward Rogue, The Last Federation Complete and Skyward Collapse Complete @ Humble. Already have Tidalis, Bionic Dues, Valley Without Wind 1+2 and AI Wars with all Expansions except Destroyer of Worlds. I wanted to snag that too, but I couldn’t add another 5.99 seeing I have already spent around $40 on all the stuff I bought today. I’ll sadly have to wait for a sale 🙁
Best of luck, and better believe that, as with almost all human beings, there’s a way to accomplish our vision. Rant over.
Cheers, I appreciate it. 🙂
Arf, bad news.
Can we post this on Reddit ?
I try to reach a fr youtuber with a tiny community (he’s not fond of AAA games). Maybe he could make a gameplay to drag new players. Not a big deal, but can’t hurt.
Waiting for good news ! Keep pushing !
Absolutely, post anywhere you like. Thank you for your support!
I can tell you what my main problem with the game is: i cant find any online content for it. I have the habit of watching lets plays before buying a game, but if i type in starward rogue i get about a Million suggestions for starwarS content. Which is unlucky but really detrimental to your sales and marketing. I guess its too Lage for a namechange?
If you put quotes around it you’ll find quite a ton of let’s plays. “Starward rogue.”
Post on Dwarf Fortress forum
I’ve purchased a few of your games in the past (TLF, AI Wars) even though I’m not a huge fan of most indie gaming I’ll be honest. I largely play more in the A range of games, Path of Exile, Paradox Studios games, the Endless Series. However good space games will often catch my attention and my interest, and you guys have made quite a few of those, and with your twist on the space-based 4X genre, Stars Beyond Reach has been wishlisted and followed.
One thing I may suggest is reaching out to youtuber Quill18. He has a decent sized viewer base, and largely plays strategy games even if he has split off into some other genre’s, and I suspect he’d be a great youtube personality to work with on your games. I don’t know how much you’ve tried in regards to youtube advertising, but lord know’s, he’s given much worse games a pretty big kick in the pants in regards to viability.
We definitely have reached out to him, and have poked him again after all this. Hopefully he takes it on!
Cheer up Chris, that’s one of the many things indie companies are always against. Yest, coworkers become friends and even more than that. My boyfriend (now fiance) is in that business, and the only thing I can do is hold him tight and give him all the support. I don’t think you are the kind of guy who “doesn’t know how to manage finances”, but I do see a boss/friend who cares and fights for the best of the company and his employees, a leader. Definitely picking up a copy of your game, probably my fiance will do so as well. I cant do much, but I will keep an eye in you guys, and hopefully, I will see your studio grow. Keep up the awesome job you guys always do.
I definitely appreciate the support, both moral and otherwise. And yep, I know this is not a unique situation by any stretch. But it’s always hard, for sure.
I remember when TLF came out I read reviews of that and AI wars on Rockpapershotgun and found them intriguing. I played a bit of TLF and loved if but then medschool exams struck and I didn’t return to it.
I don’t get much gaming time these days and xcom 2 is coming out in less than a week but I plan on getting the other games in your catalogue tomorrow. I really respect the kind of games you make – we need more of them than the repetitive sequels we keep getting from AAA devs.
I appreciate it! An I hope school is doing well.
Bought SR after the first couple paragraphs of this post (had wishlisted it earlier). Really enjoying it so far. It feels like some of the best in-game art that I’ve seen in an Arcen game. I feel like it could benefit from more hit effects when bullets impact things, though. Right now, they just kind of disappear, which feels like a bit of a hole in the polish to me, personally. But I love the music and art, and the bullet patterns make things more interesting than most of the legions of action-roguelikes out there.
A sad story, I sincerely hope things turn around for you. While I haven’t been an Arcen customer, I do care about the industry and want you to keep making stuff.
Have you considered a demo? Starward Rogue isn’t something that appeals to me particularly (I’m not much for schmups) but I do like rogue-like elements and rpg mechanics so maybe I could be turned around?
I confess to being ignorant as to how much that would cost to put out there, so maybe it wouldn’t be worth it, but it’s an idea for converting some of those wishlists -> purchases. I know in MY spending, I wishlist things if I’m on the fence because I”m unsure if I’ll like it or not.
In theory, people could be using steam’s new refund policy to get 2hr demos but I feel kinda crummy doing that.
Also, while Early Access is not a panacea, it might be worth trying if you aren’t sure you can finish development on your 4x game. While I don’t buy many EA titles these days, I’m sure some people do.
Demos actually tend to make people buy less, if they’re on steam, it’s been shown (in our experience and in others). It’s basically a “defer decision to buy” button right next to the buy button. So we have done demos mainly through our own forums for people to find if they really want one, and then not on steam.
In particular for Early Access games, I think that ethically — and by the rules of EA in general — you should not put a game on there if you aren’t sure you can finish it into a state that people will be happy with. Otherwise that’s just kinda… well, I’m not sure if fraud is the right word, but it’s in the ballpark.
I read in reddit linux gaming the bad economic situation of arcen games. In the past I bought AI war and I liked it. On the other hand as a Linux user I like to support companies that take care of Linux, so I have bought TLF to help.
I think your games are good and deep but if you let me make it a little critic, I would like they have translations to other languages or at least support to community translations. I understand that an offical translation maybe it isn’t economic feasible but it is not necessary an official translation instead if you can give support a community translations it would be great.
It is something we would like to do, but the problem is that we wind up changing and adding text just constantly. So translations get out of date fast, and that has happened with every translation project we’ve done in the past. From talking to peers, it seems that translations are often not too much of an income booster in general, anyhow.
Arcen is my favorite publisher and I’ve bought multiple copies of many games for friends/support.
I’ll happily buy stars beyond reach – just shoot me an email
Maybe I don’t know what I’m writing but my first tought was “Why didn’t they focus on their best-selling products?”
