This is the DIY punk rock era of gaming.

Something peculiar happened in the gaming world on October 15. A game that came out of nowhere became one of the best PC games of all time on the Metacritic charts, beating up grandiose franchises like Half Life 2 and GTA V.

That outstanding event had reminded me of a day in January 2014, when a pixely icon of a bird stood proud at the top of the iTunes most downloaded app chart. A super tiny game that topped games by companies like Rovio, Zynga and King, and stayed on top for another two months until it was taken down by its creator. Official reason for shutdown: too addictive.

Undertale and Flappybird are two games that have made a huge impact on the gaming world due to the fact they were developed by sole developers and became a commercial hit, despite the fact they had no PR, marketing budget or production budget. These games, and others, are a defiance to the huge productions of AAA titles.

This is the DIY punk rock era of gaming.

Flappy Bird is the new Ramones

Forty years ago, an album that was made in a week and took $6,400 to produce kicked off the whole punk-rock movement.

Two years ago, a game that was made in three days with no budget topped the app stores and ignited the super-casual genre.

There are three things in common with The Ramones’ first album and Doug Nguyen’s Flappy Bird that might shed light on why those products became such a cultural phenomenon.

  1. Simplicity at the core of the product.
  2. Defiance to the big productions which were the mainstream at the time.
  3. Achieved commercial success in a young age group.

These might be the characteristics of many successful products; however, both Flappy Bird and The Ramones were accessible. People didn’t need to know more than four chords to play The Ramones from beginning to end, and basically all you need is a PC and some free time to code Flappy Bird. That’s inspirational.

Flappy Bird is The Ramones

Title: Flappy Bird

Developer: Doug Nguyen

Released: May 24, 2013

Money made: Est. $50K a day, from ads.

Development time: 3 days

Papers, Please is a post-punk classic.

Papers, Please is a game where the player takes the role of an immigration officer whose job is to sort through tons of paperwork to decide who is eligible to enter the dystopian country of Arztokza.

The game is decorated with flat, straight out of the ’80s pixel art and released under the pseudonym 3903. Not exactly the materials for success, are they?

Surprisingly enough, the game was a hit. The creator won the game of the year event at GDC, the audience loved it (500,000 copies sold) and, moreover, the game is fun to play. Considering the heavy topic, this is a huge achievement.

This goes to show that games developed by sole developers don’t necessarily have to be light-weighted, super-casual games, but can present a serious offering yet still be commercially successful and fun to play.

Papers, Please. Sophisticated yet fun!

Title: Papers, Please

Developer: Lucas Pope

Released: August, 2013

Copies sold: 500,000 + is the gaming equivalent to the Arctic Monkeys.

Young, daft, raw, straight out of the garage, an overnight success. The breakthrough of the Arctic Monkeys and share more than a few similarities.

Who would have thought that such a simple game, with graphics that look as if they were designed in PowerPoint, would get 10 million downloads in just a few months?, the web sensation turned app stores hit, was released in June 2015. The game simulates life in a Petri dish. Eat others to survive, don’t get eaten. is a masterpiece of simplicity and shows once more that the most important aspect of a game is gameplay. Everything else—sound, graphics, special effects—are luxuries. Developed over a few days with no budget, presents a tight, natural gameplay that many big games with huge productions fail to achieve.  

Agar.IO. As ugly as games can get.


Developer: Matheus Valadares

Released: May 2015

Downloads: 10 mil +

Dev time: A few days

Undertale is the new Bob Dylan

I close this respected list with my game of 2015, Undertale. I actually got so psyched about it that I ordered stickers and a T-shirt the day I finished it.

Now let’s start with the facts: the game is ugly. I mean, it has some retro twist to its graphics, but all in all, the art is far from being ideal. Strip naked a rock & roll band from all its electrified instruments and other accessories and stay with one man, his guitar and harmonica, and lyrics you don’t always understand but make you feel welcome. That’s Undertale.

And, frankly, if this game wasn’t praised as much as it has been, chances are that I’d never buy it.

But I did. And playing it, I felt like it was me, 15 years ago, pretending to be sick so I could play Monkey Island all day. Yes, it’s that good.

The game was created by a super talented young guy, Toby Fox, who did the programming, art and music all by himself. The core of his creation is the unique combat system, and the beautiful, sensible story that puts serious moral questions on the table and does that without sticking it down your throat.

To me, this is a true inspiration, and I believe that many people who played Toby’s game and fell in love with the game’s rich world, round characters and beautiful soundtrack, now set out to make their own games.

Undertale’s Merch. Bought it a day after finishing the game. (Stickers too!)

Title: Undertale

Developer: Toby Fox

Released: September 2015

Games sold: 300,000 +

Dev time: 3 years

Summing up

This is the time, this is the moment to make games. You need not to be afraid. Even code is not mandatory. All you need is will and passion. There are plenty of no-code solutions, like Game Maker or Construct 2, where you can get your hands dirty and start making games today. Who knows, maybe one of my readers will be the next Toby Fox or Doug Nguyen?

* More sole production worth mentioning: Cookie Clicker, Gunman Clive, Samurai Gunn, A ride through the mountain, Sometimes you die and, well, Minecraft 🙂

Had a good read? Subscribe and get my Game Design Ebook for free

There are currently no comments.