You only had to take one look at Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout in beta to know that it was going to be a success. The colourful game, which sees 60 jelly beans go head to head on Takeshi Castle and Total Wipeout-inspired obstacle courses, was pretty much built with Twitch in mind.
But Mediatonic’s expert handling of the game’s marketing during what has got to go down as one of the strangest years in history has pushed the game to new heights. Secret tests that weren’t so secret and limited and exclusive game codes generated a hype that even Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland would have been proud of. The developer’s plan for a bold, new marketing strategy worked, as the game surged to the top of Twitch and quickly sold two million copies on Steam.
But how did it get there and what’s next for Fall Guys? To find out all the answers, we sat down with game designer Joe Walsh and senior community manager Oliver Hindle to learn more about Mediatonic’s outrageous social media tactics, the game’s success on platforms like Twitch, and, of course, Tim ‘TimTheTatman’ Betar’s awful Fall Guys gameplay.
The Loadout: The game’s concept is pretty simple but it’s been built with streaming in mind. What is it about Fall Guys that makes it the perfect game for Twitch?
Joe Walsh: I think that what makes it so unique is that it’s instantly understandable as soon as you see a clip of it and that’s something that can’t be said for a lot more of the complex competitive games that are popular on Twitch. You know, you see these 60 guys on the start line and these horrendous looking obstacles and you instantly understand what it is you need to be doing and it makes it really, really watchable. Also the fact that it’s inspired by TV shows, you know, we’re inspired by Takeshi’s Castle and Total Wipeout and that means we tried to inherit a lot of their inherent watchability because we use the same format.
There is also the opportunity for crazy things to happen and so we share a lot of that DNA, and I think that’s a huge benefit to what makes Fall Guys so popular.
Oliver Hindle: I think it’s the physics too – every time you play, something different can happen so you dissolve frustrations with replayability as well.
A lot of the streaming success was built on the foundations of the game’s beta. What exactly did you do?
OH: With the betas, we really set out to make it this really hyped thing where people wanted access, but it was difficult to get. We gave out keys in different ways to keep it exclusive. I think it was quite easy to get a key if you really wanted one though because we were giving them out on Discord, on Twitter, and stuff.
Social media and viral marketing have been key to Fall Guys’ growth. Why is it important to engage directly with content creators and lean into the playful negativity in the community?
OH: With social media, we just tried to use Twitter as a normal user would and speak in the same language as players rather than appearing as a company talking directly to players in a formal way. We just wanted it to be playful and an extension of the game itself. When it comes to memes, it’s pretty easy because the community just comes up with those things. I then just take the things they talk about and we made our own content around it – like the yellow team thing, we never intended that.
JW: The yellow team thing is the one that makes me laugh the most because it’s just such a funny thing that’s based on absolutely nothing. It’s been really fun to watch that one grow but it’s also been a bit worrying because these things have a tendency to carry over into the game.
We’re worried psychological detriment might happen with the yellow team
When we talked about it in the studio, we mentioned that famous League of Legends patch where they nerfed a champion and then didn’t actually push the hotfix and the win rate of that champion dropped by 5% just through sheer belief that your character might be worse. And we’re worried that psychological detriment might happen with the yellow team. So we’re being careful and keeping an eye on the background to make sure teams aren’t losing too much.
So there’s no hidden nerf with yellow teams then?
JW: No, there’s not. There were some potentially weird things with how people were getting placed on teams, but I don’t think that affected the win rate from what we can see.
Let’s talk about TimTheTatman. He’s terrible at the game, but his win drought prompted a lot of questions online. Was it all planned?
OH: It was just super organic. I saw him streaming and he was quite bad at the game, so I thought I’d tweet him and it just kind of spiralled from there. I kept doing it, people kept reacting, and it just became this really huge thing. I’d never even spoken to him before – every bit of our communication were literally the public tweets between us.
WE JUST WITNESSED ONE OF THE BIGGEST GAMING MOMENTS OF OUR LIFETIMES
FOR YEARS TO COME, PEOPLE WILL BE ASKING EACH OTHER:
— Fall Guys 👑 (@FallGuysGame) August 19, 2020
JW: Watching that moment of him win is gonna go down in Twitch history. It’s like one of the most incredible things. That moment where he tried to get his whole stream to dress the same as him to camouflage him and the fact that half the lobby were dressed as him was crazy too. We had about 400,000 people online in the game at the time, so if half of them are dressing up in the same lobby, I mean, that’s just incredible to see one twitch streamer actually affect the ecosystem of the game in such a way. I’ve never ever seen that before – that was a really special moment.
OH: I don’t think we could have planned that even if we had tried.
Did you know how big an opportunity the in-game cosmetics would be for you? A lot of studios, especially indies, would have seen the money on the line and grabbed it, but you turned it into something special by working with Special Effect. Why?
OH: It was actually Nigel’s idea at Devolver. We had all these brands hitting us up with their costumes and stuff and rather than turn this into a big commercial thing, we decided to make it more positive. We’ve always liked Special Effect and we’ve worked with them previously at MediaTonic, so we just thought let’s turn this into a big event and do something positive.
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JW: There are some really exciting opportunities presenting themselves too, but we have to be really careful with what we pick. The brand and the image of the game is very valuable and if we just throw everything in, it’ll become a mess and it will start looking like the inside of a supermarket and that’s not what we want Fall Guys to be.
