The End of an Era

The last year has been tough. Beyond tough. As a company, as an entrepreneur, and as a human being. The raging coronavirus is just the icing on the cake, and by no means the one to blame. The saying “when it rains it pours” has a certain truth to it.

First Steps

I would never have guessed that when we started over 7 years ago, while still in school and with no experience in the gaming industry nor even in the IT business, that we’d have such an emotional rollercoaster ahead of us. Back then, we were naïve, aimed big and dreamt even bigger. We were noobs. Telltale Games had just had their breakthrough with The Walking Dead Season One, showing the world that video games can deliver emotional, interactive storytelling experiences for the vast audiences. Developing a crime noir story with a similar episodic format, branching narrative and light point n’ click gameplay felt like a no-brainer. We even won a couple of different local and national business accelerators, giving us a boost of confidence and our first team members (of which some remained until today).

Looking back, our first game, The Detail Season One, took about 3.5 years to develop, even though honestly we worked full-time only a couple of years. The reason was the first hard-earned lesson: never build your runway on expected sales from an unlaunched/untested product. The game has sold 92,110 episodes on Steam and an additional 56,467 episodes on other digital stores on PC, Mac, and Linux. On iOS, the figures are close to the same except there the game has been for free for a while already. Still, looking at the numbers and the budget per episode, The Detail was break-even for us as a business case.

On the grand scale, The Detail managed to open the doors to 3rd party IPs, and through luck (right place, right people), I managed to meet with Skybound Entertainment, most known for The Walking Dead franchise. We started talking with their interactive branch, and I can proudly say that I’ve made a lot of good friends from there during the years. We started working on Thief of Thieves: Season One, since it was more or less like Skybound’s Ocean’s Eleven and felt like a perfect fit for us.

Learning the Ropes

While in early development, we grew the company from under ten people to almost twenty. Since we are located in a smaller city in Finland, experienced people were hard to come by and we ended up hiring a lot of junior talent. Hell, we were still juniors ourselves at that point. We tried to do everything ourselves, an effect of the invincibility syndrome that is too common with young teams without experience juggling scope, budget, funding, and marketing.

While we worked on the game, Steam went through a major content explosion by opening up the platform to everyone. After the moderate success of The Detail, we had our hopes up high, but the sales did not meet our expectations. I knew that it would be a major hurdle down the road for the company.

During production, we had to raise more project funding from an external venture capital fund for the game so that we could ship it. We had no real budget for marketing nor the in-house skills to do so. We had a clear schedule and milestones tied to the funding, so we really didn’t have much room to maneuver. This was a financial recipe for disaster for the company: I understand now that loan-based project funding is a bad fit for a gaming studio, and Rival Games became a highly indebted company due to it.

In space, no one can hear you scream

We had just signed a deal to work on the legendary Alien franchise for the first time on mobile, and the spirit within the studio was higher than ever. We also had another, experienced studio (Theory Interactive) helping us on the next title and a publisher (D3 Go!) that we trusted and really enjoyed working with. For the next 7 months we did almost everything with an improved process: we had solid pre-production, a clear and time-wise in-scope vision for the product, and a team that was humble and ready to listen to each other and our partners. We worked long days at the office, sometimes feeling tired but always motivated and focused on a common goal.

The end result, Alien: Blackout, speaks for itself: 95/100 on GamesBeat, part of Best on iOS 2019 picks from Apple, and a lot of positive reviews and feedback from fans of the franchise. It was the first game we really showed our capabilities as a gaming studio and the whole game was done is just 7 months. Even with the disappointment of shutting down the studio today, this is the game that we can all be proud of for years to come, especially since there aren’t too many positively received entertainment products from the Alien franchise in the recent years.

Work-life balance

However, I recently understood that while we were working on the game, I broke the one and only rule I set for the founders of the company: always family first. My wife was expecting our second child and I was working long days at the office, and I became obsessed with making sure the game is as good as possible. The same probably applies to everyone in the team, since we shared love and passion for the franchise.

There is a saying that entrepreneurship costs marriages, and I understand that now, even though thankfully we are still together with my wife. It is hard to understand or to explain how emotionally consuming it is to try to be present at home, when your mind is trying to figure out how you can pay your team’s salaries next month. I’ve always tried to make sure the team comes first: even in tough times, I’ve tried to get at least some salary to the team members that need it the most. It might have not always been the best practice business-wise, but I like to think that it has been one of the key reasons why our team has stayed together for so long, even with the ups and downs. People first. Always.

