stress-free strategy game

Hello Jonas, before we dive into “Thronefall,” we’d love to hear about your journey to becoming a game developer!

I’ll keep it short cause I feel like most developers give the same answer: I loved playing video games as a kid so at some point I got curious about how to make them. I was in the fortunate spot that my dad is a programmer (in a different industry) and taught me the basics of GameMaker. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Thanks to your fantastic YouTube channel, we’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about your involvement in Thronefall. However, we’re also curious about your collaboration with Paul! Could you share some insights into how you two work together?

We met each other at game school in Berlin (ba GameDesign HTW Berlin, also known as “DE:HIVE” now). Our first game “ISLANDERS” was a 3 month university project that we made in a team of 3 back then. I joined GrizzlyGames a bit late as well. Before I joined they had already published their first successful game “Superflight” in a slightly different team constellation. We always used the company as a vehicle to collaborate and for not much more than that, so now only Paul and I are left in the company. Our friend Friedemann wanted to go a separate path for a bit (he recently released his new game Pizza Possum). 

After some solo projects, “Will You Snail?” for me “The Ramp” and “The Block” for Paul, we decided we were fed up with the solo dev life and joined forces again. I had built up a fairly successful YouTube channel at that point (not the case for our first games) and we both gathered a lot of new skills and experiences from our solo project, so it felt like a good moment to team back up.

We work 100% remote. Paul is still in Berlin. I am back in Bavaria. We usually voice call each other using Discord every day. I think we haven’t seen each other in real life for… probably at least three years by now, but we both really like it. I like being at home near my family. And Paul likes traveling. So remote is the way to go for us for sure.

We use Miro as a digital white board for all of our ideation and task tracking. During the early phase of development we talked with each other quite a lot to figure out the initial vision and direction for the game. Now that things have settled in, a quick call or two every day is usually enough to keep things running smoothly.

We also brought a community manager, Sacha, on board to help keep track of the community Discord server and the steam forums. He’s been a great help so far.

You managed to complete the entire game in roughly 180 days, which is quite an impressive feat, especially considering the quality of the title. Could you elaborate on how you achieved this result?

An important note to mention here is that it took us 180 days to launch in Early Access. The game is quite small at the moment. At launch we only had 4 levels and about 3-4 hours of playtime and we’re still in the process of adding new content.

The other important note here is that the 180 days only count actual work days. So in real life time it was still more than a year.

I think other than that you just have to be always aware that not finishing your game is always the greatest risk to your game. That’s why we very much focussed on keeping things simple and manageable.

We think it’s quite a misunderstanding that players only like big games. We found that players really love simple games if they are well made. So yes, this advice was pre-programmed to appear in the response of this question: Keep it simple. ????

Balancing gameplay and crafting an addictive and satisfying gaming experience is a challenge. With Thronefall you’ve managed to create a dopamine-boosting gameplay loop that keeps players fully engaged! Can you shed some light on the game design process?

Our idea for Thronefall was pretty much to take a classical RTS game and remove all unnecessary frustrations from it.. 

Hours of learning how the game even works?
Gone! It’s stupidly simple. Having to keep up with other players who are way more skilled?
Doesn’t matter. You play it alone and you can play it your way at whatever difficulty you want

Being stressed out because you don’t have the APM?
Who cares? You have as much time as you want to make your building and upgrade choices and you only control one unit at night.

Not having enough time to play and master a full on RTS?
Thronefall does not take much time from you. And this philosophy of eliminating all frustrations we can carries on…
If you die, it’s not game over, you just respawn 10 seconds later. All of your buildings are respawned for free every morning. No need to repair anything. Your units regularly respawn even during the night (during the combat phase). If you lose, you still get some Xp and unlock some new perks and upgrades that make it easier next time.

So why is it fun? Cause only the fun parts of RTS games are left. We still have the resource management, we have build orders, we have different units and upgrades you can choose from and we even have some micro (even if it is just one unit you micro around).

Give people the experience they want and remove all unnecessary complexity and frustration from it. Or another rule of thumb we like to follow: If you feel almost ashamed about how tiny your game is, you are scoping correctly for your indie game.

Like when we started we were a bit concerned… You can only build specific buildings on predefined built slots? Isn’t that a bit restrictive? Will people really like that? Is it enough? But in the end it’s not about the complexity of your game it’s about the experience you provide.

Thronefall has an exceptionally polished interaction system that could potentially make it a great fit for mobile, IMO a perfect fit with Apple Arcade. Are there any plans in the works to bring the game to other platforms in the near future? 

We agree that Thronefall has great potential for handheld. We really love it on SteamDeck so we are definitely considering bringing it to more platforms. There are no concrete details I can share at this point, though.

Your YouTube channel is considered one of the top favorites in the indie gaming community. Given that a significant portion of your audience likely consists of people connected to game development in some way, do you believe that promoting a product within this community could be a valid and sufficient approach to launch a game today?

My YouTube channel has always been super helpful for building wishlists and to gather some early feedback from the community. It also guarantees at least a minimum amount of success for your game, which I guess is a nice perk to have.

That being said I actually very much question the cost to payoff ratio for this marketing strategy. It does not seem to be the deciding factor. The deciding factor seems to be the game itself.

For the ISLANDERS launch, my YouTube channel was still quite small (below 4k sups or so), but the game was (for our standards) hugely successful. My second game “Will You Snail?” was sort of a niche game so in this case I actually do believe that my YT channel helped quite a bit. Now for Thronefall, the size of my YT channel was not that different from when I published Will You Snail, but Thronefall had about 10x more wishlists.

So no, YouTube is not a “marketing hack”. It is extremely time intensive and in the end it is still your game that matters for marketing, not your YT channel. If you had to choose between putting 2 years into a YT channel or 2 additional years into your indie game, go invest it into your game (unless you really love making videos). 

Islands & Trains

Islands & Trains

Relaxing diorama sandbox

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