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Goodbye, Heroes of Armantia and Koji Villagers

The Gates of Armantia and Koji Village Are Closing... For Now.

A Letter from our CEO and Studio Head, Koji Tamura:

Heroes of Armantia and Koji Villagers,

On May 29, 2022, I was at a standstill, unsure where to go in the game industry, but I knew I wanted to start my own company. I was setting up a studio, and our current shareholder asked me a question after the final review, but stopped me before I could answer. He said, “Before I join, I want an honest answer.” I agreed. “You’re so good at your job, but I’ve heard that you don’t listen to your bosses and always end up doing side projects. Is that true?”

I thought about the question and answered immediately. “I don’t know if I’m good at my job, and to be honest, I’ve never talked to any of my bosses about not listening. I’ve always tried to get results by thinking for myself and the direction I think the company should go. Yes, it’s true that I always want to do side projects, but that’s because I want to be a person who can do more than one project at a time, but I just don’t have the ability to do that yet. Even if I work day and night, just one project is too much for me.” I remember telling him that, and before he said anything else, I finished with my last words, “I’m someone who has a lot of enemies, but that won’t stop me.” That was when we decided to start the company together.

I spent the whole month of June looking for an office space, computers and desks because I wanted to get the ball rolling and get started as soon as possible. It was a new path for me and I wanted to do my best. I remember it was a very hectic time, but I was very happy. It was my first company. We had a lot of developers who came and helped me carry all the luggage and install the computers, the Internet, and even the refrigerators. I remember the developers bringing flower pots and coffee makers. I was very happy and dreamed of a new beginning.

In July, Challengers Games Corp. was officially formed, and I began planning our first game, Project B.

The game was not really intended to be a money-making game, nor a P2E game that many potential investors were interested in. I’ve always been skeptical about P2E games, and to be honest, I don’t want to make them. Even if I were to make them, I wanted the games I made to be worthy of being released on the main market. I originally thought Project B would be an SRPG (Tactical Roleplaying Game), but it didn’t feel right. The game that actually inspired the creation of Project B was called Spellbreaker.

There were a lot of challenges when I started the company. The first was the art team. Yes, the team is great with the artwork now, but back then there was no art team. After all, the company was a startup and no one was really interested.

I searched the game development talent pool on forums, job boards, and everywhere else. I asked and begged my colleagues to introduce me.

As each one of them began to grow and bring their acquaintances, a really cool team was formed.

The initial operational strategy of the company was two-line development. The strategy was to secure funding by outsourcing development in line 1, and to develop the main game in line 2. Regardless of applications and games, I tried to develop them with outsourcing. Through outsourcing development, we received orders for three applications and developed them and made profits.

However, I thought one to two months per application, but it actually took about three to four months, and it was a burden to develop an application because it was a game company.

At a time when there were about two developments in the outsourcing of games worth 6 billion won, we discussed with major shareholders whether we could focus and develop only Project B without focusing on any other project or application. With their permission, we were able to focus on Project B, which we eventually renamed to Second Wave.

Somehow, miraculously, I was able to hit so many milestones in such a short amount of time. My original goal was to have the game in early access by the end of 2023, but we had a working prototype about 3 months into development, a playable build 6 months later, and an alpha and beta about 3 months after that. It was incredible.

In November 2022, we finished the prototype and took it to G-Star.

I brought a demo to G-Star, but I made it into a console version and brought it with me, which made it difficult to show because I had to play it on my gamepad. It seemed to get a lot of attention from people, but it was just a prototype demo, and the core element was not finished yet. So even though people were interested, it wasn’t a very fun demo for them. I ended up losing contact with people who were interested in trying it as it got more and more developed.

Publishers who were interested in us when we had the playable build often told us that they could only test it if it was a PC version, or to get back to us when the mobile version came out. So we made the PC version and the mobile version and sent them out right away, hoping for the best.

I didn’t know at the time that this was their way of saying no to us.

We were invited to the GDC and communicated with a manager we met at G-STAR. During our time at the GDC, 720 players responded to our survey. That many people were at least interested. The people who helped us with our demo said to me at the very end, “Koji, I’ve worked on a lot of game demos, but I don’t think there’s ever been a game as good as what Challengers has. This is definitely going to work!”

GDC was a really good experience and gave us confidence. We prepared the Alpha Test right away to see if what we were doing was right and in the right direction.

I admit that the Alpha Test received a lot of criticism and feedback, but at least 4,000 players came and tested it, and even though Second Wave ended up getting the nickname “Genshin Watch,” it did not get a very good review.