However, from the entrepreneur’s perspective (and some of the key team members/founders perspectives) this usually means months and months with minimal or no salary. Something which is equally hard to understand or to explain at home: I’m always at work but rarely get paid enough for it to bring my share of bread to the table.

The Lucky Streak Ends

After Alien, things were looking up for a while. We signed a deal with Universal Studios for a super cool smash-up of two 80s iconic franchises for an AA PC/console narrative shooter. We had a solid team, with some serious experience, and the same development partner from Alien, a solid vision for the game, fun and challenging gameplay. In short, all the shenanigans for a great, innovative game and a good business structure for the project, that even would’ve allowed us to pay back the loans. We were months in the pre-development when, almost a year ago, the worst possible happened: Universal had a major business strategy shift across their portfolio, shutting our project down in a moment’s notice. We were coming up on a milestone that contractually allowed them to shut it down fast.

Universal did try to find a publisher together with us for the game to a certain degree, but we’d never prepared for pitching it to external publishers, so the materials were nowhere near to convincing anyone. We had to temporary layoff most of our team (wasn’t the first time) and shift focus on pitching our various original game ideas to different publishers.

The main project we pitched was The Greenhouse Effect, a third person story experience in a world where climate change has made everyday living a challenge. Here’s the early prototype trailer: https://youtu.be/cWQ4-eBMy3g

We had a build, a story deck, budgets, team, unique art style. In short, a solid vision on what the game is and what kind of a story it will tell, and the team and tools the execute that vision.

Yet, it will never see daylight. We had no resource to really make something unique that could’ve stood out enough in the eyes of the publishers, since we were running on fumes. Another problem we had was the budget: we were aiming for somewhere between $2 million and $4 million, and there aren’t many partners out there in that certain segment. The feedback for the past 6 months has been either “it is not a good fit for our portfolio” or “it is under/over our current budget scope”. Neither of these gave us any concrete feedback on how to improve the pitch itself, so we ended up creating additional prototypes and a mobile version to no avail.

While we were doing this, I was also pitching to VCs and potential partners about additional funding. None worked out, and I understand why: we were a company that had been around too long, never becoming profitable or even making any serious revenue ($825,000 in 2018 was our best). Upon close inspection, we were deep in debt and needed long-term financing to even have a chance to turn profitable.

The Chips Run Out

However, we still had some potential partnership opportunities and publisher negotiations going on at the beginning of this year. I was feeling optimistic about them. I guess I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy that doesn’t give up. Then something happened that I nor the world was prepared for: a global health crisis in the form of a coronavirus. It shut down all the leads that we had and left us lost in the dark with no way out. I know we are not the only ones there, and I hope that at least some will find a light to guide them through the darkness.

Governments around the world have kicked various kinds of help for companies, and Finland has always been known for its government support for businesses. They were no exception this time around: hundreds of millions of dollars are being granted to companies to help them make it through the state of emergency. Yet, since we are deeply in debt and have had major financial losses, such a grant was not applicable for us. They’ve funded us throughout the years, and we wouldn’t have made it here without them, so nothing but love from us to the Finnish government and their support.

Which brings us to present. It has been quite a ride. I’m humbled by the confidence the team gave me over the years. I wish all the best to everyone who has worked at Rival Games throughout the years. As a team, we are thankful for the support of our great partners, members of our Board of Directors, advisors, investors, new friends we’ve made across the globe, the guidance and help they’ve provided over the years, and hopefully some of us will get a chance to work with some of you in the future. For now, it is time to spend some time with the family, think about the lessons learned, and the future. Then maybe it is time for a new adventure.

With gratitude,

Jukka Laakso
CEO @ Rival Games

P.S. Thief of Thieves: Season One and Alien: Blackout will remain in stores normally, but our first title The Detail will be pulled from Steam and AppStore at some point.

Bookmark the permalink.

107 Responses to The End of an Era

  1. Niklas Wahrman says:

    Damn. Sorry to hear! But you had a really good run(!), paid a lot of moths of salaries to a lot of people, produced some great games and got a ton of experience and learned a lot. I’m sure the future will be bright once the dust settles from this!

    Best of luck to everyone!

  2. Matias says:

    Tsemppiä!

  3. Caesar says:

    The Detail was and still a game that is dear to me and I’m glad that you actually managed to release these unique games before closing down. I hope skillful story tellers like you guys will always be able to tell more stories in the future.

