I don’t think anybody in the gaming space could’ve predicted that an indie solo-developed $10 horror game would be outselling the latest Call of Duty game. So how did Lethal Company explode in popularity?
Reaching over 200,000 active players at its peak and garnering an incredible amount of traction online, we’ll be discussing this popularity question and figuring out how developers can learn from its success.
The rise to fame
Initially released on October 23, 2023, I don’t believe in the slightest that Zeekerss, the 21-year-old developer, would’ve predicted what would happen next. Only selling for $10 USD, Lethal Company is a co-op survival horror game that started to gain popularity mainly from word-of-mouth.
I remember scrolling through my TikTok’s For You Page and noticing a few funny clips from this game I didn’t know anything about. I watched a few, but didn’t dive too deep into research. It only took a few days until I noticed some friends talking about it and recommending I try it.
You couldn’t meet one person who played Lethal Company and didn’t enjoy it. Somehow, everyone who experienced this game exuberated their enjoyment for this indie game. So with the small price to pay for a possibility of a good game, I got my boyfriend to purchase it and play it with me. It took a few failed attempts, but after understanding how to properly play Lethal Company, I fully understood why it was taking off.
The question of popularity
Even if you don’t love horror games, playing Lethal Company is still an exciting experience. There are many reasons we can point to for this game’s sudden popularity. For one, the price window for hopping into this game and trying it out is extremely cheap. It’s rare to find $10 video games nowadays, even by solo developers.
I honestly believe it’s worth more than $10, but since it’s already selling more than the latest Call of Duty game, I don’t think the price even matters. The lower the price, the easier it is to convince your buddies to try the game out. If you try it and it sucks, it was only $10, right? But that’s not the only reason for it’s popularity.
Lethal Company brings people together. And by people, I don’t just mean four people. The majority of gamers playing this co-op game seem to be interested in the mod that allows for more players. This allows you to bring in a wider group of friends, which I believe this game is meant for. The more the merrier, and the more players you have, the better chances you have of surviving and meeting your quota.
Satisfying gameplay loops
But a game wouldn’t be good if it wasn’t fun. The gameplay loop is extremely satisfying: Choose the moon, land on the moon, grab scrap, survive, bring back scrap, fly away, do this two more times, meet the quota, and repeat. It never gets boring, especially because of how each facility is procedurally generated.
I think if the outside areas of the moons were procedurally generated, it would make for frustrating runs where you’d never be able to memorize the route to and from the ship. But since the facilities are all randomized, this makes the actual hunt for scrap scarier and more tense. You never know what you’re going to find on each run.
These types of gameplay loops really work with most gamers, and it makes for incredible replayability. If you want players to keep coming back, you can’t just have it be the same thing each time. Take the weather conditions, as an example. Every day that passes causes the weather on all moons to change, making for difficult and interesting situations.
Lethal Company is easy enough to understand for newer gamers, but can still be hardcore enough for long-time gamers who enjoy the challenge. This is also what makes Lethal Company so easy to pick up, I’ve played this game with someone who just made a Steam account simply to play this game, and they ended up picking up the controls super fast. This game is accessible to a wide range of players, even if you aren’t totally okay with horror.
What developers should learn
I think any video game developer should look at the success of Lethal Company and try to pick apart why it’s successful, and what they should learn from it. Not to copy the work or take the popularity away from Lethal Company, but to try to improve their own new creations.
I really think the overwhelming success of this small indie game should be a lesson to huge AAA companies as well: to make a good game, you don’t need to pour thousands upon millions of dollars into its development. And they don’t always require the largest team ever.
Lethal Company is a success story based upon a 21-year-old developer who just wanted to make a game they were excited to make. I have a feeling this young developer wasn’t interested in the money, and probably never thought it’d blow up like this. They made it because they were passionate about their ideas, and you can see the passion oozing through every inch of this game.
I hope that in the future we start to see more passionate-driven games. It’s not like we haven’t seen success stories like this before. Just think about Stardew Valley and how ConcernedApe worked on that by himself for years, just because he was passionate about his art. Let’s celebrate more games like this.
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Lethal Company is available on Steam.