Deep Rock Galactic Q&A – Discussing Cross-Play, Other Consoles and What Lies Beyond 1.0
It used to be that when you thought about Dwarves, it was always in the context of a high fantasy setting at least somewhat influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien's rendition of the stocky, resilient, and ax-wielding race.
Deep Rock Galactic flings them into space, which isn't something we've seen a lot in any entertainment medium. Its runaway success, for an indie game at least, is far from merely due to the popularity of Dwarves though. The developers at Ghost Ship managed to craft a unique game that has been described by some as 'Left 4 Dead meets Minecraft', featuring the aforementioned Dwarves attempting to mine procedurally generated caves in fully destructible environments that are utterly crawling with hordes of aliens.
Perhaps even more importantly, the makers of Deep Rock Galactic have been closely paying attention to the community's feedback and ideas, thus developing a uniquely symbiotic relationship with the fans. The result is that the game has an incredible 96% approval rate for overall user reviews and 97% for recent user reviews on Steam, a feat that very few titles can boast in all of Valve's virtually endless digital store.
Deep Rock Galactic is finally launching tomorrow, after over two years of early access on PC and Xbox One (Game Preview). It was, therefore, the perfect moment to interview Ghost Ship CEO and Co-founder Søren Lundgaard to get a bead on the studio's future plans after this 1.0 release.
Hello, Søren. Do you want to start by describing your studio to our readers?
Sure! Deep Rock Galactic is our first game with Ghost Ship. We started the company to build this game, which happened four years ago. We were six people that went together and jumped into this adventure. We all had lots of game development experience, like 15-20 years each. But this was our first real game company where we tried to run everything ourselves and it's been going really, really well. We got some investment money, we've got some publishing money with Coffee Stain of Goat Simulator and Satisfactory fame.
We went into early access in 2018. At that point, the company was still small, we had 12 people, then shortly after we launched it went so well that we hired some more people and went up to 20. We're still about that size today and don't want to be a big company or anything, we like being a small indie studio so we can be a very agile, fast producing unit. And then we like to work with the audience, with the fans, collaborate. Initially, we set out this thing about doing open development and that turned out to be a really, really great driver for the game. When fans started becoming interested and when we showed that we listened to them, it turned out to be a great way to develop the game. And that's still what we're focusing on, we've increased our efforts on fan collaboration a lot. Today, for example, we have the game translated into almost 20 languages, mostly based on fan translations. We have a Discord server of more than 100,000 fans, that helps out with all kinds of things.
You've said you have a small team. I'm wondering if this helped you during this kind of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yeah, so that was of course a bit of a surprise that that happened. And at that point, we were very much focused on going into this mode of releasing Deep Rock Galactic. Back in February/March, when it started to pick up, we had already planned the launch in May and of course, we discussed whether we could do it in this situation because everybody had to move home, work from home. But luckily the whole company was set up to be digital anyway, so it turned out to be a small bump, and then we were in full production again. The flip side of this was that if you take a place like Steam and you go in and look at how many players on Steam, you see it has increased by more than 25% during these times and with a game like Deep Rock Galactic, that simply means that we have also increased activity based on the general Steam increase. So in some sense, it's actually been good for us. I think many game companies are in this situation. Of course, it's boring for real life because we don't want to live like this. Everybody, of course, wants to get back to normal life but for the company, we are part of the lucky ones.
So you've seen some new players as well.
Yeah, we've seen lots of new players in the last months. For sure.
All right. And of course, you also launched on the Xbox One, right?
How is the split? is it a lot more on the PC side?
Yeah, it is. Initially, it worked really well on Xbox, and the two platforms were pretty close to each other, but I think what Microsoft also has realized... If you see how many game preview games there are, it's not a lot right now and I think they wanted to try this beta Early Access Program on a console. It's just very difficult on a console compared to Steam, where you have more of a direct contact with the players, you can write to them directly on the platform and so on. So, I think part of this is simply that the Game Preview program is a test from Microsoft part. But it's maybe not what you would call successful. It's been working fine for us. We've updated the game, but we're always leading on Steam. When we do an update, we do it first on Steam because it's much easier for us to get the fixes done, and then when it's been matured a few weeks on Steam we release it on Xbox. Of course, that means that Xbox fans can feel that they're a little bit left out at first, though some Xbox fans joke about it and call the Steam players their testing group. But I think now that we're going out for real with a full 1.0 product on Xbox and leaving the Game Preview, I'm pretty sure Xbox will catch up fast.