  4. Teemu says:

    I know how hard that is personally. My first company was also a 7 year rollercoaster for me. And I know exactly what you mean with the difficulty of being present with family when your company full of friends is in trouble. The world will continue and it won’t blame you. Hopefully you wont blame yourself either, at least on the logical side. It can still take a bit to climb out of the psychological toll. But you will do it. And you will be wiser and stronger after. Just be merciful to yourself during the process. You know it was a good run for the company and a solid forge for yourself.

    I’m sure you are familiar with the Roosevelt quote but it’s so well put that I have to include it here: ”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

  5. Jim says:

    Best of luck on your future endeavors.

  6. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors | Mixed Feeds

  7. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors – gamerdominoes

  8. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors - Binge Post

  9. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors – Gameguidesshop

  10. Pingback: Alien: The Blackout maker Rival Games closes its doors - iGamesNews

  11. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors – GameUP24

  12. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors – ColorMag

  13. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors - Enewsgate

  14. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors | 1st Gamers

  15. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors | Game Save Point

  16. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors - Flyhightech

  17. Big power says:

    Thanks for your works, past and future. I bought The detail with full price, I think it’s what I can only do now. In fact, the game has been put in my wishlist for long time, sorry.
    Hope you all great!

  18. Luca Cassinelli says:

    I played both The Detail and Thief of Thieves and I also translated them into my language (even if in a semi-amateur way) but this news caught me off guard. I wish you all the best for the future.

    • Jukka says:

      Hey Luca,

      So we could almost say that you were part of the team unofficially. Thank you for the tranlations and I wish you all the best as well!

  19. L'kz says:

    Speaking of buying The Detail, will you be putting it on one of those customary removal sales? Discounting it immediately before it is taken off the store can both provide those that don’t yet own it an occasion to pick it up, and via media coverage they might also gain awareness of the ‘last call’ nature of the offer.

    Best of luck with your future endeavours!

    • Jukka says:

      Hey L’kz,

      Thank you, That is a good idea and we’ll definitely look in to the possibility!

  20. Pingback: Компания Rival Games объявила себя банкротом — GAME LAB

  21. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors – UpMyTech

  22. Pingback: “Alien: Blackout”や“Thief of Thieves”を生んだ「Rival Games」がスタジオの閉鎖を発表、未発表新作の新たなパブリッシャーが見つからず « doope! 国内外のゲーム情報サイト

  23. Ben Mcilmoyle says:

    So sorry to hear this, I hope everyone lands on their feet. Rival Game is full of great talent.

  24. Pingback: Alien: Blackout developer Rival Games closes its doors | Pocket Gamer.biz – Tech News

  25. Pingback: Alien: Blackout developer Rival Games closes its doors | Pocket Gamer.biz – IEMA NEWS

  26. Pingback: Alien: Blackout developer Rival Games closes its doors | Pocket Gamer.biz | tech-A-Drive

  27. Pingback: Alien: Blackout developer Rival Games closes its doors as coronavirus shuts down partnership opportunities – game-99.com

  28. Pingback: Создатели Alien: Blackout закрылись в связи с пандемией COVID-19 | App2top

  29. Pingback: Alien: Blackout creators shut down amid COVID-19 crisis - Game World Observer

  30. Pingback: Rival Games is the latest victim to COVID-19 - Mobidictum

  31. Pingback: Mobile Games Hotspot: ‘Pokemon Go’ Ushers in Wave of New Content – Thehoroscope

  32. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production | 1 Business

  33. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production » What's Goon

  34. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – The New York Times – Wisdoltd

  35. MG says:

    For what its worth, The Detail had been on my wishlist for quite a long time but I never got around to buying it. Just did so now so I can have it in case it ever does get pulled. Good luck for any future endeavours.

  36. R K Fishermang says:

    Hi, I just want to tell you that The Detail was one of those few games that stood out for me, and it was clear that you had passion for it. It felt you had something you wanted to tell through this game, and that is what made it a piece of art, and not “just” a game.

    I know that doesn’t help much economy-wise, but you left a mark with this game. Something meaningful. Thank you for that.

  37. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – CV19. Solutions

  38. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production Jarida.co.ke | Jarida

  39. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down : Facexnews

  40. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down | News Nation Global

  41. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down » THE GLARE NEWS

  42. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down | Lartibonite

  43. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down – BloggNews

  44. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production - WWZTV

  45. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production > fhsts

  46. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production - THE TIMES OF U.S.

