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Bugsnax, weird games, and running a studio with Young Horses' Phil Tibitoski

Phil Tibitoski, president of Bugsnax developer Young Horses, joins us to chat about his approach to running a small studio, pricing an indie game, a horrific bug-peeling game mechanic in Bugsnax, and much more.

Kris Graft, Contributor

May 26, 2021

Phil Tibitoski is president and cofounder of Young Horses, the Chicago-based game studio behind memorable games including Octodad: Dadliest Catch and most recently Bugsnax.

He recently joined Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft and news editor Alissa McAloon on the GDC Podcast to chat about his approach to running a small studio, pricing an indie game, a horrific bug-peeling game mechanic in Bugsnax, and much more. Here are just a few choice extracts to snack on.

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Phil on running a small, sustainable studio

"The whole goal with creating Young Horses was to create something small and sustainable, something where we could work at a pace that we were happy with. And initially, that was difficult just because before making any money, we were all still working day jobs or living off of savings from jobs we've had and coming straight out of school. And sometimes, like in my case, I was in school, had a day job, and was also working on Octodad: Dadliest Catch at the same time.

"But since then, it's been pretty relaxed, honestly. We generally only work 30-35 hours a week, per person. We have some core hours that we try to stick to but otherwise [it's] kind of laid back and just creating things. Our whole goal is creating things that other studios, even if it's only like an internal pitch, it's likely to get shot down because it just sounds absurd."

Phil explains why Young Horses nixed a bug-peeling mechanic in Bugsnax

"One thing that is consistent about our pitching process--internally when we're trying to come up with a new game--is that each person comes to the table with their set of one-page pitches. It can be a mechanic or it can be a concept or a narrative.

"But with Bugsnax, we took three of them or more and kind of mushed them all together. And so like that peeling mechanic that you saw from that tweet was from a pitch from Devin, who is one of our programmers, because he really liked the tactile feel of peeling a sticker, and was prototyping that feeling. And then we were like, 'Well, why don't we just slap it in this bug hunting game, and you can peel them apart?' And maybe we can make people enjoy this thing that they probably shouldn't enjoy.

"...There's a way to go too far to where someone won't stick with something, because they're immediately repulsed. What we wanted to do was slowly make [players] feel bad about what they were doing by first leading them in with how cute it is; there's a balance there that we had to strike. And we were trying to experiment and figure out what the right balance was, and you know, tearing limbs off and having them scream or yell. [That mechanic] was really not in the cards if we wanted people to keep playing."

Phil on Bugsnax's price tag

"We want to value our work at a higher price point and [for it] to sit alongside Supergiant or Capy or any of the studios we have looked up to. It felt like there was work to be done to meet those standards.

"Octodad was $15 at its base price. For an average player, whether as a developer you like it or not, someone values your game [according to] how much time they spend in it. That's just the truth of the world, at least right now. And so Octodad is about two and a half hours for an average player who's just going through it at an average pace, and it can be a lot less than that for someone who is speed running.

"...We ended up at $25 for Bugsnax because we felt the jump in quality, it is fully voice acted, but also [it's] still fairly short relative to a lot of triple-A outings, or games that you'd play over and over again like Hades. We felt like it was it wasn't quite at that level. So we jumped back and forth between $20, $25, $30 and ended up in the middle."

GDC Podcast music by Mike Meehan

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