In some ways, Fall Guys was destined to be a success. Its jelly bean-popping shenanigans had already found a fanbase, thanks to the clever management of Twitch’s platform and influencer culture. And it was also the right game at the right time, a wholesome antidote to the often grim, realism-obsessed world of online gaming.
But as much of a no-brainer as Fall Guys seems now with its wobbly beanpeople jostling and leaping across the finish line, success in the video game industry is never guaranteed. And in an interview with Kotaku Australia, Mediatonic explained that Fall Guys‘ meteoric popularity was something the British-based developers never planned for.
“It always felt like a good idea,” Joe Walsh, the lead designer on Fall Guys, told Kotaku Australia. “Everyone we’ve talked to has been like, ‘Oh man, this could be big’ but big is such a hard thing to describe. As soon as you start thinking about your game being a success you feel like you’re going to jinx it.”
‘Big’ in the case of Fall Guys meant selling two million copies of the game on Steam in its first week. It meant reaching one million unique followers on Twitter within the first month of release. It also meant Fall Guys becoming the most popular game on Twitch, with peaks of up to 400,000 concurrent users.
“Our highest estimates have been absolutely obliterated by the actual response … you can’t plan those things. You can’t predict it,” Walsh told Kotaku Australia. “Sometimes, it’s just right place, right time.”
Early on, the Fall Guys team knew they wanted to create something different players could really dive into. While the game changed throughout its development cycle, its basic principles and humour were clear from the beginning. These ideas kickstarted Fall Guys’ success.
“[We had] this idea of starting on a start line of an insanely difficult obstacle course, but being a hilariously useless character,” Walsh explained. “It just felt inherently funny to us — and also something we’d never really experienced in a game. A lot of multiplayer games play off this power fantasy like, you know, super muscly macho elite dudes … That’s not really what we wanted to do as a studio.”
Rather than the aforementioned ‘super muscly macho elite dudes’, Fall Guys gives players a customised bean person capable of limited, wobbly jumps and light snatching. They can also don a variety of spectacular outfits like fairy wings, chip costumes and dinosaur suits. The beans are cute in their helplessness — they’ve even spawned their own memes and fan art, becoming international icons online.
Another key ingredient to success is memorability.
“I had a lot of fun building the character,” Walsh said of the iconic bean characters. “We spent a lot of time trying to make the character as funny as possible … that really just meant taking the character and running at stuff, slamming into it, just repeatedly for hours on end. Then you’d build two prototypes and you’d run into the same spinning hammer and basically see which one made you laugh more. [After], you’d take those learnings and tweak the character again. All the ways the character pirouettes, rolls and ragdolls and bounces, all those things are a product of hours of crash test dummying and just seeing what sticks.”
With the core concept sorted, the next step in the development process was crafting addictive mini-games. This process was highly collaborative and judged solely around the idea of fun. According to Megan Ralph, level designer on Fall Guys, team brainstorming and playing sessions were key to creating every level.
“It’s pretty collaborative,” Ralph told Kotaku Australia. “We tend to ask people to start brainstorming ideas … then we get together and we do some more brainstorms based on those ideas … Then we pretty harshly go through and knock down the ones that we think aren’t possible and run those by other departments to make sure there’s no problems from their end and get them approved for prototyping.”
After this process, the designers and engineers work on a version the whole team play together and give a ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ to, based on how much fun they had. For Ralph, the most fun she had with the game was playing Slime Climb.
Walsh identified Tiptoe is his personal favourite and admitted he’s fairly good at the game — but said the best thing about Fall Guys is your skill level doesn’t matter. As a game, it’s very accessible and it means anyone can win or lose, but they’ll always enjoy themselves along the way.
“Fall Guys is just so fun that I’d be playing it if we didn’t work on it,” Walsh said. “I’m more than happy to have some friends around, have a few beers and pass the controller around … At the end of the game, you shouldn’t take it too seriously and if you lose, you had fun doing it.”
But the initial launch of Fall Guys wasn’t all fun and games for Mediatonic. As more discovered the game — helped by being a free PS Plus title on PlayStation 4 in August — the servers initially buckled under the strain. Players faced unplanned outages, hackers and being unable to find matches. Maintenance was frequent and fairly long.
“[When server issues happen] we have to quickly diagnose what’s happening,” Walsh said. “It’s almost like you have someone on life support and you’re watching these vital signs … We have all these different warning bells and one of those warning bells will go off, and you just have to dive on the problem and try and figure it out.”
Initially, the team was unprepared for this level of involvement. “Personally, I didn’t realise quite how complex these issues can be,” Walsh said. “I think you see a lot of people online talking about getting more servers — ‘as long as you had more servers’ — things don’t scale like that. Just adding more stuff doesn’t fix the problem. Things go wrong in various ways and the server team has done an incredible job keeping this game running.”
While users have been vocal about these issues on social media, they’ve been effectively spun by Mediatonic’s senior community manager, Oliver Hindle. If you’ve ever browsed through the game’s Twitter feed, you’ll be met with one of gaming’s most wholesome and hilarious communities. This level of engagement is part of what’s led to Fall Guys’ booming success online and the continued growth of its fanbase.
“A wise man once said ‘Suffering from Success’, which is what I’m feeling right now. Actually, it wasn’t a wise man, it was DJ Khaled,” Hindle told Kotaku Australia. “Memes aside, there’s this point where you go from interacting 1-to-1 with as many community members as possible, to only being able to interact 1-to-everyone. I think just being really open, honest, and human on the Fall Guys Twitter has helped maintain a sense of closeness with our community.”
As Fall Guys’ community continues to grow, the Mediatonic team are looking to the game’s future. While only a month into its season one release, there’s already extensive, ever-changing plans for Fall Guys to grow.
“The plan went out the window on day one, really,” Walsh explained. “We have some things we know we need to focus on as a matter of priority, and the first one is content … Game shows are built on variety and they’re built on novelty so for Fall Guys to achieve its goal of being the ‘greatest game show ever made’ we need to create that sort of variety and that sort of novelty. We’re play testing new stuff almost every day — also, new interesting ways to play that content through things like crossplay or squad mode or special playlists with weird combinations of rounds.”
“Basically, we want to get to the point where every time you play Fall Guys, there’s something new and interesting that you’ve not seen before. It’s a lofty goal and it’s going to take a while to get there but I think that’s the biggest focus for the team right now.”
Accessibility, custom game creation and Twitch integration are also being explored for Fall Guys, although the path ahead is currently uncertain. “The roadmap is really changing day by day at the moment as the game continues to blow up,” Walsh said.
And as for that rumoured Switch release for the game? “Ultimately, the dream with Fall Guys is to have as many people playing it as possible,” Walsh said. “Right now, we’re still very much focusing on stability for PlayStation and PC, and making sure that the game continues to as good as possible. But down the line, we’re definitely open to bringing the game to new platforms.”
Before Fall Guys launched, the question remained: Could the jelly bean-based indie break into the calcified halls of Twitch’s top played games? At the time of writing, Mediatonic’s wobbly royale had more viewers than Valorant, Grand Theft Auto 5, League of Legends and Fortnite. And with its growing community, loads of content in the works and more news due out on August 28, the future of Fall Guys is certainly looking bright.