We’ve been covering and playing Peglin (Free) for a while now through its mobile launch, updates, my early access review, and also a bit of it on Steam Deck. The pachinko roguelike is a very interesting and fun experience even in its current state with new content coming. Peglin on mobile is even more interesting, because instead of waiting for it to hit 1.0 on PC before launching on mobile, Red Nexus Games is developing it as an early access title on all platforms with updates arriving nearly simultaneously on mobile and PC bringing in new content and features. Peglin also is a free to start game on mobile compared to it being a one time purchase paid game on Steam. There was a lot I was curious about, and I had a chance to chat with Red Nexus Games’ founder Dylan Gedig about Peglin, the importance of the early access community, game pricing, how the game is doing on Steam Deck, future content plans, the potential of cross save, and more.
TouchArcade: Tell us a little bit about yourself and Red Nexus Games.
Dylan Gedig: My name is Dylan Gedig, I started learning to make games 12 years ago, and officially founded Red Nexus Games 8 years ago to be able to start publishing titles commercially. My first attempt at going full-time indie was from 2015-2017 at the end of my Computer Science degree, with a local-multiplayer game called Friday Night Bullet Arena. Friday Night Bullet Arena was developed by just two people, and it did really well during playtesting and any time we took it to in-person events, but unfortunately when it actually released, it made practically no money. After that, with like $32 in my bank account, I went to work as a programmer on Flash (RIP) and mobile games for the next 5 years while continuing to participate in game jams and hack away on side-projects. Peglin started out as a game jam game, but it slowly picked up enough Steam that I took the risk to quit my day job to focus on it full-time.
TA: Is Red Nexus Games still a four person operation?
DG: That’s a surprisingly complicated question. In short, there are 6 people working at Red Nexus now. In long, 4 of us got the game to its early access release: myself as a jack-of-all-trades, another Unity developer, an artist, and our composer. All on the side of full-time jobs aside from the last 8-months leading up to the early access release where I went full-time on the game. Technically, I’m the only one of those 4 that actually works for the company and the others are contractors/collaborators with profit-sharing agreements, so we really got started by operating more like a band than a typical game dev studio. Since the early access release, we’ve added 2 more people to the fray, our Community Manager Cassie and another designer (& UI Artist) May (who was the designer of Friday Night Bullet Arena).
TA: Peglin is in Steam Early Access, but it also launched on mobile as an early access release. That isn’t too common outside of soft launches for free to play releases. What made you want to bring it to mobile like that rather than waiting for 1.0?
DG: You’re definitely right, our original plans were to launch on mobile after 1.0 on PC and consoles, so that we could devote some time to improving the UX and making a few more parts of the game more mobile-native. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) we were running into a chronic issue where people were decompiling the PC demo, recompiling it for Android and iOS, and uploading it to the mobile stores. And I’m not talking about reskins or anything, I mean they were literally uploading “Peglin” to the storefronts and trying to charge money for it. I was losing a bunch of time sending takedown requests and trying to deal with the fallout of players who thought that we had just thrown it up without any work as a cash grab (we still get some 1* reviews from players that are angry that “we” had uploaded it in the past and then pulled it down after they bought it). It was frustrating, to say the least. But it did provide evidence that people really wanted to be able to play Peglin on the go, and so I finally gave in, spent about 3 weeks improving some parts of the UX and optimizing the game to run better on phones, and released it officially. We still have a lot of work to do and even though the game is quite playable on mobile I’m still a little bothered by the quality of my ports so we’ll both be improving them over time and revisiting them with full focus once we have all of the 1.0 content for the game across all platforms.
TA: You mentioned that cross save is unlikely given the team’s size, but is there a possibility it ever makes it into the game in the future?
DG: It’s something we’ve definitely thought a lot about, and I’ll say that nothing is impossible, but it’s unfortunately extremely unlikely. The implementation (and maintenance) of cross-saves would come at a big time-cost of getting Peglin to 1.0 (and cut into eventually working on future games), and it opens up several cans of worms with the bureaucracy with each of the different platform holders and account & data regulations (GDPR, anyone?) If it’s still a highly requested feature (compared to everything else) when the game is “done”, and we’ve got a little more breathing room then we’ll definitely investigate it more fully, but from our current perspective it appears to be an extremely complex and time-consuming issue that ultimately wouldn’t provide as much value as our time and attention could provide elsewhere.
