An Interview with Crytivo, Part 1: a History of the Company through the Prism of Two Important Projects

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An Interview with Crytivo, Part 1: a History of the Company through the Prism of Two Important Projects

Crytivo entered the games industry as an indie studio, but has since become a publisher as well as a developer. How did the company’s founders get started, and which projects are they proudest of? Crytivo Business Leader Alex Koshelkov and COO Sasha Shumsky discussed these subjects and more during a recent interview with Oleg and Nikolai from Logrus IT.

Oleg, Logrus IT: Tell me a little about your company, Alex and Sasha. How did you get started? What made you decide to work on games?

Alex: Our company currently has two focuses: game development and game publishing. It all started in 2013, when I decided to start a Kickstarter campaign for our first game, The Universim. It’s a unique planet management game where the player takes on the role of a god.

I didn’t have any game development experience at the time. I just wanted to make something cool that combined multiple different genres. At the time, we were inspired by games like Plague Inc., The Sims, and Civilization, and I thought, “What if we combined them all into one game and made the story about creation rather than destruction?” In other words, instead of infecting a planet with a virus, you had to develop it and help it grow.

I’d heard about other guys who’d launched Kickstarter campaigns, so I decided to try my luck at it too. We ended up raising about $400,000 in 30 days even though we were only shooting for $300,000. Interestingly, we didn’t even have a real game yet. We made an awesome trailer in Unity, but we had to animate some of the stuff in it by hand – stuff that we were still just planning to add to the game. But we ended up with a larger, better-looking project than we’d originally envisioned.

Oleg: The game is still evolving, right?

Alex: I’d say we’re still working on it. When the Kickstarter campaigned launched, we didn’t have the experience we do now, after a decade of development. Needless to say, we could make something better and faster now, and we’d probably do it differently. But all the challenges we overcame helped us grow as a company and acquire invaluable experience and expertise.

Oleg: Are there any other projects that are particularly special to you?

Alex: Let me circle around to that. We’re currently one of the largest, or maybe even the largest publisher on Kickstarter. Since we started ten years ago, we’ve launched about 20 Kickstarter campaigns, including some to promote games by the developers we partner with, and we’ve earned a good reputation there.

A little while ago one of our partners came up with an idea for a game called Farm Folks. It brought in some money on Kickstarter, maybe $90,000 or $100,000 Australian. That should have been enough, but the guys made a few “managerial” errors.

As the publisher, we saw that the game had attracted some interest among fans, but the develop just couldn’t develop it any further. They’d spent all the money they’d raised, and there wasn’t really a game yet – the designers spent a whole month drawing a single rock, for example. Some people might say, “You’re the publisher, so give them some more money.” But we realized that we had no guarantee that anything would change about their workflow if we just gave them more money.

So we offered to buy the project from them. We were like, “Listen, buddy. You’re having some trouble – you need to finish the game, but you’re only, like, 10–15% done. You still need to send your Kickstarter sponsors their gifts. How about we buy all these problems from you? We’re sure you’ll be happy with the results.” And they really were happy – we took all their problems off their hands. I’m sure that in their heart of hearts, they knew they were never gonna finish the game. Miracles do happen, of course, but not very often. So we ended up buying Farm Folks, and we’re currently hard at work on it.

Oleg: How did players react to the change?

Alex: One of the hard things about gamedev, especially for large companies, is knowing how to manage risks. Publishers and developers need to know how to talk to fans. They need to know what they can say, and what they can’t. The fans treated us like the game’s “stepfather” at first. They were skeptical, and they were worried we were going to ruin the game’s “chill vibe.” But we’ve managed to earn their trust with the quality and pace of our development.

Going back to Farm Folks – we decided to combine a few different genres in this game too. We took The Sims, where you can customize any item, from a bed to a pillowcase, as well as the farming game Stardew Valley, where you have relationships, and meeting people, and crops, and different seasons, and also sandbox games like Factorio and Satisfactory. And we ended up with the combination we have now.

Everybody’s used to the idea that farming games are mostly played by young girls, aside from a few games like Satisfactory or Factorio, which are played by boys. But we wanted to make our game universal and more arcadey. Out goal was to let the player build their dream farm. We’ve got a dynamic building system, just like in Rust or The Raft, where everything’s made out of blocks.

Nikolai, Logrus IT: Judging from the reviews, the game has already drummed up some interest among players.

Alex: Yeah, it sure has. Despite the fact that Farm Folks is still in pre-production – meaning that we haven’t invested in marketing or made any trailers yet – it’s already gaining in popularity. Big boys from Chinese corporations are already contacting us about it.

Why are these companies coming to us? It’s all because we aren’t just developers, but also publishers. We understand both sides of the business very, very well. When we partner with a developer, we literally become part of their team. Sure, we’ve still got a long way to go to catch up to Devolver Digital or Team17, but give us some time, and we’ll show you what we can do.

During the second half of our interview with the Crytivo team, Alex and Sasha talk about their store, the Crytivo Select program, and the publishing business’s stumbling blocks.

To be continued...

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