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Spacelords - The Long Game

By Matthew Keith on August 06, 2018 | Previews | Comments

Spacelords - The Long Game

Just about two weeks ago Mercurysteam, the indie developer best known for their work on the Castlevania Lord of Shadows series and Metroid: Samus Returns, announced that their own IP, Raiders of the Broken Planet, would be making the transition to a Free-to-play title August 23. This wasn’t a simple flipping of a switch either as, according to the devs, the game would be undertaking a complete rebranding and would be launching as Spacelords.

Having been invited to sit down with the dev team just about a year ago to cover the launch of Raiders I was eager to see what all the change was about. The team over at Mercurysteam graciously invited me to their studio to sit down and have a conversation about all the change that is coming to their IP. After a day of presentation, questions and demo time, I took away a lot of information about everything that Mercurysteam is trying to accomplish with this universe they have created.

After sifting through notes, audio recordings and gameplay demo, there are few key points that I thought were important to highlight about Mercurysteam as an indie developer, Their IP, and their end goal for the franchise. Full disclosure, the team did fly me out to their studio in Madrid for this announcement and took care of me while I was there. However, I would like to note that the dev team gave me full access to ask any question, bring up any point and have an honest look at everything in their game, the free to play transition and the motivation behind all of what has happened with the IP over this last year. So without further ado, here is our in-depth look at why Raiders of the Broken Planet is rebranding as Spacelords with a  Free-to-play launch coming August 23.

The Goal

When I had originally met with the dev team in September of 2017 I was greeted with an eager albeit a nervous group of devs who were excited to show the world their first original IP, Raiders of the Broken planet. The glass-walled conference room that greeted me and two other journalists were adorned with Raiders banners and an excited Enric Alvarez, the co-founder of Mercurysteam. In the course of the game reveal, Enric reiterated two key goals for Raiders several times; create content that consistently improves on the games core ideas and a growing community that contributes to the direction of said content. 

Fast Forward to July 2018, I found myself sitting in that same conference room, this time just myself, Enric, and their lead of Communications team, Jose Herraez. One thing that hasn't changed was the sense of excitement over their game and the direction they were moving. As Enric began his presentation on all that had happened over this first year the conversation quickly turned to those two original goals, creative content and a growing community that helps steer that content.

In regards to the first of these two goals, Enric highlighted many of the positive changes that have come to and have helped shape the direction of the three campaigns that are currently available. Most of these changes are a direct result of either gamer input or through sifting through copious amounts of data. In fact, the game having played both the launch version and the demo for the fourth campaign, scheduled to release with the upcoming free-to-play transition, I can say first hand that the game has seen some great improvements.

Growing Pains

It was the second goal that Enric really wanted to highlight in the opening moments of the presentation. The desire to see a growing community was something that they had hoped would take place with their original plan of a low point of entry (e.g. the 10 dollar price point per campaign). Over these past several months Mercurysteam has seen a solid core community of players come into and fall in love with their title. This core community has been a driving force for the dev team as they have continued to refine the title. However, as Enric pointed out during our talk, the dev team is still learning how to build community. They discovered early on that their original idea of low entry just wasn’t going to cut it if they wanted longevity in Raiders. 

At launch, the dev team understood that building a community takes time and designed the title so it could grow and evolve with its community. However, even with these things in place they quickly realized that something had change if they wanted to see that second goal really come to life. This presented them with two options. They could either bundle all four campaigns together and release it as a triple-A product through a traditional publisher which, according to Enric, was something several publishers proposed to them. Alternatively, Mercurysteam could take the deep dive into a free-to-play transition. 

The Long Game

With the original goals still being, well, the goals, Mercurysteam has chosen the latter option. This, of course, presented a host of challenges for the team to overcome. When asked about why they were waiting so long to transition when they knew early on that a change to free to play made the most sense, Enric highlighted three main reasons.

The first is that the team wanted to honor their original plan to release four campaigns to players that had invested in their game. As a developer the relationship you have with your community is paramount. In the case of Mercurysteam, they want to always put the community at the forefront of their decision making.

The second reason has to do with the process of transitioning to free to play. As I’ve discussed many times with my fellow writers, which was also echoed in the words of the team, there are only two ways to handle a free-to-play transition; terribly or with excellence. This may seem very black and white on the surface but admittedly the sad reality is that as gamers if it's not excellent we write it off as terrible. I write this as a gamer who has been guilty of this more than once. The dev team seems to understand this as well and is treading very carefully to ensure that this rebranding is received well.

The third reason for the delay in transition is actually more technical in nature. Spacelords is the first title the team has ever released on multiple platforms and, according to Enric, has been much more complex and trying than the team could have ever imagined. They really needed the time to work out a solid process for how best to implement change or as he puts it break things and then fix them.

In regards to what the free-to-play transition will look like the team is being very intentional about not simply removing the paywalls on the campaigns, throwing in a cosmetic cash shop and hoping for the best. Granted those two things will be part of the transition but there is much more happening with the switch. The team is planning to do a full rebranding of the title, not just in name, from Raiders to Spacelords, but also in narrative focus. As described by the team, the fourth campaign will see the end of a story arch but that story arch is really just the introduction of the universe of the Broken Planet.

The team is excited to tell more stories that flesh out and give new and interesting perspectives on this original IP. The real story of the Broken Planet isn’t about any one individual or faction but rather about the struggle for a valuable resource that can shift the balance of power. Each faction has its own goals and motivations in the context of the universe and the team is really wanting to explore as much of that as possible. A free-to-play model allows them to open their IP up to a broader audience, to tell their story, and the hope is that as a result of the no cost of entry, that second goal of growing a community will come to full realization.

Final Thoughts

Spacelords, as it will be known as of August 23, is a pretty large undertaking for an indie studio. To create a title that offers this much content using a service-based model is no small task. Having spent some time with devs I have to say that they are passionate about their title and really have a desire to see a community come around it. They aren't afraid to be upfront and honest about where they’ve made mistakes, what they are doing to correct them and how passionate they are to get their game into as many hands as possible.

Switching to a free-to-play model is a risk for the company and I commend them for choosing to invest in their community in the long term over the short term gains of bundling and shipping the IP. At the end of the day we will have to wait and see how it all shakes out but for those interested Spacelords, formally Raiders of the Broken Planet, will be launching as  a free-to-play title on August 23rd and will be available for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One with crossplay between PC and the console of your choice. For more information on Spacelords be sure to check out their official site, our breakdown on what the game is all about or our own first impressions piece on the title.