How we RESURRECTED our failed Early Access Launch
Hi everyone, we’re Balcony Softworks, a small 3-dev studio based in Hungary. A year ago, we released a game called Deepest Chamber on Steam Early Access, and we basically got a lot of things wrong. If you either want to learn from our mistakes or are just curious to find out more, just read our full story down below.
We’ve been working on Deepest Chamber, a rogue-lite deck-builder set in a dark and gritty fantasy universe, as our main project for over 5 years now. From prototyping to development and finally launching in Early Access, it’s been an exciting yet bumpy ride to say the least. Who knew that making a complex game with high difficulty would prove so… well, difficult?
We were so very excited to finally have the game ready for Early Access, and were pretty proud of it. Then we hit the launch button and what we saw wasn’t exactly what we were expecting…
Our first mistake
As the first batch of feedback (and numbers) started rolling in, it was obvious that we weren’t off to the great start we were expecting — after more than a year since release, Deepest Chamber has a meager 82 reviews on Steam, with a “mixed” overall score from players. Reviews from professional outlets did fare better, but they all agreed that the game needed more work and our overall score was a 6/10 (which is quite fair, retrospectively).
It was pretty nerve-racking and, as a first reaction, we could’ve pinned our problems elsewhere — indie game saturation on Steam, high competition in the card game genre, too small of a team, too large of a commitment, you know, reasons. Don’t get us wrong, the response wasn’t all bad, but for every user that praised us for our visuals and atmosphere, others would pop up complaining about the lack of synergies or the game being too RNG reliant. The fact of the matter was that, even though it didn’t make the first impression we were hoping for, this game was our baby and we had to do everything in our power to give it a fighting chance.
Never give up, never surrender
So after firmly establishing that we weren’t about to give up on our dream game, we decided to give it a full reset, almost a brand new game — new art, new UI, overhauling mechanics, fiddling with core values, getting more creative with special abilities and characters, the whole deal. However, we weren’t about to implement all these changes willy-nilly. The whole process needed to be a back-and-forth endeavor made in close contact with both our publisher and our loyal player-base.
As we were dutifully tinkering away, implementing all the various changes that people wanted, we kind of lost track of how much time everything was taking. Even worse, we stopped communicating, going into a radio silence of sorts, thinking that we’ll have everything ready soon and our grand redesign would sort of speak for itself. Weeks turned into months and those turned into a year with no updates. Looking back, we now see we had been quite a bit shocked by the whole situation and hadn’t really known how to react at the time. The fanbase started feeling alienated and the dreaded “dead game” messages started popping up on our Steam forum. As with any budding relationship, communication is key, and while we were hell-bent on improving everything, we slowly began to fade into irrelevance.
Second star to the right, and straight…. on?
As the proverbial ship was sinking, we realised it was now or never. Either double down on our efforts to save the game or give up entirely. Backed by the support and patience of our publisher (thanks btw!), we began an extensive playtesting campaign (200+ testers), we polished our marketing materials and started focusing on our game’s strong suits — strategy, synergy, replayability.
This is where the big gameplay changes came in:
- We introduced a 3-hero party system with separate health bars and interchangeable champions
- We added the card boosting mechanic to further accommodate synergies
- We implemented an enemy intent-management system, adding yet another layer of strategizing and replayability to the game.
Now, almost 16 months after the initial Early Access launch, we’re finally releasing our huge overhaul update, having learned some valuable lessons along the way.
The first one is as important as it is obvious — it’s hard to sell a game, and being too invested in its creation can make you not see the forest for the trees.
The other lesson, just as important, is to be honest with your playerbase. As the pressure was mounting, it felt like those times when you forget to reply to a friend, and out of guilt you just push it back more and more until you’re too scared to say basically anything to them anymore. If we could go back in time we would do things differently. That remorse is still there, but we’re determined to give everything we got to win our community back.
As stated before, the silver lining came in the form of lessons learned, both about game design, and about ourselves. Knowledge sometimes makes you blind, and we were at a point in our lives where we truly believed that the more difficult a game is, the more interesting it is to play. We didn’t want to become too “handholdy”, like so many modern games who remove their jagged edges just to make new players feel more comfortable. In hindsight, we should have understood that these features didn’t make your game “soft”, but they could make it easier to pick up. Another important thing we learned was that if you feel like something is wrong with your project, don’t find comfort in other people telling you it’s all fine. Sometimes you have to trust that weird feeling in your gut, because sometimes you’re the only one that perceives it. There’s also the issue of personal preference. If a designer’s taste doesn’t align with what the majority of his audience, they will be in for a tough time. You have to let go of your ego, and learn how to grow and change your mind.
It’s kind of ironic that we managed to resurrect a rogue-lite game, in which the story revolves around people being raised from the dead, trying to escape an underground labyrinth, always searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. It was exactly how we felt when our Early Access launch fizzled out. But hey, if you’re dealt a bad hand, there’s no point in blaming the dealer. Just make the best of it and always play to your strengths!
Before we conclude, we’d like to thank everyone who stood beside us during the ups and downs of making Deepest Chamber what it is today. We are very proud of what this new and improved version brings to the table and think that many players will appreciate the work we put into bringing it back around. In the meantime, we hope our “Resurrection” update lives up to its name. In any case, we’ll be sure to let you know!
Cheers and love from Budapest,
To all our indie dev peers: It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this 🗡️ and good luck!