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At the beginning of last year, developer Coffee Stain Studios started working on a big new project, but it didn’t have anything for most of its staff to do. As part of an internal event at the company, some people came up with the idea for Goat Simulator as a joke. More than a year later, it is the company’s most successful game ever.
Now, Coffee Stain is looking back on what it learned from making Goat Simulator. In a blog posted to Gamasutra, the company’s PR manager and game designer Armin Ibrisagic wrote about some of the things that Coffee Stain did right and what it did wrong. Most notably, Ibrisagic expounded on how going into Goat Simulator with no plan or long-term strategy freed up the studio to do amazing things while it also is still causing them pains today. Goat Simulator has surpassed 2.5 million copies sold on PC and mobile, and it is one of the best examples of a game that took advantage of the power of social media and YouTube.
“[Goat Simulator] was by far been the strangest ride of our lives,” wrote Ibrisagic. “It might be a stupid game about a goat, but it has changed our lives faster than we thought was possible.”
One of the big reasons the Coffee Stain team didn’t think it was possible for Goat Simulator to be successful because the team never even intended to release it. It was just a silly side project that some Coffee Stain staff worked on when they had nothing else to do. That meant, once the game started during into something real, no one really knew what the plan was — but that was a good thing in some ways.
“We didn’t have predetermined roles of who was going to do what,” wrote Ibrisagic. “This resulted in everyone feeling like they really had the freedom to create whatever they wanted. It did wonders for morale at the studio, and it simply resulted in way funnier content than if we had a top-down approach from start.”
The Coffee Stain designer used the goat’s jetpack as an example. One of the designers came up with the idea to strap rockets to the goat, and he crafted the in-game item and had it working in Goat Simulator before the end of the day. Another example was the alternate goats, like Tall Goat, which is just a giraffe. Ibrisagic came up with that concept and found an animator who — because of the lack of planning — wasn’t working on anything important.
“[Tall Goat is] a feature we’d never have if we had a fully loaded production schedule and no time to do sudden strange, stupid ideas,” wrote Ibrisagic.
But Coffee Stain also recognizes that the lack of a plan also hurt development in other ways.
“Earlier on, we kind of implemented things in fast-but-bad ways,” wrote Ibrisagic. “So now when we implement new things today, we still have to keep in mind all the ugly coding we did earlier in the first couple of weeks of development. When you’re making a joke prototype game where the main character is a goat, you don’t exactly focus on thinking proactively. In hindsight, it’s resulted in a lot of extra work.”
Coffee Stain ran into several problems when trying to build new maps as well as ports of Goat Simulator for Mac and Linux. Those ports didn’t debut until months after the PC release, and it was because the team didn’t build the earlier code with that possibility in mind.
“We’ve learned many very valuable lessons from developing Goat Simulator,” wrote Ibrisagic. “The open and free form of production where everyone did whatever they wanted was extremely different from what other studios are doing, but that’s also why it gave us an extremely different product from all the others. It might not be perfect for all game projects, but it worked for us.”
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