Why Valheim Keeps Winning in Early Access

Can't stop, won’t stop

Key Takeaways

  • Valheim continues to break records as it nears the end of its first month of early access.
  • Experts say the game’s success was built on providing a solid base for gamers to enjoy without promising something revolutionary.
  • The lack of expensive marketing and a stronger focus on word-of-mouth advertisement from streamers helped get the game where it is.

Valheim character fishing in a river
Iron Gate Studio

With 4 million copies sold in three weeks and its rapid ascent to become Steam’s second-most-played game, Valheim has experienced unprecedented success, but that's not due to expensive marketing or overpromising, experts say.

It’s easy to write off something in "early access" as an unfinished product that doesn’t have much to offer, and there are many Steam games that meet that expectation. With Valheim, however, developer Iron Gate Studio created something special; a game that almost seems to defy all expectations. That's what experts say has helped it continue to break records, despite being out for less than a month.

"I can't say enough that the game's sudden success is based on its own merit. I hadn't seen any advertisements, news, or talked to any friends about the game before it came out," Jeff Brady, a writer at Set Ready Game, told Lifewire via email.

Approaching Things Differently

Where many early-access games tend to overpromise, laying out a slew of features and striving to deliver a visual masterpiece, Valheim settled into its own niche. Instead of focusing on revolutionary gameplay or graphics, Iron Gate Studio mashed together various features from other successful survival and adventure games like Minecraft and Rust.

By taking inspiration from these sources and integrating it into its own setup, Iron Gate created something that many have fallen in love with.

"I can't say enough that the game's sudden success is based on its own merit."

"One of the best things that the team at Iron Gate Studio has done with Valheim is deliver a great product straight out of the bag," Brady said. "You aren't just getting a tech demo. A lot of the game’s systems and core mechanics are already there to play. It's really as simple as the fact [that] Valheim, in its current state, is already a beautiful foundation of a game."

This tech demo phase is something that has long haunted the early access gaming market. While early access does offer a great way for indie developers to get their games out there and start receiving community feedback, many often release their titles in too early of a stage, leaving customers to deal with missing core features and promises that will be fixed along the way.  

Unfortunately, not all games that enter early access have a happy ending, and some titles like Towns and War Z overpromise and underdeliver to the point of making people feel scammed, leaving a sour taste in users’ mouths. With Valheim already offering such a great core experience, though, it has pushed more people to join in and try out the game, despite that it's not yet been fully released.

Mass Popularity

Of course, core gameplay isn’t enough to make a game successful, and while people love to quote the phrase "if you build it, they will come," that isn’t always the case. Valheim’s immense success isn’t just because the developers made a great game. It’s also due to how the game has been marketed. 

Valheim character encountering dangerous creatures in the words at night
Iron Gate Studio

"While I think that the game is a solid entry, I don't think that it would have had the success without the help of streamers and content creators," Josh Chambers, an editor at HowToGame ,told Lifewire via email. "This is similar to Rust, which saw huge increases in numbers after a variety of Twitch streamers got together to play the game."

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a game’s popularity driven by content creators, and over the years, publishers have even worked alongside influencers for promotional streams. With Valheim, though, streamers are getting into the game without any kind of monetary promise from the developers, with big influencers like Goldenboy tweeting about how Valheim is "the best survival game made in some time."

"It's really as simple as the fact that Valheim, in its current state, is already a beautiful foundation of a game."

"Valheim's unprecedented success [has more to do with] producing a quality gaming experience," Jamil Aziz, team lead of digital marketing at PureVPN, told Lifewire via email. 

"Instead of marketing it as the next big thing," Aziz said, "they promoted it, and showed the gaming experience for gamers on Twitch and YouTube with gaming influencers. We saw similar success with Among Us, which got promoted due to gaming streamers."

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