Arcen Games will sack its entire staff on Monday, and founder Chris Park is eager to tell the world exactly why it has to happen.
Park has published a long and detailed blog post describing Arcen's recent history, culminating in the disappointing commercial performance of its most recent release, Staward Rogue. While the game has generally positive Steam reviews and "a lot of positive youtube and twitch coverage" from smaller channels, as Park himself described it, "the sales suck."
Park wrote: "We're lost in a sea of other titles. About 9,000 people on Steam have wishlisted the title, which is awesome - next time this goes on discount, hopefully they'll pick it up (but I mean, it's only $11.99 USD and it's 10% off already!). By contrast, about 2,100 people have bought the game across Steam and Humble."
"This is literally unprecedented for us... We've never had awesome response and poor sales."
According to Park, Arcen was expecting a similar level of performance to its more popular games from the past, where, "generally we wind up on the Steam top sellers list in the top 40 at around the low side, and peak somewhere in the top 10... Usually we hang out in the teens for a few days and then drop off." That period is where the studio makes the majority of its income.
With Starward Rogue, however, "we have mostly hung out in the 200s instead of in the teens, and mostly in the 250s at that, top-seller-chart-wise. We peaked, briefly, at #98. That lasted under 3 hours.
"This is literally unprecedented for us. We've had rocky response and reasonable or poor sales. We've had good response and good sales. We've had poor response and poor sales, and mixed response and poor sales. What we've never had is awesome response and poor sales."
There are several contributing factors at play here. Arcen has been through periods of financial stability before: the first in 2010, which resulted in the loss of around half its team, and again at the start of 2014, just before the launch of The Last Federation, which also resulted in redundancies. However, The Last Federation was successful enough to allow for the rehiring some of the cut staff.
A subsequent project, Stars Beyond Reach, proved to be a drain on the relative comfort Arcen had found from the success of The Last Federation and sales of its back catalogue. Initially planned for a release in May last year, it was ultimately pushed back three times, finishing up in Q2 2016. "When we started on Stars Beyond Reach, we were relatively cash-rich," Park said, admitting that he, "overreached with the design." A long period of R&D more than doubled the game's budget, which became apparent as the revenue from Arcen's previous games started to diminish. Work on Starward Rogue started and completed in tandem with the problems experienced on Stars Beyond Reach.
Arcen now only has enough money to keep on three members of staff, including Park, though that may be reduced to two within a few months. At its peak in recent months, Arcen employed six full-time staff, four on 10 or more hours per week, and seven more on a piece-rate basis.
"These people are my friends, my colleagues, and people whose livelihoods are my responsibility," Park said. "I have made all the choices I have in good faith, and usually in lengthy consultation with the rest of them. But there's been a lot of trust that they put in me that I knew what the hell I was doing.
"It just so happens that I may not know what the hell I am doing. Either I never understood the market as well as I thought I did, or the market changed while we had our heads in the sand developing SBR, or both."
Arcen remains open for business, however, and it still plans to launch Stars Beyond Reach in Q2. There are many more details in Park's blog post, which is worth reading in its entirety.