The Astronauts have done an unbelievable job here. While Witchfire is only launching into early access right now […], what’s here is not only insanely polished but also unique, well thought-out, and absolutely has room to grow.
We’re updating the game like there’s no tomorrow, with at least three patches a week. Our focus is balancing (mostly the new player experience), bug fixes, and quality of life improvements. In the next week or so it will shift towards our first big fat update – we already have an internal codename for it and know what we want it to be! – but we will continue monitoring the game and the player feedback all the time.
After many years of development, it’s great knowing we have a fun, solid core. It’s much easier to grow and evolve the game when you know your core loops click.
Another thing that went well was the stability and optimization of the game. We were not using the Early Access as an excuse to save ourselves some work. Many hours were spent on bug hunting and optimizations, so we had relatively low amount of issues on launch. Did you know that the game is actually playable on Geforce GTX 660?..
The community is also certainly a highlight. We have launched our Discord, and love interacting with fans whenever we have the time/opportunity. We have a few experienced players…
…that help new ones with tips and hints and tricks.
Finally, Epic’s support is great. Yes, we know how some of you feel about it. But we’re happy we went with this deal. Being exclusive to EGS for the Early Access period allowed us to keep our independence. Which is paramount to us. Also, Epic promotes the game well.
While we cannot reveal the sales, we can reveal this. We’ve set a pretty bold and aggressive sales target for the first anniversary of the Early Access launch. Meaning we want to reach a specific number of units sold in a year. In one week, we’ve done 20% of that plan. Now we have fifty one weeks to make the remaining 80%. This sounds very much doable, especially considering the updates we have planned. And if it does happen…
But I don’t want to jinx it, so let’s talk about what went wrong.
Have you noticed that the biggest websites do not have any Witchfire reviews? That none of them did the preview? That during the release week, only two YouTubers previewed the game and that’s it, that’s all the previews?
There’s no conspiracy here, this is 100% our fault.
But also the smartest possible choice.
Let me explain this paradox.
When we set the date of September 20th, this was after we’ve already been late with the game a few times. We have never promised a day or a month – indies, take note! – but still, we’ve been talking about “early 2023” and such. That, of course, didn’t happen.
So, a few months before the premiere of the Early Access, we looked at the calendar. As it’s always the case, there was no date that was perfect. Usually either a cool game was about to be released around the chosen day, or it was too close to EGS or Steam sales. September 20th looked the least bad, and even that was a day after Lies of P, and a day before Payday 3.
2023 is crazy, isn’t it?
Anyway, it looked like we have more than enough time. We felt like there’s 2-3 months of work ahead of us, but September 20th was 4-5 months away. So much time, gg ez clap, right?
We had to resort to crunch in the last few weeks to make it on time. For the first time in the eleven years of The Astronauts history, we’ve done the classic crunch. It wasn’t a death march and we didn’t have people sleeping under their desks and such, but still, the last 3-4 weeks meant very long work hours.
And yet we’ve barely made it.
But we’ve made it.
Which is fantastic but it also meant that whenever a website or publication asked as for a preview or review, we always declined, seeing how the game is still too raw for our taste. When we got closer to the release date and were ready to offer the preview, the industry giants refused, claiming they don’t have enough time to make it. They were right, to be clear, it’s a super busy period.
And then we send out the review keys a mere day before the release. No one does that. You need to give the press at least a week. Some press warned us they might not be able to make a review at all due to all the other things happening.
And then… And then on top of all that, a day before our release, when we were trying to light that fire under the game, the infamous Microsoft leak hit the web. You can understand how that became the priority for the press…
Luckily, it’s not like the world was completely quiet about Witchfire. A few days before the release, we offered the preview to two select YouTubers, simply because they asked. For a month we’ve worked on the seven minutes long Gameplay Overview video, and released that. And …uhm… More or less that’s it.
So… Not optimal, to say the least.
But to me, there was no other choice. And the reason is: you should never give the press or content creators a game that’s unfinished.
Look, here’s the brutal truth. No matter how nice the emails are, they’re not your friends, they shouldn’t be your friends, and they will not listen to you. You can explain to them that the boss is bugged so they need to skip it for now, but you have a fix for tomorrow – they will mention it in the video that the boss was bugged. You can ask them not to show the menu because it’s a placeholder — they will. You can ask them not to use a weapon because it’s being re-balanced – they will, and they will complain it’s too weak.
The press and YouTubers have millions of things to take care of, they won’t be reading every note you wrote etc. It is what it is. I understand that. So the reality is: your game just needs to be good and in a good shape if you want a good preview or review.
Witchfire wasn’t. It just wasn’t ready yet.
And thus not making a preview or review was the smart choice.
Someone could say that we should have just delayed the game again.
First, no, later dates were worse. Many AAA titles in October and November, not to mention Steam and EGS sales that make it impossible to release a game a week before (because sales soon!), during (because sales!), and the week after (because everyone has just bought dozens of games!).