I suppose what you've just said, that you have a bit of trouble keeping the releases exactly on parity, that factors into not having cross-play with Steam, right?
Yeah, of course. Deep Rock Galactic is a peer-to-peer network game, meaning that one player hosts and the other connects to that player. And that means we actually don't have any servers or anything. But it also means that connecting between platforms is not possible. We would need to implement more advanced network technology to make that happen. And I think that is part of it. Of course, cross-platform is something that we are looking into because it's an increasing demand, understandably because seen from a player's point of view, it seems like why shouldn't it just work? Especially in a co-op game where it doesn't really matter if you are using a controller or keyboard and mouse because you're playing together, it's not competitive, so there's no reason why you can't play together other than the technical reasons that I just spoke of. So yes, it would probably benefit on all platforms that we could get cross-play up. Unfortunately the general technology for peer to peer based games it's a bit tricky and costly.
Anyway, you've kind of partnered with Microsoft on this game, right? Because it's also an Xbox Play Anywhere game, so if you purchase Deep Rock Galactic on Xbox One you get it on PC through Microsoft Store too.
Yes, and there is actually cross-play there between the Xbox version and the Microsoft Store PC version.
Can you speak a bit of why you did this versus going with the full multi-platform release, including the PlayStation 4?
That's a pretty easy question, because we couldn't, Sony did not have any Early Access Program and we were set to be an early access game because we wanted to develop Deep Rock Galactic along with the players. Otherwise, we would have to delay the launch of the game by a year or two and that was never our plan. So we looked around and Microsoft's Xbox was basically the only platform console platform that offered something similar to early access. So it wasn't really a decision to keep someone out, more a decision of Okay, who can we collaborate with? And there was only Microsoft.
Okay. But, you know, since the full release is now here, are you thinking about expanding on PlayStation 4?
For sure. We have an exclusive launch deal with Microsoft on consoles. But at some point that will run out and then, we will definitely explore other console options. And yeah, we don't feel like that we are tied to a specific platform with this game.
I was wondering if, from a purely technical point of view, you think Deep Rock Galactic could run on Nintendo Switch as well.
We all love the Switch at the office. And we've looked at it, we even had a meeting with Nintendo. They came by the office and they were like 'Hey, shouldn't you get on our platform?' We're like, sure, but it does not have that much memory. And the problem is that the way our procedurally generated caves are working, well, we are pretty wasteful with how we use memory. So it takes up many, many gigabytes. It's also a problem on the Xbox One, we've been battling that a bit, but on the Switch, it would be a very different version of the game. We could maybe at one day do a standalone one version that could work on the Switch, but it would be not directly comparable to the other versions because of memory issues. Maybe Nintendo will do a new Switch with more RAM!
Yeah, I suppose that's a possibility as well. We have some next-generation consoles coming out in a few months from Sony and Microsoft, by the way. Are you thinking about announcing your game for the Xbox Series X, to begin with?
We are very excited about the new console generations, both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X. We've followed along with the inside out developer programs, so we know about the specs and what we can expect, what is needed from us to get the game ready for those consoles. There's always this period of overlap between the generations and I think we'll not be a launch title at all, but we will definitely monitor the hopeful success of these new consoles and then it should be fairly easy with the way both Microsoft and Sony have designed the new consoles to get a new version. By fairly easy I mean compared to how absolutely difficult it was back in the days, it's still a lot of work.
You mentioned the memory issues for the Nintendo Switch. Of course, the next-generation consoles are going to be much more powerful. Is there anything you particularly like about the specifications?
