Is it possible to create a game and sell it on Steam? The story of Ruslan "Ternox" Salikov and his game STONKS-9800

By: Vladyslav Nuzhnov | 17.07.2023, 09:00

In 2020, game developer Ruslan entered the Indie Game Jam hackathon, where he had to create a game on the theme "Watch it grow". Ruslan came up with the idea that you can watch your income grow and do something about it. In fact, he has had this idea in his head since 2015, as the last time he saw a game of a similar genre was back in 1991, and it was Game Jam that pushed him to implement this idea. That's how the story of STONKS-9800 an arcade simulator of the Japanese stock exchange in the 80s and 90s of the last century, began. And since Ruslan has long been interested in everything Japanese, and some of his games have played on this theme, he had no choice - his new game STONKS-9800 became a Japanese stock exchange simulator. It is now available for early access on Steam. The editorial team of gg talked to Ruslan "Ternox" Salikov, who told us how he copes with game development on his own and how much money he can earn from it. He also talked about his love for Japan, retro waibu, and what to expect from his new game with a strange name STONKS-9800.


The Way of the Samurai: Does a Solo Developer Have a Goal?

Ruslan explains why he makes games on his own: it's just easier for him. If he needs something for the game that he can't create himself (art or soundtrack), he will simply outsource it and find a performer. During the development of a game, he doesn't even keep a design document - which is perhaps the most important document for a game developer, so what kind of team can we talk about? Ternox says that in order to manage a team, you need to give everyone tasks that the developers will perform, but he himself doesn't know what he will do with the game in a month, so how can he give someone else any tasks. "I just sort of work it out as I go along," he says. Although he doesn't rule out the idea that someday he may have his own team, it will only happen when the time comes for a large-scale game that he can't handle alone.

The nickname Ternox, which has stuck for many years, appeared when he was actively playing Warcraft 3. Ternox was the first thing that came to the future developer's mind when he wanted to register on a Warcraft forum.

Game Development: Hobby or Job?

At first, when his games were released only on Steam, it brought little money. However, the situation changed dramatically when Ruslan decided to release his projects on consoles. After that, the situation became much better, and now game development is his full-time job.

He doesn't say how much his games bring him, but he said that there are various versions of the Steam Wishlist Calculator on the Internet that calculate how many people have added a game to their wishlist, as well as how much potential profit it should bring. According to the calculations, he should get 12 thousand dollars from STONKS-9800. He himself considers this amount to be somewhat overstated, but it is possible to calculate that if your game has at least some audience and is released only on Steam, you can get about $10,000 from it in the first weeks after release.

Experience: 1 Sakura is Good, 5 are Even Better

If we don't count STONKS-9800, Ternox has released 5 full games on Steam, and 2 more have only a demo version.

  • Ruslan's first game on Steam was Taimumari, which was released in 2015. It's a retro-style platformer where you have to play as the anime-style wizard Himari.
  • In 2018, the second game was released - IN-VERT. It is also a platformer, but more hardcore and not about Japan. In the game, you have to play as a lonely robot trying to find his master in two worlds at once.
  • Legend of Himari is the third game, which was also released in 2018. We again play as Himari, where we have to fight off waves of different enemies.
  • In 2019, we released Bullet Beat - Shoot'em up, where we fly on a ship and go through the levels with music.
  • And the last game with a full release is Nexoria: Dungeon Rogue Heroes - a mixture of rogue-like, RPG and turn-based tactics, where you have to go through a mysterious dungeon.
  • The last two games that have only demos are BakuMari, where you have to build towers with the help of a magic shuttle. And Walk Hero, in which the player moves only forward and destroys enemies with an arsenal of various weapons and abilities.

Check out the graphics, sound and gameplay of one of Ruslan's early games

Flashback: Why Arcades are Still Popular in Japan?

Japan is considered one of the birthplaces of arcade games. It has become home to many famous gaming companies such as Nintendo, Sega, Capcom, and Konami. Historically, arcade games have been a big part of Japanese street culture, particularly in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, where huge arcade halls are lined up side by side. Japan has always been known for its creativity and innovation in the field of gaming. Many arcade games have unique gameplay mechanics, interactivity, and special controllers that provide players with an unforgettable experience. For many Japanese people, arcade games are a way to have fun and relax after a busy day at work. They can go to an arcade and enjoy a variety of games for a short period of time.

Memes and PCs from the Last Millennium: What's Behind the Name STONKS-9800?

So, STONKS-9800 is the 8th game by the developer to appear on Steam. As you can see, this is not the first Japanese-style game in Ternox's portfolio. The author has a simple explanation: Ruslan often looked at old games that were developed for Japanese PC-9800 computers. He always liked the way they looked. At the same time, he studied how those games were created. And when he came across stories about the Japanese stock exchange, he realised that it was all very interesting and that's why it was time to make a game about it.

