Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, the insanely cute take on the battle royale genre from Mediatonic, is one of the most popular games of the current generation. It is the most downloaded game in PS Plus history and hit an easy two million sales on Steam within days of release. Since launch, it has comfortably settled into the top five games for concurrent users on Steam and has been streamed by everyone from PewDiePie to Dr. Disrespect. While it is often easy to put this level of success down to luck, upon closer inspection, there are several factors that allowed Fall Guys to stand out from the crowd.
First, and most importantly, the design of Fall Guys is incredibly slick. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Takeshi’s Castle, players need to run through an obstacle course or finish a minigame, and if they finish in the top bracket, they move on to the next round. There is no wasted time in the game. The round starts, you frantically try to succeed, and if you make it across the finish line, you move on to the next round. If not, you load into a different match.
Rather than have the player characters be people, you play as funny little creatures that the community has christened “Jelly Beans.” They have big bodies, small legs, and long arms, and when you combine them with the slightly stretchy physics in the game, the result is hilarity. They run, jump, and fly through the air in funny ways, making the moment-to-moment gameplay far more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Failing in Fall Guys is not a bad thing because it is normally comical. The soothing balm of humor allows the game to focus more on having fun than on the idea of actually succeeding. Are you laughing? Then you’re winning. This seems to be the core design philosophy behind everything in Fall Guys.
This attitude is also present on the game’s social media channels, especially Twitter. The Twitter account falls under the remit of Fall Guys Community Manager Oliver Hindle, and he has done an admirable job maintaining a wholesome, laid back attitude within the community. Some of the biggest moments for the game haven’t been people dominating rounds, but rather stories like streamer TimTheTatman’s struggle to get his first win.
Rather than focusing on people who were good at the game, Hindle highlighted someone who was bad at it (Sorry, Tim) and their efforts to improve, and the eventual joy that person felt when they got their first crown. With the vast majority of other games focusing on elite-level plays, competitive scenes, and highlight-worthy victories, this tactic made Fall Guys the “everyman” of gaming. It was perfectly fine to be bad at the game as long as you had fun.
This is not to say that Fall Guys cannot lead to frustration, because all games can do that. What makes Fall Guys quite unique is that the game itself acts as a salve to the frustration that players might feel during a difficult round. Maybe things don’t go your way, but it normally happens in a funny way, which makes queuing up for another round an easy choice.
Fall Guys is also a non-shooter in a genre dominated by them. Fortnite, Apex Legends, PUBG, and Warzone may all look different, but they boil down to one thing: shooting other people. Fall Guys eschews that for a simple race, where everyone is at the mercy of a flying piece of fruit or a disappearing hexagon. This unique selling point sets the game apart so much so that it may as well exist in a completely separate genre than battle royale.
Finally, it can’t be understated how the laid back, funny, and colorful nature of Fall Guys may have acted as a welcome escape for many people. With the on-going global pandemic, social unrest, and heavy headlines that everyone is dealing with, Fall Guys provided a welcome refuge from the stresses of the world. Much like Animal Crossing: New Horizons at the start of the pandemic, Fall Guys presents a neutral environment that encourages positive feelings over competition, and a focus on enjoyment over success.
All this is to say that the success of Fall Guys was no accident, and you cannot dismiss the obvious design intent of a talented team as simple luck. Why is Fall Guys so popular? Because it is so good.