A Mere Five People Made The Most Popular Video Game On Steam Right Now
And the genre was assumed to be all but dead and oversaturated. What did they do right? How did they defy the odds where others failed?
If you told me that indie games have no chance in 2020–2021, I would laugh you right out of the room. Looking at the past year, indie games have rocked the boat and then some. From Fall Guys, to Among Us, to Rust’s resurgence in popularity, indie games are far from dead. The “Indiepocalypse” as it were is far out of the mind of PC game developers.
Iron Gate Studios, the developers of Steam’s fastest rising game this year, would have to agree. Started by Henrik Törnqvist and Richard Svensson, the Swedish game studio has been working hard on their latest release, Valheim. The Viking-inspired game has on average about 200K concurrent players, with peak players at 500K at once. About 3 million gamers have purchased the game, currently in early access. It’s an understatement to say that Valheim is doing quite well recently.
From Humble Beginnings
What makes Valheim resonate with players in 2021? Is it the number of men with scraggly beards akin to the ample manes of Viking infamy? Or maybe the multiplayer networked gameplay that fosters cooperation during the nearly 1-year long pandemic? These may all be contributing factors, however, if you pitched this game’s premise alone, it sounds a little underwhelming.
For you see, Valheim is a survival action sandbox game. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but if you are a PC gamer you already know that the survival game genre is pretty well saturated at this point. Incumbent games like Minecraft, Don’t Starve, and 7 Days have the survival co-op game locked down, a finely tuned machine with a game loop perfected over the years. The open-world survival shtick is all but dead these days. So how, then, did Iron Gate Studios succeed in captivating gamers?
How to Build an Audience for your Indie Game
If you work hard making a game, do your best to get people to play it too!
The Recipe for Success
Right out of the gate (pun intended) Valheim sets itself apart in the details. The game is not winning any awards for top-tier graphics, but the style is reminiscent of some of gaming’s greatest classic 3D fantasy games. It’s hard not to get “Everquest”, “Runescape”, and “Vanilla WoW” vibes from this game, with a bit of “Dark Souls” splashed in for good measure. It is gritty but doesn’t take itself too seriously. A good balance for a fantasy game.
The gameplay is inspired by Norse mythology, Vikings, and classic fantasy games. You’ll find trolls, skeleton knights, and gremlin-like “Greydwarf” creatures. Valheim eventually expands to include gigantic boss creatures that need to be hunted to gain mystic powers. The concept of conquering nature, and the hostile creatures that inhabit it, is not unique. However, the backdrop of Norse mythology is certainly a fresh perspective.
Quite begrudgingly, I have to admit, Valheim is very a Youtuber and streamer-friendly game. The sandbox nature, low stakes of death, and multiplayer cooperative premise of the game make it perfect for playing on stream. Players create their own stories and “legacies” if you will — and with the recent resurgence of the game Rust, Valheim is another game in the overall comeback of survival sandbox games.
Finally, it is certainly worth commending Iron Gate Studios for their method of handling multiplayer. Every player can either create their own world instance or join others in groups of up to 10 players. Every player’s online room is automatically locked by password, so there is no chance of griefing / bullying other players (unless of course, you give out your password freely). And the world itself is procedurally generated and quite massive!
Iron Gate started development on Valheim in 2018, and slowly ramped up to a five-person team and a publishing deal by 2020. The amount of content created in less than 3 years is astounding, and by such a small team, it’s quite commendable. At this point, with so many players, I’m sure they are looking to expand their team!
The growth of “overnight success” steam games in the past year is an encouraging nod to indie developers that want to see their creations widely accepted by players. Now’s the best time to create games, and share them with the world! The tools to make games are highly accessible and cheap. If you are an indie game developer, check out some of my articles to get you started on your game creation journey.