Although received well critically, roguelike bullet hell Starward Rogue was a financial flop when it launched in January, which in turn forced mass layoffs at developer Arcen Games. Its next project—In Case of Emergency, Release Raptor—was released last month, however poor sales saw it pulled from sale after just three days on Steam.
From the outside looking in, this seemed somewhat drastic, however studio head Chris Park has opened up about why the decision to bow out sooner rather than later was made. “Nuking development of a game we'd already released (even in EA form) is never something I'd considered,” says Park in an interview with Gamasutra. “This option had not remotely entered my mind prior to about an hour before deciding to do it. I figured that the worst case with this game would be to struggle along for a month, maybe two, spend about about $40k doing so, and then leave people with a good $5 experience.
“The problem, looking at the numbers and the early feedback and the early response from much of the press, was that I realized that we were not remotely going to recoup that $40k anytime soon, and that I'd burn a couple of depressing months slogging out something that apparently no-one wanted or understood.”
Park goes on to explain that despite his own enthusiasm, he quickly realised wider interest for he and his team's first ever 3D game was ultimately nonexistent. He notes that Early Access scepticism, combined with a misunderstanding of what the game actually was (Park laments the misconstrued idea that this was a cash-in for Acen Games) led to poor sales which essentially “condemned” Raptor from success.
The fact that YouTubers and Twitch players had already been covering Arcen’s latest, and that it had already been mentioned in the press, meant little else could kick start interest that hadn’t already been tried. “That was the death of hope, I suppose,” adds Park. “What the key realization was, though, was that this game had sold so poorly that I could actually withdraw it from the market with minimal financial loss compared to what I'd otherwise lose.
"Somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 of direct cost in refund bank fees, versus $40,000. Obviously the revenue would be lost on top of that, but that's not money we ever had in our pocket anyway. I'm referring to money out the door that was in a bank account we have.
“After realizing that, I realized I wasn't shackled after all. I had had similar opportunities to avoid shackling myself to A Valley Without Wind 2 ($130k loss) and Stars Beyond Reach ($200k+ loss beyond the point where I should have called it off last May, and $420k loss overall). For once I could read the tea leaves early, not be over-optimistic, and make the choice that is painful and yet needed. There is no part of me that wonders ‘what if.’”