Long-known as one of the only studios in the world still making quality point-and-click adventure games in the LucasArts tradition, the German developer and publisher Daedalic has come a long way since the release of the first “Deponia” back in 2012. Although the studio has been both making and releasing games for over a decade now, their name remains a fairly niche one on the shores of Steam, even as they continue to rack up successes on the storefront, with the recently-released multiplayer underwater-horror sim “Barotrauma” ascending the charts on its release last week. For Carsten Fichtelmann, this apparent lack of recognition isn’t a problem, it’s par for the course.
“I don’t think the vast majority of the audience actually pays attention to who makes their games most of the time, and even less who publishes them,” he says. “It’s the same with film. Outside of a handful of notable actors and directors, most people don’t know who makes their movies, and that’s just fine. For us, that means that we can continue to have a wide variety of different kinds of game without feeling constrained.”
“Varied” is an apt word to describe the studio’s current slate. While their core development team has focused mostly on visually-arresting 2D games with heavy puzzle elements, like their adaptation of “Pillars of the Earth,” they’ve began to publish games in many different genres, including stealth(“Shadow Tactics”), a multiplayer train-track laying game (“Unrailed”), and a real-time strategy game in the classic style (“A Year of Rain”). With the recent announcement that Daedalic’s development team is now working on a Lord of the Rings game that stars Gollum, the riven ring thief known for holding gold and croaking out catchphrases, Fichtelmann says that Daedalic is entering a whole new tier of development, but with the same craft and attention to detail that got them this far.
“The publishing process has become very overwhelming over the past few years,” he says. “We hold meetings where five-hundred games pass over the table, and the entire panel has to agree that we want something for us to take it, and we can only say yes to eight to ten per year. The hardest part of my job is saying no to the projects that really look amazing, but that we know won’t stand out in the current market. It’s absolutely brutal, to be honest.”
As the market tightens even further under the constant flood of indie detritus, Fichtelmann says that he focuses on milestones to keep the studio focused on the here and now. For example, they’re particularly excited for the upcoming release of “A Year of Rain,” which marks the development team’s first foray into true multiplayer games. While Fichtelmann isn’t sure if the unique 2v2 action of the RTS will be enough to catapult it into the world of esports, he feels that the competitive gaming scene is an entirely new frontier for the studio and one that they feel excited to explore. That said, Fichtelmann reiterates the company’s commitment to the narrative-first puzzle games that put them on the map, even as the fiscal winds of the gaming space seem to be blowing against their fortunes even harder.
“What people don’t understand about story-heavy games like ‘Deponia’ is that there isn’t an audience problem, there’s a revenue problem,” he says. “The audience for games with good narrative isn’t shrinking, it’s actually growing quite a bit. The problem is that the audience can watch their favorite influencer or streamer play that story in its entirety without paying us a cent, and there’s nothing we can really do about it. I don’t know how to solve that problem, but if we did, it would really help our games…I think projects like [Netflix’s] ‘Bandersnatch’ shows the potential for streaming services to host narrative-game experiences, and I think that’s something we will try to explore in the future.”
While the “Gollum” game won’t crawl out of its cave until 2021 at the earliest, Fichtelmann hopes that it’s just the beginning of licensed titles that high-profile rights-holders will offer to the studio, given their track record. That said, he fully admits that there are possible downsides to that kind of market strategy, as he sums up quite nicely with a hearty laugh: “People used to call us the Telltale Games of Europe. Well, that doesn’t sound so good now, does it?”