How Xsolla Funding Club helped Kautki Cave fire up Flame Keeper
The Polish indie studio's team discusses how funding and international feedback have helped revolutionize the growth of its game
Like many indie hits, action roguelite Flame Keeper had rather humble origins.
Initially called Ignis, the game started as the result of the TK Game Jam back in 2018, made by a team that included staff from a variety of Polish games studios, such as Techland, Bloober Team, and T-Bull.
The project ended up taking second place in the competition and the developers knew that they were onto something.
“We created a small prototype where you play as a piece of magical coal. You had to collect energy from fire. It gives you your life,” lead developer Paweł Tomaszewski explains.
“And you had to collect a few resources from around the map and bring them to the main fire camp. It was just a small loop for this prototype.
“After that, we wanted to continue it and make it into a full game.”
However, faced with the challenge of developing Flame Keeper solely in their spare time, the team took proactive steps and engaged in a conversation with the CEO of indie publisher Untold Tales. This led to the inception of Kautki Cave as a subsidiary and a substantial investment in the project.
Bringing Flame Keeper to its full potential required additional funding as well. The Kautki Cave team embarked on a quest to secure investment, determined to elevate the game to new heights. Yet, they soon encountered another formidable challenge, this one in pursuing financial support.
"We created a small prototype where you play as a piece of magical coal"Paweł Tomaszewski, Kautki Cave
“Unfortunately, it was a bit of a weird time because all the bigger investors were looking to back bigger AAA projects,” the CEO and head of Kautki Cave – as well as VP and head of marketing for Untold Tales – Pawel Skaba says.
“But then I realized that the first batch of the Xsolla Accelerator program was about to start, so I reached out to them to pitch the game. Thankfully, they liked it.”
With the support of Xsolla Accelerator - one arm of the game commerce company's funding initiatives - Kautki Cave's journey was given the boost it needed. While the precise amount remains undisclosed, Skaba indicates that the studio received between $50,000 to $150,000 in funds, which is the financial boost that provided Kautki Cave with the means to bring Flame Keeper to life.
“We'd never created a roguelike game before,” Skaba says. “So we sat down together, brainstormed, spoke to friends from different companies and so on. Together with Adrian [Ślusarek, art tech] and Pawel [Tomaszewski] we built out a development map that was limited to what we could do with the amount of time and money that Untold had invested. After that, we discussed additional content and ideas that we could develop later on with, for example, external money.
“We ended up with a really solid production plan, but the idea was still to make the game better and help it stand out in a competitive genre. The roguelite is one of the busiest genres on Steam. We needed to make the game bigger just to compete with those titles.
“We decided we needed additional money just to help make the game better. That's why we were looking for investment and thanks to the money we received from Xsolla, we were able to build all the core mechanics and release the game earlier this year.”
Given how fierce competition is in the roguelite genre, it was vital that Kautki Cave and Untold Tales thought long and hard about how to help Flame Keeper succeed.
“The first thing that we decided to do with Flame Keeper – as both companies, Untold Tales and Kaukti Cave – was to make this project as an action game that has roguelike elements,” Skaba says.
“Everybody is going to find something they like between those two things, but we were 100% sure that if we go blindly into roguelites, we’d be in a tough position. The games that Flame Keeper would be competing with aren’t really indies anymore, right? If you are spending $10 million on a game, it's not an indie anymore.
“Positioning was one of the most important things, along with proper targeting. We did a playtest on Steam and received a bunch of comments from helpful gamers. The feedback was very constructive and really helped development.
“The biggest question mark for a roguelite is how to keep people playing. At the very first playtest that we did behind closed doors, we received a comment saying they liked Flame Keeper because they didn’t have a huge amount of time to play games anymore. We had to tweak the gameplay a bit to encourage players to stay a bit longer with the game.”
Flame Keeper launched into Steam Early Access and Nintendo Switch in March. The funding that Kautki Cave received from Xsolla is helping the studio add to the foundation that it has created. “Now we are working on two things,” Skaba says. “There are content updates on the way – like the remaining two biomes, combat enhancements and so on. This is all related to gameplay.
“But we are also looking to go to the console market. The game is available on Switch as a version 1.0 and we are working on patching in more content. And we will be looking into doing ports for PlayStation for sure, though Xbox isn’t set in stone yet. The goal is to release the final version across PC and all of those consoles in the first half of 2024.”
While the money was certainly helpful, the studio has received plenty of non-financial support from Xsolla.
“What I really appreciated was the people at Xsolla and their mentors focused on game development,” Skaba says. “One part of the Acceleration Program is pitching the game to the partners we don't normally have access to as a publisher, mainly from Asian markets. There was a bunch of companies that we'd never spoken to and now we’ve talked. This was a great opportunity to showcase the game in different territories that might have a different perspective on how action roguelite games should be developed.”
On top of assistance on the business side of things, being part of the Xsolla Accelerator also resulted in Kautki Cave receiving game design support.
“For a while, I was looking for a person who could help us with all the maths behind the game,” Skaba explains. “But then we were given a recommendation by Xsolla for someone in Poland who could help us with the optimization and game balance. In general, whenever we had a problem or question like how do we proceed with a content plan, every single time the Xsolla team was eager to help, whether that be from a gameplay perspective or product and sales.
"We’ve had a bunch of feedback from Nintendo players, which is a totally different audience"Pawel Skaba, Kautki Cave
“If you work on a single project for many, many months, you usually have to deal with those kinds of tasks, and usually you only have your perspective to rely on. So it's really great to be able to talk to someone who can put you in touch with different people from different spaces or territories. That was of huge value for us.”
Since the game’s launch in March, the Kautki Cave team has received a wide variety of feedback. The title boasts Positive feedback on Steam and has been well-received on Nintendo Switch.
“We’ve had a bunch of feedback from Nintendo players, which is a totally different audience from Steam,” Skaba says. “They are also hardcore gamers but they're looking for totally different things.
“We are also working on localization and delivering on the game on both platforms to different audiences. We’re planning on showcasing the game at a few events. We took it to Digital Dragons in Krakow earlier this month and we are taking it to an event in Japan, too.
“This is a fantastic journey, showcasing the game all around the world. Japan and Korea are wonderful territories and the feedback we receive from them is totally different to what we receive from Western Europe and the US markets. But still, they’re valuable lessons.”
Flame Keeper is available to purchase on Steam, Epic Games Store and Nintendo Switch.
To find out more about Xsolla Accelerator, a programme that connects developers with funding and invaluable feedback – including a 16-week mentorship program – you can find more information here.