When indie video game development collective Sokpop finished its 100th game, it took a while for the achievement to sink in. “It felt like, ‘Woah, we made 100 games. How did this happen?’” says Tijmen Tio, one-fourth of the group alongside Aran Koning, Ruben Naus, and Tom van den Boogaart. (Three of the four spoke to The Verge; van den Boogaart was unavailable.)
So how did it happen?
Well, it began with the group releasing GIFs of its prototypes on Twitter. But after a few years and some encouragement from fans, they realized that they should actually be releasing the prototypes themselves. In 2018, they launched the subscription model, and five years later, they’re still going. With 100 game releases under their belt, though, they’re ready to make some changes.
“How did this happen?”
When their Patreon first launched, subscribers could sign up for $3 per month and would receive a small game every other week. The games were also available on indie storefront itch.io for the same price. Their earliest works are small, lasting maybe 15 minutes, exploring an idea or concept that could be created quickly to keep up with the pace of delivery. They’re often small spaces to wander around in, with descriptions like “go on an antventure” or “explore the swamp.”
After its first year, the collective spoke to The Verge about its first 26 games, finding a footing on Patreon, and figuring out how to make the endeavor sustainable. The biggest change since then, they say, was adding games to Steam. Koning says it lent them a sense of legitimacy. Tio, in part, agrees, although he also mentions another piece of the puzzle. “On one hand, it made us feel like we started to matter a little bit more,” he says. “On the other hand, it also doubled our income.”
It was after adding Steam releases that they were each able to make minimum wage from their work as part of the collective, which splits all the money between the members. From about 2020, they no longer had to take on additional freelance work to make ends meet.
But around the same time, the games they were making were growing. “The standard has raised a bunch,” says Naus. He mentions save states and title screens as two big examples of features that only appear in later Sokpop games; Tio and Koning add tutorials and settings options. They slowed down their output so that games were released monthly, making way for them to become a little more involved. Recently, they’ve been able to put out a word puzzler, an action RPG, and a festival to celebrate the big 100.
Their ambitions have continued to expand — along with their desire to remain sustainable. After hitting 100 releases, they took the time to evaluate what it was that they wanted to do next. Their eventual decision: make another 100 games. But perhaps not as quickly.
“A few of us were really feeling overworked,” says Tio, who also just became a father and wants to take some time off to spend with his family. Naus notes that the deadlines sometimes became demoralizing, especially because it made it difficult to catch up if they ever fell behind schedule.
But as well as wanting to avoid burnout, the idea of more freedom is clearly an exciting one for Sokpop. Tio says that the short deadlines often meant that the games were limited in scope, which led to some repetition of ideas, whereas the collective is evidently looking forward to being able to work on bigger projects.
But sticking to experiments and manageable scopes remains important to them. “We’re still looking to make a lot of games,” says Koning. The four started the collective because they enjoyed participating in game jams, collaborating and working quickly to create smaller experiences, and always wanted that to be the focus of their work. And dropping the pace will allow them to return to that collaboration without feeling as though they’re putting pressure on one another.
“At first, we were really worried about the change.”
“When we decided to drop the monthly schedule, we were like, ‘Is this the end?’ We felt very sad about it,” says Tio. The new goal, then, is a promise to continue and to focus on the most enjoyable parts of their system.
Fans and Patreon supporters seem not to be worried about a reduction in the number of games they’ll be receiving, either. “I think, at first, we were really worried about the change,” says Koning. “But I think the major feedback we got was just, ‘Okay, great, take your time.’”
The average download rate for Patreon supporters of each monthly game was about 50 percent. The collective theorizes that some people just want to support them without playing every game, while others aren’t actually able to keep up with the speed of releases. “Maybe that’s why they’re happy,” says Koning. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I finally have time to play them.’ Instead of ‘Please stop making games! There’s too many of them!’”
They also attribute their friendly community to the direct communication they have with them through videos about the games. That’s a development of the boy band veneer they wanted to put across in their earlier days. Now, they’re not entirely sure whether the label still fits.
“When do you stop being a boy band?”
“When do you stop being a boy band?” Koning asks, referring to the fact that they’re no longer in their early 20s. For a moment, he wonders if they’re a “man band” or even “washed up” before changing his mind: “I think we’re thriving.”
“Maybe just a normal band,” Naus suggests. “But a bit more tired. We should take more time off.”
Taking more time off, avoiding burnout, focusing on collaboration and slightly bigger games: it might take more than five years for Sokpop to make its next 100 games, but it’s clearly excited to get started.