NZ-made video game Icarus tops global sale chart as its alien world opens for business

With its CEO Dean Hall bundles of nerves, Auckland-based game studio Rocketwerkz finally released its big-budget, high production-value multiplayer game Icarus over the weekend.

In the event, it blew away the expectations.

Icarus topped the sales chart on the giant streaming platform Steam over the weekend and remained at number one today.

The multiplayer game – which sees a cohort of players try to establish a colony on an alien world – went into “beta” on Saturday, or a public trial period used for ironing out glitches or to identify areas that need to be tweaked.

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People who pre-ordered the standard version of the game ($33.29) or a deluxe edition ($119.59) could play the pre-release version over the beta weekend. The final version is due in November.

Hall tells the Herald that more than close to 1 million people have pre-ordered or wishlisted Icarus so far.

He didn’t have immediate access to a breakdown of how many have whipped out their credit card for a pre-purchase vs wishlisting – but the pre-orders were enough to put ahead of the likes of Battlefield 2042 from US giant EA in Steam’s global sales chart.

That’s a huge lift for Hall, plus around 75 Rocketwerkz staff at his company’s new offices in Commercial Bay, which have been fitted out to look like the interior of a spaceship.

“It’s been a nerve-racking time and exceptionally difficult for us to do the beta launch in the middle of the lockdown,” Hall said at 1.30am this morning, as the Herald, up for a different reason (watching an English Premier League match, nearing half-time), checked in on the always-on CEO.

“We’re really pleased and maybe a little stunned,” Hall said.

He pointed not just to the sales charts, but rave reviews from high-profile gamers like “Lirik” and “Shroud” and up to 70,000 viewers on Twitch – the Amazon-owned streaming channel where people can watch top gamers play live.

Not that he’s resting on his laurels.

Or even a bed.

“I worked all weekend without sleeping,” said Hall, as the clock struck 2am.

And he acknowledged there was a lot of slog ahead.

“We were looking for market validation and we found it,” he said.

“But now the battle shifts to capitalising on that and owning the genre. So in a way, the real work begins from now.”

It won’t all be easy. Hall’s company, like others in the sector, is grappling with the tech skills squeeze – and he has complained about the Government subsidising the movie industry and cold-shouldering gaming when the two industries compete for the same pool of scarce specialists in areas like graphics.

And at one point he copped flak on social media from staff left behind by a restructure that saw Rocketwerkz move its main office from Dunedin (where it created a series of more modest titles) to Auckland and centre its efforts on the potential blockbuster Icarus.

But new frontiers are nothing new to the Dunedinite.

The one-time RNZAF officer became a game developer in Europe, creating a hit “mod” or modification to a zombie game, before returning to New Zealand to found his own gaming studio, bankrolled in part by a minority investment from Chinese giant Tencent (Hall retains a majority stake).

No doubt Hall is looking to replicate the success of another global multiplayer hit that comes out of Auckland – Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile, a single title that generated after-tax profit of $51.9m on revenue of $113m last year.

That’s all ahead. But Icarus seems off to a strong start.

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