TA: Are there plans to allow for portrait play on iPhone?
DG: This is probably the first thing I’ll be looking at after our 1.0 release. I can’t promise we’ll have any super graceful solutions with how the game was designed and architected but at the very least I’d like to provide the option to play in portrait in some form or another, to make it a bit easier to play the game on the go. Ideally, this will be combined with some kind of zooming + panning options for both Portrait and Landscape since there are still some graphical elements and text that are really hard to see on smaller devices.
TA: What drew you to blending the worlds of Peggle, roguelikes, and turn-based RPGs together?
DG: Great question. Peglin was originally started at a 48-hour game jam by just myself and Sienna, our artist. I knew going into the jam that I wanted to make something lighthearted and fairly physics-y, some kind of Brick Breaker or Angry Birds style of game. The theme of the jam ended up being “Fall”, so it made sense to go more of the pachinko/pinball route. After the first day, we had the core physics game completed and with a full day to go I started looking at games like Puzzle Quest for how I could take the arbitrary score that you got from popping pegs and make it mean a little more to the player. That first prototype is still available online. After the jam the idea started closer to the Puzzle Quest format where it was planned to be a roughly 8 hour RPG with continuous progression. However it didn’t take long while implementing a few of the powerups into the game to realize that it would give us more design and balancing freedom, and probably work better overall, if we used a replayable arcade-y/roguelike structure instead of a more linear one.
TA: How important has community feedback been on Steam and mobile so far?
DG: Oh the community has been instrumental in the development of Peglin ever since day one. I was working on a different side-project for months before the Peglin game jam and I was having a hard time finding the fun with it. Meanwhile here was a little 2-day project that my friends kept on replaying and asking if I was going to work on it further. It didn’t take long for that initial feedback to get me to adopt Peglin as my main side-project, which ended up happening shortly before the pandemic lockdowns. As we continued to iterate and share the demo in Steam events and in online showcases around the world that feedback only became more and more important, and up until the Early Access launch I was reading every comment and watching every Peglin video posted since I couldn’t playtest the game in-person like I normally would. After the (absolutely shocking and life-changing) Early Access release on Steam I wasn’t able to personally keep up with all of the comments and feedback anymore so our first official hire was our community manager to make sure we weren’t missing anything important! We don’t really have the luxury anymore of replying to everything but we are definitely still reading it all and will be taking all of those comments and using them to make the best game we possibly can.
TA: Are there plans to deliver free updates or paid DLC once Peglin leaves early access?
DG: I’m not sure! We priced the game fairly high on PC for a couple of important reasons (which I’m happy to get into separately) but part of that was the promise that we wouldn’t have any microtransactions or paid DLC – buying the game at that price would get you access to all future updates. We’ll definitely be taking a breather after the 1.0 launch itself – we’ve been working on the game for over 3 years now and we would love to explore and prototype some of the other ideas that have emerged in that time – but the response to Peglin and the ability to work on it full time has been an absolute dream come true so I could definitely see us pushing out more updates and continuing to work hard to leave behind a game that we believe is truly worthy of all the attention it’s received.
TA: So what led to that specific price point for mobile and PC?
DG: The biggest reason we priced where we did on PC is that we’d done the math on the amount of wishlists we had going into launch with the usual conversion rate that had been reported in recent articles and backed up by some of our indie friends that had recently launched into Early Access – we were expecting about 10% of our 60K wishlists to purchase the game in those first 2 weeks (which also lined up nicely with the roughly 6000 people that had already put over 20 hours into the demo, back when it was still the forest). We figured at that point that the game was still pretty niche but that the people that liked it liked it quite a bit ($20 for 3x the 20 hours of demo content seemed reasonable), so we priced it at the point that would give us just enough runway to finish the last year of development, even if it meant that not everyone would be able to switch to full-time work.
The second reason was that our 2 core developers (myself included) had both been working in flash and mobile games for the past couple of years, and we really didn’t like what we saw happen there and wanted to help avoid the same thing happening on PC in any way possible, essentially pushing for prices for indie games to a more reasonable level compared to the slippery slope of cheaper and cheaper and then more and more exploitative games like we saw happen to a lot of mobile games.