We are excited. But it doesn't apply so well to a game where, if we were putting it on those machines, we would look for cross-generation play as well. So they could play with existing players to get the biggest user base, but that means they would have to play the same game as we are bound by the lower specs of the current generation. There is some fidelity stuff that we can go in maybe and do and then take advantage of, there could be also some ray tracing opportunities that could be fun to play around with. But being a co-op multiplayer game where we want players to play together on and have the same experience, it's a little hard to take advantage. It's much easier when you are a single-player game. Well, maybe on our next project.
Can you discuss the post-launch content roadmap for Deep Rock Galactic a bit?
We already have told our fans that we will keep supporting the game with big free updates. And the first big update after launch will be about new mission types to the game. In general, we want to add content more than new systems as we've already added plenty of systems and features to the game. Now we want to add some more content, more variations for the more enemy types, more mission types, more biomes, more things to encounter and to find. That's the general focus. The first of those additions will be some new mission types, there should be plenty of new things coming along in after launch, already in this year.
Are you also working on a new class?
To be honest, no, we are not. And the thing is that originally when we started Deep Rock Galactic, we had an idea to do 5, 6, 7 different classes for the game. And we also experimented with a fifth class very early on. But then as Deep Rock Galactic has developed, especially with the feedback from the players, the individual classes have gotten a lot of customization options on gameplay, you can set up the different classes to play very differently. And there are a lot of progress options to be had in each class. As it is right now, we actually don't feel a big need, we don't feel like the game absolutely needs another class. I'm not saying we'll never do it, because I am sure if we at some point in the future release a fifth class we will get a lot of players excited again, including ourselves. But it's grown into an extremely big task. It's probably the one single one thing that would cost us the most development to do at this moment because it needs to integrate with the four other classes in all the very symbiotic ways that Deep Rock Galactic is built, where each class helps each other in subtle ways. And a fifth class needs to fit into that wheel somehow. It's far from trivial and therefore, as I said, we feel it's not something that the game absolutely needs. But that's not the same as we won't go on to do it at some point in the future.
What are the odds of some kind of official mod support?
That's maybe more likely in the sense that we are talking with community members that have reversed engineered our game, they picked it apart and put it together again, and they're doing all kinds of silly stuff with Deep Rock Galactic already, even though it's super hard to do that. You need to be very technical right now to do it. We are investigating some opportunities and discussing what we should do because it needs to be done in a way where we are not confusing players, you need to be able to play only with people with mods and so on. It's not something we've done before with any game, so we are lacking some experience, but we're talking with other developers that have done this successfully and it's a way to keep the game alive. It is something we are discussing internally and could be happening in the foreseeable future.
You've said you intend to support the game. Does that mean you are still very much focused on Deep Rock Galactic or do you have something else cooking unannounced?
No, we don't have anything cooking on announced right now. Right now the full attention for the entire team is Deep Rock Galactic and it'll be so at least for the rest of the year, I think. Of course, we are talking about 'Wouldn't it be cool to do this game next' or something, so we are talking about other projects. But mostly we are relating it to the Deep Rock Galactic brand somehow because we think with the universe, the IP, the brand that we have created, there are so many opportunities that we can explore with Deep Rock Galactic and that's probably where we're going to start. The other thing is that we've also developed this procedural technology for creating the caves and we will likely take advantage of that for new projects as well. But no definitive things or anything we're looking at. A lot of our fans are coming up with ideas for games we could make, that's fun to read.
It looks like procedural generation will be even more prevalent in the future.
I think so. We were starting development just around when No Man's Sky launched and we were a bit afraid. Actually we started to not say something about procedural generation because just when No Man's Sky released, it became like a bad word. But now No Man's Sky has redeemed itself and I think procedurally generated content is now much more accepted. Developers have also gotten more knowledge about how to use it properly, so for sure, it's something we will keep taking advantage of.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I just want to say that we are extremely thankful to the community that has been supporting us from early on, even before we launched on early access, we have community members still hanging around from back then and a lot of new ones coming in afterward and supporting the game and hanging around and giving us feedback, even criticizing us when we are taking a misstep.
We couldn't have made Deep Rock Galactic without this community, so 'Rock and Stone' to all of you.
Thank you for your time.