'The gold rush is over:' Slay the Spire and Darkest Dungeon devs say that big Game Pass and Epic exclusive deals have dried up for indie devs

Darkest Dungeon 2 - Gaunt Chirurgeon
(Image credit: Red Hook Studios)

In an interview at last week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the developers behind indie sensations Slay the Spire and Darkest Dungeon said that the deal some small developers have come to rely on for funding in recent years—like Epic Game Store exclusives and Xbox Game Pass—are no longer what they once were.

"I talked to at least five small teams, like 35 [members] and under, during GDC, and they're like: Cuts, cuts, cuts, funding canceled, talks that were going on for a year, canceled," said Casey Yano, the co-founder of Slay the Spire studio Mega Crit. "It sounds like it's shit. We're definitely very privileged to be able to self-fund. [Otherwise] I'd be very, very, very scared right now."

Slay the Spire launched to slow sales in Steam early access before eventually becoming a deckbuilding juggernaut. Darkest Dungeon was likewise a Steam early access success; both games are available on PC Game Pass, though DD director Chris Bourassa said that Microsoft's deals for getting games on Game Pass have "come down in scope" since the subscription service began.

"Way down," Yano added.

"So has Epic," Bourassa said. "The Gold Rush is over. I come from the Northwest Territories. The town I'm from was built on gold, and then they found diamonds further north. Maybe another paradigm shift is waiting for us, but I definitely think the scale of the deals I'm hearing about is significantly dimishese from the big swinging days. Certainly we got our Epic [deal] at the right time."

Darkest Dungeon developer Red Hook Studios made the somewhat controversial choice to launch the sequel in early access as an Epic exclusive. While those exclusives haven't been popular with players, they've allowed some indie developers to "break even" on their games even before release, a safety net that's hard to pass up when a game's success can make or break a small studio.

To help give the indie scene a boost, Red Hook and Mega Crit have teamed up with Dead Cells DLC studio Evil Empire to put on a "Triple-I" showcase on April 10, alongside other developers including Re-Logic, poncle and more.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).