Retrospective: What The H*ll Happened This Week (W39)?

Our style at Bonus Stage has all the time been brutal honesty. We have told everyone we will be open, direct, and straightforward in our doings. Well, I ended up asking myself “what the heck happened?” this week when I realized we have been just as secretive as every other company in the world. Honesty, by my bald, beautiful buttocks…

But now it is going to start! This is a management’s weekly newsletter to anyone who may or may not be interested in what the hell is happening at this video game publisher’s offices. I’m Sami, the co-founder and some kind of director/chief-something-officer/SVP/president/partner/something in this company. The other co-founder, Asmo, has the same exact titles. I will try to publish this newsletter regularly, but I might fail in that. Sorry about that.

First, a bit background about us. This company was founded (by us) in 2019. At first, we were consultants and agents in the gaming industry. We were matching game studios and publishers and investors. Then, Covid arrived, virtual industry events were lame, money-people got hesitant, and we got bored. A couple of months later we tried publishing our first game on a “let’s see what happens” basis.

Fast-forward about a year from that, and we have published one game really, one game as a training project, and one release which we call it was a soft launch. We have now three games that have locked in launch dates (Warshmallows, JANITOR BLEEDS, and Last Soul), plus roughly ten in the pipeline otherwise.

The first and only real launch this far was Sunblaze that came out in June (2021).

Sunblaze retrospective

Sunblaze is made by a Belgian studio Games From Earth. Really it is a solo developer, Sven Magnus, but he worked in deep co-operation with a few people around the world, helping him with pixel art, music, storytelling, ideation, and everything else. We started working with the game in January this year. We almost didn’t get to publish the game because Sven really hated/hates our logo. I’m a true artist at my soul, and I’m proud of the logo we have, so after a tantrum or two from me, we said we will do something about it later if we can publish the game.

We still have not, so here’s to our logo:

Bonus Stage Publishing

Everything in our pre-launch was pretty chaotic. We wanted to do everything possible. We had three people in our team, and Sven did not sleep for three or four months when he just wanted to make a perfect game.

If you don’t know how to master a thing in the world, you just have to look at the masters, do everything they do, and see what you can improve for the next round. We looked at every master: Devolver, Raw Fury, tinyBuild, Zordix, Paradox, 1C… And we listed everything they do and decided to do the same things. And we made them! There may be a thing or two we missed, but the momentum was on our side.

Another value of our company is to focus on shipping when you’re learning. We preach about 20/80: give 20% of effort on 80% of things. Just ship that shit. Try out, make mistakes, iterate. So we did a metric ton’s worth of things on 20% quality. Well, in all honesty: 20% of quality on ours terms. We are badass Finnish people so that’s about 98% of ordinary people’s effort.

Our biggest sins and problems were that we failed with the press and influencers. We sent the game for review about two to three weeks before the release. And due to last-minute things and our rookie spirit in porting, the Nintendo Switch version was sent for reviews on release day. AND THAT WAS TOO LATE, Y’ALL.

Note for self and everyone else, too: COMMUNICATE WITH PRESS AND INFLUENCERS VERY EARLY ON. Don’t rely on spamming the same list everyone else has and Googling what the heck is an embargo. That shit does not matter. Find the right people, chat with them, and boom. Ten great connections are worth diamonds. A press list on Excel is just coal.

Otherwise, everything went pretty well with Sunblaze. We had about five months to market the game. For the release, we got a few thousand wishlists and few hundred followers on Steam. That was not encouraging, but we also knew the potential of the game, and it already had a strong and devoted community (we deeply love you guys).

So, on the release date, the stats on any store did not update. I went to bed unknowingly of the release sales. We spent some time on Steam’s front page and even more time on platformers’ trending list. That was most likely because we spent a lot of money on advertising. It seems Steam will lift you higher in rankings when you bring a lot of people there from your own sources. In the morning the numbers were like “oh, it’s not tens of thousands… so we need to keep on working.” There’s nothing as dull as anti-climatic excitement.

The release month of Sunblaze closed on few thousand copies. It was not great. Also, we knew what was wrong. On the brighter side, the game has got many tens of thousands of wishlists and it is expanding to new platforms soon! I was just today hanging out on IndieLand 2021 and seeing Jirard (The Completionist) playing the game and I just know Sunblaze will hit it off hard this year still. The game is expanding to Japan and Korea soon, new platforms arriving in months, and along will come new content. Exciting times!

Company retrospective and our future

After this summer we had some changes in our company, and for one week it was just us two: the founders. At the same time, we signed up two new people to the company: Juuli for social media stuff and Daniil for account management and processes.

We have been finding and signing new games. We have been looking for a video content creator to join our troops. We have been developing the process (removing the not-worth-our-time things).

We have been making a new logo. No, this is not me saying “yeah you’re right” to all the naysayers. The new logo will be even weirder. I promise.

So next year we are going to publish hopefully at least six games altogether and hire a few more people.

My nature allows me not to say that I could have done something differently, so in retrospect, I would not change anything that has happened this far. These massive bags under my eyes probably would like to talk about their own abuse but just like my 92-year-old grandmother says: there’s time to sleep you’re in the grave.

It will be awesome to start finally seeing people soonish (GDC 2022??? Nordic Games 2022???). All our games are awesome. Our team will be magnificent. I’m just really super excited about everything that’s coming.

And as nobody is reading this anymore, I’ll just close down by saying: see you in a week (or something like that).

With love, Sami