GDC 2019: Slay the Spire – Success Through Marketability

Talk link here

Slay the Spire is an amazingly successful card game that was developed by two developers and a bunch of contractors. The two designers quit their QA based jobs to make this over a period of 2 years.

What makes this story so successful was not the press, not the social media, it only caught on after they released their gamed and started patching it every week. 

The developers started a few months before their initial Early Access launch by emailing press, using hashtags, posting to Reddit, and trying to build a mailing list. All of that failed and they go no response. They sent 600 emails to the press and got 0 responses. Their game wasn’t that visually remarkable and a card game doesn’t sound that exciting.

They also published 3 trailers and combined they got under 1000 views

  • A preview Trailer
  • An early access Launch Trailer.
  • And a gameplay explainer trailer

They did know it was good though because their friends really liked it. Also when they play tested it at local indie groups like Seattle Indies they found people really responded well.

Chris Comment: Nobody can understand how good your game is until it releases.

When they launched for early access the game pretty much failed. They only got 2200 copies in the first two weeks. They only sold 300 copies on day 1. The sales puttered out day after day. All the way down to 90 sales per day. They thought they were dead after 2 weeks. 

Chris Comment: Never give up. It can always change once on the store page.

They were tired of doing promotions. So they went back to work building the game. They agreed to start publishing updates once a week. They also used their discord channel as the center of their interactions with their fans. The fans could submit bugs, translations, and suggestions.

Then they got picked up by a Chinese streamer on their 3rd week of Early Access. Then that boosted their game to the top sellers chart, this caused North American Players to find it. 

They also started using the paid version of Keymailer and started sending keys out to streamers who played games that were like theirs (like darkest dungeon). They noticed that people started leaving reviews that they found the game because their favorite streamer covered it. 

They also found that streamers were a tight knit bunch and because one streamer saw another streamer was playing it they started it too. So the game spread like wildfire from there. Even streamers they used key mailer to contact the people would keep playing it after the fact and keep going even after the promotion. Casey considers this his best investment. 


They consider their success based on this:

Streaming + Communities + easy updates – They were able to market while they built the game.

CZ NOTES: Hey this is basically a sales funnel. Streamers for the top, then Communities move people down the funnel and easy updates build trust.

To support this crazy 1 week update  they built a strong pipeline. That was a total of 57 patches after launch. They used a discord and reddit bot to monitor feedback from the community. People could just say “BUG: blah blah blah” and a bug ticket would be opened and assigned to them. They basically used these people as their QA team. If they got duplicate bugs they just use that as a sign that it was actually a sign that this was a very severe bug and so fix it faster. They were also not afraid to break the game. And they did break it a lot. 

The problem with weekly patches was that it took just a day to write update text and to build it. A 2 week build could have allowed more efficient updates. Also some changes required more time. Casey said if he had to do it again he would do 2-week builds.

China was their biggest market.

Big points:

Super success was not seen early in the first 2 weeks.

Do regular updates

Keymailer is awesome.

Build a community and move people down the funnel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *