Best known for rebooting Castlevania with the Lord of Shadows series, MercurySteam is now striking out on its own.
The Spanish development house is working on its own IP, Raiders of the Broken Planet, and in doing so, it feels it is challenging many of the norms that surround publishing in the games industry.
On September 22nd, the firm is going to launch the first part of Raiders of the Broken Planet, Alien Myths. That will be followed by Wardog Fury three or four months after, while Hades Betrayal hits shelves early next year. The final part, Council Apocalypse, finishes up the project.
This is different to a traditional episodic release as parts can be played in any order.
Each adventure costs $9.99, with this lower price point being key to forming a community around the game.
“This is clearly a triple-A product, these four campaigns altogether make a cohesive product and we could ask for a premium price overall, but we are independent,” MercurySteam’s owner Enric Alvarez (pictured, above) says.
“We want a community to grow around this product – this is a multiplayer game. It can be played single-player, but in essence, it's a multiplayer game. It's not going to go very far if we don't have a community. So, we need to treat the fans as best as possible we have a chance to do so. There's no middle man, there's no publisher telling us what to do. We are dealing directly with our audience.”
This pricing model is informed, in part, by Alvarez’s thoughts on the cost of projects in the triple-A space.
“As a consumer, I feel games are quite expensive,” he explains.
“We want to make triple-A games, but they're super expensive. So, how can we meet half way? Doing it like this might be the key to getting a return on our investment.”
A quicker influx of revenue isn’t the only advantage of this business model; MercurySteam says it wants its players to shape the project as it goes on.
“Let's say you are a fan of the studio and buy the first episode,” Alvarez says.
“There might be things you like and things you don't like about it, so you go to our forums and you let us know. If we get this feedback from consumers, we don't have any choice but to implement it. When the game comes out, if you don't see those changes implemented, you won't buy it. It's a fair deal.”
He continues: “If we don't listen, consumers will stop supporting us – we would be idiots to do that. This game is top quality from a developer that doesn't want to be greedy. We don't want to become millionaires - we want to make games until we die. The way to do that is to get a happy community around our games. This is our chance to do that.
"This way, we show we are honest. We are going to ask for $9.99 – that is affordable to everyone. You get a high-quality game and the promise that we are going to implement feedback.
"In one year's time, when the last campaign is released – I promise you – this is going to be the game its community wants.”
One way that MercurySteam is making this package as enticing to players is releasing a sizeable prologue episode entirely free of charge.
“That will be released simultaneously with the first campaign, and will be free forever,” Alvarez explains.
“For the entire lifecycle of the product, there's going to be a very long and meaty prologue section for everyone to get into the game to see if it's a game they could enjoy, without any cost. If you see this from a certain distance as a game and as a project, it's completely new.”
Producer Dave Cox (pictured above top far right) adds: “Our proposal to the customer is: play this game, if you like it, you can plug any of the campaigns into the prologue and it'll all make sense. When we pitched this to publishers, they couldn't understand the business model.
"The model is a succession of products where you don't need to play one after the other. That's why we're calling them campaigns, not episodes, so people don't get confused. Giving people something for free is quite an ethical way of working with your customers.”
Partly as a result of publishers not really understanding what MercurySteam was going for with this episodic-but-not-episodic release model, the firm has decided to release the game itself.
“As a studio, we continue to work with publishers. We are working with Nintendo for Metroid: Samus Returns, for example,” Cox says.
“But also we wanted to fly with our own wings and take some risks. There's no risk-taking right now, especially on the publisher side. They're so conservative – if it's not a sequel or not an IP that they know, they don't want to touch anything.
"Studios of our size are taking risks and creating their own publishing divisions and bringing games to market that were independent. You're going to see more and more of that in the market; more medium-sized studios doing their own thing. At the same time, we still want to work with publishers because that model is still interesting for us as a studio.”
The studio launched the game into a beta at the end of 2016; initially, MercurySteam thought it was close to launch, but feedback from the community said otherwise. Now, the project is just weeks from release but Alvarez explains that what launches on September 22nd is not the final product.
Now, the project is just weeks from release but Alvarez explains that what launches on September 22nd is not the final product.
“This thing is like a baby. Our message to the people is that this is a child and it needs to grow,” he explains.
“It's not a closed product, where it is what it is and we take players' money. We have a free slice, if consumers feel like you want to spend $10 on the first episode, then, by all means, spend it, but we aren't asking for anything more.
“In a year, this game is going to be exactly what the community wants it to be. From a development perspective, it is a fucking nightmare – you have to realise that as we speak, we are finalising details for the Alien Myths launch at the same time as we are working on the other three campaigns. In the old days when we were doing Castlevania – it was just one game.”
Cox concludes: “[Before], you'd finish, ship the product then wait to see whether people like it. One of the great things about doing a project like this is that you can change it. That's amazing.”