The same NEC PC-9800 (Photo: necretro)

That is, the 9800 in the game's title is a tribute to the Japanese NEC PC-9800 computers. And the word Stonks is a direct reference to the famous meme Stonks, where a 3D figure stands against an arrow with the inscription "stonks", which is a misspelling of the word stocks - this image is used to ridicule businessmen who lose all their money on crazy ideas.

One example of a Stonks meme that mocks absurd investments

Game Promotion: Word-of-Mouth is an Indie Developer's Best Friend

He started promoting the new game back in 2021, when he paid $500 to have the game broadcast on The Mix Next. Some websites wrote about the game at that time. The developer is sure that it was the best result for such a sum. A month before the release, he hired a marketing agency to promote the project. Under the terms of the NDA, he cannot disclose how much he paid, but one of the agency's tasks is to help send keys to various publications and YouTubers. Ruslan notes that the result is already visible - the game has been added to the Steam wishlist more actively over the past month.

But you don't always have to pay money for attention to a game. Ruslan recalls that in February 2021, the Japanese website Automaton simply saw the game on Steam, wrote about it, and gamers started retweeting the post about STONKS-9800. And in 2023, Automaton wrote about the game again, and this time the number of retweets exceeded a thousand. All of this led to the fact that the game is most often added to the favourites list by gamers from Asian countries. Later, Ternox plans to add translations into other Asian languages, as this is now its number one audience. Ukraine, by the way, is among the top five countries where users add the game to their list.

Tweet Automaton about the game in 2023 (media has almost 200,000 followers - editorial note): "The bubble-era Japanese investor life simulator STONKS-9800 will finally be available on Steam Early Access on 17 July. Japan is depicted here with city-pop music, and the game is created in Ukraine."

Ternox says that he expects good reviews in the early access, because if STONKS-9800 receives mixed or negative reviews, Steam will simply stop promoting the game in the recommendations. For Ruslan, early access is an opportunity that will allow the audience to tell him what to do and what they are missing. After all, the game is quite unique and he has nothing to look up to, as people who create conventional platformers can do. As for future sales, he believes that 1,000 copies sold in a month after the game's release will be a pretty good result. Although the author is also ready to consider the option if he is offered to add the game to Game Pass.

Bushido Lesson: How Long the Development Took and What the Obstacles Were

Ruslan took part in the Indie Game Jam in autumn 2020 and immediately started creating STONKS-9800 right after it. It took 2.5 years to release in early access, and the development will continue for some time, as Ternox plans to make a full release not only on PC but also on other relevant platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series.

As for unexpected difficulties (besides the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine), there was a problem with the game's font at first. From the very beginning, the game was supposed to have a Japanese localisation (which is not surprising), but it was almost impossible to find a font that supported Ukrainian and English letters and Japanese characters. So Ternox found a font that supported both English and Japanese and redrew the Ukrainian letters himself.

But the story with the Japanese localisation didn't end there. Ternox doesn't speak Japanese himself, so he just used a translator to do the translation. Now he has already received feedback on the translation and has additionally ordered text editing so that STONKS-9800 will not have any textual errors in Japanese before the release in the Early Access.

There was also a small confusion with the text. Initially, there were not many events planned for the game, but now there are more than 1500 phrases and lines in the game (and this is not the final number), and all of this needs to be translated into 2 languages.

Becoming a Salaryman and Not Reaching the "Karoshi": What is STONKS-9800 about?

Of course, against the backdrop of high-profile announcements and demonstrations of such AAA giants as Marvel's Spider-Man 2, Starfield, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, and others, it is difficult to see small projects that are created not even by teams of 5-10 developers, but by just one person. And STONKS-9800 is just an example of such a project.

In short, STONKS-9800 is an arcade simulator where we play as a broker-"salarymen" (the Japanese equivalent of "white collar") who trades stocks, conquers the financial market, and in between, relaxes at pachinko machines (Japanese slot machines) and the bar. With the growth of profits in the game, you will be able to afford more expensive cars and apartments, become the owner of a company and move up the career ladder. In general, it is very similar to the film The Wolf of Wall Street, but about Japan.

The game he was inspired by when implementing his idea was another Ukrainian game - Kommersant. It is an economic strategy game developed and released by the Kyiv-based company Rada Ltd. in autumn 1991. Ruslan got to know the game in the late 90s and early 2000s and liked it. In the game, you had to trade land and oil, there were no stocks, but you could get stuck in for the whole day.

