Deconstructing Fall Guys — How to Supercharge Organic Installs
Fall Guys is undoubtedly one of the great gaming success stories of 2020. With over 7 million copies sold on Steam alone, it took the top spot on Twitch on several occasions with a peak of 620,158 viewers and became the most downloaded PS Plus game of all time. It’s safe to say that Mediatonic tapped into the illusive casual formula: broad appeal gameplay that is easy to pick up but difficult to master. But with the inevitable decline in interest kicking in and with Season 2 right around the corner, let’s take a look at how Fall Guys became such a huge success, and how it can maintain relevance in a highly competitive space.
Design & Mechanics:
In Fall Guys the objective is extraordinarily simple: race to the finish through a Mario-like obstacle course against 59 other jelly-bean shaped players. The controls aren’t complex: the usual movement controls, as well as jump, dive and grab. The simplicity of these inputs and the straightforward objectives combine to make a really accessible game where a first time player, or even a first time viewer, can quickly understand what is going on. The depth comes from the emergent gameplay generated by the Battle Royale style multiplayer and the heavy use of in-game physics. Even other players become obstacles to Fall ’N’ Roll over before reaching the finish line. It’s a truly chaotic, comic, free-for-all.
This randomness and subtle depth of gameplay create memorable and unpredictable experiences that delight and frustrate players, the most famous case being TimTheTatMan’s tragedy filled quest for the coveted crown. Surprising and unexpected outcomes are among the most effective methods for generating highly engaging experiences, it’s something Battle Royale games, and Gacha systems, are known to exploit to great effect. Fall Guys doubles down on this with just the right amount of chaos baked into the core experience: twirling propellers, balancing bars, see-saws, to name but a few relatively unpredictable game elements. Then there’s the other players: the icing on the emergent cake. Everybody is in with a shot at the crown in every game, and despite the limited set of courses to play through, each game feels challenging and different.
Fall Guys doesn’t take itself very seriously at all, and that’s infectious — it’s far more accessible because losing is an entertaining part of the experience. Having victory snatched away by a giant swinging hammer doesn’t feel bad because of the sheer ridiculousness of it. These are the moments that players share with their friends and create entertaining content for influencers. Playing with friends only enhances the fun: the rewards for doing so are implicit, rather than explicit, in the form of hilarious and memorable moments. Implicit motivations are the key ingredients when engaging players for the long term, and so Fall Guys has teed itself up for long term success — if it can fully capitalise on social play.
The visuals follow a bright and over-saturated aesthetic that would make even Haribo flinch. The colours are eye-catching, enough to get your attention in any YouTube thumbnail, and the character designs are cute and endearing. It’s as if the Artists sat down and decided to pump all of the assets through a meme deep fryer to crank up the contrast and saturation to the max before shipping. There’s no doubt this adds to the virality factor of the game; it’s just so pleasing to look at and the ‘game show’ theme makes it enjoyable to watch.
Mediatonic deserves Kudos for their UI/UX design: for a PC game this really wouldn’t seem out of place on mobile at all, and actually puts most mobile UI/UX designers to shame. Navigation is simple: the game will often take you from one menu to the next and surface the relevant information cleanly, such as with the rewards flow at the end of each game. Kudos is pretty much the sole currency which boils other rewards systems down into a simpler form.
My only complaint here is that the main menu needs more work: the top menu navigation bar could use some life, maybe add a call to action on the store button to draw more attention to the store offers and to let the player know that it’s actually a navigable menu. The player character, bottom-left nameplate, and season progress UI elements are not interactive when they really should be. These would make great alternative ways to navigate (that would also happen to be touch screen friendly *wink wink*). Allowing for clicking the player character to go to the character wardrobe, and clicking the season progress bar to navigate to the season menu would be much more intuitive. These UI interactions lend themselves to the affordances already baked into the UI (drop shadows make things look ‘clicky’). Even so, the ‘3-click rule’ for navigation is rarely broken.