The third was that we were actually hoping to push people away a bit, at least those that were iffy on the game, since we knew that our first bit of Early Access was going to be the roughest the game would be and we would only be improving it from there, letting people jump on over time as the quality and content improved and as the price dipped lower from discounts. This was intended to keep our EA audience smaller and focused, to help keep our review score higher from those early fans, and also to help prevent us from getting overwhelmed if the game did take off (which we really were not expecting. I’ve never heard of a game selling more copies than its number of Steam Wishlists, but the fact that a ton of big streamers and youtubers all played the game on day 1 ended up spiking us up incredibly high on Steam, which snowballed super quickly). Release day was definitely a shock, and we did end up panic hiring a Community Manager as soon as we possibly could!
In retrospect I think the Vampire Survivors method of pricing low and releasing a stream of DLCs if the game is successful is probably a better model since it really lowers the barrier to entry for players but it’s hard to say if it would’ve worked as well for us. There was definitely a big fear of gaining a large enough audience that it became impossible to manage and keep up with demands while not earning enough to continue working on the game full-time. That’s an unfortunate trap that I’ve seen a fair number of indie Early Access games fall into.
For mobile our decision was a lot simpler since we didn’t have to figure out how to fund development of the entire game, just the ports, and we wanted to keep it on the cheaper side since we knew that a large chunk of our purchases would be coming from players that already owned the game on PC.
TA: Have you considered adding more accessibility options to the game?
DG: Yes, this is always something that we’re talking about among the team. Our next improvement will likely be the option to swap the color palettes of the Refresh and Crit pegs and we will hopefully come up with a graceful solution to making peg slime playable with various types of color blindness. After that would likely be rebindable controls. We’ve chatted a little bit with some accessibility advisors and are planning on doing some deeper dives closer-to or post-1.0, and we’re also always listening to feedback and suggestions around accessibility from our community: if there are any display, audio, or control issues that get in the way of your gaming please let us know.
TA: What is your favorite aspect of Peglin right now?
DG: This is a fun question because as the developer I usually only see my big wall of gripes and all of the things that I need to fix sooner rather than later. I would say I’m really happy that we have all of our classes in the game now. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to make sure they all have enough distinct synergies and are roughly balanced but it felt really good to cross the line where you can start up the game and pick between a couple of distinct play styles depending on how you’re feeling!
Outside of the game itself it’s also been really cool being able to attend in-person events again. This is the first project I’ve ever worked on where people come up and already know about the game beforehand. We’ve met families that all play the game together and are over the moon to meet us, people that are jokingly angry about how much of their life we’ve “stolen” from them, and folks that tell us that the game has gotten them through some really tough times. Even the one-off “Oh, Peglin, I know that game!” comments when we’re walking around events in our shirts really mean a lot to us, so don’t be afraid to come up and say hi if you see us somewhere.
TA: Are there plans to bring it to console later when it hits 1.0?
DG: We don’t have anything concrete to share yet but we’re definitely doing everything we can to bring Peglin out on consoles.
TA: How has the free to start, one time purchase model worked out for Peglin on mobile so far?
DG: It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for sure and it’s hard to say if it would’ve been better to just be a premium app or not.
It was really important for us to have some way for players to try out the game on their device first, both to make sure that it technically ran and also that it was comfortably playable without all of the UX improvements that we were planning on making if the mobile releases had come out way later, but we also didn’t want to have to maintain separate demo builds on both platforms (and I also wasn’t sure if mobile demos were really a thing even if the platforms supported them, I definitely don’t think I’ve ever downloaded one). In some ways this return to the old shareware model worked quite well and it’s really nice that anyone can grab the game for free and easily try it out now, without risking the purchase or worrying about refunds if they purchase the game but don’t like it.
On the flip side we had a lot of people that downloaded the game and then were really negatively surprised by the full game unlock. Our reviews when we launched (and again any time the storefronts feature us) were really low since neither store really shows the game description very clearly, and/or our “try before you buy” description doesn’t explain it well enough. Seeing 1* reviews that are like “love the game but that’s a sleazy trick to make you think it’s free” definitely hurt. I’m always thinking of ways that we could potentially communicate the model better in the future since I do think there’s a lot of promise there and in some ways the fact that players are surprised and upset is kind of a game design problem.
