How Goat Simulator really did become our next IP
Using the word “alpha” for the first video of Goat Simulator is, in retrospect, a pretty misleading term. The game was no more alpha than it was a map in Unreal Engine 3 with a goat and some props you can run into. However, the internet did what it does best and exploded. After a day or two we reached more views on the Goat Simulator video than we had in all our other trailers we’ve produced over the last few years, combined.
This is the earliest screenshot of Goat Simulator, a couple of hours into the production.
Let’s rewind to the start of Goat Simulator. We had worked on the Sanctum IP for four years, and with the Season Pass for Sanctum 2 completed, we looked at other projects we could start working on. We put some of our most senior and experienced developers on pre-production on another unannounced project, and the rest of the developers, a mix of seasoned developers and newly-recruited programmers that had only worked mainly with mobile platforms and never before in the Unreal Engine. We decided we’d run a quick game jam session to train our new programmers, to get our creative juices flowing, and to relax a bit after years of tower defense.
There were a lot of great ideas going around at our office for game jam games. A lot of them were deep and complex games. I wanted to go in another direction - something totally stupid and not serious at all. After all, creativity and outside-of-the-box games was the purpose of the game jam.
At start, it was actually really hard to get people on board the project. Every developer has a super-complex and deep RPG they’ve always dreamed about making. Or a super-artistic story-based adventure. The initial game pitch was very loose, it was basically “goats are funny, let’s make a goat game”. But as the game design became more and more defined, the score system was brought in, which incidentally also made the game idea exponentially more funny, people started actually considering the project for real. They were finally turning into goats!
Some day in January, goats were in the majority. We reached the point where the studio was like “OKAY FINE, LETS DO THE GOAT THING!”. After that, things went extremely fast. It only took a few weeks before I could record the first alpha footage and put it up on Youtube. A day later I woke up, and I remember it having 77 thousand views. We were stunned, that’s more than our release trailer for Sanctum 2! Then Kotaku picked it up. 200k views. 400k. A million. Journalists calling from everywhere, not just gaming media, but Vice, The Independant, Huffington Post, even a agricultural hobbyist magazine called Modern Farmer. Goat Simulator wasn’t just our game anymore, it was spreading uncontrolled everywhere. Like a fire. A good fire though. Maybe a fire isn’t the best analogy.
Requests started coming in from everywhere to make Goat Simulator into a real game, not just as a way to play around for a couple of weeks until pre-production on another project ends. Earlier, we had thought that we could put up a download of Goat Simulator on our website in case we felt like we proud of the finished product. However, seeing as people were already asking for some pretty big features and expecting a game the size of Skyrim with goats, when it in fact was four houses and a goat on a map in UDK, we felt that wasn’t an option anymore. People were asking for mod support, goat customization, open world exploring, missions, AI for humans that would run away from you. Dozens of sites had already crowned us Game of the Year 2014.
It’s extremely scary, but also extremely exhilarating. Sure, we’ve felt a ton of pressure, but it’s also been immensely motivating. When people’s expectations of you are insanely high, there’s nothing else, and nothing better you can do than deliver!
We placed more people on Goat Simulator, made a real project plan for it (seriously, it didn’t have a project plan), and started looking at how we could add content and make the game worthy of all the hype. We put our level designers from the Sanctum series on making way more content - with the help of Nvidia PhysX and Apex, we now have a gas station that explodes beautifully, a low-gravity testing facility, a waterpark, and a breakable stonehenge. We’re even adding AI for humans that will run away from you. However, we were still unsure if Valve would even accept such a stupid game on Steam. Our CEO mailed John Bartkiw at Valve, and we got this reply back:
“DJ has started wearing a goat costume to work he’s so excited about this game.”
We were set for a Steam release. Hours later, we put up a Steam release trailer, and the internet again, exploded.
Steam support is probably the most defining and important part of Goat Simulator, it means that we can add Steam Workshop, and let players not only make their own goat, but also their own levels, props, missions, and more. People are going to make levels filled with 10 000 explosive canisters, headbutt them with a goat, and make the game crash. And that will be glorious.
We just announced the fitting April 1st release of Goat Simulator, and I’d like to say the exact same thing I said when originally pitching the idea: It could turn out great, it could also turn out terrible, but in either case, it’ll be really, really interesting.