What is Valheim?
Valheim is an indie Viking themed open world survival craft game. It’s also one of the most successful Steam launches ever.
Valheim is developed by Iron Gate Studios – a 5 person team! Not only that, it was a one-person team in 2019 and only 3 by the start of 2020.
Valheim has crossed over 5m sales in about a month after launch. You can keep track of the estimated sales on VG Insights Valheim page or wait for them to announce the next million soon.
Valheim signed Coffee Stain as their official publisher in June 2020. They’ve published 11 games on Steam. Also, their studio arm is responsible for the gems like the Goat Simulator and Satisfactory.
1. Valheim is focusing on the right game mechanics in the right sub-genre
Survival Craft Sub-Genre and its popularity among players
The sub-genre choice really makes it or breaks it for users. Simon Carless recently wrote about the importance of choosing the right genre – check it out!
Open world survival craft is incredibly popular. There’s just something about starting from nothing, gathering resources, crafting better gear, gathering even better resources and then crafting even better gear.
It tackles a weird part of our psychology where we need to keep striving for something better at all times. It also gives us the sense of gratification.
According to our free Steam Analytics platform, Open World Survival Craft games like Valheim are, on average, much higher priced, incredibly popular and high revenue.
There are 450 games like that and they are priced at almost double the Steam average prices. Almost 1/3 of the Open World Survival Craft games also make over $1m in gross revenue. These are incredible statistics!
On top of that, it’s a huge sandbox. Valheim is allowing you to be the architect, the builder, the farmer, the smith, the warrior and the explorer, in whatever order you want to do them.
Survival games are popular, but there are also many of them. Not all of them achieve success. None of them have done it as fast as Valheim has.
Picking the popular game mechanics and ditching the unsuccesful and frustrating ones
Explaining the success within the survival sub-genre is where picking and choosing game mechanics come into play.
Valheim gets rid of everything that’s ever annoyed you about survival games. No more starving to death, losing everything you’ve collected and spending resources on repairs.
Valheim has focused on the areas that make us love survival – great crafting and building systems.
Instead of making a small part of the core functionality and refining it, Valheim has focused on building all the core mechanics first. These can sometimes have quite a bare bones structure. Valheim has finished the vertical build and is now focusing on horizontal in updates to come.
This means that even early access has boss fights, farming, animal taming, complex building mechanisms, smithing, cooking and crafting. What it doesn’t yet have is variety. But that’s fine. It’s a smart way to build and release a game and keep it interesting for the updates to come.
2. It works :O
Valheim is surprisingly bug-free for a small team indie early access game. In fact, it’s more bug free than pretty much any of the survivor games made so far.
In a sub-genre where grind is a natural part, losing your inventory and progress due to a crash can be a deal-killer.
Honestly, it’s a sad, but important point to make in the current state of the game industry – One of the reasons behind a game’s success is that it works.
3. Valheim is quick to download and great value for money
I couldn’t believe it when Valheim finished downloading. I thought it was a corrupt file. How can this game only be 1 gb? This means that you can impulse buy Valheim and start playing pretty much immediately. Furthermore, you’ll never struggle to fit this on your hard-drive.
Valheim has spread through word of mouth. Being able to tell someone to get the game and see them playing 30 minutes later is a huge booster to the speed and efficiency of word of mouth.
Valheim also only costs $20. It’s on the higher end for indie games, but you get a better than AAA experience for it. Incredible value for money boosts sales.
4. Valheim’s look and feel is simple, elegant and nostalgia inducing
I’ve never heard one game being so accurately described through so many other games. Valheim is like RuneScape meets Rust meets Minecraft meets Skyrim meets The Legend of Zelda meets Terraria.
These games are nothing alike, yet Valheim is like all of them.
Valheim’s retro style graphics appeal to the older generation of gamers while its atmospheric moments captivate everyone.
Finally, we can’t not mention the Viking theme. It is aesthetically awesome. It might have also allowed Valheim to piggy-back on Assassins Creed Valhalla driven Viking mania.
5. It’s dipping into the multiplayer trend without the toxicity of other similar games
Multiplayer and co-op games have slowly grown in popularity anyway, but Covid has really boosted that trend. Valheim has taken the best elements of multi-player survival games and left out the toxicity plaguing other games such as Rust.
Valheim can work as a single player game. However, it truly shines when you have a few friends sailing the seas and building the longhouse with you. PvP is an option, but players must turn it on (opt in) for it to work.
Most people also decide to play it in small, private servers with a small group of friends, rather than a bunch of more or less aggressive strangers.
6. It’s incredibly streamer-friendly and does the ‘not in your face marketing’ right
Post-launch, Valheim benefitted hugely from streamers. It’s hard to say how much of that was paid promotions initially. It’s almost entirely non-promotional at this stage. Streamers love Valheim because it’s super watchable.
It fit into a lot of big streamer’s repertoire and they were just getting bored of Among Us.
The core appeal is very similar to Minecraft – exploration and impressive buildings are fun to watch. At the same time, the game is not too focus demanding for the streamer. This allows the streamer to engage with their community a lot.
7. It didn’t have a $100m in your face marketing campaign, but it was always consistently building followers
Valheim first appeared as a Steam page in Oct 2018, under the name of FEJD. From there, they had a steady build-up of followers, reaching c. 15,000 by the time of launch.
They never did any extensive marketing campaigns. They posted on Twitter, but had limited followers. In fact, Valheim’s Twitter following is still very small compared to the game’s success. The only real publicity they got was through their betas. Yet, the slow and steady buildup over the years meant they had a strong followership by the time of launch.
No matter how word-of-mouth friendly your game is, you need an initial engaged community to start the snowball!
Signing Coffee Stains as a publisher in the mid 2020 helped Valheim a lot in terms of actual publicity. However, there wasn’t one big massive marketing campaign. They marely allowed Valheim to get their foot in the door for large events and articles.
8. Vahleim had the perfect release timing
We already talked about the Covid trends and how Valheim fits perfectly into the lockdown pastime bucket.
On top of that, the release was timed perfectly to follow the slowdown of Among Us’ popularity. The 2020 Steam calendar for lockdown games started with a massive launch of Fall Guys. Fall Guys faded into the rise of Among Us in autumn. Valheim managed to be the next game to take these reigns.
Number of Twitch channels streaming every day – Valheim, Among Us, Fall Guys (Source: SullyGnome)
Last year has stood out for unexpected indie game successes at unprecedented scale. The foundation is in place for more success to follow
We often talk about how difficult it is for indie games to survive. Yet, there are occasional small team successes that lead to incredible wealth.
Game development and marketing is more democratised than ever before. eComm platforms, social media, streamers and other trends help indies to break through.
Valheim is bound to serve as a case study and inspiration for future indie games.