But yes, I should not ask such questions… 😉
Well, there’s only so many times you can pull milk from a certain cow. Also we did release an expansion to TLF in November, which I kind of glossed over. It made a positive return, but no great shakes. Short of doing a sequel or whatever, it’s a challenge to continue to make money there. Sequels also cannibalize the sales of their predecessor, which is not as good as having a new product line.
Hey, so I just read through this and gawd, I’m sorry man. I don’t even have my PC built yet but I’ll buy the game on Steam soon just to support and have it waiting for me when it’s built.
But I want to give my worthless advice on your situation. It’s really painful to know you guys have to go through this especially seeing as I want to go into video game development and open my own studio one day too. But I want to say this (for whatever it’s worth), as someone who is getting his degree in Business right now, you gotta get some help on the business end of things. If it’s one thing I’ve seen from following the industry for 10+ years (I’m almost 24 now) it’s that a lot of developer know how to make great games but tend to suck at running a business.
I know I’m probably coming off pompous and what not, which is not what I’m intending but if you know this continues to happen to you then it’s time to switch it up and try something different. You seem like you’re doing a good job managing on your own but it might be time to get some professional help on that side of things.These are just my two sense that don’t mean a thing lol. I’d love to talk more with you on it or hell even just talk about what it’s like having your own studio if you ever have the time.
I’ll be picking this title up soon. Best of luck to you guys.
I actually have a degree in business, and successfully ran the day to day operations of a B2B software company for years prior to founding Arcen. The problem isn’t that we don’t have business acumen.
What you are assuming is that the same thing has happened to us multiple times; in reality, yes, the effect of “have had to lay off staff for money reasons” has happened multiple times. But that is like saying that, in a fight “I got punched multiple times.” Someone talking to a fighter and saying “dude, you gotta stop getting punched is your problem — if you keep getting punched, do something different” is a bit of a sideways thought. Presumably every punch that connected with the person in question was not the same, and the tactics of any good opponent keep shifting and changing. You also don’t know how many punches were dodged or blocked.
Long analogy. But the point is, just because someone has a tough time in a tough industry doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not a great sign that they DO, either, I’ll grant you. 😉 But a lot of people tend to look at things as being far more simple and static than they are when they look from the outside.
I’m sorry to hear that you are going through such hard times. I will certainly try my best to spread the word about your games.
Also a big thank you for porting your games over to my operating system of choice!
As a side note: I don’t know how other people use the wish-list feature on steam, but for me it’s more like a games bookmark. Games that I am genuinely interested in but I can’t currently afford. Once I have enough wet stinky cashes, I buy the games I have bookmarked on my steam wish-list.
Yep, I wishlist things that I may or may not actually buy, too. So there is that, for sure.
Goddamn it Chris, every release, same rake.
In this ultra-competitive enviroment, PR is everything. And since you are making real good games, you dont even need to lie, all you need is just get those fukken reviewers to review your games.
I was about to write like a few paragraphs, but then i realised i was assuming you did no marketing work at all. All i will say is that you should really review your pre- and post-release PR.
Why are there no reviews by any major outlets, be it magazines or youtube channels? Is it because you did not contact all of them, or because they ignored you?Is it the release timing? The trailer? The specific way you contacted them? I dont know, its possible you dont know either. But you gotta find out, because that’s where the answer to your “why doesnt it sell?” is.
The blog post above pretty much explained it:
1. We had to make this game on turbo mode.
2. When it was done, it had to go out the door immediately for financial reasons.
3. No time for review copies or previews because the game wasn’t in a shape where we could risk bad press at the point where it was not yet polished.
4. We knew this was the case in October and was a big risk, so we did the thing with Humble to try to combat it.
5. That didn’t pay off.
6. We didn’t see even the baseline levels of “okay sales” we generally have in the past if we did this sort of sudden appearance.
7. That was really a rather nail in the coffin.
8. That said, we’ve been in contact with literally 500+ publications, youtubers, and so forth. Most either have not covered it yet or will not, and I have no idea which. We shall see.
Well this made me feel really down. You’ve always been one of my favourite developers.
Apologies if the following comes off as kind of harsh, but it seems like good wishes aren’t exclusively what you might need right now.
So I would first say that this is absolutely not my sort of game, so I personally won’t be buying it. It’s one of the few genres I can honestly say I don’t understand, but that said, it’s not like there’s zero market for it.
Still, I heard zip about this game. Previous games you’ve released I had plenty of emails in advance and during the launch (granted I am no longer reviewing games, but still). If I search for Bionic Dues in my email on the other hand, there’s 6 emails from Erik pre and post release (including within emails related to your other games).
Finally, and this is the one I really hate to say, but, it’s lacking in strong art direction. I appreciate this is something you’ve gotten better at over the years, but for this type of game it seems like it needs to be really strong. For AI War and TLF it didn’t matter, for Bionic Dues it would have definitely helped, but it’s the difference between people looking at the steam page and being interested.. or not.
Anyway, sorry about this, I really hope you bounce back and hope my comments are somewhat helpful.
Very interesting post, especially as I’m working on teaching myself to be a gamedev. Sorry to hear that you’re having such difficulties. I’d had the game on my wish list (I like to keep an eye on my ‘competition’, since my long term project is a spaceship rogue-like) but I purchased it this morning.
I certainly hope things look up for you. Some of your replies have given me since valuable insight into my own game, and I’m glad you shared them. I’d say more, but I’m on my phone right now.
I am going to provide some feedback, don’t get offended by any of this as I really wish you the best. Just providing some advice.
I just wonder if the indie game scene really works for the small studio approach you are taking on? Reading through your blog, it sounds like your first game you initially built by yourself. It also sounds like that was your most successful. If that is the case, why the need for the larger teams? I think the market is just telling you that it won’t proportionally reward you for games made with larger teams.
