Spire of Sorcery is a turn—based RPG from the creators of Gremlins, Inc. Despite the large number of vishlists, less than 1,500 copies were sold in the first week. Sergey Klimov, the founder of Charlie Oscar, spoke about the reasons for the failure, including a sharp change of concept, blind faith in success and confusion with different versions of the game.

Spire of Sorcery

Klimov shared his thoughts specifically for the newsletter of Simon Carless, an expert on the findability of games and the founder of GameDiscoverCo.

Below is our retelling of the original text.

Problem 1 — a sharp change in genre and core mechanics

Charlie Oscar’s first successful project was Gremlins, Inc. The game was released in early access in 2015, and a full release took place the following year.

By the end of 2017, the studio wanted to try to make a game with other mechanics — without multiplayer and in a setting different from steampunk. Thus, after a successful turn-based board game, the team set about creating a single strategy with indirect control.

According to Klimov, it was a stupid step for several reasons at once, including a fundamentally different genre and a much longer development process.

Tip: you should try to multiply the success of the existing game in order to improve its strengths. Ideally, it was necessary to attract an outside consultant who would say: “Use your advantages to achieve even greater success!” It is unlikely that a person thinking like an investor would advise: “Of course, change the development platform, format and genre. It will be fun!”

Problem 2 — lack of a prototype and ignoring criticism from professionals

At the beginning of the development of Spire of Sorcery, the studio thought that it already had the necessary flair, and therefore it was enough just to make a game and release it. The developers believed that it was necessary to create prototypes only for those people who could not make their first project work.

For comparison, the Charlie Oscar team spent about a year creating a “paper” prototype of Gremlins, Inc. before starting production. In the case of Spire of Sorcery, the studio forgot about this useful experience and as a result wasted two years of development.

Tips: to avoid this, you need to communicate with developers from other studios. Charlie Oscar, though, did so, but initially ignored most of the advice that they did not like — even if it was really valuable and useful comments.

Klimov also recommends preparing a pitch of his second game for a publisher or investor. After the first success, it may seem unnecessary to the developer, but people who are ready to potentially invest their money in the project will ask uncomfortable questions and pay attention to the shortcomings of the game. That’s just to dismiss them will not work anymore — you’ll have to listen.

“In fact, if in 2018 you would have asked me about the gameplay of Spire of Sorcery, I would have given you only a description of the world or a list of features, but not the core gameplay. And anyone who could give me money for the project would immediately stop and demand a structured vertical section or a design document,” Klimov notes.

Problem 3 — Paid beta on Steam

In 2018, there was no playtest function on Steam yet. Therefore, Charlie Oscar had two options: to send keys to users or to release a paid beta in early access without registering a page in the store.

The studio rejected the first option, because during testing Gremlins, Inc. only 50% of recipients activated the keys, and 10% of users sent a clear feedback at all.

It was decided to stop at the second option — to issue an unregistered page of the game. It is not displayed on the showcase and in the search, but it can be opened by a direct link and make a purchase.

For access to the Spire of Sorcery beta, the developers asked for €20. As a result, two thousand people bought it.

Tip: never do that. On the one hand, the team got a group of involved players with similar preferences. On the other hand, these users will be the first to criticize the final product if the initial concept of the game has to be radically changed during development. This is what happened with Spire of Sorcery.

Problem 4 — Different versions of the same game

During the beta, Charlie Oscar just decided to change the concept of Spire of Sorcery. The game has turned from a strategy with indirect control into a turn-based RPG, in which spells are applied using the mechanics of decks of elements.

As a result, the team faced misunderstanding from the first testers. They wrote: “But you promised us another game!”

The problem of the early announcement of the project also overlapped with this. The paid beta of Spire of Sorcery was released at the end of 2019, and the next year the studio changed the concept and worked on a new build throughout the past year. 

There was a confusion in the minds of some users. Some thought that the game has been in development not for two years, but for all ten. Others complained that just a couple of months ago they were playing a completely different project, although they had in mind a two-year-old build.

The openness of the developers did not help either. They have released about 30 diaries, and regularly published detailed descriptions of changes and updates.

Tips: asking for money for the game is worth it only if the project already has the chosen course. You can go to early access and sell the title long before the release. But you can’t put up a price tag if the basic mechanics of the game are still developing and may suddenly change.

Klimov also noted that early announcements make sense only in the case of sequels. Developers usually already have a planned course and a basic concept, and the core audience has formed expectations.

Spell Mechanics in Spire of Sorcery

Problem 5 — exit without interactive tutorial

In 2015, Charlie Oscar released Gremlins, Inc. without interactive training mode. The developers faced criticism and were forced to add it after the release.

Paradoxically, the team forgot about this experience before launching Spire of Sorcery. The studio was naturally criticized again, and the developers had to fix everything in the first big update.

Problem 6 — incorrect assessment of user interest

Before the launch of early access, Spire of Sorcery had 80 thousand vishlists. In many ways, this figure was achieved due to the high demand for paid beta, communication with the audience and weekly diaries of developers.

On October 21, the game went into early access at a price of € 20. The team was confident of success, but did not take into account the main thing. In 2021, the game was added to the wishlist only 24 thousand times.

It was these people who were ready to play Spire of Sorcery with its current concept, and it was worth focusing on them during the final promotion. However, the studio was still confident that it was preparing for the release of the project expected by the players with 80 thousand vishlists.

According to Klimov, they hoped to realize at least 10% of this number. In practice, everything turned out to be much worse — less than 1,500 copies sold in the first week.

“In fact, we had two separate games — Spire of Sorcery (2017-2019) and, let’s call it conditionally, The Wild Mages (2020-2021). Both projects in the eyes of the audience were one game of Spire of Sorcery, which aggravated the problem at all levels. Should we rename the project? We don’t have an answer to this question, so we can’t advise anything here,” Klimov notes.

What does Charlie Oscar plan to do now?

On the early access release, Spire of Sorcery received mixed reviews from Steam users. Only 50-60% of them were positive.

The game was liked by people who found out about it in 2021 and bought it after the demo. But the negative ratings just fell on some players who paid for a paid beta in 2017-2019 and were disappointed with the change of concept.

Now Charlie Oscar intends to release updates every month, in which it will correct the main shortcomings. The developers have also added a feedback form to the demo so that users can send their opinions about the project.

According to Klimov, with each update, sales of Spire of Sorcery are growing. Many are still put off by mixed reviews. However, the team now intends to focus on those users who like the current concept and demo.

The studio plans to release Spire of Sorcery in four to six months.

“We think this story will end well when a full-fledged release takes place, and all recent vishlists are converted into sales. Now people are playing demos, they like the game, and we see an increase in vishlist. But the price we paid for this and continue to pay is so high that we would not wish anyone to go through this,” Klimov concluded.

He admits that in 2018 he would have ignored most of the above tips. However, Klimov now recommends that all developers focus on the main thing: “Treat your new game as if you were asked to invest in it.”