Cococucumber’s Vanessa Chia on Ravenlok and a Decade of Making Games in Toronto

Ontario’s indie game development scene is thriving. 

Over the past decade or so, dozens of new studios have opened up shop in the province and gone on to create bestselling original IPs that earn both international accolades and the love of players worldwide. A major standout during this period of rapid growth has been Toronto’s Cococucumber – creators of 2023’s Ravenlok – a small team that has exemplified everything great about the Ontario indie scene.

Led by Vanessa Chia and Martin Gauvreau, Cococucumber released their first game, Planet of the Eyes, in 2014, their follow-up Riverbond in 2019, and the critically acclaimed Echo Generation in 2021. The studio’s strong track record helped them forge a strong relationship with Xbox, with their last two games – Echo Generation and Ravenlok – both launching on Xbox. These launches were supported by the Ontario Creates Interactive Digital Media (IDM) Fund and the Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (OIDMTC).

The final game in Cococucumber’s instantly-recognizable voxel trilogy, Ravenlok deservedly became the studio’s most successful game to date, having hit half a million players on Gamepass within six weeks of release – and even becoming one of Xbox CEO Phil Spencer’s favourite games of 2023.

The Lodgge recently spoke with Cococucumber Co-Founder and Game Director Vanessa Chia about their impressive journey so far and their experiences as an indie studio making games in Ontario.

With the arrival of Ravenlok, 2023 was another big year for Cococucumber. What have been some of the highlights? The game got a lot of recognition from players as well as high praise from the team at Xbox.

Vanessa Chia: Thank you! Since 2023 was a launch year, it was exciting when we reached over half a million players for Ravenlok in a few months from launch. Since we’re a small indie team, this is really meaningful and it’s a privilege to share something so close to our hearts with players all over the world. 

Xbox and ID@Xbox have been fantastic partners for our studio, all the way back when we released Riverbond (2019), Echo Generation (2021) and now with the launch of Ravenlok. Seeing Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, be so vocal about his love of Ravenlok is a great honor and testament to their commitment towards supporting indies like us.

Tell us about releasing Ravenlok opposite Redfall on Gamepass and how that situation may have ended up helping more people discover the game.

Vanessa: Initially our launch strategy was to release in spring 2023 to avoid the crowded Q3 / Q4 time when all the big games were set to come out. Then Redfall, another highly anticipated Xbox console exclusive, announced that they were launching two days before us, which made us really nervous about having visibility for Ravenlok.

In a way it worked out for the better as there was higher than normal traffic on the Xbox store at that time, and the box art for Ravenlok right next to Redfall was enticing for players. This was not what we had planned though, and it goes to show that perhaps good fortune could be a factor in the success of Ravenlok.

Could you tell us about making games in Toronto? Is there something about the city/region that makes it a great place to produce games?

Vanessa: Toronto has always been a city of dreams for me since I moved here many years ago. It’s a city that is creative and inspiring because it’s driven by great talent and opportunities. In the games industry, there is wonderful government support through Ontario Creates to make games and this was crucial for us in the early years of Cococucumber.

What has being part of the larger Ontario game development community meant to Cococucumber?

Vanessa: Coming from other creative industries, we were happy to discover that the game dev scene here was very welcoming to us. There were many people who willingly shared advice on practical things like game design, business or marketing. We also enjoy the camaraderie amongst indies, especially for those in our cohort who we learnt a lot from just by showcasing our games and doing so many events.

Planet of the Eyes was released almost 10 years ago. Is there anything you’ve learned working as an independent game studio over the past decade or so or a piece of wisdom that you could impart to the 2014 Cococucumber team?

Vanessa: This is a great question! One key thing I have found is to try to appreciate and perhaps even enjoy this path that we’ve chosen. The creative journey as an indie game studio is like being on a roller coaster blindfolded; there will be ups and downs. It’s important to have patience, trust in the process, and inject a good dose of optimism.

Are there other Ontario studios or developers that Cococucumber is a fan of? Are any locally-made games personal favourites?

Vanessa: Yes! Cococucumber are fans of Drinkbox, Alientrap, and Finish Line Games. My personal favourites from Ontario would be Venba, A Short Hike, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, and Sword and Sworcery.

What does 2024 and beyond look like for Cococucumber?

Vanessa: 2024 is the 10th anniversary for Cococucumber! We’re exploring a couple of exciting things, which we’ll share when ready. Please stay tuned to our social channels to find out more!

Within ten years, Cococucumber has managed to make a sizeable impact on the Ontario, Canadian, and global video game scenes. The studio’s success, its partnership with Xbox, and its growth are reflections of the team’s hard work and love for the craft. Cococucumber has established a dedicated and loyal fanbase by actively engaging with and valuing its community, showcasing its commitment to not just creating great games, but also building relationships with its players. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2024!

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Contributed by

Hemanth Kay

Senior Editor at The Lodgge