Aside from this the UX of the core game is superb, with clear signals and affordances communicating the purpose of in-game elements, such as arrows on spinning platforms, markers hovering over friends’ heads, doors that look breakable, and checkpoint flags with clear sounds and effects. Ultimately these little details and finishing touches reduce the need for meticulous tutorials, reducing unnecessary confusion and cognitive load on the player, which makes for an extremely intuitive experience right from the first play session. For a much more in-depth and expert UX breakdown I’d really recommend this blog from Nida Ahmad of Netspeak Games.
The core loop is straightforward: jump into game show themed matches where each round more and more players are eliminated while attempting to reach the finish line. The higher your placement, the better the rewards (the currency of which is ‘Kudos’, and the equivalent of traditional Exp is called ‘Fame’). Once only a handful of players remain, the final round is initiated, which usually constitutes a slightly more difficult course. The winner of which earns a ‘Crown’ — the second in-game currency which is only obtainable by winning (or as a season progress reward). Once the player is eliminated or the game is over they go through the rewards flow and are dropped back at the main menu, ready to hit play again, or open the store to spend their hard-earned Kudos.
The core loop follows a fairly standard recipe: play -> reward -> upgrade -> repeat. It’s perfect for shorter play sessions and provides quick turnarounds for player gratification. This short gratification offsets the long droughts waiting for a win/crown. For the most part the player is hand-held through the core loop, guiding the player from one phase to the next, which almost completely removes points of friction and player churn (with the exception of the main menu/store). Excluding the gameplay itself, there are only two interactions in the core loop: a play button to join a game and a button to confirm rewards when the game is finished that takes you right back to the main menu, ready to go again. There is one additional interaction to equip/confirm a new reward if the player levels up during the end of game rewards flow, but this occurs infrequently and ensures the player is aware of their free reward. It also reminds the player regularly that they’re making progress. Progress is a strong motivator.
The main points of friction occur in the menus: store, cosmetics wardrobe and season progress. Despite it being relatively easy to navigate to these menus from the main menu/lobby, this process could still be improved and simplified as mentioned previously. Alternative ways to navigate menus can only reduce friction for players whose intuition differs from what the UI Designer expects. A call to action on the store button would also draw more attention to the store deals and the fact that the top bar is a navigation bar.
Progression & Monetisation:
Fall Guys is a mix of premium and free-to-play in terms of monetisation. For Steam users the game costs $19.99, but for PlayStation Plus users the game was free for the first month after release. It’s certainly not a AAA game, hence the lower price tag, but what Mediatonic seem to have grokked (probably due to their experience with mobile free-to-play) is that there are open pastures in the Console/PC space for casual and core game experiences with a very light sprinkle of free-to-play style monetisation. The Console/PC audience is one that has traditionally been hostile towards ‘micro-transactions’, but games like Fortnite have since proven that there is a huge addressable market on HD platforms for games with a low (or non-existent) initial cost. This generally means avoiding anything that might be perceived as pay-to-win or gambling, and not gating content that ‘should be available at launch’ behind additional payments.
Even with these guidelines in mind, Mediatonic has taken the most player-friendly approach possible: offering cosmetics in exchange for Kudos which can be purchased or earned simply by playing the game. An average player could easily earn enough Kudos to afford any of the shop cosmetics after a few games. Kudos can also be purchased, and the prices are very fair compared to other games: $4.99 bags you 12500 Kudos, which can buy several cosmetics. What this means in practise is that each cosmetic item can be optionally purchased with real money for around one dollar. It’s a notable departure from more aggressive monetisation on mobile, where one or two gacha pulls might cost $4.99. Crowns are the other currency used for buying cosmetics, which cannot be purchased with real money. Crowns can only be earned by winning Shows, so plenty of the most interesting cosmetics are reserved as rewards for playing and doing well. A limited number of exclusive cosmetics are also only available in the DLC store as separate purchases.
