Almost five years ago, before Gearbox, Microsoft and Early Access, We Happy Few began life on Kickstarter.
2015 was a hard year for an ambitious young studio like Compulsion to stand out. Particularly as they found themselves up against games from industry veterans like Bloodstained, Torment: Tides of Numera and Shenmue 3.
That year, video games on Kickstarter raised over $45 million dollars, with the game itself making $334,754 to smash its funding target. Many considered it a testament to the vision of Compulsion that their game made such an impression, turning many heads in the process.
For Compulsion, though, their relationship with their backers was more than just about creating a reaction and earning money.
Ever since we launched our Kickstarter, we’ve had an open development and a close relationship with our players; they’ve seen the game in all of its phases.” Compulsion say. “We’ve been collecting their feedback, discussing and adding it to the game for 4 years. We knew We Happy Few was going to be unconventional — it’s a story in a procedural world that first started as an ultra-hard roguelike survival. We needed and wanted to open it to the public, to make sure we were not completely off our rocker. Players rarely get an insight inside the game development world. There is often a disconnect between devs and players, so we think that by having open discussion and by sharing our process, struggles, and in-progress work, that we closed that gap a little bit. The video games industry is tricky, because while it is still a business, it is filled with passionate craftsmen who are excited about games just as much as the players.
So involved were the community that they helped Compulsion build the game with threads, comments, bug reports and more based on their time with various sections of the game.
But not just that, these backers and Early Access holders partly helped Compulsion shape the future of the game.
“We decided on the characters towards the end of production for We Happy Few. We’d already released the game on Early Access with small pieces of the story, so our players were familiar with some key side characters for a while now. The community grew very fond of them and so did we. We wanted to explore and write more about them. Our first DLC is called They Came from Below, and it revolves around James and Roger, a couple that couldn’t be more opposite to each other. They’re both assistants to Dr.Faraday, a mad scientist. The next DLC will be Lightbearer, about rockstar Nick Lightbearer, who loves nothing more than his “party favours.” The character for the third and last DLC hasn’t been announced yet, but we think our players will be pleasantly surprised.”
Contrast was a big PS4 launch title for Compulsion, but this was the next step up. It certainly seemed like We Happy Few would be one of the years’ biggest titles when it launched last August.
Sadly, however, the game didn’t quite get the critical reception the developers might have been hoping for with many critics citing issues with various bugs.
Despite a somewhat mixed reaction at launch, though, the developers have continued to support the game, releasing James and Roger In They Came From Below, and working hard on the remaining two pieces of DLC while creating major free updates.
“DLC and season passes typically get a bad reputation” Compulsion say, “but we believe that if done right, it can be a very positive experience for everyone. In our case, we had some goals to hit in order to do right by the community. First, the content of the DLCs had to be separate from the main game, so they are self contained stories. This was important to us so players who didn’t feel like they needed the season pass in order to get the full experience of We Happy Few. Some people have a misconception that DLC is cut content from the game, we wanted to make it clear that this is not the case at all.”
Compulsion have treated each piece of content with the same care and attention as the base game, working on them one by one to ensure the highest possible quality.
“The second goal was waiting to start work on the DLCs until after we were done with We Happy Few. It might take us a little bit longer to deliver the DLCs, but we didn’t want to work on them at the same time as the main game; we wanted to fully focus on each production. For many team members, there is a lot of empty time between finishing a game and starting the next one. By working on DLCs, not only could the team stay working between projects, but they got to exercise their creative freedom without being bound to the main story of the game. We had fun creating wacky new stories, and players who want more of the game can get to play more of it.
Despite the incredible development journey of Compulsion through We Happy Few, however, it seems that once the DLC is over, that will be the last we see of the franchise.
With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of the studio last year, it seems they have something completely different in mind.
We are currently finishing production on Lightbearer and are midway through the third and last DLC. At the moment we have no plans for anything more in the We Happy Few world, but you never know. Some of us have been working on it for over five years and I think we are ready to move on to new adventures.
What those new adventures are is anyone’s guess but if they’re anything as ambitious and unique as this, we’re surely in for a treat.