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Why haven't you heard of this 'hit game'?

Guest author Matthew Burns injects a little humor into the GameDiscoverCo newsletter.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s. Welcome to another ‘summer holiday’ edition!]

Sometimes we worry that writing about why games succeed in the GameDiscoverCo newsletter is a road to vapid prognosticating. A lot of the time, big games ‘just happen’, independently of actual advice.

We thought of a way to answer that question! We worked with Matthew Burns (co-creator of Eliza and The Writer Will Do Something) for a satirical ‘you too can have a hit game!’ interview, a continuation of our alternative ‘summer holiday’ newsletters.

Matthew explained to me that he “wanted to capture the frustration of having your own game that you're trying to make successful, and reading an interview with someone who seems to have just had it magically happen for them.” That, my friends, is who you’ll meet below.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: we’ll be very clear - the reason you haven’t heard of the below game? It doesn’t exist. But ugh, turns out it’s surprisingly believable. We’ll return after the ‘insight’ for a round-up of the (actual!) video game discovery & platform news.]

Pickle Fighters - the bitterly surprising road to ‘success’!

A screenshot of the fake game
(Thanks to Pixel Jess for providing this ‘authentic’ Pickle Fighters screenshot.)

We’re so excited this week to feature a chat with Chad Blastovic, founder of Demented Lemur Studios, who recently shipped the smash hit indie deckbuilding Metroidvania roguelite Pickle Fighters - 2,000,000 copies sold already, in just 8 weeks!

We felt the best way to get across the majesty of his vision and execution was to interview him one on one. So that’s just what we did:

Q: Hey Chad - how’s it going? Are you calming down and de-stressing from the pressure of such a high-profile launch?

A: I’m trying to stay humble, but I admit it’s hard when your game is tearing up the charts! I used to be one of those people who said, “don’t equate your level of fame and success with your sense of personal worth.” But now that it’s happened for me, I’m not so sure.

Maybe it’s actually awesome to have your self-esteem determined by other people and by factors that aren’t totally in your control… and maybe when fans love my game, it means they love me, personally! Wanting to be loved is why we’re all here, right?

Q: Tell us a little bit about the unique launch announcement you put together for Pickle Fighters - how did that idea come together, and why do you think it resonated with people so well?

A: As any indie dev will tell you, it’s hard to get people to notice you, and it’s even harder to get people to care. That’s how the team and I came up with the whole “Chad breaks into a pickle factory and falls into a giant pickle vat” viral stunt to announce the game.

I mean, it may not have been totally premeditated, but I really did fall into the vat. That wasn’t CG or anything. They say you never want to be the main character of Twitter, but who can argue with the results we got from that?

Sure, the hot pickling liquid and stirring equipment hurt a lot, and the factory is suing me, and there’s an outstanding warrant for my arrest, among other things my lawyer says I shouldn’t talk about. But you do what you have to, if you want to make it in this business.

Q: We’re expecting that through development, you had some smart ways to get noticed, from specific streamers to Steam pre-launch highlights that really ratcheted up your wishlist numbers. Take us through some of the highlights.

A: If you aren’t putting yourself out there every day in every way, you might as well not exist! So, we created 5 TikToks each day and streamed every night from 4pm-10pm on Twitch, YouTube, and MyFreeGameDevCams.

We also have an official Discord server, Twitter account, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, Mastodon instance, and Second Life sim, plus a presence on MySpace, Ello, LiveJournal, and Peach. Word of advice on that: don’t just repost content from one service to another! People will notice. It’s best to shape your content specifically for each platform.

We were also fortunate to make some deals with highly respected gaming influencers including Borgle (6 million subs), Plubber (5.5m), and Cool Dad (2m). Of course everyone knows these folks, and because they’re trustworthy sources of information as well as incredibly famous, we had lots of fans from day one.

The combo of super viral-ready factors gave rise to a lot of organic impressions from specific things that happened, like #borglepicklegate. Don’t look that one up if you’re at work.

Q: Some might say that Pickle Fighters has too many genres mashed together in it. But clearly, it’s working for you! Can you explain how the game works and why the public are responding to it so well?

A: It’s actually a pretty simple game. You select a pickle from over 30 different starting types and use your deck-based abilities to make your way through a series of procedurally-generated dungeons, gaining fermentation if you play well, while keeping an eye on your salt, moisture, and temperature levels.

We don’t stop you from making weird builds, like combining dill herb with Korean chili pepper flakes. Everyone wants to have their own unique pickle and show it off, so there’s a user-generated content aspect at play here too.

Of course, there are the other player-controlled pickles in the same dungeons who are waiting to disrupt your own runs, with mold or container breakage or whatever, so you have to watch out. At the end of the game, only one pickle out of the initial 100 is declared the winner.

Q: Wait, your game is a battle royale too?

A: Yeah, it is. It’s also a low-stakes sandwich-making simulator! You know, for the ‘wholesome games’ crowd.

Q: What’s some of the favorite community reactions to the game’s release that you’ve seen so far?

A: Just the other day, we announced that we were going to announce the release date for our Onions & Eggs expansion, which is part of our 3-part roadmap for Season 1, Episode 1, Chapter 0 - Prologue.

There was all kinds of speculation on when we would announce the announce, and SmuckerPunch even found my physical address and staked out my house for 10 hours shouting, “announce the announce already!” while occasionally throwing gherkins at the windows. He made a hilarious YouTube video out of that (427,410 views), so that’s been really wonderful to see.

Q: What advice do you have for our audience on the three things you absolutely must - and must not - do to have a hit game in today’s crowded, crowded marketplace?

A: First, you should look at the market, see what’s selling well these days. But your game should also be totally unique. Second, you definitely need to spend a lot of time and effort on marketing. But you should also just focus on making the best game possible!

Finally, you should definitely listen to feedback from potential publishing partners. But, you should also stick to your guns on your creative vision. When it comes down to it, all you really gotta do is make a game that everyone likes and wants!

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]

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