Remember the saying "there's no such thing as bad publicity"? Following the events of the last few days, at least one indie developer may disagree.
Evolvation, a space flying shooter made by two people, was originally released in February 2017. Earlier this week, it had an average concurrent player count of one person. Fast forward to today, and there are currently 53,487 people in-game, with a new all-time peak of 172,870 set yesterday evening. Unsurprisingly, the sudden influx of new players is breaking the small indie game's servers. How on earth did this happen?
Unbelievably, it apparently all began with one misclick.
The carnage started just over a week ago when the game's developer, HyperReuts, accidentally deleted Evolvation's free Steam keys. In a Steam post, HyperReuts explained it had given out 10,000 free codes in order to expand the game's playerbase as part of its 2.0 update. Unfortunately, the developer discovered many of these were being sold illegally online. In order to stop the black market indie-key business, the developer ventured into Steam settings, clicked on "ban keys options," and accidentally deactivated many of the legitimate Steam keys.
Little did it know exactly what had been unleashed.
Disgruntled players soon started to post damning reviews on the game's Steam page. Many assumed the key removal was financially motivated, with one player even calling the developer "money hungry apes". Others were simply confused as to why their game key had disappeared overnight without any warning. Soon, the game's recent reviews were dragged down to "very negative". Players were well and truly seeing red.
The developer, meanwhile, was engaged in frantic talks with Valve to fix the problem. HyperReuts reports it requested new Steam keys, but was denied three times by Valve "without explanation". "I am just an indie [who] is trying hard," the exasperated developer wrote. "In the meantime my company is getting ruined by negative reviews, hateful comments, and bad publicity by pressing (non intentionally) on a single button."
Eventually, Valve responded. Although the company refused to undo the ban, it informed HyperReuts it would help them "explore other solutions". The solution, it seems, was to make the game temporarily free to play - but this brought a host of other problems.
If there's one thing the internet loves, it's free stuff, and the news Evolvation was free to play quickly spread on social media. The number of concurrent players rocketed up to nearly 180,000 overnight, leading to problems with logging in and choosing ships.
The developer was soon forced to issue yet another announcement.
"My server is not made for 180k people logging in at the same time so the servers are overloaded," HyperReuts explained earlier today. "We are upgrading the servers but we cannot act in a matter of hours. We hope this is fixed within 24 hours!"
Since the incredible player peak, the number of concurrent users has reduced significantly. It's probably for the best, as the two-person team explained it's unable to afford servers capable of handling hundreds of thousands of players.
The game may now be popular, but things aren't particularly rosy for the developer. As there are no extra monetisation features or DLC, the developer is currently not making any money from the game. This has been a problem for some time, as HyperReuts claims it's barely made $100 in revenue since the game's release.
In theory, the expanded playerbase should provide the developers with the possibility of introducing some monetisation options - but the team may have its hands full with server upgrades for some time.
Eurogamer contacted HyperReuts to ask about the developer's future plans for the game, and is waiting for a response.
From the comments the developer has made online, the team seems to be taking the episode in its stride. "I love the irony that nobody plays the game, however the moment I made a mistake I reach an audience bigger than I have ever got," one of team members explained. "This gives me the strength to develop further and make even more games, even though I make mistakes." Frankly, I'm not sure I could be that patient given the situation.
Be careful what you wish for, I guess.