Interviews & Opinion

How Early Access and China helped make Descenders a success

How Early Access and China helped make Descenders a success

One year ago at Develop Brighton, former journo and TinyBuild vet Mike Rose spoke to about his brand new indie games label, No More Robots.

The first title the firm released was Descenders from Dutch developer Ragesquid, with the procedurally generated bike title launching into Steam Early Access in February 2018 and Xbox's Game Preview programme in May. Already the title has massively exceeded Rose's expectations.

"With just Descenders alone - across two platforms - we've made more than I had estimated we'd make with five games," he says.

"We did a lot of very clever things along the way which have led to Descenders making a lot of money."

He continues: "I had hoped it was going to do about five thousand copies in the first week, ten thousand in the first month and it did exactly that. Literally on the dot. We did exactly as I had hoped, but what I didn't realise was that the game would have a long tail. The game has just continued to sell. It hasn't died. Discord has helped.

"We have made a lot of clever decisions as well. We have a road map of when updates are coming out. We continue to show how active we are. When the Xbox version of the game came out in May, we rolled out a massive update alongside that which we'd been holding back that completely changed the game. The PC version got that at the same time and we discounted the game and did a visibility round on Steam for it. The Steam version exploded again and did nearly as well as launch.

"At this point, we've just hit around $600,000 in revenue for it. The Steam Summer Sale did really well for us because Valve featured as one day during that. We had a little sales boost when the Summer Sale started but after we got featured and it went mental. Valve also told us right before it happened saying: 'Hey Mike, we know you have streamed sometimes on Steam before - just to let you know if you stream while you're featured on the homepage, then your stream appears there as well'. Because of that, one of the devs started streaming and he streamed for like nine or ten hours straight. So we were not just there, but also on the front page for streaming. That had over 1,500 concurrents the entire time. That must have led to a decent amount of sales."

A large part of Descenders' success has come from the game's surprise popularity in China. Rose and co translated and even went as far as changing its name for this region.

"We localised the game into a million languages and that has paid off immensely. We went hard with the Chinese translation. We got Simplified and Traditional Chinese that were professionally done," Rose explains.

"We got the name of the game changed in China - it's actually called Downhill King in that region with its own logo and stuff because Chinese would understand that better. We went for it. I had seen people saying that with Steam being available in China now, that it could do really well. With Descenders, our largest audience is America - same as every game - with China as a close second. It might actually overtake it at some point."

With just Descenders alone - across two platforms - we've made more than I had estimated we'd make with five games

That isn't to say it's been easy releasing the game in China - this part of the world comes with its fair share of challenges due to the fact it's a wildly different culture to the US or Europe.

"We see heavier numbers of refunds in that region through Steam and we see a heavier amount of piracy as well," Rose says.

"They are also not willing to pay real money. The Chinese version of the game is about $5. We didn't pick that price - that's the automatic translation. Steam automatically translates your price into all the other currencies. I also did research and slightly lowered the price in China from what had suggested. About 35 per cent of our players are Chinese, but then in terms of revenue, it's something like 15 per cent. It does suck, but 15 per cent is still massive. With that many people, you can't disregard the numbers of people because it means more spread then.

"That's why we've continued to sell so well in China because there are just so many people there playing it. If Chinese people see that a game has a Chinese translation and it's done properly, they are a far more likely to spread it around a bunch of people. We also didn't realise quite frankly that the game would do so well in Japan. About 10 per cent of our players are from Japan. I have a Twitter search for Descenders and it's consistently filed with Japanese players. I honestly have no idea why it's done so well. I've been trying to work it out. I've been talking to a few Japanese publishers who want to publish the game at retail in Japan. I've been talking to some of them and they're seeing more people wanting to buy PC games."

The other big factor Rose names for Descenders success is Early Access. Valve's alpha release scheme has had something of a tumultuous journey, going from being the darling that was helping developers make their games with support from the community to having something of a negative reputation due to certain developers abusing the platform and eroding consumer trust - but it's worked out for Rose and the developers at Ragesquid.

"I would definitely launch more games into Early Access in the future," he says.

"From the numbers, I'm seeing with Descenders, people are super into Early Access titles now. There's been this weird up-and-down where people love it and people hate it. Right now, people are really interested in buying Early Access games because they can get invested at the start of the game and see it evolve.

"It's due to the way that people have started using Early Access. It's also the speed at which people buy games on Steam now. It used to be a shit load of people buy a game and if it was shit then it was just shit and they've all bought it. Then they put loads of bad reviews on it and Early Access got its negative vibes from that. But now, people buy Descenders, they leave positive reviews and then more people are seeing that it's in Early Access but it's clearly good and clearly people are enjoying it. Because it's Early Access, their reviews always say things like: 'Yeah, it has enough content, this is worth buying now, don't wait until it's 1.0'. Because of that, we get a lot of good vibes.

"If Descenders had come out in 1.0, I don't think we'd have got as high reviews. Every time we put out an update, people would be like: 'Well, it's about time we got some real content for this game' but because we're in Early Access, we're putting out updates every month and the reaction is: 'Holy shit, more content for this game I already own and enjoy'. It's just a completely different perception, psychologically, because they know the game is not ready. We're getting reviews now where people are saying: 'We don't know why this game is in Early Access' because it's pretty much a full game already. We're obviously getting to the point now where people feel it's full and yet it's still happening. We're about to put out another update - or a whole new extra world - and instead of it looking like it's DLC or whatever, it's users being grateful for getting a massive extra chunk of extra content for free. Being in Early Access has definitely helped."

You can read more from Mike Rose in our upcoming interview about No More Robots' first year

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.