Since January 2023, we’ve been having meetings about how to improve the game. The idea was to keep the core fun of the game, but the difficulty came with that. Because as the meetings went on, it was difficult to fix everything that had been made. As I kept making and redoing things, people got very tired and less motivated.

We hoped it would be a time to grow by sharing feedback with each other.

On June 19, 2023, it successfully attracted additional investment. It received an additional investment of about 4 billion won.

We decided to put all the money we got into development because money was scarce. We didn’t spare any of the development costs. We didn’t spare any of the voice actor costs.

On August 23, 2023, I attended Gamescom at the Korean Joint Hall. We brought Second Wave, and it seemed that so many people were interested and excited about the game.

From October 6 to October 16, 2023, we participated in the Steam Next Fest and followed up with the beta.

On the first day of the beta test, there were problems where players couldn’t matchmake, and then there was another problem where the frame rate dropped for some reason, and then there was another problem where the loading screens wouldn’t stop loading… the problems didn’t seem to stop.

During the beta period on October 11th, I stayed up all night fixing, testing, fixing, and testing the problem. I couldn’t solve the matching problem, but fortunately, if I kept matching, it would match and go into the game. The lag problem has not been fixed, even now in Early Access.

Even in this state, many users enjoyed playing the game and said it was fun. It was a beta test with a lot of things missing, but a lot of people were excited and encouraged me. I received a lot of feedback, and I was sure that solving the tasks I received at that time would make a great game.

However, starting with that beta, the company was in trouble, and we were already 2 billion won in debt, so we needed additional investment.

To make matters worse, there was a split in the art team, and the entire animation team left the company. We had to continue development by hiring a new animation team. I had to find a way to get through this situation…

We had our own internal project called Project I, where about two people were working on RnD at the time. I wanted to expand that project so that I could make money on my own and stand on my own without any additional investment. Project I was originally supposed to have an alpha test in February 2024, a beta test in April, and then Early Access. My goal was to complete development and maintain the game within three months. I wanted to cross-play with Nintendo Switch, Google, and Apple at the same time.

At that time, we had about 70 members in the team, and about 50% of the team joined between November 2023 and January 2024.

So on February 8, 2024, iLLANG was released on the Apple Store.

Unfortunately, iLLANG didn’t work. I couldn’t play the game itself from day one due to server problems, and we tried to fix the server code for over a month, but the problem kept getting worse. The scheduling issue also kept coming up, and eventually we came to the conclusion that we needed to rebuild the game.

The cost of the AWS server for iLLANG alone was 71 million won. It was a game for about 100 people, but the server cost was too high, so I couldn’t handle it. We started a long-term review in April and are still reviewing it.

By January 2024, the company had already run out of money, and our difficulties were compounded by the inability to generate sales for iLLANG while seeking additional investors.

Publishers and investors who had supported iLLANG prior to its launch in 2024 also began to show minimal interest.

At the February company meeting, I informed all employees that there was no balance in the bank account and that I might not be able to pay the last of the February salaries. But there was still hope.

In March 2024, the question of preparing for Early Access for Second Wave came up again. I thought it would be suicidal to do Early Access in this state without the progress of Second Wave.

At the time, the only improvements to Second Wave were character animations, UI updates, background art, and a few other small fixes. These were elements that looked fun, but lacked completeness.

We did a lot of RnD to make them look even better by adding motion matching to the IK and full animation switching. We also started developing dead reckoning techniques to solve the lag problem.

In addition, since the publisher for the SEA and SIE regions had already been decided, it was decided that we should look for additional publishers, including North America, Europe, Japan, and Korea.

In March, when the wage arrears began, the team’s anxiety grew, but they believed we would make it by the end of April.

By April, all of the known game publishers had completed their review of Second Wave and eventually dropped us without proceeding with the publishing contract.

I contacted the Korea Credit Guarantee Fund and the Korea Technology Guarantee Fund, went to the bank to borrow money, and did everything I could. I was introduced to all the investments and went ahead, but in the end it was rejected.

I thought it would be impossible to develop Second Wave without a North American and European publishing contract. I informed the publishers of SEA and SIE that I could not sign a contract, and I apologized for doing Early Access. I could not develop the promised quality and therefore could not sign a contract.

At the end of April 2024, we started to prepare Second Wave for Early Access. The number of developers was reduced from 90 in January 2024 to 30 in May 2024, and the Early Access was created by 20 of these developers.

By the end of April 2024, we were pushing development hard. So many things were added and developed, but we could not add anything to put into the live version.

In the end, we grabbed what we could and did as much testing as we could. Neither the versus AI nor the training mode was ready or good enough to put in, but we had to try. There was no cash shop, no item shop. We managed to get it done by the end of May.