Looking at some of the games that have make it big, there are a lot of very successful titles made by 2 man teams. Many of these titles do not have anything remotely approaching AAA titles and the developers use their cleverness to get around this. It sounds like you are going more of a middle-ground where you kind of are taking on AAA, or maybe just AA but still. Maybe just refocus on what originally brought you success and admit that it’s not financially sound to make games with the design quality you would ideally like.
That is more or less the conclusion I have been coming to, yes.
What about a Kickstarter for AI War 2?
Even Obsidian used it for Pillard of Eternity.
AI War is one of your most appreciated game. I guess many of your fans are fond of 4X and strategic games and AI2 is very awaited.
With Kickstarer, you’ll also reach new contacts.
Your reputation is fine and you got a special touch (I mean, your gaemplay are bit different from others).
->CIf it does work : cash giving time to make very good AI2 and here we go !!
So, why not ?
We… have various things going on this year. *coughs* 😉
This was a really interesting (if painful) read. I had to close up my own indie company a little bit with the old ‘we’ll see if we can fit this into weekends between paying work’ sign on the door.
100% wish there was something I could say or do that’d help, but it’s safe to say I don’t know how to beat the odds. You’re competing in a market where half the games are made as hobbies or cyclical bankruptcy (most indie games seem pretty unsustainable) and in a market where the concept of paying full price for game (even if it’s $10) seems archaic to the customer base.
I wouldn’t say the Steam market is dying, it does seem like its becoming less sustainable – and that’s saying something, because it wasn’t very sustainable before. With the ever lowering standards on Greenlight and the like, not only is it harder to get featured space, people are also a LOT more skeptical about hitting ‘buy’ in my opinion.
Good luck man,
-A guy that folded closed up shop to work on someone else’s dime.
Really sorry to hear that you had to fold up! 🙁
I’m exceedingly bummed to hear this news. I’m a huge fan of your other games but sadly it took your blog post and some of the PR around it for me to hear about Starward Rogue. I don’t know why Steam neglected to tell me about this title! I’ve remedied that situation and bought the game and played it. I think it’s a fabulous game and have already recommended it to my friends. I only wish I could fix the situation you and your team now face. It’s not fair that such talented people who produce great games must now face this unfortunate struggle. I wish the very best to you and your team in this difficult time and hope the future smiles greatly upon your bank account. Great job on SR! The level design, itemization, and AI is really good (especially the AI!).
I’ve never played a bullet hell game like this before but it’s pretty fun.
Hi. I didn’t know about Arcen or their games before. I’m sad to read this news and appreciate your honesty and caring for your employees.
I can talk for me. I’m a sporadic gamer and just interested on Linux games sold without DRM, including Steam (I don’t trust Valve/Steam). I know about new games mainly from Linux gaming websites and online stores like GOG/Humble Store. I didn’t know much about your games or the company, so marketing could/might be improved I guess.
I think it’s important to be everywhere to get to most people. It’s also important the timing because if the game is announced but just available at the moment from Steam I’ll probably skip it. I don’t know if that’s the case. It might be me that I’m not up to all the companies and games released anymore since there are a lot of them lately.
I’ll have a look at your games since I think they might fit my taste now that I know about them.
Best of luck to you.
heDROCK Just now
Sad news at Arcen Games: layoffs coming, bankruptcy possible.
Stars Beyond Reach was one of the games I was really looking forward to playing, but it doesn’t sound promising considering the delays and now the financial problems hitting the company.
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I’m Spartacus Just now
Chris Park ( the main man at Arcen ) is my ideal of what a good game developer should be. He
does almost everything right and supports his games impecabbaly. If they go down it will be a sad, sad, day for the game industry and for me as a gamer.
Bruce Mcleod ( I’m Spartacus )
Wanted you to know I bought Bionic Dues and gifted a copy of AI War on GOG. I remember when we were upset at the pricing for TLF on GOG and you came on and helped explain the rational to us. I really appreciate the time you take to connect to the community. I have also voted for SB to be brought to GOG. I wonder why some of your other titles still aren’t there. AVWW looks pretty interesting.
Best of luck. I hope things get better. I appreciate the unique take you guys bring to games!
Thank you very much!
Retweeted by Scoot Manley
He did it !
Hadn’t heard of the game to be honest, but I did here about this. I just picked it up on Humble – hopefully it helps.
Bit of advice though – I didn’t hear any buzz on the game aside from this blog (which seems to have gone viral) or Steam, which I don’t check daily because I’m more of a console person. I frequent Kotaku, Polygon, IGN, and Gamasutra a lot, and I find that a little weird. Maybe something to review in the marketing plan?
Thanks for the support — and yep, it was something that we just are making up for lost time on… or trying to, anyway. Outside of any of this financial stuff we were trying to get traction with such places and still are.
I just came to say I loved Bionic Dues and I try and recommend it whenever someone is looking for a good rogue-like or tactics game. Since then I have ended up buy most your games not even realizing you made them all. Something about them always grabs me, I am sad to hear you have hit hard times, but I can say I do look forward to trying out Starward Rogue, and I hope you guys can recover from this.
So sad to hear this.
I bought Starward Rogue after reading this. It looked terrible in the trailer, but I’m a big Arcen fan, particularly of Tidalis (bought multiple copies of that and gifted to friends…)
And… well, damnit, it’s a blast. I don’t understand why it looks so terrible in the trailer honestly, it looks much better “in person”
I really hope some miracle happens and it picks up. It’s really great work and post-release support for this kind of game does so much – see Isaac.
All the best to you guys, pity it had to come to this 🙁
I think I figured out the trailer thing. 30 FPS just doesn’t give the game a favorable look.
Originally I recorded it at 60fps. Normally I play at like 200fps. Though, come to think of it, the trailer folks recorded the trailer, nevermind. So I don’t know what they did.
