“We didn’t really know exactly what to expect with this PlayStation launch,” said Søren Lundgaard, the chief executive of Ghost Ship Games, the studio behind the game. “We have seen a huge increase in our numbers on Discord and Reddit and Twitter. A lot of new fans are just flocking in.”
Since “Deep Rock Galactic” first released free on PlayStation Plus last month, Lundgaard said 10 million players have “claimed” the game. Sony has not given the studio “exact download numbers,” Lundgaard said, but they surmise that “Deep Rock” has millions of new players. At the beginning of January, Lundgaard said “Deep Rock Galactic” had half a million daily active users on PlayStation.
In “Deep Rock Galactic,” players drop into procedurally generated caves they must then explore to achieve certain objectives, like mining for a mineral or retrieving lost equipment. Every rock and stone in the game can be broken up and destroyed; it’s a combination of the caves and caverns from “Minecraft” with the gameplay mechanics from the zombie-fighting cooperative game “Left 4 Dead.”
Now that the game is available on PC, Xbox and PlayStation, Lundgaard said they’re receiving more requests for cross-platform play. The Washington Post spoke with Lundgaard about the challenges, as well as what the studio has planned for “Deep Rock” in the coming year.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe “Deep Rock Galactic” for somebody who’s coming into this game for the first time?
Lundgaard: It’s a game about four dwarves digging for precious minerals on an alien planet. So, it is about collaboration and teamwork, but it’s also about working in a very hostile environment where the people who are sending you down [to mine] don’t really care about your life. So, that makes you band together even more. … Camaraderie is a word we use a lot. That’s the feeling we wanted to induce.
How did you all come up with the various ways the dwarves cheer “rock and stone” in the game? Was there a brainstorming session?
Lundgaard: There was a desire from the game director and the art director to have some kind of cheer or something that the dwarves could say when they wanted to acknowledge each other. … As soon as they got to the “rock and stone” wording, that was it. There was little doubt that was going to work.
Knowing that when you say a voice line it gets really tiring if it’s the same voice line, we immediately made variations and then we’ve just added variations over time. …
The power of that has just been — we did not foresee that at all. If you go on Reddit, you’ll find some completely different topic and someone says “rock” and then someone below says “and stone.” And then you just see this thread of people saying “rock and stone.” That’s amazing.
You just came off a big month of being free-to-play on PlayStation Plus. How is everything going right now?
Lundgaard: So, everything is great. We feel that, with the launch on PlayStation, we’ve reached a new level of awareness around “Deep Rock Galactic.” We feel like we moved into a new tier, so to speak. … The game is now more popular than ever and we are dedicated to supporting it.
Close to four years since “Deep Rock Galactic” first released, what are your plans for the game? What does this game look like in a year?
Lundgaard: When we started out, we didn't foresee that this game would exist for so long and just keep growing. So, we've also been adapting to that. Last year, we introduced the concept of seasons and we released season one. Within the next year, within a few months, we will release season two. And, not surprisingly, late in the year: season three.
What actually is the content of season three? I don't really know much about it. We know a lot about season two because we're working on it right now. So, there will be more weapons. There'll probably be some season events and so on. But, season three, we don't know much about that yet. We've had some brainstorming ideas, but nothing is settled.
The only thing I know is that we’ll keep supporting this, “Deep Rock Galactic,” for at least a year. Probably more.
Is it at all tiring being on a live-service release schedule? What does that feel like?
Lundgaard: The short answer is no. But, this is also because we’ve been mixing up the game, the way we’ve been doing things. Initially, when we were in early access, we did a lot of updates. Right from the start, we did weekly updates. That was exhausting. Then, we slowly decreased the cadence to biweekly, one month between, two months between and then for a while maybe three months between updates.
Then, in November, we changed pace again when we released the first season for “Deep Rock” and we spent six months creating that season. … We’re constantly trying out new things and then it’s exciting to see: Will this work? Will that work? We’re always live. There’s always something going on. So, that’s a bit exhausting, you can say. But, we are trying to give a bit more breathing room to make up for this.
As long as this game is thriving, we will support it and we will evolve it.”— Søren Lundgaard, chief executive of Ghost Ship Games
When you all sit back and look at the longer arc of this game, what are those conversations like?
Lundgaard: For us, a year actually feels quite long to plan out. … We really want to live up to listening to our community. And, that’s not really possible if you set your plans too much in stone too far into the future, then you can’t react to the [player] feedback. So, no, we don’t have a five-year plan. What we have said and what we commit to is as long as this game is thriving, we will support it and we will evolve it and we will keep adding to it and make it available for a bigger and bigger audience.
Two phrases come to mind: One is “release on Nintendo Switch” and the other is “cross-platform.” Are those on the table for this game?
Lundgaard: Both are touchy subjects and they’re very relevant. We completely understand why people are asking … I think the Switch platform is tricky because of the hardware and the way our game works. It might be possible, if we really cut the game into a perfect square that could fit on that platform, but then we couldn’t really combine that with our general involvement of the game. It would be like almost a completely different project. So, for now, what we have decided is not to do that. Not to put “Deep Rock Galactic” on Switch. The hardware platform of the modern mobile phones would be much easier, just to say, because the CPU is much, much faster now.
“We think our success has been being agile, fast and able to deliver what the community wants. And we fear that if we make this too complicated, with cross-platform, we might lose all of that.”— Søren Lundgaard, chief executive of Ghost Ship Games
The other subject is cross-platform and, with the PlayStation launch, the demand for cross-platform play has definitely increased from our fans. So many players want to play this game with their friends on another platform. Our problem is, mainly, that when we started out, we linked up against a peer-to-peer network. So, we’re not hosting anything. It’s player-hosted. So, anything cross-platform needs to have a specific setup, a solution network for that. It exists. It’s possible. It will, if we do that, add a lot of complications to the way we are producing the game. We will basically slow down everything and we think our success has been being agile, fast and able to deliver what the community wants. And we fear that if we make this too complicated, with cross-platform, we might lose all of that.
It’s not that we’re saying we’ll never do that because that would also be stupid. The world is definitely changing toward cross-platform. So, we are constantly weighing our options.
I’m looking at my notes and my colleague wrote down one question that I don’t completely understand. Who is Karl?
Lundgaard: So that’s a good question … the real honest answer is that we don’t know. Apparently, according to our fans, he’s this legendary miner that got lost in the mines and you can still feel the spirit of Karl. We don’t have a narrative, we don’t have a story in the game. It’s basically a game of one-liners, like the good old action moves from the 80s.
In one of the first iterations of the game there was, and still is a line, that says “This is for Karl” when you shoot an enemy. It’s just the game director, Mikkel Pedersen, who wrote that in just for fun. And then the players just picked it up and started thinking about this Karl character.