Co-owner Austin says studio 'in the black' after game release
For this week's edition of "Game On," The Fly spoke with Nate Austin, co-owner of independent game studio Worldwalker Games, which released role-playing game "Wildermyth" last month on PC to mostly positive reviews. In the interview, Austin discussed how the game has fared so far, its tabletop game functions, Early Access, and more.
'WILDERMYTH': After nearly two years as part of Steam's Early Access program, which allows players who purchase games in a pre-development cycle ahead of their official release date, "Wildermyth" launched on June 15, 2021, with 95% of all user reviews giving positive feedback. When asked how he feels about how well the game has done financially and critically so far, Austin said, "We’re thrilled. The critical reception in particular is amazing. Couldn’t be happier with it. The financials are good, [but] I think we have some room to grow there. But yeah, we’re really happy. We made our money back, we’re in the black, so that’s fabulous.”
TABLETOP: "Wildermyth" takes a lot of inspiration from tabletop RPGs, such as Dungeons & Dragons. When asked how Worldwalker was able to strike a balance between the freedom and open-endedness of a tabletop game with the restrictions of an indie game, Austin told The Fly that he tried to focus on what the computer does well, which is namely realizing "complex pictures" and taking all the "drudge work" of combat away. "For the parts where for a tabletop game it would be more open-ended, that’s where the writing comes in," he added. "We just try to stick to the core heroic fantasy genre, but give you options within that and give you variation and possibility within that. It’s kind of a trick with the writing and the game systems working together to give you the illusion that the space is much bigger than it really is.”
COMPETITION: While it certainly has unique systems and mechanics, "Wildermyth" is far from the only D&D-inspired video game on the market, and certainly not the only one made by an indie developer. Austin said that what sets the game apart from similar titles is how "Wildermyth" handles character development, as its procedural storytelling nature allows for broader role-playing options. "'Wildermyth' does things with character development, in particular following heroes through their whole careers, that very few, if any, other games do," Austin said. "In 'Wildermyth,' your heroes start young, and they grow old and retire, and they can have children. The focus on character development that we have is pretty unique in the genre, I think.”
EARLY ACCESS: "Wildermyth" became part of Steam's Early Access program on November 13, 2019, meaning players could purchase the game in an unfinished state, allowing Worldwalker to fund the final development stages of the game while also listening to feedback from players on the title's strengths and weaknesses. “It was hugely helpful to us in terms of polishing the game," Austin said of the Early Access program. "Before we went into early access on Steam, we were on itch.io for a while, which was also extremely helpful. We believe in really being player focused and listening very hard to what people are saying about the game and what problems they’re having. And we spent so much of our time just fixing clarity issues so that people could play the game without getting confused or getting derailed. I think that long early access period and that long iteration period helped the clarity, and helped clean up the story, which made the game as successful as it was. I think we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if we tried to jump in right away.”
When asked if the studio anticipates using Early Access again for any future projects, Austin said it would depend on the game. "I think we will absolutely consider it, because we’ve found that no matter how well we think we’ve done in terms of balancing something and making it clear to understand, players have different opinions," he noted. "It’s good to hear those! It’s vitally necessary to hear those. So we’ll consider it, but it’s also possible to imagine a scenario where it doesn’t make as much sense depending on the game.”
OTHER PLATFORMS: Though Worldwalker is exploring options to bring "Wildermyth" to consoles, Austin noted that the company isn't currently interested in releasing the game on other platforms, including mobile and streaming services like Google Stadia (GOOG). "We’re not currently interested in a mobile port, but that could change in the future after our console port happens," he told The Fly. "There’s some technology hurdles to clear there because of the home-grown engine. We would be open to considering streaming platforms, but at the moment we haven’t jumped into any of them. I think a game like ours that has a lot of replay value is probably a good fit for streaming, but right now we’re just focused on our existing customers, and we haven’t reached that decision point yet.”
When asked how he generally feels about the rise in subscription services, such as Xbox Game Pass (MSFT), Austin said that he hadn't really looked into the topic much, but said it's on his list of things to research. “I think there are absolutely some risks there, especially depending on the type of game that you have," Austin said. "I’m not educated to answer that question specifically about Game Pass, that’s on my list of things to research right now. I haven’t been able to play a ton of games because we’re raising small children in addition to running a studio, so I’m a little behind on the latest tech. But you have to consider it game by game. If you have a story-based game or a game that’s about a single experience, you might be in trouble there. Whereas if you have a game that has a lot of replay value, a subscription might be better for you. But I don’t know what the overall financials look like.”
"Game On" is The Fly's weekly recap of the stories powering up or beating down video game stocks.