Pioneers of Pagonia is a fantasy city building and economy management game from Envision Entertainment. The development team is led by The Settlers original creator Volker Wertich. A recent demo was released on Steam, in anticipation of an early access release in December. GameDaily spoke to Wertich about the game, and the success of the demo.
(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
GameDaily: Tell us about Pioneers of Pagonia, and what you’re aiming to achieve with the game’s design?
Volker Wertich: We want it to be an inviting, welcoming world – a positive atmosphere. You should feel like you want to live in that world, which is a very nice and pleasant place with nice music.
The game is self explanatory. You don’t really have to learn much to play. Everything is visualized in full detail so you can understand the rules just by observing the game. You have lots of units but you don’t control them individually. You’re giving them overarching commands.The game has a lot of depth but it’s about relaxation. It’s not about how fast you can click your mouse.
We have procedural map generation so there are lots of exciting discoveries, as well as different and challenging strategic situations for your strategy. Finally, we have cooperative gameplay that will be added in the first quarter of 2025. Teamplay is a core part of what we want to achieve.
GameDaily: Does the recently released demo capture the essence of the full game?
Volker Wertich: Yes, that’s the case. The demo is really trying to deliver an honest gameplay experience that captures the special feeling of sandbox, experimental gameplay. We have many people who played all the maps five or 10 times and continue to experiment. They want to explore everything, and that’s very nice.
It’s not at all a vertical slice, but it’s delivering many parts of the full experience. Of course, some parts are still missing, like combat and trade, which are not in the demo because they were not ready at this time.
GameDaily: What can you tell us about the performance of the demo, in terms of numbers?
Volker Wertich: We’re really happy with that. It ranked seventh overall for the most played demos on Steam, and we’ve already had more than 150,000 people playing. We also have awesome feedback.
GameDaily: How important is it to get a demo right, in terms of the timing, and its place in the marketing mix?
Volker Wertich: It’s an important tool to build up the hype for the game and to generate fans. In the past, demos were often launched after a game’s release, so more people could get an idea of the game for free. But nowadays, it’s much more important to have a demo before release, because people are thinking about what they want in the future.
I think the change is connected to how we consume the flow of information today. There is so much information on streaming services and so on, about games that you can buy now. All the secrets are out there. But there is not so much about games that people are anticipating. A demo is a tool for fans to get more information about the game directly, so they can get excited about the actual release of the game.
GameDaily: With the launch a few weeks away, this must be your busiest time, and yet you have to squeeze a demo build out as well. Are there other downsides to releasing a pre-launch demo?
Volker Wertich: Of course, a demo means additional work, and it’s also a shift in focus. You have to polish elements right away, that you might otherwise have done later. You might have to stop working on specific features for a while to get the demo right.
On the other hand, it gives you so much valuable information and feedback about how players are playing the game, and the things that interest them the most. That’s why I think a demo close to launch is good, so that you are releasing a convincing experience, but you also have time to react to the players’ feedback.
We created an Excel sheet with about 400 topics that were mentioned in the feedback by the players. About half of those were new, while the others we were already aware of. But it’s all useful because we can see the trends about what players want to see improved or added.
There’s also the issue of compatibility with different PCs and laptops which helps us with the technical aspects of the launch, and we’re already seeing a big improvement in the numbers of people who can run the game right away – people with older PCs or older versions of Windows, or exotic builds.
GameDaily: You’re known for your work on The Settlers series. How important is that in promoting the game and the demo?
Volker Wertich: Developers are not rockstars. But of course, you build up trust with people who liked the games you created in the past. Pioneers of Pagonia is a new game, but people who liked other games that I worked on in the past will probably like it. It definitely helps to be able to build an initial group of people who are interested in your work and who want to support your development. It helps too that we have a very experienced team here who have worked on a lot of games.