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I am Bread dev: Building games for YouTube is a bad idea Exclusive

November 3, 2014 | By Mike Rose

Earlier this month, Bossa Studios unveiled I am Bread, a game about manhandling a piece of bread in a bid to become toast.

It's perhaps not surprising that a studio like Bossa would come up with such a gloriously ridiculous concept, given that the company's last game was Surgeon Simulator 2013, another silly spectacle with purposely obtuse controls.

Here's the thing though: These silly concepts get eyeballs on them. There are now more than 3 million videos of Surgeon Simulator on YouTube, totalling around half a billion views in total. The chances are that I am Bread will follow that same spectator mantra, especially given that the trailer hit a million views within days of release.

And we've been seeing this angle more and more over the last year or so -- games that look so silly and are such fun to watch, that they essentially sell based on YouTube video footage alone. Think Goat Simulator, and you know what I'm talking about.

Plenty of developers have told me that they're now actually building games for the YouTube spectator crowd -- purposely silly games that they hope will rack up millions of views (and, in turn, sales.) But while it would appear that Bossa is one such developer, co-founder Henrique Olifiers denies that this is what his studio is doing.

"It's fair to say Surgeon Simulator is somewhat a poster child for YouTubers' engagement," he says. "It's also well established that YouTube and Twitch are strong discoverability platforms for millions of players worldwide, so it stands to reason that developers could design for the purpose of performing well with content creators on these platforms."

"But this is a red herring. Games are (and have always been) about players, gameplay, core mechanics -- all the things we have to get right to create a good playable experience."

"We did not design Surgeon Simulator or I Am Bread thinking 'we have to come up with something YouTubers will love and spread.'"
As such, he says that those studios looking to make games for the YouTuber crowd, rather than for players, will end up with experiences that are irrelevant as quickly as they are released.

"As a developer, if you focus on anything else, in this case YouTubers, you might end with a hollow, shallow game that will not survive the test of time and become a throw-away gimmick," says Olifiers. "Doing well on any social platform should be the result of a good game being played by people while having tons of fun with it, and not engineered to be 'broadcastable' as a premise."

This, he says, is why Bossa does not create games around the base idea that they will look good in video.

"We did not design Surgeon Simulator or I Am Bread thinking 'we have to come up with something YouTubers will love and spread,'" notes the Bossa man. "The very nature of how we conceive our games through game jams would make such approach impossible, we just don't have the time to take this into account during the 48 hours we devote to come up with playable concepts."

Rather, reasons Olifiers, his team aims to create games that offer something new, something fresh -- "Accidentally, the side-effect is looking good on YouTube and Twitch because it's novel: these games stand out immediately because they don't follow traditional design tropes, and players have fun when given something different (and also complete, refined, respecting all the rules of game design we treasure as developers)."

"In my humble opinion, if one pursues YouTube success as a game design goal, one is starting from the wrong premise," concludes Olifiers, "just like most social games of yore were created to become viral by making use of shallow social media channels, sacrificing gameplay and fun factor in the process. We all know how that story ended."

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