There were plenty of party and local co-op games from developers all around the globe last year. But few were as impressive as Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a co-operative experience where one person stares at a bomb and their friends pour over a defusal manual to help them out.
It's the kind of game that's great for people who don't play games, because there's barely any barrier for entry. But as it turns out, that audience of non-gamers turned out to be a big market for the developers.
The information was part of Ben Kane's panel at the Game Developers Conference this year. Kane's the co-creator of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and DLC Quest before that.
In it, he described that the developers assumed early adopters of virtual reality headsets would be the most interested in the game — after all, Keep Talking was designed with VR predominantly in mind. But other, surprising audiences began to take an interest in the co-op game.
"People who were really into VR seemed to like our game," Kane explained. "But then we noticed that kids really liked our game, and they liked playing the expert side as much as the VR side. And strangely, they liked playing with their parents because they could boss their parents around. And then their parents like playing with their kids — because their kids were actually talking to them."
"But most surprising were the number of people who readily identified themselves as not being into video games. Because they would have their friends convince them to play our game just by saying, 'Here, take this manual, help me out, help me defuse a bomb.' That was the thin end of the wedge, and you could convince people who weren't into video games to at least give it a shot."
This realisation demoing the game in its early stages taught the developers a crucial thing: they weren't making a game about virtual reality, or a game about defusing a bomb. The game was actually about communicating with your friends, and that fuelled every element of development afterwards.
The language in the defusal manual, for instance, was deliberately written in a manner so that it avoided imagery of death and injury — because the developers knew it would be read by kids and their parents. Concentrating on interesting communication became the glue between the roles of the person looking at the bomb and the people reading the manual.
But that breakthrough might not have emerged if it wasn't for those initial playtests when the developers learned who was really playing their game: kids, mums and dads, and people who ordinarily wouldn't look at video games twice.
Kane's GDC talk was made available in full earlier this morning. It's just under half an hour and is excellent viewing if you're interested at all in the development of video games or, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.