Goat Forth and Conquer: The Viral Success of 'Goat Simulator'

How an inside joke sold nearly 1 million copies.

 

Fresh off making the first-person shooter Sanctum 2, Swedish development house Coffee Stain Studios wanted to kick back and make a lighter internal game tutorial that could introduce new programmers to the Unreal game engine. Seeking “the dumbest idea I could get,” game designer Armin Ibrisagic envisioned a Tony Hawk-style skater game that centered on a rampaging goat ramming, licking, and head-butting its way through the civilized world. When word about the concept got out, Coffee Stain created an absolutely epic trailer, which promised “the latest in goat simulation technology” and parodied that of the critically acclaimed game Dead Island. The rest is viral Internet history. The Goat Simulator trailer almost instantaneously racked up over 1 million views—currently it’s at nearly 6.8 million and counting—and encouraged Coffee Stain to turn their goat-themed pipe dream into a pixelated reality, complete with its own bizarre story mythology.

By the time Goat Simulator hit the market, buzz was strong and the Studio recouped its investment within 10 minutes of launch. Since its release this past April, the game has sold nearly 1 million copies, the Coffee Stain team is currently working on mobile versions, and the Studio has teamed up with the nonprofit organization Heifer International, to raise funds to buy actual goats for families living in developing countries. The concept behind Goat Simulator may be absurd, but the money it’s generating is anything but.

GIM: You purposefully kept some bugs in the game. Why did you make that decision?

AI: A lot of the bugs, well all of the bugs we did, we never planned for them to be that funny, but once we actually tested the game and saw some of the bugs in action, we just felt that this is hilarious, we have to keep this. That’s something that our players have asked us too before we released the game. They were like, “Oh, please keep the bugs in the game. They’re so hilarious.” We kind of just wanted to remove the game crashes and the stuff that makes the game worse, but everything that’s funny we definitely wanted to keep it in.

GIM: Do you have a favorite?

AI: If you’ve seen the devil goat, it has this thing that when you press “R,” it creates a vortex close to its head and it pulls everything toward it. What we didn’t know when we released the game is if you jump into the air while doing the vortex thing, it actually pulls you toward the vortex, which pulls the vortex away from you, which pulls you toward the vortex again. It kind of just totally spazzes out and you can pretty much fly into space or under the ground and end up in all kinds of places. … After we launched the game, we saw that bug and we were like, “Yeah, that’s hilarious. We have to keep it.”

Goat Simulator screenshot

GIM: After you released game, walk me through the process of getting it to the commercial market.

AI: We never fully released the game before it was out on Steam. We kind of made it in our office and two weeks in or something I put up a video of it on YouTube just for fun and it got like 5 million views. When the video went totally viral on the Internet, we just figured, “Yeah, maybe we should do this for real.” We had so many people asking us to, “Please make the game available” and “Please to release it for real.” We just started looking at what more we could add to the game. We didn’t just want to release it like it was because it was pretty terrible two weeks in. We wanted to add some more content and some more stuff but still release it really soon. We didn’t want to work on the game too much and have it come too loaded. We didn’t want to try too hard and take it too seriously.

GIM: Were you surprised at the reception?

AI: Yeah, definitely. We never expected it to be that big. We expected it to be like, at most, a funny thing that we would just do. Maybe we’d finish the game in a couple of weeks and we’d have it at our office and just play around it with, at best put it out on the Internet for free on our webpage, but now it’s become probably our biggest IP right now. It’s pretty crazy.

GIM: I read your post about how the goat is in purgatory the whole time. Where did that come from?

AI: We were surprised that no one made that connection before. It kind of says “Heaven” and “Hell” in huge text in the game. We didn’t want to tell people too early, but after a while I was just sipping my coffee on a Monday morning and I was like, “Do it!” …

GIM: So the purgatory angle was built into the game from the beginning?