  47. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down | God’s Family Herald

  48. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – My blog

  49. Pingback: Coronavirus Way Larger Gaming Gross sales, however Much less Manufacturing » Tecmug

  50. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production

  51. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down - 24 News Order

  52. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – zovi09

  53. iAMHJA says:

    Best of luck

  54. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, but Production Is Down - Trending Information

  55. Pingback: Gaming Sales Are Up, however Production Is Down - Gadgets360 Tech News

  56. faiz world says:

    thanks for sharing

  57. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – Latest Insider

  58. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Greater Gaming Gross sales, however Much less Manufacturing - The Metro Feed

  59. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – Dversify Mag

  60. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production - news4nations.com

  61. Carolina says:

    Dear Jukka,

    I appreciate the honesty of your post. Thanks for sharing your journey! Also through your lines, I can see why people trust you.

    Teemu wrote a rich reply, on April 11, 2020, and I love his quote from Roosevelt.

    To live intensely giving our best everyday is not easy and it has a price. Each intense day lived takes energy as much as it gives life to us. Each day we make decisions, to achieve certain goals or visions, and that is how we make our own path. What I discovered is to always continue listening to ourselves in this walk, there is not one answer. The path might not be straight (at least might have never been), nevertheless, each step takes us to where we should go. The “form” changes, but the essence prevails.

    Hope you get some quality of time to re-connect and continue your walk!

    — Carolina

  62. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production - Latest Insider

  63. Shauna says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Best of luck to everyone!

  64. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – The New York Times

  65. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production - PublicKnows.com-World News-Innovations Updates-Trending Life Styles

  66. Bollyquick says:

    I appreciate your splendid work if you want to get Hollywood and Bollywood movies related information or you want to know movies downloading websites then you can visit on my blog whose name is bollyquick.com

  67. Thanks for sharing useful information keep it up if you want to get Indian banks related information, govt schemes or banks related information then you can visit on my website whose name is websitesihizmeti.com

  68. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production - Sihati

  69. It is truly a nice and useful piece of info. I am glad that you just shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  70. Pingback: Hit Start: COVID-19 controls the video game industry – The Wood Word

  71. Trendy Cow says:

    Thank you for playing our gamesand the kind words!

  72. Pingback: Game sales are up, but production is down - My Hot News Pakistan

  73. Pingback: Hit Start: COVID-19 controls the video game industry - The Wood Word - moKoKil

  74. Bunty Shah says:

    Wow, cool post. I’d like to write like this too taking the time and real hard work to make a great article.

  75. Richer says:

    Richer. Sorry to hear! But you had a really good run(!), paid a lot of moths of salaries to a lot of people, produced some great games and got a ton of experience and learned a lot. I’m sure the future will be bright once the dust settles from this!

    Best of luck to everyone!

  76. Ravi says:

    nice article thanks for sharing

  77. Thanks for this Blogpost.

  78. Pingback: Coronavirus Means Bigger Gaming Sales, but Less Production – VIP Tech

  79. PC Fanatics says:

    OH! I am feeling lucky that i am reading this post. Great information. Thanks for sharing this, mate!

  80. Salar says:

    Thanks for this Blogpost*

  81. It is truly a nice and useful piece of info. I am glad that you just shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  82. NFL Streams says:

    Thanks for sharing the files .I found a lot of interesting information here

  83. Harjot says:

    Thanks for lovely article

  84. Harjot says:

    Thanks for lovely article bro

  85. Harjot says:

    Thanks for awesome post
    You are a genuine blogger

  86. Pingback: Alien: Blackout maker Rival Games closes doors – PXSBOX

  87. Check all options to watch UFC 252 Live Stream Reddit online from any devices for free.

  88. christina says:

    I’m sorry to read that, I just discovered The Detail. I was wondering if the DLC for the next episodes will also disappear along with the base game or not, because if so I’d better buy them ASAP :). Thank you for all the efforts you put in throughout the years and the transparency you have displayed here. It really shows your integrity and I hope you find a good employer who values that, or an investor who believes in you. I hope to see more of your team’s work in the future, in whichever shape, form or company.

  89. enriqueluise says:

    All of the gaming blog concept material is covered here. The article addresses the moving cause and functions as such. You wrote it in a layman way so that everyone might appreciate it. Depending on its content, it’s an article worth applauding.

  90. faiz world says:

    thanks for good post

  91. Wow, this is fascinating reading. I am glad I found this and got to read it. Great job on this content. I liked it a lot. Thanks for the great and unique info.

  92. faiz world says:

    thanks for good pots

  93. ArPiT Gupta says:

    Wow it’s really NYC information sir ji

  94. Wow it’s really NYC information sir ji

Leave a Reply to loud updates Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.