It’s probably just that Steam doesn’t play trailers above 30
If they transcoded it, then yeah that probably also did it in.
I really appreciate it! And we are going to put together another video to go with the trailer, so maybe that will help. And replacement screen shots…
I must say, I greatly appreciate the fact that you are being so honest with us. It really does mean a lot, and makes this whole event feel a lot more personal and important than it otherwise would have. Arcen is one of the best developers I know of, and I would hate to see bad times befall it.
Now if only I had any money to actually buy anything with. Ah well, I guess I will have to settle for spreading the word. Nonetheless, I wish you the best of luck with your company’s continued survival, and am looking forward to your future releases. May your roots always be well watered.
I try to be as transparent as I can be, because I think it’s important not to pretend to be something you’re not. So many companies try to pretend to be giant ones, which always has baffled me.
I really appreciate all the kind words.
As someone already mentioned, there are too many games out there, for all wallets and tastes. And with Steam sales, I personally have little incentive to shell out money upfront – as others have mentioned, everyone’s got a huge backlog to go through already…
But since you seem to be in this for your passion, why not try Patreon? Apparently, you have a strong following, so if these people want more games, they can donate every month, and the more people contributing, the more staff you can bring in and continue doing what you love.
I think Patreon allows for a much more organic financing than crowdfunding.
I think you have a good point. That said, I like to do a lot of different things. I don’t just make Starward Rogue, or AI War, or anything else. So what if someone is supporting the company, but then suddenly we spend a year making something they have no interest in? It’s very challenging for that reason.
Hi mate, massive fan of your games and very sorry to hear about this situation. Also appreciate a truly honest post (my BS detector is pretty advanced but gauges cool 0 here 😉
However, as heartbreaking and unfair this might seem to you, your staff and fans, well – it`s just how it is in 2016. Cold world and all that. Some things, especially in this fickle market are just completely unpredictable. Indie gaming isn`t exactly a field where you can have some sort of happy “job security” feeling – hell, you can hardly have it in any other walk of life these days. So, if you need to downsize, hard as it is, well, then do so – and everybody involved should understand it. This isn`t some scammy-kickstarter kinda situation but an just unfortunate turn of events.
Hopefully situation will improve and Arcen will continue making their awesomely original games – looking forward to SBR!
As for S-Rogue, I rushed to buy it upon release but was quite surprised to see it was Steam-locked…whereas all your games before were DRM-Free. Was hoping this is only some sort of timed – exclusivity? Any chance to see it “direct” in your store? Not saying few anti-Steam cavemen could improve your financial fates substantially but any income in this situation would probably help…
Thanks on the bs detector comment, that made me smile. 🙂
And yep, definitely a hard market right now.
The drm-free build is coming this week. It’s not been due to exclusivity, just due to lack of time. Part of it is I want to potentially switch around out storefront, but it’s taking time to investigate.
First of let me say like many others thank you for been honest and upfront about all of this and explaining the situation in such detail.
Arcen Games is one of my favourite studios and its painful to see this situation though I am greatly relieved that at the very least you guys will still be operating.
While I’m not even going to pretend to know a solution to the issue I do hope a few of the suggestions in the comments give you some ideas, in the meantime I’m going to try and help the getting the word out with some more youtube videos this month.
If I can help get you guys even one more sale it will be worth it.
Considering you’re putting out thoughts from your own perspective, I thought I’d put in my 2 cents from where I’m standing. I’m going to be brutally honest, but do not intend offense to anyone.
I was hyped about A.I. War early on, but waited until it released on Steam and convinced a friend to buy it too. We both played the hell out of it for hundreds of hours. The artwork and music were both pretty amateur relative to expectations in the game industry, but that never had any effect on how much we enjoyed the game. It provided something you couldn’t get anywhere else and still can’t.
I don’t remember why it had to be ported to Unity, since it seemed to work fine. Linux/Mac support aren’t worth it financially and unless the game was substantially redesigned it was not going to be a mobile or console game. I don’t know why all the artwork had to be redone, but at best it was a side-grade.
It doesn’t make sense to me that an indie developer would have a full time artist on staff when their primary game isn’t art-centric. It also doesn’t make sense to me that _any_ indie developer would have a full time sound designer/composer when the music is not a selling point of their games and the sounds are so simplistic. Those are tasks you contract out or buy royalty free licenses for. That’s not to say your artist or composer aren’t worth hiring, I’m sure they could work somewhere, I just don’t think it made sense to hire them at that time.
For A.I War, you played to your RTS passions and your strengths in database work and it resulted in a novel creation that marketed itself in combination with your personal story. I think the reason the novelty helped it sell, is that the novelty is also visually impactful. There weren’t that many games at the time which allowed you to have so many units on screen at once, despite everyone knowing it was possible deep down. On top of that, it was multiplayer! Throwing most of the collision detection out the window helped, I’m sure.
Then came Tidalis. Why is the A.I War dude making a puzzle game? (though my friend and I refer to you by your first name.) My friend liked Tidalis, but to me it just looked like another puzzle game, which seemed to lack the visually impactful novelty A.I. War had as well as the personal story. I never bought it, somehow ended up with it for free and still haven’t launched it. I’m sure it’s an OK game. The background artwork seemed decent, but not enough to go “damn, that’s gorgeous, I need to go see what else it has to offer”.
Then there was A Valley Without Wind 1/2, which I’m sure is also ok, but seemed too artistically ambitious and completely lacking in the art direction department. It looks wildly inconsistent. Some screenshots are pretty while others are just hard to look at. That would be fine if like A.I. War there was something impressive on screen that cut through that, but there wasn’t. It just looks like some kind of platformer turn based mashup thing.