We couldn’t pay for JIRA anymore, so we switched to tracking bugs on our Notion site. During this time, our 20 members tested, developed and tested, every single day.

We did everything we could.

Originally, Early Access was going to happen without any of the things we were fixing and adding, but we made it, and even then it wasn’t stable. We did our best.

If we could get to stage 2 of our goals, we definitely thought we could look forward to the future. We had already talked to Xbox and figured we could get the game on Xbox Game Pass as originally planned, which would at least cover the cost of development.

So we released the Early Access version of Second Wave on May 31, 2024.

Within the first hour of its release, we received overwhelmingly negative reviews, and this time it wasn’t just because of the matchmaking, but also because sometimes the game wouldn’t even start, and we spent the whole day and night checking the server code.

As the server issues stabilized to some degree, we began to discover even more problems. Issues where characters weren’t getting hit because of aiming changes, or issues where magic damage was doubling. There were a lot of issues that wouldn’t normally go live if we were doing QA properly. But because there was no QA team, especially among our remaining 20 people, all these issues were seen and found by the players, and they were not very happy. I don’t blame them.

I wanted to show you a really cool game that was free, but it was only seen as a “pay-to-test” game, which made me very sad.

After we launched Early Access, we thought about making it free. All the remaining people got together to discuss it. We thought that if we updated Dead Reckoning together and made it free, the response would be better again. The fun of the game was there. I expected that there would be hope if we could fix the server problems.

Unfortunately, development did not continue. It’s still not finished. To be honest, at this point I think it would be finished by June 25, but I don’t think we can even include it because it’s too late.

The servers could not be paid, and we thought that if we could somehow pay the June debt, that 71 million won would be closer to 100 million won, plus another 20 million won for advertising or marketing that has not been settled, and four major insurance premiums for unpaid wages and severance pay. Up to 825 million won in investments from major shareholders in January and February 2024.

Currently, there is a debt of about 2.4 billion won.

The company’s accounts have been seized by the four major insurance companies, and we have been under investigation by the Ministry of Labor and Employment since April.

I was unable to pay for AWS between June 2-9, as Amazon locked our account, and we could no longer update anything. The cost from AWS from May 20 until June 2 was already 10 million won.

I’m afraid that Second Wave will unfortunately not be able to continue in July, because quite frankly, we have absolutely no money to pay for the servers, and ultimately the servers will end up shutting down.

On June 7, I desperately tried to pay for the servers by selling off all of the PCs that we had from the developers that had left. But the moment I sold the computers, it was confiscated by the insurance companies. I could not pay with a company credit card. Where it all looked grim, Bon, or as you know him as Koobric, ended up paying for it with his own credit card. Thank you Bon for your courage and dedication, and I’m so sorry.

Yes, it took a very long time to fix some issues, like the one with Michaela, and there was such a backlog, but it wasn’t until June 9 that AWS unlocked our account.

Since March 2024, all of our teams have been working without pay, hoping for a miracle. I wanted to make the game a success, but I apologize to everyone for not being able to do so. I also feel a heavy responsibility for the overdue wages. I will find a way to pay everyone.

But regardless of what happened and how we got here, I am not ashamed of this experience. I am proud to have created Second Wave, proud and honored to have worked with the team I had. I’m proud of all the feelings we had during the time we were creating Challengers Games and Second Wave. I’m proud that we at least tried.

But now it is time for Challengers Games to acknowledge that it is no longer able to do business.

It is incredibly difficult and sad, but what I want to say is that this is not the final chapter for Second Wave. It is possible that you will see it again in the near future. One way or another. We will start over and we will announce things when we are ready.

For now, I wanted to give you all this message from us so that you know the situation and can prepare for the end of Second Wave before the servers suddenly stop.

The closure and dissolution will be discussed with the shareholders, and I think it will be based on the results, but Second Wave will no longer operate as of June 24th, and Challengers Games will be closed accordingly.

Refunds will be provided by Steam as we are reaching out to them to help us with the process as the game will no longer be available. We anticipate a smooth process as we have not taken any revenue from Second Wave. If we have any new information to share, we will do so on Discord prior to the shutdown.

The Discord server will be closed starting July 2024 and will no longer be accessible to players.

We are truly sorry to absolutely everyone who has been there for us, rooting for us, supporting us. Thank you for believing in us and sorry for letting you down. This is not the final road for us, but it is the final chapter for Challengers Games Corp.

Thank you for always being there for us and for making us believe in game development again.

Thank you, and Goodbye Heroes.

Koji Tamura and Challengers Games Corp.

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