Slime Rancher 2 is rolling along in its journey through Early Access development, and it's apparently going quite well. During a catch-up with Monomi Park CEO Nick Popovich at DICE 2023, the director of the gooey homesteading adventure told us that the game has sold more copies in its first day of sales than in the first nine months of Slime Rancher's availability.
That's an impressive feat for any sequel, but as Popovich explained to Game Developer, maintaining that interest takes a lot of work and planning. One tool in Monomi Park's toolbox? Reliable "content drops"—updates to the Early Access title that are clearly themed and that bundle quality-of-life updates with new content. The most recent of these, titled "Song of the Sabers," introduced a new winter-themed biome to the game, along with a number of bug fixes and tools to let players better manage their Slimes.
It's not exactly a new practice—you can look back at the Early Access adventures of Hades and Hardspace Shipbreaker for similar examples—but Popovich did a great job breaking down why this practice has clear benefits for developers and audiences alike.
Don't give a reason for players to say "dead game"
Popovich joked that the worst phrase any Game Developer can see in their reviews during Early Access is the words "dead game" or "is it worth coming back to this game?"
"There's different ways devs can do to curb some of that, and one of those ways is making these content drops that feel 'whole,'" he said.
It's not quite just enough to prep a new content drop—Popovich explained that there are a number of additional steps that help players take breaks from games like Slime Rancher 2, and these bursts of gameplay can be structured to welcome them back in. "We're going to structure it so getting back into the game is not like a car crash, it's more like a warm bath you're slipping into."
Among those steps is the decision to never wipe player save files—a common practice in other Early Access titles (ask me why I haven't gotten back into Teardown...).
Another goal of Monomi Park is to try and align Slime Rancher 2 so that it "feels" like a shipped premium product, instead of a game that feels "under construction." Popovich pointed out that plenty of premium titles that don't do Early Access still have major content updates in their lifetimes, and players can feel like they're playing a complete game without thinking they'll need that content to complete the experience.
So even though Slime Rancher 2 is technically a "construction site," all the assembly and welding are happening behind closed doors. Popovich said there's one major consideration the team has that strategy—lots of Slime Rancher 2 players are kids.
"We know kids are playing so they have no sense of what an Early Access Game is," he said. "We don't want them to bump against things that dispel the fantasy of the game for them."
Depending on your game's needs, those "under construction" signs might be more beneficial (games like Darkest Dungeon II probably have fewer kids playing them...right?) but Monomi Park's best practices will definitely help some readers navigate their way through the open development process.