In 1991, the game was implemented without graphics, only by means of text, and this is what made games of those times interesting - imagination and atmosphere

The events of the game can be easily compared to the fall in stock prices on Wall Street, which began on"Black Thursday" on October 24, 1929, which caused the collapse of Wall Street and was the beginning of the Great Depression. Only in Japan, the stock crash was called the "Lost Decade" and it happened in the late 80s. So in the game, we will have to go through a story of ups and downs, when at one point the player's fortune exceeds several billion yen, but at another moment we will have to start all over again, and the main task of the player is to survive the market crash, rehabilitate and last until the year 2000. This rollercoaster ride in Japan's economy allowed the game to raise several serious issues. For example, the spread of "karoshi", deaths from overwork.

The Rush for Yen: Building a Financial Empire from Scratch

It all starts with setting up our "simulator": choosing the level of complexity, when we will receive dividends, our stress tolerance, start-up capital, and how many companies will be on the market. You can choose one of the ready-made levels or customise everything for yourself and start playing, but first you need to understand what we have here.

Game settings that allow you to customise the STONKS world for yourself

Salaryman Broker Interface

There are 6 sections in the interface: home page, courses, exchange, profile, services, and advisor.

  • Home page - here you can find all the information about you: housing, car, information about your income, and the level of happiness, comfort, and stress. These indicators affect your condition and how you will earn income.
  • Courses - a place where all the companies that are present in your game world are collected and you watch the company's shares rise or fall. As for the companies themselves, their names are very similar to the real ones. For example, instead of Konami, Komama is here, and Ninento replaces Nintendo.
  • Exchange is a section where you will only buy or sell shares.
  • Profile is your statistics. All the scores in your profile, such as ethical behaviour, innovation, market knowledge, and others, will increase (or decrease) depending on your actions. Your scores, as well as your stress and happiness levels, affect how you progress. For example, the higher the level of innovation, the better projects you will be offered for investment.
  • Services - there are only 3 options here: bank, real estate, and car. In the first one, you can take out a loan, insure your car, and donate money to charity. As for cars and housing, the better they are, the higher the comfort level of the character, which affects his success.
  • Advisor - a section that adds variety to the gameplay is the advisor. All the time we will be communicating with Amy, the player's assistant. You can raise the level of friendship with her, which will allow you to go for walks in the future and get to know each other better.

1) Home; 2) Courses; 3) Exchange; 4) Profile; 5) Services; 6) Advisor

The Story of Amy's Appearance

Ruslan asked his artist friend to draw a character for his game. For reference, he took characters from old Japanese novels and asked that the character resemble the aforementioned Stonks meme. That's how Amy was created. Although initially only a girl's art was needed for the cover, the idea was so popular that Amy grew from an artwork into a full-fledged character. Later it became clear that Amy's image attracted other players. Ruslan believes that without her, few people would be interested in the game. And it is the opportunity to communicate with the character, go for a walk and learn stories from her childhood that makes the game more alive than an empty simulator.

Slide the slider to see the direct resemblance between the meme and Amy

"Trouble" in Japanese: Activities and Entertainment in the Game

You will also constantly receive news, which makes you feel that the game world is alive. For example, you may receive information that a well-known publication has written about scandals within a company and that its shares will soon fall, and so it goes. Other notifications include reports on dividends and monthly profits. They may also offer to buy a shareholding or invest in a business and make a profit (but not always).

This solution with an active news feed is a good one, because if you just had to look at the stock price, you would get bored after an hour. But when you observe the situation on the market and suddenly yakuza comes to you with an offer of cooperation, it becomes more interesting. And thanks to this, the game skilfully manipulates your state when you are sitting calmly, and then you receive a message that your wallet has been stolen, your car has broken down, but then Amy tells you that the project that was supposed to bring us 1 billion yen has exceeded all expectations and now we have 10 billion. There are a lot of events here, and I'm sure I haven't seen everything.

In-game notifications that inform you about the situation in the world

Every successful businessman should be able to relax There are 3 options for relaxing. The first is a bar. Almost every weekend, friends will invite you to a bar, where you can listen to calm music and think about life, reduce your stress level, meet someone, and spend a few thousand yen on drinks.

A bar where you can always leave your worries and money

The other two are related to gambling. We can bet on horse racing. Ruslan told me that this is almost the only legal way to bet in Japan, so this is the entertainment in the game.

Horse racing

And the last one is a patinko machine. This is a Japanese slot machine that resembles pinball. You are given balls to hit the holes with and multiply their number. Then you can exchange them for money. This process is the most time-consuming and you can spend 20 or 40 minutes in patinko. Ruslan also mentioned that patinko cleverly circumvents Japan's gambling laws, because people don't bet money, but balls, which are then exchanged for yen somewhere around the corner. In general, such entertainment for the Japanese is almost the only way to relax after a hard day's work.

Patinko slot machine or a place where you will stay for 20 minutes

Retro Web: Unusual Visuals and Pleasant Audio

If you like retro style, you will appreciate the visuals of the game. It is worth noting that you can turn on an effect that resembles old convex TVs, which enhances the atmosphere of STONKS-9800. Amy (of course), the bar, and the patina machine are drawn in the most cool way. If you have not played pixel games, you get used to the picture in a matter of minutes. If it is still difficult to perceive, I recommend turning off the "convexity effect", so the picture becomes more familiar to the buzzer eye. The game also has such minimal system requirements that it will run even on a computer that has a potato instead of a video card.

