Goat Simulator is, with the best will in the world, a stupid game. When Coffee Stain's caprine sandbox was first conceived it was a throwaway bit of fun - a light-hearted jab at games like GTA and Skate, but it soon became apparent that team had much more on its hands than an in-house joke.
Speaking about the process at GDC Europe in 2014, game designer Armin Ibrisagic explained just how haphazard the process was.
"There wasn't a game at first," Ibrisagic revealed in his speech. "It was just a person being really excited about goats. The second pitch was like keyboard-twister: Imagine every key on your keyboard controls something, so you control one limb with one key, the head with a key, the spine with a key, and make combinations. And it would be impossibly hard to eat grass. Which could be fun for, like, five minutes if you're drunk, but it needed a little bit more than that."
"What if you'd get points for doing stupid stuff like in skating, except you're a goat? And instead of skating, you would be headbutting and breaking windows and stuff?"
The seed of the idea was formed, and with other members of the team working on what were thought to be more reasonable projects, Ibrisagic and a small team of 5-6 others put together a rough alpha with assets "downloaded from the internet" and posted a YouTube video. By the morning, it had 80,000 views. Fan and media pressure to make Goat Simulator a reality rose, and the video quickly clocked up over five million hits. Shortly afterwards, during the game's first appearance, at GDC, the team had actual money thrown at them, albeit $17 worth. It was the first revenue for Goat Simulator, but not the last. In that same GDC Europe talk, Ibrisagic revealed just how quickly Coffee Stain covered its initial costs.
"I think we recouped our money within, like, ten minutes."
In fact, Goat Simulator has now sold over 2.5 million copies across four platforms and made more than $12 million in revenues. Not that stupid.
""The comedy genre is really new in the games industry. In Hollywood movies, it's massive, but there are so few comedy games. I don't know why, I have a lot of theories"
Two and a half years later, Armin Ibrisagic has left Coffee Stain, on good terms, and set up his own studio: DoubleMoose. He's not going it alone, however. He's signed up industry veteran Trevor Snowden as COO and he's formed a partnership with PewDiePie, whose coverage of Goat Simulator was a huge factor in its success.
CEO Ibrisagic and his dev team are based out of Skovde in Sweden, lodged halfway between Stockholm and Gothenberg, and home to a burgeoning dev population thanks the efforts of Sweden Game Arena and the local university. Snowden is in the US, and PewDiePie, Felix Kjellberg, lives in the UK town of Brighton.
Whilst the 25 year old CEO is confident that this geographically disparate team will gel, he knows that there might never be another production process like Goat Simulator.
"When I worked on Goat Simulator it was a real eye-opener," he explains when I sit down with him at the Sweden Game Conference in DoubleMoose's home town. "I'd worked on other games before, but when you make stupid games it's a totally different process, a different type of development. It's a lot of fun. I think Goat Simulator kind of spoiled me - it was so much fun, I wanted to explore it more.
"The comedy genre is really new in the games industry. In Hollywood movies, it's massive, but there are so few comedy games. I don't know why, I have a lot of theories. It's kind of a new industry, we haven't tried everything yet. The thing which works best is making sequels. I just want to innovate in a direction which not many people are moving in, so I decided to found my own studio.
"So when I decided it was time to do something on my own I was expecting to have to travel round, looking for funding, do that whole thing. The first person I spoke to was Felix - we'd been in contact ever since Goat Simulator became big. I told him I wanted to make stupid comedy games that aren't really part of any genre, and he thought that sounded interesting, so we decided to do it together.
"I know what my strengths are, but I know what my weaknesses are too. I'm a 25 year old CEO, so Trevor's like an insurance policy for the whole company"
"That's when I brought Trevor Snowden in, too, he's been in the industry 23 years, was a senior executive at Ubisoft. I know what my strengths are, but I know what my weaknesses are too. I'm a 25 year old CEO, so Trevor's like an insurance policy for the whole company. He has so much experience, he lends legitimacy to the whole thing, so it's not just me and Felix playing around."
Snowden seems equal to the task, happy to play along with the role of indulgent supervisor, but also recognising the innate challenges in what they're setting out to do.
"I love a challenge, and the determination Armin has in taking on the difficult reality of putting humour first in the development of DoubleMoose's first game was very interesting to me," says Snowden, over email. "We have a great opportunity to expand on an area of development and narrative design that has always been one of the hardest and we are taking a unique focus by putting the product as a whole front and centre with a priority on everything being humorous but not repetitive, not just certain scenarios or characters.
"Most developers know how hard humour is to pull off and tend to approach it very carefully, frequently falling short on anything more than a single character or sub narrative. In passive entertainment like movies and shows there are formulas like time between gags and jokes, but in games the players control the pace. We have some strong ideas we will be flushing out in the coming months we that we are very confident in. Taking on the challenges of humour is a very serious endeavour!" Really funny games are genuinely rare, and Ibrisagic and I talk for a while about whether that's simply down to consumption patters and expectations of the medium, or a deeper challenge. Games clearly can be funny, and funny things are tremendously popular and often very lucrative, so why haven't there been more comedy games?
"I think we end up making games similar to the things we enjoy playing, too. If you ask a lot of the students here what they want to make, they'll say RPGs or MOBAs"
"It's such a hard question," the Swede muses. "Maybe it's hard to pitch a comedy game to a publisher? I think we end up making games similar to the things we enjoy playing, too. If you ask a lot of the students here what they want to make, they'll say RPGs or MOBAs, something like that, and I wanted to do that too, earlier. I think it's a chicken and egg thing. Development is such a technical thing - and heard this from Trevor's experiences on Stick of Truth - even comedy writers find it hard to make games that are funny and fun at the same time. But I think it's also to do with the fact that our industry is basically only 30 years old. I think it's just a matter of time.
"When I have the chance to make crazy games, I want to invent new genres. Gameplay-wise they're going to be very experimental and very weird, I think that fits very well with comedy. I don't want to draw too much inspiration from Goat Simulator because I've already made that game, I don't need to make it again. But at the same time, I learned a lot there - one of the key things was not to overthink your game design.
"I grew up on things like Cartoon Network and Nickleodeon - I really respect the way they're constantly launching consistently strong new IP. That's something I want to try and take inspiration from. I love the anarchy. Stupid, but intelligent at the same time, like South Park. Trevor worked on The Stick of Truth, too. Felix, he knows what's funny, he's going to be the creative direction kind of guy, helping to design all the games.
Ibrisagic wouldn't be pressed on exactly what was next, but was happy to hint that DoubleMoose's model was going to be rapid iteration of multiple projects, not wanting to get too caught up in polishing the rough and ready charm out of games in a market which forgets fast. And of course, being YouTube friendly is a core design principle...
"I don't want to say exactly what we're working on, because I'm still writing the design document, but it's going to be physics-based and it's going to be stupid, using our strengths! We definitely also need to make a game that's not just fun to play, but fun to watch when someone else is playing."