A Wager Repaid - An Oral Restrospective of Pascal's Wager, Part 2
This is part two of our retrospective on Pascal’s Wager’s development, as part of our celebration of the game’s two-year anniversary. You can check out part 1 here：https://pw.giant.games/html/news/13488d2/002-1642-00082-130443.shtml
Featured in this retrospective series are interviews with members of Pascal's Wager development team at TipsWorks studios, in cooperation with Gcores.com.
Asking the Real Questions
Yang: From a business perspective. I did not have high hopes for the game. It was a tremendous risk, something not a lot of developers have succeeded in the space. We greenlit the whole project with that risk in mind. I told everyone: “If this fails, keep the demo, it would help you find a better gig elsewhere.” We could chase some trends, like card-based RPGs, but that feels even more hopeless.
I started a journal on a gaming forum I frequent around the time we formally started development. I wanted to keep a history of what we are doing, and that I’ve thought it through. People argued with me that it wouldn’t be viable, deep inside I know all of this and how hard this would be. There are much safer alternatives, sure. But with the fantastic group of people that I had worked with for over a decade, I know the “popular” alternatives would be even tougher for us to rise above.
We created a playable demo in half a year. It was a fast turnaround, since we had a functioning development pipeline in place. Even with relatively low experience, I think what we excelled at was highly efficient communication and cooperation, it’s something we could be very proud of.
It was very hard to pitch the demo to publishers, however. Well, in a sense it didn’t feel “hard”. Every time we bring it to a potential publisher, we shocked the room and impressed everyone. But the big question is always how market viable it is? And it’s something not many would positively answer. Simply being good sometimes wasn’t enough.
This suddenly changed after Chinese New Year 2018. We got a lot of invites for negotiations out of nowhere. Why did this happen?
Well, battle royale happened. To be precise, PUBG Mobile happened. The success of it triggered a new interest in diversifying lineups from all major players. And it couldn’t have come at a better time as we were in financial trouble. Giant’s decisiveness means we went from worrying about our rent, to preparing for our E3 showing in no time. It took three days for us to finalize a deal. It is the kind of compliment and acceptance we haven’t seen in a long time, and it was extremely important for us.
Could this work?
Yang: One of the questions we saw after our E3 2018 showing from players was “will this actually come out?” I never had any doubt about that, obviously. But I wasn’t entirely hellbent on Pascal’s Wager being a fully premium game. We had prototypes of multiplayer during development, and had thought of other means for monetization before. It was during a milestone demonstration to our publisher, that we got assurance that keeping it as a fully premium single player game is great, and that set the tone.
The Chinese game development scene had a few rough years, and every domestically produced game was under scrutiny by the players, rightfully so. This motivated us to create something that would not disappoint our players. One night our director came to me after a major milestone, and said to me:
“I think this is gonna work.”
The Grand Entrance
Yang: One day in 2019, I was on vacation with my wife and son in Akihabara. My phone rang with a call from Apple, the other side asked me: “What would you say if you were to introduce your game at an Apple press conference?” I immediately went back to a coffee shop, the exact one I often went to when I worked at Konami, and wrote a draft on my phone.
I was completely uncertain how it would work. I even hesitated to tell the team because we were approaching the final stage of development, and our time was very limited if we were to create a demo for the purpose of a press conference. But it got more real and real each day. Calls about our schedule came, and it was close to the usual time when Apple announces their products every year.
We decided to drop everything and focus on the show. And what a show that was.
After I walked down the stage, another western developer came up and congratulated me. I didn’t know he was Capcom’s producer of their brilliant Apple Arcade game Shinsekai: Into the Depths. He would later become producer of Resident Evil: Village.
I didn’t update any of this in my journal. One thing is we were under heavy NDA. The other is I wasn’t sure whether we would make it at all, and I didn’t want to make a promise that I couldn’t keep. Until the day before the press conference, I added a new entry: “Please tune in to the Apple presser.”
People who I don’t personally know, but had read and replied to my journal, celebrated in the comments. My personal social media exploded.
It was a stressful time, and it was a huge relief coming off the stage. Being in the industry for twenty years, it was something I always wanted. It might be just a few minutes on stage, but it carried an eternity of hope, expectations and passion. It still feels surreal to me, to this very day.
Yang: The COVID-19 pandemic hit right after we launched on iOS in 2020. As game developers all around the world did, we had to face the reality of work from home. The prominent feedback from players was either “too difficult” and “I want more challenge”. We decided to add a casual mode first, with enhanced navigation help and lower combat difficulty. However we also insisted on calling the original mode “Normal Mode”, since we want to keep an authentic feel to the genre we are in.
Lu: During both development and post launch period, we were very constantly making changes based on our internal observations and player feedback. We have an incredible player community that greatly helped us address many issues. For example, we made a few changes to make sure all of our playable characters, from the slowest to the fastest, perform well in the expansion’s newly designed encounter space.
To One Million
Yang: To be honest with you, I’m very unhappy with how our Steam version performs. It’s a very basic issue to begin with. We didn’t realize the original camera movement system that was designed for touch screen controls would fare terribly with a mouse, and nobody came up with the issue in our internal test.
We performed rather well on our original platform, but the experience will be very important for us as our future projects will be on more than one platform to start with.
When we embarked on the journey for Pascal’s Wager, how much it will eventually sell wasn’t on our mind. When talking to a few of my old Japanese colleagues, it seems like getting to something like a hundred thousand copies or two sold would be a success in itself. We sold a million copies, although our overall revenue can’t compare with big blockbusters. However, the fact that a million players around the world decided to pay for our game before even stepping in, was very unexpected for us. For our players, we didn’t disappoint them, and we are proud of that.
Ding: Pascal’s Wager is in many ways a first for us. And we are very grateful for all the love we got. It allows us to use this newly found confidence, to explore and experiment in new directions.
Yang: There are many ideas that we didn’t get to fully realize in Pascal’s Wager, and we are always looking for ways to give them a new life. Now we are in this painful but fruitful stage of daily talks, to figure out a new shape for our next project.
But we are also keeping an eye on our Pascal’s Wager community. And we are tasking a sizable team to create something more for Pascal’s Wager, and it won’t be a small one. Pascal’s Wager will be on our minds for a long time to come.
As an idealist, I might have even more unrealistic thoughts for our games. I never stopped dreaming, but it is time for me to be an optimistic, cautious romantic. I have a great team of friends to care for.