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The Making Of A Switch Sleeper Hit

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The first SteamWorld Dig was a sleeper hit on the 3DS for development studio Image & Form, selling over a million copies across all platforms, according to Image & Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson. Even with those numbers, its launch was “nowhere near that of SteamWorld Dig 2,” which has also been a success for the studio. Three factors contributed to the follow-up’s success: better design, a close relationship with Nintendo, and the Switch’s coolness.

Image & Form is a small independent studio based in Sweden that has roots in mobile development. Taking the leap to consoles with SteamWorld Dig was a risk, but Nintendo gave them the spotlight during a Nintendo Direct and it gave the game the boost they needed. “They gave the game a full minute of prime-time coverage just as the game was released,” Sigurgeirsson said over email. “We’d literally be nowhere today without that support, because we would’ve gone surefire bust—I had borrowed so much cash for us to complete SteamWorld Dig that any smaller initial sales volumes would’ve rendered us extinct.”


“Nobody had heard of us when we released SteamWorld Dig on 3DS in August 2013, and Nintendo decided to bet on the game in a Nintendo Direct at the time,” Sigurgeirsson said. “I guess you could call us ‘Nintendo’s first Nindie experiment.’” Over the next four years, SteamWorld Dig would attract speedrunners, its characters would have cameos in other games, and it would continue to sell well on all platforms. Between their gratitude to Nintendo and the enticing new platform, putting SteamWorld Dig 2 on the Switch, was “a no brainer.”


Image & Form’s relationship with Nintendo has paid off for them in a big way. Sigurgeirsson said that SteamWorld Dig 2's launch overshot the original game’s by a long shot. It’s not surprising—the sequel is very good.

SteamWorld Dig 2 is a delight, with challenging puzzles and precise controls, as well as bright, Western-inspired world. As someone who does not particularly enjoy platformers or metroidvanias, I was completely charmed by it. Part of this success can be attributed to how well that first game was received, giving Image & Form the resources to expand on the established conventions. The first SteamWorld Dig relied in part on procedurally generated levels just because their team was so small, and while everyone tried their part in designing other levels, “our game director Olle Håkansson decided the rest of us sucked at it and designed all of them himself,” Sigurgeirsson said. “When we got started with SteamWorld Dig 2, we decided to try hand-designing the entire game. … So we hired one more level designer, and suddenly we were a level-design powerhouse!”

The puzzles are devilishly clever. “The Floor is Lava has quite a following, at least judging from the amount of love-hate tweets we’re getting,” Sigurgeirsson said. In this puzzle room, you have to make it through the stage without hitting any of the buttons:


My favorite is Cave-In Catacomb, a cave where the ceiling is made up of falling rocks,” Sigurgeirsson said. “Perfect level of platforming anxiety for me!”

While SteamWorld Dig 2 is fundamentally a great game, it also definitely benefitted from launching on the Switch. Third party games have been getting a boost on the platform. “The Switch is the hip new system, and that’s very important. In terms of SteamWorld Dig 2 sales, the other platforms so far—Steam and PS4/Vita—don’t come close,” Sigurgeirsson said. Personally, I love that I can just slip whatever game I’m playing into my bag to continue on my commute, but frankly, the system is also just cool.


Take the phenomenon of some Switch owners complaining about “ugly” game icons. “I thought it was just ridiculous then, but ... it needs to be taken into consideration,” Sigurgeirsson said. “I think some people will NOT buy games that make their Switch look subpar. It really is a fashion statement, just like how people would pimp their DS’s and 3DS’s with shells.” Indeed, Image & Form ended up changing their icon for SteamWorld Dig 2 and it’s definitely much prettier on my Switch home screen.


“The coolness is certainly helped by the scarcity of Switch units. Everyone wants one, not everyone can get one.” The coolness of the Switch has certainly worked in the game’s favor, and also for Sigurgeirsson’s personal popularity. “Whenever I’ve brandished my EDEV unit to a Nintendo-centric journo there’s a soft hiss, simply because the dev kit joycons are black,” he said.