Then there’s Shattered Haven, which looks like a modern graphical ZZT (I loved ZZT, but for reasons that don’t apply to Shattered Haven). Never in any of the videos or screenshots is anything impressive shown, so it’s trying to sell itself on the merits of its art which has no charm. If there was something super awesome about it that would cause people who played it to spread the news, that would be help. From what I can tell, there’s nothing like that.
Then comes Skyward Collapse, which looks like a tile level editor tool that got turned into a game. The concept of it is interesting, but there’s nothing in the videos or screenshots that makes it look impressive and it’s hard to quickly grasp how the game really plays. It also looks a bit visually convoluted if you compare it to something like the visuals of Civ IV.
Bionic Dues looks like it could be interesting, because it clearly shows some turn based combat which is a well understood combat, what looks like dungeon crawling, mech upgrades and a cool overworld map of different locations in a city to travel between. Just from the screenshots I can see that it looks like it could be entertaining, which doesn’t apply to _any_ of the previous games aside from A.I. War. Again, the artwork is pretty inconsistent in that for some reason the upgrades screen and the overworld view look way better than the dungeon crawling (which is the primary gameplay).
The Last Federation is the first and only game y’all have ever produced that looks like it has some visual consistency. Beautiful background artwork, polished interfaces, etc. The art direction is still only average, but it’s a huge step up and you should be proud of the overall result. Some of the screenshots even looked Galcon-like, which I love. However, in these kinds of space games I like either grander strategy or a much larger view of the big picture. Last Federation seemed like it leaned heavily towards war more-so than trading and the super zoomed out view looked a bit goofy. I just can’t see from a glance what this game adds to the genre that wasn’t there before, so if I only have $20 to spend on any game on Steam, I can’t find a compelling reason to get this one other than it’s an Arcen game.
Starward Rogue looks like a bullet-hell game. It doesn’t look like an action roguelike with loot and all that. On the surface it just looks like any other bullet-hell game. If you click on the Bullet Hell tag on steam and look at the top sellers, several of them stand out as really interesting for various reasons even though I’m not particularly into those kinds of games. DARIUSBURST with high quality, ship selection, area map, multi-monitor, 21:9 support, interesting bosses, decent powerful-looking visual effects. Then there’s The Bug Butcher which has great art, badass trailer music, charming character and the combat looks satisfying. Why should I get Starward Rogue?
One thing I noticed is that almost universally, all of the trailer videos are bad except A.I. War’s which looks very high quality, but spends too much time jerking off to sell the important aspects of the gameplay. If there’s one marketing thing you should invest in at minimum, it’s an excellent trailer video that communicates clearly and impressively what your product has to offer. It wouldn’t surprise me if the bad trailers alone cost you dearly. The Starward Rogue one is visually ok, but the text is annoying to read, the music is a bit monotonous and it doesn’t even show loot or level-up screens to give a sample of the full reward-loop of the game.
Not sure how much of the money came from A.I. War and its expansions and don’t have the full story, but I do feel that the money was probably enough to buy you time to find the next thing you were passionate about and spend some time prototyping it. Having to worry about employees puts serious constraints on the prototyping and R&D phase, plus sometimes it constrains the creative process as well since you have to come up with something that accounts for these other people.
I would love to have seen what an A.I. War sequel could have been if some of that money had gone into finding and contracting with crazy industry artists, making the UI great, refining the gameplay, adding a planet-surface element of some sort or even adding a friendly race in the game you can engage in super profitable trade-routes that you need to plan defenses around. Maybe planet surfaces could have height and you could build a factory on the surface which pumps out hovering land units that can swarm together just the same and become slightly larger or smaller depending on the height of the terrain so it’s really satisfying to watch them swarm across rolling hills or dunes.
Maybe the A.I. core would be at the center of an A.I. made planet, like a death star, and you’d have to engage in a crazy final campaign on the surface to go down layers to detonate the “planet”. You’d have to bombard the surface to clear out an area for you to construct in, which would only be clear for a fixed amount of time so you have to build quick. Meanwhile you’d have to have a supply-chain that feeds your base on the surface from other nearby systems. It would have been EPIC. Especially if you could blot out the sun depending on whether you have your ships swarmed around the planet or not, which might limit the production abilities of the AI planet or AI land unit speed since maybe it uses solar power in some way.
There could have also been an optional relaxing aftermath game mode where instead of hunting down the AI you mostly engage in repopulating the human race across the worlds while building trade routes. You have to work up the tech tree until you unlock wormhole tech which lets you travel to a new galaxy, except some completely different more advanced AI from the other galaxy pours through and the game ends if you can survive the group of super-AI that came through before you shut the wormhole. No easy task, as they will probably crush through your defenses one by one, and so you would need to strategically guide them through a certain route so they take the longest way to your home planet possible.
During that time, you have to make the tough decision to lift the ban on AI manufacturing, as the only thing which could possibly destroy this new AI is another AI. So you end up manufacturing tons of autonomous units which have no other purpose but to hunt down these super-AI and you get the satisfaction of seeing them pump out from all of your worlds. Then the credits roll. Gives me goosebumps.
Ahh… well. I’ve got all the expansions except for Destroyer of Worlds and I’m sad that we might not see another game that lives up to the true potential A.I. War had until 15 years from now.
Hope y’all can make a recovery. The bar is set pretty high with the game market being so saturated, but there’s still tons of room to make great products and stand out.
Overall about a third of our income has been from AI War in the last 6 years.
Bought it 😉 Mostly to support you guys, because I loved AI War and The Last Federation, but I do have fun in Starward Rogue.
I hope TotalBiscuit will cover this game in his series, that would probably really boost players’ awerness of this title.
I appreciate it!
The situation you’re in sucks, there’s no doubting that. The market has changed. Steam used to be a goldmine for indie developers, and just being on the store was good enough. Now the store is flooded with titles. Gamers are fed up of tens of new releases every day. Most of them are just shovelware, and that means the genuinely good games can fly under the radar. The market is just too saturated now. Then there’s the whole bundle mess which is so nutty, I don’t even want to get in to it right now.