As an aside, one fun side effect of this model is that since the only thing we limit is the available areas some of our PC players have taken it upon themselves to unlock all of the characters on mobile without unlocking the full game, which is immensely difficult and has been really fun to watch.
TA: Are there features you’d like to bring to mobile but haven’t been able to yet?
DG: Definitely. The biggest ones that we’re actively working on are Cloud Saves and Game Center (/Google Play) Achievements. Portrait mode is also a big wishlist item for me though it will have to wait for a larger rework.
TA: When Peglin was announced for mobile, it felt like a game that had a big following on Steam, but one that most mainstream gaming sites never covered. How has it been getting coverage following the launch of the mobile version?
DG: Yeah it’s been really interesting to see first-hand how a game could do well on Steam but still evade coverage by most gaming news sites. On one hand I’m hoping that we’ll see some more articles/reviews when we leave Early Access (will we get a MetaCritic score?) but on the other hand it’s hard not to be happy with how things have shaken out – it feels like our PC players have found the game in one way (almost entirely from streamers & YouTubers) and our mobile players have found it in others.
One thing that I am particularly thankful of with our mobile coverage is that the mobile stores themselves have fairly minimal patch note support, so having news outlets like TouchArcade bridge the gap between our detailed Steam patch notes and our mobile summarized patch notes has been quite helpful.
TA: Barring the obvious, what games have been inspirations for you and the team during development for Peglin?
DG: The game has been in development for so long now that a lot of games have come and gone (I’m a Game Pass dabbler, so a lot of games have come and gone) and I can only speak for myself (the team has very distinct tastes in games with not a lot of overlap), but aside from the core of “Peggle + Slay the Spire” Peglin takes inspiration from:
Roundguard, another Peggle Roguelike(!) that came out a few months into Peglin’s development – there were a few design decisions that I was struggling with that were really helped by seeing another indie pachinko-style game in action.
Puzzle Quest, the inspiration for the original puzzle + battle system.
Other Roguelikes: mostly Monster Train but also games like Darkest Dungeon, Dicey Dungeon, Die in the Dungeon (…)
SNES and PS1-era JRPGs, namely Chrono Trigger, Several Final Fantasy titles, Star Ocean: The Second Story, and others.
Pokemon Legends Arceus and Pokemon Scarlet/Violet – great examples of widely-approachable but still interesting games
Crash Bandicoot and Donkey Kong Country – The music in these games was hugely influential to the upbeat but relaxed music that makes up Peglin’s soundtrack.
TA: Do you have a roadmap of what is planned for Peglin?
DG: We don’t have any concrete dates but aside from continuing to fill out general content (synergies and toolsets for each character; new monsters, battles, and pegboards; and new scenarios) our next major updates are going to be the final Forest and Castle bosses, and some meta progression in the form of the Encirclepedia (nothing that will affect stats between runs, but something to fill out and work towards while you play, kind of like a Pokedex). After that we’ll be wrapping up the core development with an optional smaller 4th area that contains a secret boss that will put any build to the test.
TA: Can you comment on the work the team has put into the game specifically for Steam Deck if any, and how has the Steam Deck Verification helped with sales?
DG: We already had controller support so the only changes we had to make for the Steam Deck were to fix some readability issues on smaller screens (which went a long way towards the mobile ports as well, though as mentioned before there’s still more that we want to do to improve that).
It’s hard to say to what degree the Steam Deck verification helped with sales since we were verified pretty early on and don’t have much data to compare it to, but around 4% of our PC playtime in the last year has been on Steam Deck so it certainly didn’t hurt and I will say that the team was really excited to be able to get the game onto a Switch-like device while it was still in Early Access!
TA: What are you playing these days on any platform?
DG: Duolingo – if Duolingo counts as a game then it probably takes my number one spot by playtime recently, for better or for worse.
Rune Factory 4 – I was initially pushed away by it feeling a bit janky, for lack of a better term, however I gave it a little bit of time and it definitely got its hooks in me. I’m really impressed by the way its various systems all stack together and provide a constant sense of progress.
Stardew Valley co-op – a theme appears.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses – I am still working through my first (and probably only) playthrough of this one. There’s a lot that I like about it and the series has come a long way but I definitely get nostalgic for the streamlined (almost roguelike) experience from games like Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones.
Thanks to Dylan Gedig and Red Nexus Games for their time here.