AI: Yeah. The thing is we’ve never had a concrete project plan for Goat Simulator. People add in stuff themselves whenever they want. One of our artists added the two signs really early in development, like the first weeks or something. Then another one of our artists made a devil goat and then we made an angel goat. It kind of grew as we made the project by itself. We really expected people to find out as soon as they played it. That was pretty unexpected too.

Goat Simulator screenshot

GIM: My favorite part of it was when you stated that Goat Simulator “symbolizes the current chaos in the Ukraine.”

AI: Gamers are usually really repulsed by current events. I think it’s fun to include it in our game, which is probably a media that’s pretty unexpected to handle [political issues] correctly. I think it’s really a shame that so many developers shy away from it.

GIM: Do you feel like that’s underdeveloped territory in gaming?

AI: Yeah, for sure. It probably isn’t best for all games. … AAA developers are still really afraid of including anything controversial in their games, but there are a lot of indie developers that are doing this and I think it’s really good that they are.

GIM: Do you have any feelings on other simulation games that have come out like Bear Simulator?

AI: I think Bear Simulator is totally not the same thing because our game is a domestic animal simulator [and] their game is a wild animal simulator, so it’s extremely different. I don’t even think you can compare the two games. There are lots of clones on mobile right now, like Android and iOS games, which of course sucks. There’s Goat Rampage and Crazy Goat. Of course, we think that it’s really terrible, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t sue them and we can’t do anything. I think the worst thing isn’t that they’re making money off our idea; the worst thing is the games look so horrible. If you Google “Crazy Goat,” it looks really terrible. That’s probably the worst thing. It’s too bad, but it’s not something that we lose a lot of sleep over. We’re not crying every day because we think that our own IP is great and there are always going to be clones.

GIM: What ideas didn’t make it into the game?

AI: Every single stupid idea that we had, we kind of implemented it, and there are a lot of things that we never thought we would do that we put in the game as well. Like, at the start, we just planned on having one goat then, after a while, a journalist asked me why you could only play a goat, why you couldn’t play any other animals. Then I was like, “Sounds like a good idea. Let’s do that,” so now we have the giraffe and the whale and everything. I think everything that we wanted to do we’ve done, and we’ve done even more than we wanted to do actually.

Goat Simulator screenshot

GIM: The game has been criticized as being the result solely of a good social media strategy. Do you have any response to that?

AI: As a PR manager, that’s kind of the best compliment I’ve ever had. I’m pretty glad about that. I think we got pretty terrible scores on Goat Simulator on Metacritic, but if you review Goat Simulator at all, you don’t really get the game, especially if you give us a low score for story and a low score for graphics. If you do that, then you don’t really get the game. That’s exactly what we’re trying to make fun of. People give us bad scores sometimes because we’re not AAA, but that’s not what we’re trying to do either. We don’t get super sad every time someone says our game is terrible, because we think it’s really funny.

GIM: I did find it pretty funny when I read that the game didn’t have the narrative development that some critics wanted. That’s such an amazing standard to apply to a game called Goat Simulator.

AI: Yeah, exactly. We’ve had a lot of people, a lot of professional reviewers, who have said that the game was really fun but that it was too short, which to me doesn’t make any sense. If you see a short film that’s only 15 minutes, you’re not going to say that it’s bad because it’s short. We feel the same with Goat Simulator. It’s a short and stupid game, but we didn’t want to make hundreds of hours of gameplay either. …

GIM: [Coffee Stain did not implement any development deadlines when working on Goat Simulator]. Do you have deadline requirements for any of the games you’re developing?

AI: No. Goat Simulator was actually the first time we did this kind of development, but we’re probably going to do it in the future. I think it has totally to do with the kind of game you’re making. We made so much cool stuff in Goat Simulator because we had such an open and free development.

GIM: Do you feel like that model would work for other types of games?

AI: I don’t know. It totally has to do with the project, but I think that even if you’re doing a super-serious game, I still think it would be a good idea to just take one month or something and let people do whatever they want. That’s when we got our best ideas.

Grab a copy of Goat Simulator and fight poverty at the same time by purchasing through Heifer International.

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