I like Arcen games. I have great memories from AI Wars. However, I didn’t buy Staward Rogue, and I’m not likely to buy it any time soon. I’m bad at bullet hell games, and I rarely buy games at full price (or close to full price) these days. That’s part of the problem with the over-saturation of the market, I’m spoiled. Stars Beyond Reach is potentially something that could be good enough for me to buy it on release. I trust Arcen enough that you wont release something you’re not happy with. This is a great asset to have, as trusting a developer of a game to deliver a good product, and not abandon it immediately is going to make people more likely to be willing to spend a larger amount of money on it rather than waiting for a sale or bundle.
The current situation is not a nice one. I hope you can get through it and keep making games that you’re passionate about. I’ve seen some smaller studios take on some contractual work to help boost their income. It sucks to step away from doing something that it “yours”, but if it means you can keep doing the things your passionate about maybe it’s worth it?
I really hope you can find the resources to finish SBR and we get to play it. Good luck!
“In short, if the sole reason you care about the fate of our company is because you want to see Stars Beyond Reach become a reality, then please don’t support us extra at the moment. That’s a lot of pressure on SBR — what if you don’t like it? What if, god forbid, we just can’t get it right and scrap it?”
This is 2016, almost everyone has preordered a game, that they had virtually no incentive to preorder, with no guarantees that it would be good. A huge number of us financially supported kickstarter projects that we had no idea would even see the light of day, much less be good. It is our choice if we want to risk our money, your responsibility would only be to communicate that risk to us (and arcen has been far more open about that risk than most projects most people throw money at on kickstarter).
As for the hopeful SBR release, that has a lot more going for it. Arcen’s big hits have been the complex strategy games, AI war, The Last Federation, Skyward Collapse, where as the not so strategy games, Bionic Dues, starward rogue, shattered haven, (AVWW seems to be an exception) have not done as well. Could be a lot of different reasons, maybe your fans can spread the word on your strategy games easier, or maybe your fanbase is overly strategy game focused, and thus reluctant to hop on a game of another genre (and thus fewer mouths to word of). Maybe it is just that “it’s an arcen game” means something to a lot of us for TLF and AI War, but we can’t really gloss over why someone should get bionic dues using that line.
As for marketing, you considering getting on 3MA, getting a quill18 feature, and perhaps even asking polycast (they also have done a galcivIII feature, so they may be open to having you on to talk about your 4X), to get the word out for SBR if & when it “goes gold”. Because I have actively watched for arcen, and I haven’t seen the visibility for even TLF when I was actively looking for it, or has featuring on 3MA not had the impact in visibility that it looks like from my ancendotal viewpoint (I found out about AI War through 3MA, then got my friends in on it. I have not had the same success spreading word about your roguelikes to my roguelike circles).
Regardless, good luck in your ongoing endevors! sucks to have to scale back and cut jobs, but hopefully more successes are on the way!
We definitely will be pushing into the marketing more for SBR once we have the revised model up and going. I haven’t done 3MA in a few years, and I can’t recall if quill18 has written anything about this or not. The eXplorminate site and podcast both generated a lot of interest for SBR last year. Thankfully we have a wider window for SBR so that we can hopefully see more success with advance marketing — by actually being able to do some!
I hate to see Arcen in trouble again.
I don’t always like your games, but I have to respect that they are always unique.
I’ve been waiting for SBR and will gladly pay full price on launch for it, even if it is more rough that diamond in the rough. Mostly because I know that you guys support your titles after launch.
I don’t normally follow blogs, I follow news sites like RPS, but I had no idea what Starward Rogue was. I did turn up on my steam recommended but I generally can’t play ‘bullet hell’ style game (which is what this looks like to me) so I didn’t pay much attention to it. After reading this article, I’ll give it a second look and do some research.
The biggest thing I can think of that might help (aside from purchasing your back catalog) is to say, get in touch with Cliffski and have a big long talk to him about everything and marketing. http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/
I really hope that things turn out well for you and Arcen. I’d hate to see another indie go under. We need more weird and innovative games like yours to combat the giant grey goo blob that is the ‘man shoot’ genera.
Yep, Cliff and I do talk from time to time, and have for years. I’ve been in touch with a number of other indies recently. Right now the market is just extra brutal, apparently.
So Arcen basically pulled a George Lucas or Chris Roberts thing, where the creative lead, CEO, and production accountant was all either in one person or were all subordinate to the creative lead/CEO. So nobody was above the guy “pushing for new features” to tell him that there is no money, he can’t do that kind of stuff.
So it’s a company hierarchy issue. It’s why usually the Big ideas person, the one that prototypes a lot of models and stuff, has to have a producer looking over his shoulder, to check the money figures. Trying to do two things at the same time, you can fail both of them hard at the same time. The big ideas creative lead always wants more features, as mentioned in the OP. But if that guy is also the CEO and managing the accounts, who is there to tell him he’s running out of money? Nobody outranks him, that’s the problem right there.
Before designing and funding games, one must design the hierarchy of the corporate and human structure. The meta game. The game above the game.
I don’t think I’m George Lucas, and I certainly encourage feedback not just from staff but from beta players. There’s far more input here than in most any other game company I can think of.
As for the steam sales, perhaps Arcen’s games don’t sell in a price bracket outside those areas. Although I don’t know what the steam changes referred in the OP was about. If the vast bulk of Arcen’s income comes from promotional discount deals, then perhaps if they decreased their game price, it would hit the sweet spot closer. The funny thing about the market is that the numbers don’t lie, only people do.
