On May 19, Stunlock Studios turned 7 years old. What a journey it has been, especially this last year. To commemorate, we’d like to share with you the history of how it all came to be.
On a related note, you can check out Nvidia’s recent video about us as well:
Our history starts back in the summer of 2008, before the company known as Stunlock Studios even existed. Back then we were thirteen students who formed a group and registered for a game project course at the University of Skövde. A project, it turned out, we would pour our heart and soul into. The feedback received on that crude version of the game was better than we could have hoped for. While exhibiting the game at Dreamhack, in the University booth we shared with other student projects, our game brought the most visitors for three days straight. We went on to win several awards, the fanciest one being Game of the Year 2009 at the Swedish Game Awards, the largest student game developer competition in the Nordics. Confident and with everything going our way, we made the decision to continue to work on releasing the game for real.
We kept going despite racking up more student loans, and eventually with the help of newfound investor and publisher, Funcom, as well as our business incubator, Gothia Science Park, 13 ex-students were able to register their own company on May 19, 2010. We named it Stunlock Studios (although at one point, we nearly settled upon Bumblebee Studios).
On one extremely hot and sweaty summer in the small offices we’d been given, we hosted an alpha and a beta on a run-down server in our kitchen. That machine was virtually steaming. We had to keep the chassi open with fans blowing into it to keep the thing running. But, summer passed and so did autumn, and after two and a half years of unpaid hard work, on January 13, 2011 we finally released the game on Steam. This was the game some of you might know as Bloodline Champions (BLC), the spiritual predecessor to Battlerite.
While BLC became critically acclaimed, after working full-time on patching and updating the game for another year or so after launch, we found the financial turnout wasn’t strong enough to keep on going, nor to fund a whole new project of our own. We had to turn to finding external financial investment. Through a prototype partially inspired by BLC known as Project O, Deep Silver reached out to us and told us they were interested in a spin off to their own success, Dead Island.
We came to an agreement and spent the next years working on Dead Island Epidemic, a project that met an unfortunate demise and was eventually terminated in 2015. The project had not been a financial success and the game never launched, but this period was in no way wasted. It brought us stability, experience, growth in manpower as well as technologic advances that we’ve been able to further utilize.
On a sunny summer day we sat down and discussed what we wanted to do next. Should we take the safe route and go for another work-for-hire, or should we gamble and pour our effort into a solo project and walk the indie path? The resulting decision was unanimous. Having bought out Funcom’s shares of the company and also regaining the full intellectual rights for BLC, we felt we were ready to pursue a dream we still felt was very much alive. We wanted a second go at the concept of BLC, a concept we still felt had great potential.
This is where Coffee Stain Studios stepped into the picture. Being fellow students and friends back from our time at the University as well as makers of the global success Goat Simulator, they had grown as a company alongside us, knew our history and believed in us as game developers and our proposed project. They offered to co-fund our project, and so we started developing Battlerite. Having worked on two consecutive prior games with similar gameplay mechanics, the development process took shape really quickly and on September 20, 2016 we were able to release the Early Access version of Battlerite, less than two years after we started it’s development. It had come to the point where we felt we just needed to get Battlerite out there, both financially and to find out if this was something that was going to be successful.
The period around the Early Access launch was a wild one. A couple of days before the launch we had our final closed beta session. Up until then we had kept all visual media of Battlerite under wraps as our initial plan had been to save up this hype for the launch itself. But a lot of people reached out to us, wanting to share their experience in the beta with the world not just in words, but in video as well. So, for the last day of the closed beta, we decided to open the floodgates and let people stream as much as they wanted to. Immediately a lot of people ended up streaming their final hours of the beta and we even managed to get a front page highlight where one of our developers played with famous DOTA 2 personalities. All of this made the hype for the Early Access Launch even greater.
Then, the day before the launch, September 19, we were all doing some final testing to make sure the game would be able to handle the influx of new players and through the grapevine we unexpectedly heard that a guy called LIRIK had watched the Battlerite trailer live on stream. He seemed curious about it so we contacted him over Twitter and asked if he would be interested in giving it a try. He was, and wanted to play it straight away. So we let him. He seemed to enjoy it quite a bit and this brought a lot of new eyes on Battlerite (thanks LIRIK!). This turn of events had us even more pumped up than we were before.
When it came to the eve of the launch we gathered family and friends to the office, brought in some catering and waited for the hour to arrive. Feeling both excited and nervous, some of us were standing by to handle any potential issues that could occur, while others had done all they could and were relegated to twiddling their thumbs. Rickard, our CEO and Tau, our PR & Event Manager, had brought in a handful of mystery packages which were to be opened as we reached specific sales numbers. We were cautiously optimistic, hoping we would be able to open most of them that day and all of them by the end of the week. As luck would have it, we ended up opening all of them that very evening (their contents, Battlerite art prints). It’s hard to describe exactly how exciting that evening was. Many of us were awake into the middle of the night answering questions and communicating with our players.
It wasn’t until 2016 began to end that we realized we’d been running on the adrenaline of our Early Access launch and by that point, were totally exhausted. We needed to reflect and take a hard look at the road ahead. With our success apparent, we realized we had the potential to improve areas of the game that were lacking, and thus decided to delay the original Free to Play deadline. Since making that decision, our focus has been on improving areas of Battlerite that we feel are the most important for our Free-to-Play launch later this year. We’re working on a new UI with room for future features to blossom, a new tutorial experience aimed for new players of the game and an improved progression system that aims to make Battlerite more rewarding to play (not to mention the regular content such as champions, cosmetics and the F2P system on top).
Going back to the topic of Stunlock Studios, we’ve had the opportunity to hire new talent over the past 12 months (and continue to do, check out our careers page) and have grown vastly in size since 2010 as a result. It’s an amazing achievement to have come this far and be able to bring new faces along for, what we hope to be, a very long ride.
But we cannot talk about the journey without thanking you, the players. Whether you’re a dedicated BLC player that has stuck with us throughout our history, or a new face that decided to give Battlerite a chance, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you!
The Stunlock Studios Team