Making games is a rough business, as another studio ships a product only to layoff most of its staff.
ArcenGames founder Chris Park revealed in a blog post today that he is going to have to cut most of the jobs for his studio after recently launching the space-shooter Starward Rogue on Steam. This development team is well known and beloved by fans for its excellent AI War strategy games. And according to Park, Starward Rogue, which combines roguelike elements with classic shooting gameplay, is continuing that reputation with generally positive reviews. But it isn’t selling well enough to justify keeping its full staff.
“Oh, but the sales suck,” reads Park’s blog. “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.”
The game sells for $12, but it’s 10 percent off for $10.79. Park notes that this is already a low price, and so he’s not sure what those 9,000 people are really waiting for.
“By contrast, about 2,100 people have bought the game across Steam and Humble,” he wrote.
This is not the first time Arcen has gone through something like this. The studio faced similar layoffs in 2010 — although when fans learned about those problems, they started buying the game specifically to support the studio. That brought Arcen back from the edge.
Something similar could happen this time, but Park is adamant that the company’s situation is his fault. He highlights his decision to over invest in another one of Arcen’s projects, the 4X strategy game Stars Beyond Reach.
“The company was really flying high in 2014,” he wrote. “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. Overall our gross income for 2014 was about $700k, which was huge for us.”
From all of that, Arcen had about $200,000 in the bank. That evaporated as the company began spending more and more time on Stars Beyond Reach.
“We spent a ton of time in research-and-development mode,” wrote Park. “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.”
But those were costly inches.
“All this time spent in extra development more than doubled the cost of making the game,” wrote Park. “And in the meantime our steady stream of income from our 2014-and-before titles started to dry up.”
And it doesn’t look like Starward Rogue will come to the company’s rescue.
“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,” reads the blog. “We’ve reached the No. 6 spot a couple of times, briefly, and if memory serves we might have very, very briefly been No. 2 at one point.”
But this time? On Steam in 2016, which is overrun with dozens of new indie games every day? The company’s latest release is coming nowhere near those previous highs.
“We have mostly hung out in the 200s instead of in the teens,” he wrote. “And mostly in the 250s at that, top-seller-chart-wise.”
This is more and more common for the gaming market, and some people call this phenomenon the “indiepocalypse.” That’s a way of saying the market is so crowded that only a very few, lucky companies stand out. And it doesn’t sound like Arcen is lucky.