Until this year, Swedish game developer Coffee Stain Studios was best known for its first-person shooter tower defense games Sanctum and Sanctum 2. In April 2014, it became a studio best known for goats.
The studio released the third-person perspective goat simulation game, titled Goat Simulator, on April 1. Within 10 minutes of the game going on sale, the studio recouped its development costs. Within four months, the game generated more revenue than all of Coffee Stain's games over the last four years combined. To date, the game has sold almost a million copies.
"It was crazy," said Coffee Stains Studio game designer Armin Ibrisagic, who spoke at GDC Europe today. "We didn't really know if we would make back the money we invested. Before Goat Simulator, we had a year left of money. Spending two and a half months on Goat Simulator was a big risk, because it meant we only had 10 months left of money to work on our Super Secret Game."
To the studio's surprise, not only did the game recoup its development costs, it shot to number one on the digital storefront Steam and stayed there for at least two weeks. The bigger surprise was that anyone wanted to pay for a game that started out as something of a joke.
"Around October of last year I started linking videos of suspicious goats to my co-workers," Ibrisagic said, pulling up YouTube videos with titles like "Angry Billy Goat Terrorizes Town." "Once I started linking to these videos, I was like, 'Come on, guys, goats are funny. Someone should make a game about a goat.' And as soon as I thought it, bam, Goat Simulator. It had to be the name. Back in 2004, cats were super popular. I think goats are the new cats."
Ibrisagic's early pitches for Goat Simulator didn't succeed. The first pitch, he said, was "just one person being really excited about goats," which is to say his pitch didn't contain any ideas for plot, game design or objectives. His second pitch resembled Bennett Foddy's QWOP, where a goat's body parts were mapped to the keys of a keyboard and, in order to move the goat, players would have to play a kind of keyboard Twister.
"So one key controls the spine and another key controls the head, and it would be impossibly hard to eat grass because just taking two steps was super hard."
This idea was also dismissed because it seemed like too much of a gimmick.
The third pitch was what Ibrisagic described as a goat skating game, where instead of performing tricks for points like one would in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, players would perform goat-like activities like head butting people and breaking windows. While this idea wasn't the big IP Coffee Stains was hoping for post-Sanctum, the studio decided to give it a shot as a way of relaxing and learning before they started work on their next "real" project.
According to Ibrisagic, the studio bought most of the game's assets online. They bought houses and cars people designed, and they bought the goat itself from the internet. The goat graphic was originally $20 — Coffee Stains picked it up on sale and got 75% off.
After a few weeks of development, Ibrisagic posted some gameplay footage to YouTube, where it immediately took off. In five minutes, it had more than 100,000 views. In two days it had jumped to two million views. The interest continued to grow, with games media writing about the game and Valve showing interest in publishing it on Steam. Seeing this, the studio put all its employees onto Goat Simulator.
"Goat Simulator made more than Sanctum 1 and 2 combined," Ibrisagic said. "So now we're putting all that money into our next Super Secret Project."
He also said another patch will soon be available for Goat Simulator, but could not reveal it's contents. "Let's just say you will have to change your office chair for a wheelbarrow because you will shit bricks when you find out."
Goat Simulator was revealed as one of a bunch of indie titles coming to Xbox One soon via the ID @ Xbox program.