Arcen also has no reputation for making “X” type of game. Asymmetrical games, is the closest I would call it, although that has no defined meaning. So whenever Arcen pulls out a new great game nobody hears about, people need time to spread the word. On a global economic scale, you cannot “spread the word” by mouth, even online, in a few weeks to bump up sales. Especially if you did not do any preparation via social media of Arcen’s next release.
While it is not good to become stagnant and known only for making X type of game, like a 2d side scroller, it is also bad for your brand marketing online for people to not be capable of expecting what your next game is like. It’s all over the place judging by the product list. That means people might wait to hear reviews first, rather than buying it when it first comes out.
However, there is always crowd funding or even Kickstarter, if you really have issues marketing your brand yourself. Not only does that provide liquid cash right at the start of the dev period, but it also gets the ‘word’ out, on the organic communities online. It takes time for that seed to gestate and grow. And if the released game is horrible, that betrayal from the hype/expectation can be pretty poisonous. But if a good quality game product is released, it magnifies its effect. The fans that pushed for it, have their status and confidence/judgment confirmed or restored. Allowing them to push further, on the next Arcen game, to the community.
Part of making good games is ensuring the quality is solid, but the other part is ensuring the game reaches your intended audience or draws in a new audience that didn’t even know you existed before. If you spend most of the money on the tactical objective, a solid game with fun gameplay, and ignore the strategic goals of marketing to a known or unknown consumer network, you won’t be able to surpass every challenge.
The world economy is slowing down from a number of issues, that can’t be changed except by those with billions or trillions of cash (when the market crashes, that’s when you know that the group has realized some big money people moved their assets around, then they follow that trend and collapse the market price for things like stock). That’s why “stocks” aren’t a good idea, during this time. Not unless you have insider info like US Congress people do. So for people that can’t change the marketing climate, what they can do is improve the efficiency of the communications network. The most powerful one available to civilians is still the internet. The brand and reputation of Arcen is a solid asset.
I think the problem is AI War is too good and I never need to buy another game ever, kudos.
But seriously sorry to hear man, I love Arcen Games
I also support the idea of trying your luck (and charisma) on crowdfunding platforms. Maybe, with the right ammount of number-crunching, you could come up with rewards that both ensure people play your games (giving away keys for past/current games) and that let them know that your’re working on some other things (eventually building loyalty, hype and fanbase), of course, while hopefully not hurting yourselves.
Bear in mind, though:
1) That, if funded, you would reeeeeally have to look at your finance management in the future, as the rewards may as well affect your overall future sales (with rewards like: $100=”A key for Starward Rogue + a key for SBR, plus our thanks blah blah”)
But ultimately, you’d have got the neccesary cash to keep in business, while also exposing yourselves to a wider audience.
2) Permanent changes might as well be inevitable. For example, I’ve been reading that maybe your more successful titles are more inclined to certain genre, meaning that maybe specializing could be key.
Also, I personally appreciate sequels or expansive works if the previous entries are appealing. Give me an interesting universe, character, bestiarum or story, and it’s improbable that a sequel won´t excite me.
3) It’s true. Sad and all, but the ultimate dream of being the creative guy and the management-skilled one, is one that has brought many projects to failure. I know that many times the “suits” are the bad guys, but I know for sure that there´s a sweet spot between being a company all-out for the money, and one all-out for the creative freedom. I think that most of the times, these two opposite tasks should fall in the hands of two very separate and independent people, alligned by the same objective and corporate culture.
Maybe spending a lot of money on a full-time person would be taking things out of scale. You don´t need a CEO, but rather some kind of consultant that would put things clear, in perspective and without touching his heart.
Anyways, I’ve never owned a game studio, but I hope things will get better, and for the time being, I´ll be spreading the word of your works.
Very sad to hear. I really like most Arcen games (thought I’d love TLF but that game unfortunately didn’t click with me. Maybe it needed an awesome tutorial such as AI War has).
Anyway, what do you mean with the shift in the steam store? Do you mean the ‘refund’ option? If so, does that mean a lot of people buying Arcen games refund them quite quickly?
Hope things will get better!
I responded a bit back in another response on this massive list of comments, but no I’m not referring to the refund option — that has been a big win for consumers and I’ve not seen any impact on our stuff of note. I’m referring to various restructurings of the store that have happened: things like how the marketing time is allocated per game; the discovery queue update to the store and all the changes that brought; discoverability in general via tags and curators; other factors like the crush of new games through Greenlight, the way discount promotion have been run differently, and so on. The store has evolved quite a lot, and a lot of that has been positive, but not all of it.
Ah fair enough. Thanks for the response. I guess that’s stuff that we (as the consumer) don’t really notice until we hear about it. In any case, I wish you all the best! Hoping you’ll find that spark for Stars Beyond Reach!
Hey Chris, sorry to hear about hard the hard times. I loved ai war so much, that i ended up buying it once on steam and then again from the site when i thought i couldn’t get one of the expansions on steam afterwards. I really hope everything clears up eventually for you man
Hey, sorry to hear about the trouble your company is going through, you guys are one of my favorite developers, even if your games frustrate me so, at times.
Still can’t play a TLF game without someone killing someone else, no matter how hard I try, and there was much gnashing of teeth as a result, for example!
But anyway, it sounds like things are pretty tight, but you’ve bounced back from it before. I know I, myself have been looking forward to Stars Beyond Reach for quite awhile, it looks like a fascinating concept and hopefully it will be a lot of fun, when/if you get there.
I don’t know what could be done to help, in general ,but I hadn’t even heard of your new game, but I did go to the steam store and buy it. So, hope that helps at least. I will spread the word around my small circle of friends.
Yeah sorry to hear the difficulties. Though got to say did not even know this game existed until i followed the news link in my Ai war page.
Since i had money in my steam wallet, i have now picked it up. Along with a few others i was missing. Hope it helps, also go Linux :D.
Possibly you did release into a genre that is a saturated market, i know bullet hell type games are not exactly hard to find on steam.