Second, and more importantly, we believe that humble beginnings are perfect for an Early Access game. When you release an Early Access title, that day your game is in its worst state. It will only get better from then on. So what you really want is a decent start, a small but dedicated community, and reasonable growth. You will have opportunities to remind the world your game exists, be it a fat update or the 1.0 release.
As I have already mentioned it, our start was more than decent, the community is growing, and the game is selling well. So despite the lack of marketing explosions in the final days, it’s all good. But this is a story one should learn from. One, you will be late, so set the dates and the plan accordingly. Two, don’t let the press preview a game you’re not happy with – unless you control the preview (e.g. it’s not hands on for them, and you play and stream the demo).
Anything else I would put into “bad” category?
Three more things.
One, despite all the hard work, we missed how Calamites affected the experience when they were as frequent as during the first few days of the release. Not only that, but beating them offered no special reward. Imagine killing a boss in, say, Elden Ring, and receiving …nothing.
We have managed to get the Calamities under control three patches in but we should have caught that earlier. Sorry. Oh, and we’re not done with them yet. They’re good now but they will be excellent in the near future. Same can be said of a few other things, but look, the game is in Early Access for a reason, and we want to grow it alongside the players’ feedback.
Two, you see a video titled “My thoughts after 30 hours of Witchfire” – there’s an oddly large number of those – and you click on it and the guy likes the game but claims that there’s not enough content for now. And this is a bit puzzling and disheartening. You have literally played a fresh Early Access game for longer that some AAA titles but for nearly half the price — and that’s not good enough for a start?
Based on the player feedback – over two thousand people in our Discord, yay! – you can exhaust the content in anything between 8 and 200 hours (that’s the current record, but the man keeps on playing). Then you can just play for fun if you want to, trying different challenges or speed running or trying new builds or whatever. We think that’s fair for the price, also bearing the quality of the game in mind.
So videos like these are painful but there’s nothing really we can do about them but acknowledge them and just add keep adding content indeed. We already have a fat update planned for the second half of November.
Finally, three, and that’s last but not least territory, we think it was a mistake to position Witchfire as a roguelite. We love them, but the truth is …Witchfire is not a roguelite. It does have elements of it, for sure. But it also has parts of an extraction shooter, and parts of a soulslike. And a light RPG, which might not be clear for now, but will become clear as the Early Access progresses.
It’s a dark fantasy PVE extraction roguelite-soulslike first person shooter.
At worst, telling people that Witchfire is a roguelite makes them dislike elements that do not fit the definition or expectations. For example, we’ve recently watched a video where someone claimed that non-procedurally generated levels are a problem and that’s not what roguelites are. That person was wrong — Risk of Rain and the sequel have static levels, and these games surely are roguelites, yes? – but still, if we didn’t push the roguelite label, we might not need to fight these assumptions.
To remedy the problem, first we’ve checked how other games do it, especially games that define a genre. And it seems like they just describe themselves in the simplest, broader terms possible. Bloodborne is “action RPG”, Sekiro is “action adventure”, and Remnant is “TPP survival action shooter”. No mention of soulslike. Escape from Tarkov is “hardcore online first-person action RPG/Simulator”, no mention of extraction.
Even when a sub-genre is mentioned, the definition is not narrowed to that word only, if need be. Dead Cells is not roguelite, but a “roguelite, metroidvania inspired, action-platformer”.
With these lessons in mind, I’ve redone our Epic Games Store page. The short description of Witchfire is now simply a “dark fantasy first person shooter”. The longer description adds that it is “a unique blend of souslike, extraction and roguelite gameplay”. Hopefully that makes more sense, even if…
It’s something we should have analyzed sooner, before the release. Yeah, we know, hindsight 20/20.
Most creators will confirm that while important, money is not the only or even the main reason they do it. To create something that resonates with other human beings – that is the goal.
With Witchfire, we wanted to create “a gamer’s game”. Our own love letter to the games of past, present and future. No micro-transactions and no GaaS were a given but we wanted more. We wanted players to feel as if they are rediscovering games again. Just like we felt when we played video games for the first time on our ZX Spectrums and Commodores 64. Or like when we feel the fire reignites every time something like Read Dead Redemption or Bloodborne or Hollow Knight or SOMA comes along.
There are risks when trying to create such an experience. One example is limited tutorials, to let people breathe and let them discover things for themselves. This can work but only if the player is an experienced one. Witchfire is not a game for someone who has never a played a shooter game before, and that obviously makes our potential audience that bit smaller.
But when it works… It works.
We’re only getting started with the Early Access and we have already seen the game resonate. We might not be able to reply to everyone but we read all mails and messages. And it’s blowing our minds whenever we come across players who liked the game enough to be inspired by it and devote their precious time to create something extra for it.
One example is this. Some time ago, I have written a short story that takes place in the Witchfire universe and now …we have an “audiobook” of it.
Here’s another example. Jeremy is a marketing/capture artist that simply likes Witchfire. He spent a week – a week! – capturing the beauty and the horror of it and let me tell you this: not even the people who created these worlds are able to show them like this. This is pure ecstasy to us. Do expect us to use these shots more in the forthcoming months, just like I did for this blog post — we have his blessing to do so… World class work.