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My indie gaming startup survived two years so far. Holy crap.

A brief recollection of memories and milestones in the journey of bringing Black Shell Media from a one-hit-wonder to one of the largest indie publishers currently doing business. Written on the company's second birthday.

Raghav Mathur, Blogger

September 12, 2016

5 Min Read

They say that 90% of startups fail in the first year. Well, for the second year in a row, I am proud to be in the 10%.

Happy Second Birthday, Black Shell Media!

Daniel, Raquel, and me at the Alienware party, E3 2016.

In mid-2013, I met Daniel on Reddit. He needed a marketing guy to help promote his growing game, SanctuaryRPG, and I needed a new project to occupy my spare time with. We hit it off and started working together. For the first year or so, 100% of our interactions were through Steam text chat. I had never met this guy face-to-face, but I knew he was a few years older than me. I’d be lying if I said stranger danger bells weren’t ringing nonstop in my head every time we chatted. But I stuck it out and, eventually, SanctuaryRPG started picking up some traction. We got picked up by Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer Magazine, Destructoid, and a bunch of other big-name sites. Even Markus “Notch” Persson of Minecraft fame said he liked the game. Around this time, I had my first Skype call with Daniel and eventually concluded that he was not, in fact, a pencil mustache-bearing creeper sitting somewhere in Eastern Europe waiting to catfish me . . . Well, come to think of it, he had a pretty creepy mustache and goatee . . . but eventually I convinced him that the “Spanish conquistador” look went out of style along with Dutch windmills.


Fast forward a bit and SanctuaryRPG had arrangements to get on Steam. We had started working on our next game, Overture, and we wanted to get into the publishing and marketing business. So on September 9th, 2014, we filed as a Limited Liability Company. Daniel and I were business partners, 50/50 shareholders, and close friends. The remainder of 2014 consisted of us getting our first consulting client, launching SanctuaryRPG in Early Access on Steam, and finalizing Overture. On January 1st, 2015, we began our modest Kickstarter campaign for Overture (which succeeded) and kicked publishing operations into full swing. Going into the Steam Summer Sale in June 2015, we had around six games on Steam that we were working with. By the end of the year we had almost 40. During the summer sale the year after, around 65 of our games were on sale on Steam. Holy crap.

Our table at the Playcrafting SFO expo in early 2016

Pushing stranger danger aside, we grew our network online and offline, and in March 2016, the wonderful Raquel Hayner joined us as a full-time employee. Raquel had gone from intern to consultant to part-time employee to full-time team member in the span of 9 months, and we had become good friends. In August we hired another team member full-time, Nathan Hermanson.

Our team is growing, and so are our visions and goals.

We’ve certainly matured a lot over the past two years in the business. Our worldview, philosophy, and practices have all changed drastically. After attending countless conventions and meetups, networking with the smartest minds in the industry and reading thousands of pages of blogs and books, we’ve learned so much and done our best to share that knowledge through our blog and social presence. We’ve partnered with companies like Microsoft, Intel, Alienware, and Watsi, and it’s been such a rewarding experience getting to pick the brains of such bright people who’ve inspired and supported us.

Raquel, Daniel and me at a Playcrafting event in May 2016.

I wanted to write up this post as a thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way.

  • Thank you to all the playtesters, designers, artists, and community managers who worked on SanctuaryRPG in its early days. We honestly couldn’t have done it without you.

  • Thank you to Plug In Digital, the distribution company for SanctuaryRPG, for getting us on Steam. Francis and team, you guys really love the games you work with, and it was an honor to publish with you.

  • Thank you to IndieGala, BundleStars, GMG, Humble, and all the other marketplaces that believed in our games. The exposure and encouragement you guys provide is wonderful.

  • Thank you to /r/gamedev on Reddit. We may have a love-hate relationship sometimes, but the last two years of feedback and discussions have been very important to us.

  • Thank you to the Steam team at Valve, especially Tom. Your support, mentorship, and advice have been invaluable to us over the past years.

  • Thank you to Dorian, Yixin, Angel, Rafael, Mafra, Nick, Nathan, Dan, and the countless other collaborators on all of our projects. Your can-do attitudes are so fantastic to be around.

  • Thank you to Larry for your wisdom and advice. Your experience and willingness to support us has been so valuable.

  • Thank you to Kim, for your loyalty and for always having our backs when we needed help. You’ve got such great energy.

  • Thank you to Raquel for believing in us for so long and for sharing your passion for gaming with us. Your work ethic and personality are contagious.

  • Thank you to Kelly for always being there. You support me when things aren’t so good and party with me when things are great. I don’t know what I’d do without you.

  • Thank you to my family and friends for supporting my endeavors. I know gaming isn’t necessarily the most familiar world to you guys, but you always made me feel so motivated to keep on going.

  • Thank you to all the gamers, developers, creators, and fans who continue to support us, read our blogs and support our projects. We’re doing this for you guys, and we take every piece of feedback, praise, and support to heart. Without you, we wouldn’t be around, and I promise from the bottom of my heart to make sure we never disappoint you.

And finally, thank you to Daniel, the best business partner and friend I could have ever asked for. You’re like a brother to me, and I know we’re going to do great things together.


Here’s to us!

Raquel, Daniel, and me goofing around at E3 2016. Looking forward to many more years of fun and games!

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