Why I Decided to Skip Early Access

Hi! Been a while. Plenty of reasons for that, but the main thing I want to get into is why we’ve decided not to do Early Access.

First off, to avoid burying the lede, yes we’re skipping early access but no, that doesn’t mean the game is a year away now. In fact, it’s still pretty close. I’ll go into more detail below.

So let’s break down some of the misconceptions about early access.

Most developers claim they’re doing early access to build community, get valuable feedback, empower the player. Well, they kinda have to say that, don’t they? If they don’t say it’s all about you- the player- then you won’t buy in. But that’s only maybe a small part of the reason for early access.

You might think the real reason is to trick players into paying for abandoned, unfinished software. That does happen but I don’t believe it’s the whole story, either. Or even the main story.

As a developer, the reason for going early access is that 1) I need an ongoing income to keep developing. Games take a long time and the more money I have for living expenses, the longer I can work on the product and the overall quality of the game increases. Even a small game can cost between $500k and a million, running out of funds is why games get released in poor condition. And 2) early access provides a lot of valuable exposure. Or at least, it used to.

But what about player feedback? It is useful, but not in individual cases. Here’s a simple example: one player complains that the game is too hard. The next commenter complains that the game is too easy. You don’t have the time and resources to add a bunch of difficulty and feature options. Which person do you listen to? The answer is neither, you look at trends. If the majority of players can’t get past the first level but your forum elites insist the game is too easy, what do you do? My personal opinion is that you stick to your vision of the game and fine-tune it to feel the way you think is the most compelling. You can’t make everyone happy and when you compromise you don’t make anyone happy. But in truth, there’s no correct answer.

Player feedback, when it affects the core of your game, can hurt more than it helps and makes people pissed off when they would have been perfectly happy with it as a finished product instead of early access.

The truth is, marketing reasons were the biggest reason for early access. I don’t know if this is common knowledge, but an article on Kotaku is nice but doesn’t mean you’ve made it. That article may get 3,000 views, and a paid banner ad on Rock, Paper, Shotgun may get 10,000 views. That’s chump change. That’s almost insignificant numbers that has zero affect on your sales. Promotion on Steam will get literally millions of views. Going early access could get you promoted on the front page once at release, again with a major update, and again at launch. That’s absolutely huge. That’s the most you can do on a shoestring budget, by an order of magnitude.

It’s also not true anymore. Since I started working on this project, the number of early access games has exploded. It seems like every game has an early access period, and that means that nobody is getting that extra promotion anymore.

On top of that, public opinion of early access has plummeted. Developers are putting games up fully intending to abandon them. Or just finding out they’re not profitable enough and then abandoning them. Or making games specifically to pander to early access mentality, without any real end goal or conclusion in mind. It’s like releasing chapters of a book that you plan to drag out until people lose interest and then just stop writing mid-sentence. And that’s pretty shit.

To avoid such a bad response to early access, we keep completing more and more features. Right now the entire game is functional except for alternate heist goals and a couple suggestions coming from player feedback. Eventually I just looked at what we had and thought, why even bother releasing it early at this point? It’s almost done…

On that note, there’s one last reason we’ve ditched early access. With changing attitudes toward the concept, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. You either wallow in obscurity, forced to keep working on a game you know nobody wants, or you’ve got 600,000 wildly passionate players making your life a waking nightmare, like the developers of Darkest Dungeon. Neither of those options sound great to me.

So there you have it. When I started working on Killers and Thieves, early access made sense, it had a lot of advantages. At this point, it’s only disadvantages. Thanks for understanding another delay and I can tell you it won’t be that much longer.



Why I Decided to Skip Early Access

I Highly Recommend The Banner Saga 2

A very short update this time; The Banner Saga 2 has just released on Steam. As some (most?) of you know, I was the writer and designer on TBS1, but aside from things that naturally crossed over into TBS2 I had basically nothing to do with production on the sequel. In fact, I haven’t even had time to playtest it. I literally don’t know what happens in the game.

So when I play through the whole thing this weekend it’s going to be really weird, but, if the reviews are anything to go on, amazing. And how many people get that kind of opportunity, to play something they created but don’t know anything about?

If you liked the first game, please do go check out The Banner Saga 2 on Steam (it should also be out for console at the end of the month). Thanks for the support and I promise the next update will be about Killers!


I Highly Recommend The Banner Saga 2

An Interesting time in Indie + delays

Hello! A quick update today to let people know I’m still alive and also explain a minor delay we’ve taken on.

But first, a topic interesting to me: comparing indie hype to reality.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, Steam Spy is a pretty accurate site for sales figures. It’s not perfect, and it’s not data directly from Steam, so it can’t account for refunds, free weekends, comparing full price sales to deep discounts, and so on, but it is accurate enough for relative comparisons.