We’re already doing collaborations – we’ve got stuff from Valve and Devolver in there, you know, studious that we’re inspired by and that’s really cool. We also love the idea of maybe one day going further than just doing skins and having some really cool games out there that share similar DNA with Fall Guys.
Something I’ve seen a lot of from Mediatonic employees is that this game has far surpassed internal expectations. Can you talk us through that and how the team is now adapting to what I assume are a new set of goals?
JW: I think we’ve probably sold ten times what we thought we would. And so now we’re setting up some pillars for us as a studio so that Fall Guys continues to run well. Firstly, we want to build trust with the community so that they know we’ve got this and we can continue to improve the game in the right ways. We’ve launched and the game has been well received, but it’s really important for us to make sure that the community knows that we’re working on stuff and we’re listening. And we’re committed to building this game into something that’s even better than his right now.
Then second is content. We know that Fall Guys is a variety game – it’s about not knowing what’s coming next. And a big part of that is going to be making sure there are new challenges to approach. That might come through new rounds or interesting ways to play existing rounds.
Those things are the focus and part of the next six months or maybe even a year is going to be growing the team to make sure that we can do all of the things that we want to do because the demand for everything is through the roof right now.
Are you going to design any features that will further Fall Guys’ relationship with Twitch at all?
JW: I think I think it would be lovely to do. One of the games we looked at during development is Marbles on Twitch, because they share a lot of the same DNA. And that idea of getting, you know, viewers on Twitch invested in some way and around Fall Guys is really exciting. So we’re talking to Twitch, we’ve just got to figure out what’s going to give us the best bang for buck really, and how we can make sure that this benefits us and Twitch as well.
The game is doing really, really well on Twitch, so we’re going to take our time in that. Sometimes Twitch integration can be a bit gimmicky, you know, like, how many times do you want to see Twitch turn on low gravity mode before you’re actually kind of bored of it? We want to make sure we’re investing time in software that has got some real longevity.
Talking about Twitch, at some point in time Fall Guys was bigger than League of Legends and Just Chatting. Do you think you’re going to pay for your early success?
JW: I think we probably already have with all of the sleepless nights that we had at the beginning of development. That was the hardest thing. There’s this feeling you get when the servers explode and people can’t play the game that you’re gonna miss that moment and you’re never going to recapture that. That was really, really scary.
But now the servers are really, really stable. We have almost no unplanned downtime. So I feel like the worst of it is over. And now we can really start to build a long term community.
Fall Guys is getting its own Twitch Rivals event and we’re starting to see more and more competitions being formed around the game. Is this something you’re going to look to actively support in the future?
OH: Yeah, so we’re working on a set of guidelines so that people can take those and create their own events. It’s not something we really expected to happen. Like we used to make a lot of jokes on Twitter about Fall Guys becoming an esport, but it was more sarcasm. But yeah, it’s really cool to see this sort of thing emerging.
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JW: It’s tricky too though because the game has not been designed like other esports games. The game is occasionally not fair, a bit random, and a bit glitchy – and that’s in the spirit of the game. It’s a physics game. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes things are weird, sometimes things don’t work – and that’s the way it’s going to be for a while at least.
It’s slightly scary to think people are playing this game for serious sums of money, and that’s why, at least in the short term, we’re excited about charity focused events.
Will we see custom servers/modes as a direct result of this then?
JW: It’s still early days, but it’s something we hear a desire for. Fall Guys is ultimately a TV show and people want to be the director, they want to run their own show. We totally hear the demand for that, but it’ll take us a little while to figure out what that looks like exactly. But it’s on our list of things to do.
OH: Yeah, and it’ll help with the events too being able to set up private lobbies.
Shroud recently came out and said the game is going to “die pretty quickly” if new content isn’t added to it soon. What have you got in the works that you can share with us?
JW: We’re revealing Season 2 at Gamescom. It’s going to be exciting to show a little bit of what the future holds for Fall Guys.
We’re more than happy to be that game you jump on when you finish a miserable RPG
We’re only going to be teasing a few things but I mean, everyone says games will die in a week. Like that’s just the way the games industry is like – people are sceptical, and rightly so. But Fall Guys doesn’t have to be a game that people play seven hours a day, every day. We’re more than happy to be that game you jump on when you finish a really miserable, weighty RPG and you just want an injection of fun.
So yeah, we’ll see what the future holds, but we’re pretty confident that we’ve got something that’s different and refreshing from everything else that people will be coming back to play for a long time.
What about cross-play – any news on that?
JW: There’s nothing new on that front, I’m afraid. We’re still committed to it. I think we’re committed to it even more than we were before. We’re seeing that Fall Guys is bringing people in who don’t usually play multiplayer games together. So if we can get people together with friends as soon as possible, that’s good. It’s important to us as a studio.
We know that you’re partnering with Bilibili for mobile. Can you share anything on that front?
We don’t have any plans to talk about a mobile port in the west or anything. We’re really excited about these opportunities that Bilibili are presenting to us. For anyone that doesn’t know them, they’re essentially Chinese YouTube but bigger, so it’s amazing to have the opportunity to work with them and they’ve been promoting the game on Steam already.
We’re excited to see what that version of the game can bring to a new audience.
Last question and it’s one I have to ask. Are Fall Guys seriously 1.83 metres tall?
OH: Within the game, that’s how big they are, but I don’t think that’s how you designed them Joe…
JW: Yeah, I always imagined they were about four feet, probably around four and a half feet, but now they’re 1.83 metres and that canon was decided on Twitter – so that’s a fact.