In-game monetisation of premium games, especially those on PC and Consoles, is therefore (generally) an act of balancing fair, non-pay-to-win, and high value-prop purchases with the need to generate a reasonable amount of revenue. Tricky business. Fall Guys clearly errs far on the side of caution but there is room for additional monetisation without damaging player sentiment. One idea would be to add a battle-pass style premium track to the existing Season progress, you can check out my previous article on best practises when implementing battle pass monetisation.
The main progression system is implemented as a free battle pass. Every game the player earns Fame (read: Exp) that carries them towards the next Season level. At each level there is another free gift to reward the player for their efforts. With 40 levels total (39 with rewards) the cumulative value gifted to the player is approximately $38.40, plus 11 Crowns which don’t have an approximate ‘real-world money’ value because they can’t be purchased. This leaves lots of headroom for a premium option which offers higher value rewards for a cost that’s in line with the other available purchases.
Retention & Engagement:
Long term engagement and retention are probably the biggest areas that Fall Guys could work on. I have no doubt their early engagement/retention numbers have been stellar, in no small part thanks to their excellent UX, but to guarantee long term success Fall Guys is going to need some work. The season progress system just isn’t enough, and unfortunately Fall Guys doesn’t have the depth or style of gameplay that might encourage long-term mastery and competitive play.
As hinted at before, I think the first thing Mediatonic could do to boost retention would be to really double down on social play. The fastest way I could imagine them doing this would be to add an Exp/Fame boost when playing with friends, to reward socialites with faster progress. Second, I would suggest setting up a separate playlist for team modes only (Fall Ball, Egg Scramble and so on), these modes are seriously the most fun when playing with a group, and I’m convinced this is the area where Fall Guys shines the most. It’s a bit sad when you are the only one out of your friends to not qualify; sure you can sit and watch to cheer on your friends, but it feels very much like you’re playing separately. Being left behind sucks, and leaving a friend behind while you play the next rounds also sucks. You get no rewards if you quit a round because your buddy didn’t qualify, so it makes more sense to go out together (this is probably the reason why you’ll often see players waiting around before crossing the finish line, or throwing themselves off a ledge when a new round starts). Team modes wouldn’t have that problem. The game is so fun when playing with friends, and a teams only playlist really wouldn’t take much effort (amateur UI suggestions below).
Another suggestion to help short and mid-term retention would be random daily and weekly challenges. Think things like: “qualify in Block Party”, “grab 5 players”, “steal 5 tails”, “smash 3 fake doors”, etc. Challenges are a great way to encourage player engagement since they provide not only more things to do, but more routes for progression. It encourages players to come back daily to guarantee some extra Exp to help them along. For that reason they are often paired with a much stronger long-term retention driver, such as a battle pass, base building, leaderboards, or clan challenges. Without such a pairing with a grander objective to give them purpose, daily challenges often fall flat. As the number of minigames increases they can also be added to a daily/weekly rotation to help keep the game feeling fresh from day to day, and provide more opportunities for time-limited daily challenges.
For longer term engagement (up to one month), the Season pass can be developed further to provide some real incentives for players to complete it. A really cool cosmetic set for reaching the end of the season progress/battle pass is a good place to start. As of right now the final season cosmetic is a victory pose that can’t be viewed to see what it actually does, and many players won’t ever get the opportunity to use it anyway since it requires winning to see it in action. The victory poses seem a little bit too exclusive, so they aren’t a good incentive. Of course more interesting cosmetics, or even toys (throwable tomatoes anyone?) could also be introduced.
For really long-term retention Fall Guys needs to do a bit of soul searching. The party game theme doesn’t lend itself to key player motivations: Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness. The game isn’t suited to competitive play beyond initial mastery (Competence), nor does the gameplay provide a multitude of creative possibilities or choices for players (Autonomy), nor does it maximise the potential for meaningful social interactions to satisfy the player need to feel like part of a group (Relatedness). It would be challenging for Mediatonic to tackle any of these areas, however, if they really have the budget and ambition, and want to commit to Fall Guys long-term, then there are plenty of ideas worth exploring: a level creator & community creations playlists, casual in-game competitions and prizes, doubling down on communities and promoting them in-game, etc.
