Dread Hunger Became So Unexpectedly Massive on Steam That It Had to Refocus Development

There’s a chance you haven’t heard of Dread Hunger yet, even though it’s one of the biggest games in the world right now.

A cocktail of Among Us-like social deduction amid the ticking-clock fear of a survival game, the game has quietly amassed a huge playerbase, to the point where it’s been in and around Steam’s top 10 most played games for well over a month. That success has been so huge, and so sudden, that developer Dread Hunger Team has had reprioritise development to meet the demand.

While it was available for months in Early Access, where Dread Hunger averaged a few hundred players at one time, the game shot to success around its official release in January, climbing to more than 100,000 players, one million copies sold, and rubbing shoulders with Grand Theft Auto V and Elden Ring on Steam’s top ten list for concurrent players.

“The surge in popularity was totally unexpected but extremely exciting”, said Romy Gellen, marketing and communications coordinator. “We were stoked that we were starting to see hype building and people catching onto our game as we approached full release.”

Dread Hunger is about survival, asking eight players to sail their ship through the 19th Century Arctic, stopping and exploring on foot for fuel, food, and other resources. While this is difficult enough by itself, two of the players become corrupted by evil forces and begin to secretly sabotage the group.

The mix of deception and survival gameplay clearly worked, but the popularity came with challenges, most notably in the form of cyber attacks that forced the Dread Hunger team – made up of about eight people collaborating between developers Digital Confectioners and Slowdrive Studios – to refocus where to put their resources.

“The biggest challenge we’ve been facing has been DDoS attacks and having to strengthen our infrastructure,” Gellen added. “But that’s what happens when you get big – you become a target – so that shows we must be doing something right.”

Dread Hunger Screenshots

While the Dread Hunger team feels it has these attacks under control now, having to bolster its digital defences meant that releasing new content was put on the back burner.

“Having a heavy focus on infrastructure as well as anti-cheat has taken priority over new content for the past while,” Gellen said. “We’d love to be working on new content but obviously cheating and server outages mean you can’t play the game at all, making those most important to tackle as quickly as possible.

“We’re beyond happy with the growth Dread Hunger has experienced, so we’re wanting at the moment to improve the experience for our dedicated players. We feel like we have a pretty good grip on those issues now though so we look forward to bringing out new content as soon as we can.”

Dread Hunger's 2022 content plans. (Image credit: Dread Hunger Team)

Dread Hunger’s 2022 content plans. (Image credit: Dread Hunger Team)

That content is outlined in Dread Hunger’s 2022 roadmap, which promises new prestige levels and cosmetic types are on the way soon, while grander additions, such as a new area, ship customisation options, and spells are planned for later in the year.

Beyond that though, given the unpredictable nature of Dread Hunger and the amount of unexpected work it’s demanded so far, the developers haven’t planned more updates.

“We have a roadmap spanning across 2022 so far and beyond that anything could happen,” Gellen said. “As a small team we’re trying to keep our heads down working hard on the roadmap content, that we don’t have much time to plan further ahead.”

“We would love to consider exploring consoles at some point down the line so that everyone can enjoy Dread Hunger regardless of platform.”

That’s not to say the team hasn’t thought about the future, and though nothing is confirmed yet, it has already considered moving it beyond PC. “We would love to consider exploring consoles at some point down the line so that everyone can enjoy Dread Hunger regardless of platform,” Gellen said.

With so much going on, it’s unsurprising that the Dread Hunger team is just focusing on getting the day-to-day work done, but Gellen made clear that it’s been a great experience overall, even with the challenges.

“It’s been hugely insightful and has taught us a lot,” he said, and it’s also been humbling, “especially when players take it that bit further and make creations of their own like cosplays, fanart, and fan fiction. That has been a real highlight for us.”

The team has endured a lot in the last three months, fighting for survival itself amid cyber attacks and the pressure of a booming player base. But the storm has hopefully now passed, and the ship of Dread Hunger can be steered through calm waters once again – albeit with a lot more fans on board.

Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelancer who occasionally remembers to tweet @thelastdinsdale. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.

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