This post is mostly interested in which games have been genuine hits, and which ones have not, and some of these are pretty surprising.

Click below to read more.

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An Interesting time in Indie + delays

Feature Complete and You

Game dev has become a lot more public lately, so you’ve probably heard of alphas and betas, “pre-alpha” whatever that is, and milestones, (the meaning of those terms are entirely up to the developer). But there’s a term that’s used in AAA development everywhere I’ve worked that I rarely see anyone talking about: feature complete.

More discussion (and a screenshot) continued below.

Continue reading “Feature Complete and You”

Feature Complete and You

What even is this game?

Killers and Thieves has been a bit of a pain in the description department. It’s not quite similar to any games I can think of (Banner Saga was a pain to describe too, now that I think about it). It’s not exclusively a roguelike or a strategy/management game or an action game or an rpg, and not surprisingly, it’s hard to explain how it plays.

The last couple months have been about drilling down on that, scrapping things that weren’t good for gameplay and expanding on things that improve it. At the center of everything has been the directive that it has to feel like being in charge of a medieval thieves guild.

Here’s where we’re at:

Like any respectable thief guild, it starts with stealing stuff. You can take up to four thieves from your roster on a heist.


Check out more in the post!

Continue reading “What even is this game?”

What even is this game?

Let’s talk about: Roguelikes

With The Deadliest Milestone complete, I’m optimistic about updating more often. I’ve been thinking a lot about roguelikes lately, for three reasons: 1) they’ve become trendy as hell in the indie scene, 2) I’m not sure I actually like them, which is important because 3) I keep almost making them.

This does actually relate to Killers and Thieves and probably won’t be just pure dev rambling. More explained in the post:

Continue reading “Let’s talk about: Roguelikes”

Let’s talk about: Roguelikes

Milestone Complete

The day before Halloween we finished our latest major milestone, after a couple months of hard crunching. It has been a major whirlwind of progress and most of the time everything’s completely broken until suddenly it’s all working. I’m very relieved to say we’ve (mostly) gotten to that point. So much has changed I almost don’t know where to start.

I think on the last update I mentioned the district map, but let’s talk about the headquarters instead.

The overarching goal of the deadline has been to make a working gameplay loop that is the basis of the game. Here’s the idea: you load into your headquarters, an inconspicuous tavern that hides your criminal organization beneath. You begin with a couple random thieves to get you started and, importantly, a storefront to sell some of your stolen goods.

patron(click for larger)

A ton of work went into the headquarters. Check out the rest below:

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Milestone Complete

Heists and Holdups

This is where I feign surprised that I missed a month of updates: “Oh my, where does the time go?” In fact, the time went into converting the entire project to run on Unity, which isn’t something I had planned to do until it suddenly became necessary. On the downside, we lost between 3-4 weeks of progress converting everything over. On the plus side, the game’s on Unity, which means more tools, support and built-in features.

But worry not! We’re done now, and everything’s working just fine. In fact, we’ve made a solid month of progress.


The majority of the work has been on heists. These are the the most active part of Killers and Thieves where you control multiple thieves to steal as much loot as possible for your guild while dodging the city watch.

Click to enlarge

And read on for more details and screenshots!

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Heists and Holdups

Forming a Posse

For some reason I never identified before that I love games with lots of characters until recently. Shining Force, Final Fantasy, XCOM, Baldur’s Gate and other BioWare games, Crusader Kings, the list goes on. I loved Shadow of the Colossus and Journey as well, but you’re getting different experiences: the personal journey vs the shared experience. And hell, Journey was made for multiplayer, and SotC was a story about someone taking desperate measures to not be alone.

There’s probably a reason for this: there’s only so many good stories to tell with one or two characters. How many different ways can that story play out? I mean, how many movies or tv shows are based on a single person? Our species is built around understanding and caring about how people respond to other people.

In The Banner Saga, I wrote almost all of the dialogue between roughly 30 characters. It was the first time I’d be in charge of something like an HBO series. It was also exhausting, both literally and figuratively. On Killers and Thieves I’m finding myself again drawn to lots of characters, but with an emphasis on emergent story instead of explicit content.

First step, of course, is generating a lot of characters! New screenshots and design talk in the post:

Continue reading “Forming a Posse”

Forming a Posse

Programmer test results?

Edit: And, we’re done! Thanks to everyone involved, I had a huge pool of amazing and passionate candidates. Production now begins in earnest.

In case you were one of the many people who applied for the programmer position, I wanted to say thank you very much! I got many more emails than I expected, from very talented people worldwide.

Even though applications are now closed, there are several tests still in progress and it’ll take me a couple days to work everything out and come to a decision. I know it’s hard waiting for a reply, I’ve been there many times myself, but I promise I’ll be getting back to you later in the week.

Thank you again!

Programmer test results?