Starward Rogue is a roguelite bullet-hell shooter from indie studio Arcen Games with 157 positive reviews out of 158 on its Steam page at the time of this writing. Released barely one week ago on January 22nd, its launch sales have compelled the founder and CEO of Arcen, Christopher Park, to announce something quite unexpected: most of the company’s staff will be laid off. As of January 28th, Starward Rogue’s absolute peak on the Steam bestseller ranking was #98, a far cry from the top 40 minimum that Arcen was counting on.
“Unfortunately, Starward Rogue has seen financially the worst launch for us except for [prior Arcen titles] Tidalis and Shattered Haven,” writes Park in a blog post detailing the crisis. According to SteamSpy’s numbers as of January 29th, the end of the launch discount period, Starward Rogue is owned by under 4000 people – including a small surge since the publishing of Park’s post.
There appear to be many possible factors in the dismal launch of an apparently quality indie title. Park himself is quick to lay part of the blame on a complicated situation involving a title Arcen is still developing, Stars Beyond Reach, which seems to have been a little too ambitious. “I have over 160 hours playing the game, and it is a fun and intriguing game in quite a lot of ways,” Park writes. “But it is just missing… something.” Ultimately, he concludes, “The game was not (and still is not) at a state it needs to be for me to feel good about trying to sell it to you.”
To generate revenue for the overtime and overbudget Stars Beyond Reach, the less demanding Starward Rogue was pushed into production around October 2015. Unfortunately, the breakneck development pace meant that the usual pre-launch marketing was severely truncated. Although the push was helped with a Bionic Dues bundle, unfortunate timing only added to the visibility problem, as searches for upcoming 2016 film Star Wars: Rogue One swallowed up Starward Rogue in the Google rankings. (For reference, these are the YouTube results for “Starward Rogue trailer.”)
Meanwhile, Steam had changed its discounting policies. The resulting decreased revenue from period discount sales and store-wide sales “gutted” Arcen’s income, forcing the company to depend more than ever on Starward Rogue’s January launch to fund further development. With sales far below what the positive reception would seem to indicate, Park has been left with no choice but to lay off all but two of his full-time employees.
“It’s very embarrassing for me to come back and do this a second time,” Park writes, referring to revenue problems publicized by games media in 2010. Still, he’s not abandoning Starward Rogue, which will continue to receive bug fixes and even additional content, such as new enemies, through a team of “former-contractors now-volunteers.” The future may yet look up for Arcen, according to Park: “Our problem seems to be one of exposure for Starward Rogue. Unless I am very much missing something, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it shouldn’t be happily finding a smiling audience about now […] the only thing that I’m wanting is for the game to have a chance to actually find its audience.”
Do you think Starward Rogue has yet to find its playerbase? Given all the recent coverage, we’ll hope for the best!