Valheim: How a 5-Person Team Created Steam’s Most Popular Game


In 1300 AD, the highest recorded total of the Viking population was 500,000 people, according to the Valheim developer, Iron Gate Studios. Starting this week, just two weeks after its early access release, more than three million people have already bought the game Nordic-themed survival game on Steam. The last weekend, more than 360,000 concurrent players they explored Valheim at the same time, beating the historical records of even Destiny 2 and Grand Theft Auto 5.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Valheim might be the biggest indie game release in recent memory, and it certainly ranks among the most successful of all time, at least in terms of its first month. But, What exactly is Valheim’s secret? Is it the start of a new franchise or just another glimpse into the Early Access offering?

“We have updated the sales report for the latest figures, and it shows no signs of slowing down,” says Sebastian Badylak, Executive Producer at Coffee Stain Publishing. The team, still working hard to meet its Early Access roadmap, sold 275,000 units on Saturday, February 13, its highest number yet. “There’s a lot more to come that will hopefully keep all these players engaged and bring new Vikings on board.”

Revitalizing the survival genre

If you are not one of those three million players, here is the basic explanation of what we are talking about: Valheim is an open world survival game (currently in early access) with optional online multiplayer for up to 10 players in total. It’s a procedurally generated sandbox world in which your character drops in with nothing but a pair of pants. Players must search for food and materials to create their shelter and equipment to aid them on a quest to defeat powerful and deadly spirits on a journey to ascend Valhalla.

From its earliest moments, the table is served as in most other survival games, but there are some important differences that have clearly piqued the interest of experienced survivors. For starters, repairing things like equipment and buildings costs nothing. No resources, no money, nothing. It’s all free, which takes a lot of pressure off while maintaining resources for maintenance. In addition to that, the hunger system is designed to support your health and stamina if you are well fed, but you will not die if you decide not to eat. Is a more forgiving take on the survival genre, one that makes Valheim much more accessible than its competitors, without eliminating the challenge.

It’s also very PvE-centric, which is refreshing, even if somewhat ironic that one of the most hostile and deadly periods in human history is the focus of a game that emphasizes teamwork and cooperation.

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While most survival games don’t provide any specific goals beyond the goals you set for yourself (they often fall into the categories of “building new things” or “not getting killed by zombies / bears / other players”), Valheim boasts a bit more structure, even offering occasional advice and direction through a resourceful spirit raven. As you progress and develop your character’s skills and complete the map, you will unlock new areas with unique biomes that pose new challenges such as cold weather or feature hidden underground dungeons with rare treasures. Everything provides a greater sense of progression than most survival games, even with just two weeks early access.

Valheim’s combat also helps elevate things. In addition to the different combos and attack speeds depending on the type of weapon, there is blocking, rolling dodge, targeting and even parry with the right kind of shield. It feels more like an action RPG than a survival simulator, especially during its boss battles against mythical beasts.

Finally, a big draw for many of Valheim’s players is that there is far less conflict between players than you might find in other survival games. As it is now, you can activate the ability to attack other players, but unless you attack a friend who gave you their world password, you don’t have to worry about other players killing you.

Iron Gate co-founder Henrik Törnqvist says that PvE is Valheim’s main focus right now, but it seems like they will eventually add more PvP content, but don’t expect that to be the main focus. “I can venture to say that there will probably never be a large part of the game’s PvP,” he says. “We hadn’t thought about this much before, but it’s true that most survival games, at least that I know of, tend to have a very strong PvP focus.”

Where did Valheim come from

Törnqvist specifically quotes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the studio’s main inspirations for Valheim, which is clearly evident in his art style and physics-driven mechanics. Other creative influences include The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, as well as the cooperative survival format of games like Terraria, though he avoids mentioning games that have a more violent PvP focus. As for Valheim’s setting, his inspiration is simpler than you might expect.