Finally, LiveOps has plenty of potential in Fall Guys as players’ FOMO (fear of missing out) is fantastic for increasing interest and engagement. It’s an approach well suited to this type of game, and I’m sure Mediatonic could do a great job of conjuring excitingly-themed live events to entertain and amuse their fans.
Community & Marketing Strategy:
If there’s one area where Fall Guys really shines, this is it. Amassing such a huge following and generating marketing buzz is no easy feat, but Fall Guys really nailed it. This is the area where Mobile can learn the most, since the majority of top grossing mobile games are reliant upon performance marketing for scale. But in order to make a game launch as successful as possible, and make subsequent growth more robust, we can learn from the best and develop organic marketing strategies.
Oliver Hindle (the Fall Guys community manager) put together an incredible twitter thread on the Fall Guys community/growth strategy that I’d highly recommend you check out (and later an article on gamesindustry.biz). There are things in there that every developer can learn from. One thing the team at Mediatonic did incredibly well was to identify how their game could go viral by understanding how it would be perceived by its real audience. They then tailored their strategy towards that profile to generate maximum buzz. To do so, they needed outreach (Twitter) to bring in new community members, and also places for these community members to mingle and discover one another (e.g. Discord. Reddit is another excellent example).
Part of the Twitter strategy for drawing in new community members was to adopt the culture and language of these users. The Twitter account was clearly given a lot of autonomy to do this, and to players it stood out as ‘one of their own’ from the crowd of robotic corporate accounts. Once engaged they focused on enabling these community members as much as possible, by promoting user generated content, memes, and in-jokes, which nurtured an engaged community and effectively outsourced the marketing to them.
Pairing the community strategy with a savvy influencer strategy paid dividends. Mediatonic reached out to over 1000 influencers before launch, and enabled their new community marketing army to bring in additional influencers organically. It worked: Fall Guys stormed to the top of Twitch with over 600,000 concurrent viewers shortly after launch, and it kept gaining momentum. Making this process as smooth as possible is key: set up a form so influencers can sign up and have ‘Press Kits’ ready to go that anybody can access. Nobody should have to ask you for anything in order to stream/write/make a video about your game, it should all be there. Rather than asking influencers to stream/play, another effective way to get them interested in your game is to involve them in the development somehow. SpaceApe’s “Fastlane: Road to Revenge” is a great example of this approach. Frogmind’s “Rumble Hockey” is another more recent example which offers a 100% revenue share to content creators. Clearly there are endless ways to be inventive with an influencer strategy.
After launch Mediatonic’s social media pounced on every opportunity they got to engage with influencers and creators. TimTheTatMan is a great example of a popular streamer who the community team targeted with memes and jokes that went viral — the mischief caused headlines and drew in even more players.
Of course, Fall Guys was also offered for free to PS Plus subscribers for the launch month, which drove massive interest from the beginning. Having big promotions, or ‘featuring’, is a sure fire way to boost organics for a short time, and it’s an obvious area of growth for Fall Guys. Doing big deals to get the game onto different platforms (Xbox Game Pass? Switch? App Stores?) and reaching as many players as possible makes a lot of sense. If they do go down the Mobile route then polishing the store page with good App Store Optimisation (ASO) practises is another way to maximise organic installs and hit trending pages.
All in all, Mediatonic have done a terrific job with Fall Guys but it remains to be seen if they can fully capitalise on the enormous player base they’ve drawn in. The game has started to see a decline in interest, but with some smart investment in developing the right areas, releasing the game on more platforms (perhaps some live events to coincide with this), and continuing to mobilise their huge social media following, Fall Guys could certainly extend its success well into the future.
Written by Daniel Carter: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-s-carter/
Edited by Constance Luckham: https://www.linkedin.com/in/constance-luckham-976558174/