A few words about the audio. There are several tunes here: some are calm, others are more fiery, especially the composition that greets you when you start the game, it will stick in your head for a long time. They all sound nice, and it's hard to say anything else about this element. As for a game made by one person, everything is at a good level.

As for the retro wibe that is everywhere, for Ruslan, making a game in this style is not a manifestation of nostalgia, but a desire to dive into the history of video games and allow players to remember what games used to be like (at the beginning of their journey, all games were pixelated).

When asked about nostalgia, he said that although he likes old games that were released on the Dendy, he would not play a retro game that he did not like, even if he played it as a child.

Game Impressions: The Path from Denial to Acceptance

Before I became interested in STONKS-9800, I had to go through several stages of acceptance:

  • Denial - what kind of game is this? What kind of stock exchange simulator? I won't play this
  • Anger - how does everything work here? How do I manage my shares and why am I not a multibillionaire yet?
  • Trading - we have a game about the stock exchange, so I started trading shares, manipulating them and became a multibillionaire.
  • Depression - I completed the game, the game billions were not converted into real money. What to do next?
  • Acceptance - a good game, I will definitely come back to it when the story mode appears

Overall, I liked STONKS-9800. The atmosphere of Japan in the 80s is perfectly captured here, with nice visuals and music. The gameplay, if you understand its mechanics, is quickly addictive, and you come in every day for 20 minutes to trade shares, clean another house, and invest in an interesting product. Something is constantly changing in the game: the company's shares collapse, you receive your great-grandmother's inheritance, you go to bet on horses, and then the "lost decade" suddenly begins and you have to start all over again. And thanks to Amy, who constantly communicates with you, several types of activities and the opportunity to build your own financial empire, STONKS-9800 is a unique game that is very difficult to find an analogue. Ask yourself if you have seen many stock market simulations and if there was at least one about Japan in the 80s. This again shows that indie games stand out because they always offer something new to the industry and that is why we love this area of the gaming industry. Considering that its price will not exceed $5, the game can be safely given a chance. Moreover, on its Discord server, Ternox promptly responds to fans and will help you figure it out if you suddenly get confused or encounter a bug. And in the gaming industry, it's not always possible to find such interaction between developers and players.

Fate of the Samurai: What Awaits STONKS-9800 After Release?

Ideally, Ruslan plans to have the game in early access for six months, to receive feedback from players, to complete everything he planned, and to have STONKS-9800 receive a full release. The maximum time the developer sets for himself to make a project available in early access is a year. After all, Ternox believes that he will simply start to burn out if he works on the game for more than 3 years. After the full release, there are no plans for any major updates. He plans to release the game in such a way that everything works well and doesn't need to be polished. The only thing Ruslan would like to do in the future is to allow players to make their own modifications so that fans can have fun themselves, but it is not yet clear how to implement this and it will still depend on the popularity of the game.

Ideas that could not be implemented during development

Initially, the protagonist was supposed to have perks every year that could allow him to gain a good reputation or increase his income faster, but to implement this, many nuances need to be thought out, so this idea is now in the back of the drawer.

Story mode that will appear with the full release

A story mode is also planned for the game. You can already see it when you launch the game, but it is not available at the moment. The story mode will be more like a visual novel. There will be different endings depending on the player's choice, financial results, and reputation. The story will end in 2000, when the hero was able to survive the stock market crash and a new era begins in 2000. The story will be strongly connected to Amy, but more global issues will arise. For example, there will be rivals who will put spokes in your wheels and you will have to deal with it all.

The inscription Ternox Corporation 1982, which can be seen in the top corner of the menu, indicates a fictional year when the game could theoretically have appeared

Ruslan also plans to release further updates over time:

  • Expanded ability to manage your company
  • Players will be able to attract an in-game contact list to their company
  • There is also a 3rd mode planned, when you will immediately start as the owner of one of the companies

5 Things You Need to Know About STONKS-9800

  • STONKS-9800 is a text-based atmospheric simulator of the Japanese stock exchange of the 80s
  • The game was created by a Ukrainian developer by himself in 2.5 years
  • The game will be available in early access on Steam on 17 July
  • The pace of the game is quite slow, but the author managed to create the atmosphere of Japan, to which you want to return again and again
  • This is a great opportunity to get to know Japanese culture and learn more about it
Genre Arcade Simulator
Platforms PC
Number of players Single-player
Developer Ternox
Publisher Ternox
Time to complete 5-7 hours
Release date July 17,2023

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The editorial team thanks GTP Media PR agency for kindly providing the game for review