Valheim went live on Steam exactly five weeks ago, and it’s been on fire ever since. Iron Gate’s Viking survival sim rocketed up the charts, hitting 5 million copies sold after just one month in Early Access and surpassing huge titles like Dota 2 in terms of concurrent active players.
Steam reviews for Valheim exude a palpable sense of awe and relief. Players regularly compare the feeling to the first time they played Minecraft, marveling at the game’s scope, depth and atmosphere, and questioning how a team of just five developers managed to pack such an engrossing experience into a 1GB download. Valheim sets players loose in an original realm of Viking purgatory, a vast, procedurally generated world filled with mythical Norse beasts, high seas, hunting and crafting. It’s dense yet forgiving; action-packed yet peaceful.
To date, Iron Gate has sold more than 5.7 million copies of Valheim. There are still only five people on the development team.
“We’re doing our best,” Iron Gate co-founder Henrik Tornqvist told Engadget. “It has become pretty hectic around here since launch.”
Tornqvist and studio co-founder Richard Svensson are looking to hire a few more people, including a QA manager to handle the influx of bug reports from millions of new beta testers. Otherwise, it’s getting support from Coffee Stain Publishing — the folks responsible for Goat Simulator, a veritable granddaddy of viral video games.
Svensson began working on Valheim in 2017, as a side hustle. By day, he and Tornqvist were colleagues at Swedish studio Pieces Interactive, but by early 2018, Svensson had left to focus fully on Valheim.
“At the end of 2018 I also left to join forces with him,” Tornqvist said. “We founded the company Iron Gate in April 2019, and by then we pretty much knew where we wanted to take Valheim.”
Despite their faith in the core ideas behind Valheim, neither Svensson nor Tornqvist expected the game to explode in popularity the way it has. This is clear in an Iron Gate blog post published on January 1st, 2020, a full year before Valheim’s Early Access launch. In the entry, Svensson recaps the game’s development progress, officially welcomes Tornqvist to the team, and celebrates the birth of his son. It’s soaked in optimism from the first line (edited for clarity):
It’s Jan 1st, 2020, and I’m a bit hungover =). I will try to write a quick summary of this year’s happenings related to me and Valheim. It’s been an eventful year for sure. Crazy eventful to be honest. I have probably aged like 10 years this year. So here we go =). …We quickly registered a new limited liability company and in the last minute I came up with the name Iron Gate! I like the idea that our logo is a gateway to other worlds. What lies beyond the iron gate?
Truly, Svensson and Tornqvist had no idea.
“We did feel modestly confident in that we had a game that would see some success and provide the means for us to continue development through the Early Access-period, but nothing on the scale of the success we’ve actually had,” Tornqvist said. “It is a bit crazy actually, a once-in-a-lifetime hit, I think.”
Tornqvist said he’s particularly enjoying all of the community-created content that’s spawned out of Valheim, including the memes, which he called “delicious.” Svensson and Tornqvist are hurrying to hire some more hands, and Iron Gate developers are focused on squashing bugs and continuing to support Valheim through Early Access, promising plenty of new content in 2021.
“Not to sound too corny, but we’re just very happy that so many people are enjoying the game really,” Tornqvist said. “So a big thank you to all the people who have taken the game to heart.”
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