Extrasolar Postmortem

It's with a heavy heart that I announce that the sun will set on Epsilon Prime for the last time on December 1, 2018. It's been an incredible journey and I want to thank everyone who shared this adventure with us.

Extrasolar has run continuously since its launch in Feburary, 2014. But this highly experimental new "game" has never been profitable. It currently cost about $900/month to run, not including the cost of the time it takes to keep everything working smoothly.

This is the most rewarding project I've ever worked on, partly for its bold attempt to define a new game genre, but mostly for the incredible people who were partners in this endeavor along the way. I've learned an incredible amount from my brilliant teammates. In particular, I want to call out Brendan Mauro, Jon Le Plastrier, Lucas J. W. Johnson, Ryan Williams, Keith Turkowski, Haley Friedmann, Jane Van Susteren, Brian Ramage, and John Miller for their willingness to take a chance on such an audacious project.

I also want to thank our players and fans, who made all the effort worthwhile. Without you, I would have shut down the servers years ago.

What went wrong?

If I had to name just one thing that prevented Extrasolar from being financially self-sufficient, I'd say this: We built an unmarketable experience. This started to become clear shortly after launch as we shared the project at expos and conferences. When fans of Extrasolar would visit our booth, we'd sometimes ask them to explain the game to someone who'd never seen it. They'd pause... give a couple false starts... and then just say, "It's something you have to experience for yourself."

This is part of the reason fans love it so much — I'm proud to say that Extrasolar delivered something that's genuinely new and unique. But the lack or prior art made it difficult to anchor a marketing pitch. On one hand, it's a deeply scientific game about the real-time exploration of an alien planet. But is that really what it's about? Or is it a month-long story about a hacker digging for the truth about her father, who died under mysterious circumstances?

Once we got players through the front door, most were hooked. But every marketing campaign we tried fell flat. In a way, it's been comforting to hear fans tell me repeatedly — at festivals, through emails, and on our forums — "It's just too far ahead of its time."

Why so costly?

Extrasolar runs on a variety of AWS services, with the most expensive part being a cloud GPU that renders custom images for every player. When we started development, I did a financial analysis to project how much it would cost to run those services over time. Cloud GPUs were quite new, but prices were falling quickly as the cost of the hardware fell. Unfortunately, prices leveled off earlier than I expected, possibly because of an explosive increase in demand as GPUs found a new niche for cryptocurrency mining — a market shift we never anticipated.

On top of the financial cost, it takes a nontrivial amount of time to keep Extrasolar running. SSL certificates need to be re-issued, social media APIs expire, AWS instance types need to be updated, and customer support is needed. Time spent maintaining the game has an opportunity cost, and I'm overdue to free up more time for new projects.

What's next?

It would break my heart too much to see Extrasolar disappear entirely. I've seen too many career-shaping experiences — like The Jejune Institute or The Latitude — disappear from the world too quickly, leaving behind only a hint of what once existed. So when the interactive site goes down, I'll be replacing it with an archive that tells the story as it once was, with every photo, email, video, and PDF from the original game. For players who never got a chance to finish the full story arc, you'll still get your chance to read through to the end.

Thanks again to everyone who supported me and my team on this incredible journey.

Dream to worlds beyond.

  — Rob Jagnow (aka Robert Turing), Founder of Lazy 8 Studios