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Kickstarter, contests bring FTL to life Exclusive
Kickstarter, contests bring  FTL  to life
September 20, 2012 | By Mike Rose

September 20, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Since late last week, three simple letters have been floating around on Twitter as devs and gamers alike discover a new release on Steam that could very well be "the next big thing" in indie games.

FTL -- or Faster Than Light -- is a space-faring simulation in the same vein as the wonderful Weird Worlds, as players blast off with a custom crew, visiting randomly-generated planets and taking care of randomly-generated business.

The game hasn't exactly come out of nowhere. In 2011, it was a finalist at IGF China, and in 2012 it earned honorable mentions in two categories at the IGF -- including for the Grand Prize. Then, earlier this year, the game popped up on Kickstarter and promptly destroyed its funding goal, earning just over $200,000 in pledges.

Now, since the game released on Steam last week, it has constantly stayed in the top 10 best selling games on the service. This is a game on a mission, and the buzz it's receiving is infectious.

"I have absolutely no idea how the response got so big so fast", admits Subset Games' Justin Ma. "My guess is that the game is pretty unique and we were in the right place at the right time in a number of situations."

The Kickstarter was definitely one of the key elements to making FTL as popular as it has been, he reckons -- not least because it provided the team with four thousand beta testers to help them cull the rubbish and leave the good.

"When the Kickstarter was really exploding we were busy trying to figure out how we would support four thousand beta testers when we were expecting only a few hundred," he notes. "In the end, the extra funds helped us make sure the beta ran smoothly and improve the game beyond our original expectations considerably."

Although the team was unable to add "stretch goals" (as is a common Kickstarter element now) due to the release date of the game being only a few months away, it still made for "a really nice Kickstarter success story," says Ma, adding, "I'm sure it was a large factor in our initial surge in press."

Before the Kickstarter, however, the Subset team was laying the foundations for success through competition entries. Subset entered numerous contests, eventually coming up with the aforementioned success at the IGF, and also becoming finalists at IndieCade.

"Submitting to contests was crucial for FTL's success in more ways than one," explains Ma. "We did very well which lead to a lot of press and legitimacy; getting an honorable mention in IGF allowed us to have a demo online through OnLive which helped our Kickstarter launch considerably."

Ma also notes that the rigidity of competitions means that teams are forced to perhaps work harder and stronger than they were previously.

"Using the submission deadlines as milestones also helped push us forwards while developing," he says. "For example, the core game really came together in the 2 week crunch before the China IGF submission deadline."

FTL is currently available via Steam for Windows PC and Mac.

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Jonathan Jennings
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I'm actually planning to download this as soon as i get home

Edit: i know this isn't a review site but i was extremely reluctant about downloading the copy and after an hour of play i am very pleased . each moment in the game is unique and i would argue it's a take it or leave it game . if having a battle with a space pirate near a star that's flaring and causing fires throughout your ship( and the pirates) sounds exciting to you, you will love it. if that idea doesn't stir something i would avoid because it's very much a game based on the context of your current situation over the presentation of it.

Florian Garcia
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Congrats Justin! :-)

Steven Christian
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I've seen a lot of press on this and it has been featured on the front page of steam (probably as it's a new release).
I was almost there, and this piece may push me over the line to make the purchase.

The power of the press ;)

E McNeill
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Playing this game reminded me why I'm making games. It's *awesome*. Being a Star Trek: Voyager fan helps!

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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I downloaded this on release, planning on playing it today.

"I have absolutely no idea how the response got so big so fast", admits Subset Games' Justin Ma. "My guess is that the game is pretty unique and we were in the right place at the right time in a number of situations."

honestly, it pretty much hit the perfect niche of space sim I was hoping for. I still plan on getting Endless Space at some point, but that wasn't quite in the vein of what I wanted.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Okay, this is definitely pretty awesome. It's probably going to replace Binding of Isaac as my new go-to for short bursts of punishing gaming.

Gavin Koh
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Congrats to Justin and Matthew on a truly great game!

I gave FTL a spin and liked it very much. It reminds me of yesteryear when I was playing the Star Frontiers RPG with my friends using deck plans and counters.

FTL can be quite punishing but if you stick with it, you'll find yourself getting as addicted as if you were playing other fantasy roguelikes (for example, Dungeons of Dredmore). There's a review of FTL over at my website - Daily PC Game Reviews... just view my profile and follow the link there.

Kenan Alpay
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The game is superb. I've been addicted to it since it came out. Very interesting space management sim that balances simplicity with interesting choices and plenty of depth. The roguelike nature means that it never feels like a slog. Congrats on making something so amazing.

Ron Dippold
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I backed the game because it had something really good to show on the Kickstarter page.

I know how to cheat on the game (save backups) but have not done so, because it'd feel like I was cheating myself. The only thing that stops me from playing this now is Borderlands 2 or qrth-phyl.

However I'm struggling here to turn this into a relevant to Gamasutra lesson, because 'have a great idea that nobody else had even though it's "obvious", implement it well, and have a decent alpha before shopping it around' is one of those blue sky things for most people.

Charles Stuard
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If you need a lesson, you could take the "use contests as milestones" to heart. Indie development, most especially the secondary job variety, can easily go astray and end up in a seemingly never-ending void of "not done". This dev says by focusing on competitions, it forced them to stay accountable and keep moving the project forward. That's something.

Chris McLeod
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FTL is amazing.

It really emphasizes how games should include the elements of a toy from the get-go. The ship is fun to explore and play around with, even without any battles. Your crew mates are probably not as pleased with playing with oxygen levels and door controls as I am. Airlocks work, check... Come on guys, there IS a medical bay. I was just playing, honest.