“My partner Richard [Svensson] he started working on the game at the time, “says Törnqvist,” and he chose Vikings because it seemed popular, basically. Between 2018’s God of War, the rumors surrounding the then-unknown Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and even Nordic-themed real-time strategy games like Total War: Brittania, it’s hard to argue that the Vikings haven’t been a strong focus for the game developers in recent years and, whether we are currently tailgating that fad or not, the timing Valheim seems to have worked wonderfully. “

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Svensson began development in late 2018 and Törnqvist joined in mid-2019. By 2020, the two had expanded their team to five and reached an agreement with their publisher, Coffee Stain. The independent publisher, while young, has a track record of great success with co-op-focused games such as the sci-fi factory simulator Satisfactory and the FPS Deep Rock Galactic’s procedural underground mining, each of which has more than 40,000 reviews. of users with an average of ‘Extremely Positive’ on Steam.

“This is beyond anything we could have imagined.

Valheim was a great fit for them, according to Badylak (although it surely helped that Törnqvist was a childhood friend as well). “Obviously, we were exploring our own neighborhood, as there are tons of developers there,” he says. “What we saw in Valheim at the time was a very promising and super welcoming cooperative game that was, for us, a kind of sweet spot, a kind of passion that we wanted to pursue.”

Why is Valheim so popular?

What initially seemed like a good combination turned out to be a huge win for both the publisher and the development team. “It’s unbelievable,” says Badylak. “I mean we all had high hopes for Valheim and we really thought it would work out really well, but this is beyond anything we could have imagined.”

Valheim’s sudden success may come as a surprise, but it’s easy to see why it has taken off as quickly as it has. Not only does it offer a fairly refreshing take on a genre that has been relatively stagnant in recent years, but it is also a more comprehensive experience than many Early Access players may be used to. With its massive map, deep feature set (this is particularly evident compared to the fairly limited Early Access releases of other survival games like Conan Exiles), and an atypical level of technical polish, Valheim is what some might call surprisingly. full per early access standards.

As a result, it seems like everyone from streamers to Reddit communities have latched onto it. The Valheim subreddit already has over 100,000 members (that’s already almost half that of Rust, which has been available since 2013) and has already risen to the 14th spot in the most popular game on Twitch (as of publication date). Great Twitch personalities such as CohhCarnage and German streamer Gronkh, each with over a million followers, have been streaming the game heavily since its launch. Valheim’s collaborative nature, lo-fi style graphics, and physics-based open world seem like the perfect melting pot for insane antics and incredible settlements for players to build and explore, or just watch.

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Building better Vikings

Valheim’s instant success hasn’t changed the team’s development philosophy, although it has forced them to re-evaluate some of their more immediate priorities. “It is quite practical to correct errors at the moment,” says Törnqvist. “We couldn’t foresee that so many users would use dedicated servers, for example … We had to disable the automatic update of the server list in the game because it was lagging too much because there are too many servers. “

It is far from being the worst problem the team could have, although it does pose another problem beyond simple ‘lag’. There are currently no public servers in Valheim, which means that there are many private servers where people play alone or with small groups of friends or communities. The limit is 10 players per server at this time, and the entire map is procedurally generated every time you drop your character into a new world, so there is an inherent incentive to create new worlds and jump between worlds. It’s a bit unique that Valheim allows you to carry a character through the servers, but it’s risky as you could be killed and looted for everything you brought with you if you’re not careful. At least when you die in a solo world, you don’t have to worry about other players stealing your gear.

Since it’s an early access game, that technically means it’s not finished yet and Iron Gate Studios seems to have a clear plan. There are more options for building and crafting houses first, followed by a more combat-focused update. As for what’s coming up in Valheim, we already know that the Iron Gate team has four updates planned for 2021. Home and Heart will focus on building bases, while the Wolf Sect update will focus more on the combat and history. “We want more different enemies and try to have a kind of narrative around that update,” says Törnqvist. After that, the plan is to expand into the ocean regions with more ships and ship customization, and then close out the year with a new biome called Mistlands.

The team hasn’t revealed much about its plans for Valheim in 2022, but given its unique position as an overnight success, Mistlands is likely the end of the road. It is not known where else the team could send players. Perhaps a more tropical biome, or perhaps players will even travel to Valhalla itself?

“I can’t tell you,” says Törnqvist. “But maybe. If Odin wishes it.”