Fireshine Games might have had an unremarkable first year but for the unearthing of Core Keeper, a game that mines the best bits of Terraria and Stardew Valley without burying itself in the process. Richie Shoemaker picks at Garry Williams to see if there are other treasures likely to catch the light.
Fireshine enjoyed its first anniversary back in March, but of course is coming up on a decade since its previous incarnation Sold Out was established. How has Fireshine’s first year been different from Sold Out’s last?
The industry changes year-on-year and I think most publishers reflect and react to that change in order to stay informed and relevant for the games and studios they support. For Fireshine, our teams have worked in publishing for many years, so we’ve collectively worked through the boom of boxed and into the emergence and dominance of digital and I think that’s really important, to have a proven track record of launching games into the market as the market continues to evolve.
Internally we talk about ‘crossing the digital bridge’ and the addition of new digital skills and resources to our existing physical knowledge and experience. We’re progressing well and the 2022 digital early access launch of Core Keeper hitting over a million units is a testament to our progress.
Indeed! Last year you said you were looking for a hidden gem. It seems you already had one in your grasp with Core Keeper?
We knew we had something special with Core Keeper, but the scale of the success of that game was beyond our expectations. That’s a testament to the talent at Pugstorm, the developer and the fantastic team we’ve built around that title. We had a good strategy in place and everything worked and then some. We learnt so much from the early access launch and the continued campaign.
We’re hopeful that Core Keeper can be that game changer for Fireshine Games, in the same way The Escapist was for Team17 or Hotline Miami for Devolver Digital. Having a hit game opens up a door for more. It benefits your impact as a publisher of successful games and that’s important with the amount of Steam games being released annually. It isn’t always easy to sign the games you want to sign, being a successful publisher of a million-plus selling early access game like Core Keeper helps to open doors in such a competitive space.
We don’t recall Fireshine announcing Core Keeper with much fanfare. Has its success taken you by surprise?
We knew we had a great game, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee success. Our strategy of public playtests, Steam’s Next Fest and inviting media and content creators into the game early gave us some very encouraging early signs. We were also putting a huge emphasis on building, growing and engaging with the Core Keeper community, something we continue to do today. All of these things combined meant that going into the launch window we had a very good feeling about the game.
But it smashed our expectations. We knew when we saw the Steam numbers as soon as the game went into Early Access that we had a hit game on our hands and we were focused on maximising that positive momentum. We often say that Fireshine Games has an ability to hide in plain sight. We work with the best developers available to make the best games possible and then we do everything in our power to provide a solid platform for each game to take off from.
How do you go about repeating Core Keeper’s level of success with the other titles you have planned?
We don’t intend to be a one hit wonder, we’ve built a robust business which operates in both the physical and digital space and we treat each game and each partnership as their own entity. But what works for one game, doesn’t necessarily work for another. You learn what works and what doesn’t and you put that into practice for the next game. In the same way that we’ve learnt so much in physical games and we can still deliver in that market, we were relative newcomers to digital before Core Keeper and are learning very quickly how to find the success indicators we need to see in each campaign.
We’ve just launched another indie game, Shadows of Doubt into Early Access, a detective sim game which has gained fantastic feedback from media, consumers and influencers and early signs are very encouraging, beyond that we have our own Little Friends: Puppy Island coming to PC and Switch and several other exciting new indie games like Reka, Toads of the Bayou, These Doomed Isles, Gestalt: Steam & Cinder and Odinfall beyond that. So we plan to be back here talking about other successful game releases in the near future.
Does the success of Core Keeper make things easier or harder for you when supporting other titles? How so?
It definitely makes it easier, we’ve seen how to launch a million-plus selling early access game and we’re confident we can do it again. That experience is so important for other games in our pipeline. We can leverage improved relations with platform holders for all of our titles. Core Keeper has opened doors with the Steam ecosystem that we didn’t have access to before, this enables us to better support our other games. With more hits on the way we hope to create a virtuous cycle where all of our titles will aid in driving traffic and success to each other.
What would you say was common to all the games that Fireshine publishes?
We pick titles based on two things. Firstly, is it a great game that we want to play? Second, is it a solid commercial opportunity? Hopefully our games are a reflection of that. And we want to continue building a wide gaming portfolio that we can be proud of and we do try to keep our eyes peeled for genres that historically perform well on an indie-budget, but we are also looking for games which do something a little bit different which have that sprinkling of magic dust.
Games which feel original, games with high-replayability, strong visual identity and themes, games that support player creativity and user generated content, and games that are content creator friendly.
You continue to distribute physical products in partnership with other UK publishers, notably Team17 with the recent acclaimed success of Dredge. Are you seeing growth in that sector of the business and does it continue to be worthwhile?
It is absolutely still worthwhile. To give you some idea, over the next 12 months we have 15 physical releases and 10 digital releases and physical accounts for approximately half of our revenues, so it’s equally important to us from a commercial point of view. While digital sales deliver a greater contribution towards our profit and EBITDA, why would you only choose to support one revenue stream when you have the team, skillset and capability to deliver both?
There is an existing boxed retail audience as well as a rapidly emerging and growing digital audience, so why not satisfy both audiences? We have great relationships with our partners in physical with the likes of Team17, Rebellion, Frontier and NEOWIZ and we fully intend to continue to build on that. Fireshine Games is one of the few companies who have honed, delivered and improved their reach in all gaming sectors and we think that puts us into a unique publishing space.
What keeps you up at night in terms of the challenges to be faced over the coming months?
Every challenge can be overcome, we’re firm believers in that. In terms of challenges for the industry right now, I think discoverability is one of the main ones. Not only in terms of the number of games released means we are fighting for consumer attention, but also finding new games. There are more developers now than ever before and trying to find those special games to sign is becoming increasingly challenging.
What makes you hopeful for the future of the industry?
Seeing unexpected games succeed is what keeps us hopeful for the industry. Games like Vampire Survivors, which appear and take everyone by surprise. It shows that our industry is capable of constant innovation and growth.