Ah well here is hoping you get back on your feet and start releasing multiplayer games again those were always my favorites from you.
Stars Beyond Reach: Got an idea…
Put it up for pre-order, dude!!!
I’ll pay…people are looking for good 4X games. And have you SEEN some of the excuses that have been coming out?
Wouldn’t this at least help solve the consistent income issue?
Or…can I invest? I ain’t super rich (please see photo) but I am retired at 35 (also please see photo) so it’s not like I can get fired…so far…
Hm…nevermind about the picture I guess lol…
Before we do something like that, we have to be positive we can deliver on that. I don’t want to take people’s money and then go “uh, nope, nevermind — that didn’t work out!”
I love AI Wars, however I don’t really like any of your other titles, not saying anything is wrong with them, just not my thing I guess,
what I wonder though, since AI War is your biggest success why not work on more AI War, maybe even a outright sequel with a new engine like AI War II
just a idea but I have enjoyed AI War and all its expansions
I hope things get better for you all.
Cheers, I appreciate it — and no worries on the games other than AI War. We do have something planned for later this year with that game…
Just my two cents. Have you thought about adding more value to your game by adding related paraphernalia, art book, CD, Poster, 3D printed models, etc. along with each sale to increase its total value.
Generally speaking you have to have pretty hardcore fans for them to want to shell out for that sort of thing. Physical goods also take a lot of time as well as money delays and so forth, and are very low margin. Overall even with huge companies, you only see them do physical goods for things that are already an established hit. For KickStarter and similar it is different, because those are basically rewards for pledges that are far in excess of what the cost of goods are.
I haven’t had much exposure to your games, but just bought the AI War Collection on sale and then saw your S.O.S. in the Recent News section of the Steam page. Tough position to be in! I really respect your transparency and honesty. Bought two more copies of the AI War Collection and two copies of the TLF Collection. Wish you the best and hope things look up! And I will be watching for Stars Beyond Reach.
So terrible to hear Chris, I have been an avid supporter of Arcen for many years and I know you guys will pull through it. I am super proud of how far you guys have came with trying new game mechanics and presenting refreshingly unique perspectives on video game designs. One thing I would like to point out though is this and something I have thought in the back of my mind for a few years, AI WAR 2 is never a topic in conversation. While we absolutely appreciate all the efforts of the entire ARCEN staff. Surely this must have come up, It literally is your biggest selling title and somewhere in conversation a sequel must have been discussed. We all now know you are not a one trick pony, AI WAR 2 should be the focus in my opinion. It is the one thing in your catalog that has the strength to revive the company.
The best of luck to you in the future.
AI War 2 is definitely something that we’re thinking about, for sure. Thanks for the kind words!
I don’t expect you to divulge this but…
How are Starward Rogue & Arcen doing these days?
I imagine this original post getting a bit of traction has helped to spur on sales of supporters and maybe even new fans who hadn’t heard of you guys. I know I ended up purchasing Starward Rogue as a result of this post (and could not put it down!) We the community are rooting for Arcen’s success!
Well… Starward is getting a lot of loving attention from our volunteers, but it’s still selling well below what we’d need it to. As an example, it’s basically earning 1/20th of our operating costs in a given month. Which is not nothing, to be sure, but both AI War and TLF are heartily out-earning it. It’s now our #3 earner, but that’s only because all our other products dropped so far off the map.
Bionic Dues was a title that we considered to have disastrously low sales, and it still sold almost double what Starward Rogue has been, even despite all the extra publicity and sales and whatnot that this post generated. Those were an excellent shot in the arm, but it was a pretty quick effect. Overall I’ve earned back about 23% of the cost of making Starward Rogue, so far.
Arcen as a whole is doing… reasonable, I suppose is the way to put it. I’m really happy about the prospects of the Raptor game we’re working on, but I need to get that to a point where it actually generates money sooner than later. Stars Beyond Reach is still in a form of development limbo, and there have been both encouraging things and non-encouraging things happening with it. We’re nearing a point where we either fully commit to one of the more recent designs or move on to something else. Keith is giving that 50/50 odds either way, last I heard.
Overall for the year we’re still squarely in the red earnings-wise, despite the staff cuts and the attention of this post, and so on. But I’m trying to avoid making the same mistakes with the Raptor game that I made with Starward Rogue in terms of publicity, and so far that seems to be working out decently. It’s early yet, with that. We’re considering our options with it, including kickstarter (which has its benefits, but which I really don’t want to do despite feeling like it might be somewhat of a good idea in some ways), and early access (which has other benefits, but which I am nervous about since “you only get one release on steam” and since the press are generally more excited to talk about something that any old joe can’t get his hands on).
So we’re in a transitional state at the moment, basically. Overall I’m feeling pleased with how we’re making lemonade out of lemons, and I’m very excited about the raptor game and all the new things I can do in 3D these days. But there are worries, for sure. And I’m still a strange mix of sad and proud when it comes to Starward Rogue.
Crap. I’ve been so busy getting through college I completely forgot about Stars Beyond Reach, and hadn’t even heard about Starward Rogue. Now I feel really bad about everything.
I hope things look up for you soon.
Bought a Rogue.
considering buying a few more AI Wars to share around or Rogue too.
let’s be honest your games are shitty as fuck
do something good fot the rest of world and stop making them
What’s wrong with everybody. Starward Rogue probably is the best rogue-lite shooter since the binding of isaac. Only 2000 sales! c’mon. Anyway I have most of the arcen catalogue, and I feel its such a shame for a very creative company to have problems like these. You have my complete support (will shout to everyone to buy your games), and remember one thing : Life is hard. Be patient. Great things will come to great people, and I hope that for you. Thank you for your amazing games.
Greetings from Greece
Thank you very much! It’s been a rough year, but things are looking better lately at least. We’re keeping at it!