'HADES' FEEDBACK: Greg Kasavin, creative director at independent video game developer Supergiant Games, told The Fly in an exclusive interview that the reception to his company's recent early access release "Hades" is "going really well so far." "Thankfully, the response to the game has been really, really good for us around the initial launch," Kasavin said. "Our previous games have not been early access games, and, in fact, we’ve really prized the completeness of our previous games. So early access felt like a big experiment for us, and we designed this game from the ground up to support it. And we wanted to make sure what was there right at launch was a good expression of where the game was going to go.” The creative director added that Supergiant has been getting feedback "across every aspect" of "Hades" since it rolled out in December, and that the game's players "seem really engaged with it," which is "really encouraging" for the company.
EPIC GAMES STORE: In an unconventional move, Supergiant announced at The Game Awards in December that "Hades" would launch exclusively on the Epic Games Store, which had just recently rolled out. The Epic Games Store, much like Steam, is a digital video game storefront for PC and Mac systems. When asked about why Supergiant opted to release its newest game on just a single marketplace, and specifically why they chose Epic over a more established platform like Steam or GOG.com, Greg Kasavin said that he knew early on that having a game in early access meant that the company would have to limit how many platforms it could be available on, since "speed of iteration" for new content is "the most important thing." "We need to be able to improve the game as quickly as possible, and in a scenario where we have early access on console platforms and PC and so on...as a small development studio, we would be spending all our time just trying to launch updates rather than creating content for those updates,” he told The Fly. The creative director said that it is an "incredible feat of coordination" to update games on multiple platforms simultaneously, and that such work is "not quick for small teams." As to why they specifically selected the Epic Games Store, Kasavin said that Epic's "mindset" around the new store "really lined up with reasons why we wanted to make 'Hades.'" Investors in Epic include Tencent (TCEHY), KKR (KKR), and Disney (DIS).
NEW DIRECTION: Supergiant Games is mostly known for short, narrative-heavy action-RPGs, including "Bastion" and "Transistor." "Hades," on the other hand, has more of a so-called "roguelike" structure, meaning there's more random content generation designed for multiple play-throughs. When asked about what inspired Supergiant to head in a different direction, Kasavin said that he believes each of the company's games has been "quite different from the last." "We've always valued pushing ourselves out of our creative comfort zones with each of our games to varying degrees," he said. "So, I think from that point of view, ‘Hades’ is fully aligned with our studio’s values and I think players with any concern...the moment they start playing it, or within minutes, they get the Supergiant feel from it and they realize just how much it really does feel like one of our projects and how it really values the narrative as part of the experience and how the worldbuilding is a key part of the game" Kasavin added that he thinks roguelikes are kind of like a "cousin" to the action-RPG genre and that trying something new with "Hades" is "an exciting change of pace."
EARLY ACCESS: On the topic of early access, which is a video game funding model where developers release games in earlier development cycles at lower prices with continued content additions and fixes, the Supergiant creative director told The Fly that the term is "kind of a buzzword" and that it means "different things to different developers." When asked how much the early access model has changed the way companies look at game development, he said that Supergiant "tried to study a range of examples" before releasing an early access game, and approached it with "a lot of caution," since it creates "promises for players that you then have to deliver on." “It changes your relationship with your playerbase to some extent," he said. "They become more invested in some ways in the game and its success. They’re willing to give you feedback, but in return, they expect for you to make good on your claim to continue improving the game. In our case, we are committed to doing that on a regular basis."
LIVE SERVICES: On the subject of live services games, Kasavin said that "a lot" of what Supergiant is doing with "Hades" is "very much kind of like a service model" since it comes with automatic "major content updates." Still, he said the updated content management structure of the game "does not affect the monetization model" and that there will be no microtransactions in "Hades." “We don’t really value innovating on business models," Kasavin commented. "We just want to make games that are really exciting for players.”
AAA VS. INDIE: Greg Kasavin told The Fly that before joining a smaller studio, he worked at Electronic Arts (EA) and Take-Two (TTWO), two of the largest video game publishers. When asked what indies could learn from bigger entities, Kasavin said that he was able to learn "production discipline" and how to be mindful of deadlines and scheduling. “The art of planning video game projects requires knowing what to schedule and what not to schedule and giving yourself plenty of time and plenty of out for the stuff that is really difficult to schedule," he said. "I think that our time at Electronic Arts really helped prepare us for that aspect, and we’ve been able to ship a number of games that have been well received.” He noted that smaller developers tend to work on "passion projects" and "want every aspect of it to be perfect," and it "becomes hard to reconcile that."
When asked what bigger companies can learn from smaller ones, Kasavin said that the nature of big studios makes it "not possible to do what smaller studios do." "You hear people say that big studios are risk averse," he commented. "The reality is that they take enormous risk with each project when you consider the risk is financial investment.” The creative director said that bigger studios could be more receptive to trying new game ideas, but noted that their risk-aversion is "understandable given what they have to do."
SWITCH: In response to a question about how Supergiant feels about the performance of its games "Bastion" and "Transistor" on the Nintendo Switch (NTDOY), Kasavin said that the games "reviewed really well" and "sold as well as we hoped." “We’re really happy we have our games on the Switch,” he said. "It’s an awesome system.”
"Game On" is The Fly's weekly recap of the stories powering up or beating down video game stocks.