You've been living under a rock if you haven't heard about Lethal Company, the fresh co-op horror game where players scavenge abandoned moons in the service of a dystopian corporation. The game's success is well known, but its unique journey and impact are worth exploring. Here are our three key takeaways on the phenomenon.
1. Lethal Company didn't come from nowhere
Steam famously loves indie horror games, although some of them are jankier than others. The ones that truly succeed are, without fail, also great games. Neither Lethal Company nor its solo developer, Zeekerss, came from nowhere.
Zeekerss' true identity is unknown, but they have been creating games for a decade, starting with small-scale Roblox experiments (Breach, Rigido, Guidance, Doodle!, and Contrast) before moving on to more complete games on the platform (A Lucid Dream, They Breathe, Light Bulb, and Silent Dark). In recent years, Zeekerss has focused on Unity development on Steam (It Steals, Dead Seater, The Upturned, and finally, Lethal Company).
Genre mastery is real: Most of Zeekerss' creations are horror games. Zeekerss has played their share of reference games — the influence of previous horror hits such as Five Nights at Freddy's and Phasmophobia is very apparent in their work. Lethal Company's world and story cleverly draw from the SCP universe, offering familiarity without requiring players to be well versed in references.
2. Solo devs can and will shake up Steam
When the entire industry is fixated on massive game teams, Lethal Company's success challenges the norm. But it is not alone — the solo-developed rhythm platformer Geometry Dash recently broke its all-time CCU record on Steam as its long-awaited 2.2 update finally went out in December.
It's notoriously hard to break through the noise on Steam, yet at the time of writing this, Lethal Company is the sixth most-played game on the platform, according to SteamDB. At the same time, Unturned (by solo developer Nelson Sexton, also an ex-Roblox dev) sits at the 16th position, Stardew Valley (by Eric Barone) is 28th, and Geometry Dash (by Robert Topala) is the 33rd most played.
All four games are built by a single developer, and each has maintained a respectable player base that extends well beyond launch hype. As game engines and content creation tools mature, solo developers and micro teams can build bigger and more complete games — as long as they’ve picked up the necessary skills to wear all hats.
3. Roblox and UEFN are the hotbeds for young talent
In the past, it was game mods that gave rise to new gameplay styles and legendary game designers. Half-Life birthed Counter-Strike, a mod that practically invented the objective-based competitive FPS. Warcraft III incubated the MOBA genre with the Defense of the Ancients custom map. And through its PUBG mod, ARMA 2 was the birthplace of battle royale.
Modding was not only an incubator for innovation, it was also the primary training ground for young developers to kickstart their careers. While modding is far from dead, Roblox is now one of the most popular UGC-powered services in the world and is infinitely moddable, and Epic has positioned Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) to play the same role.
Developers on Roblox and UEFN not only learn the basics of coding, 3C, and art, but they also get exposed to live ops, community management, and are even able to monetize their creations. In fact, Lethal Company’s next update is slated to include the first live service feature: weekly challenges. Zeekerss has set out to make a game with infinite replayability.
Zeekerss was not the first talented developer to practice their craft with Roblox, and they will not be the last. As always, creators comprise only a tiny minority of the user base. Yet, with monthly active users in the hundreds of millions, a small minority is enough. Provide them with the tools, and they will build and become the force that shapes the next generation of games.
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