Untitled Goose Game’s success hatches golden eggs for Australia’s gaming industry

It’s a good time to be Australian game studio House House. When the four-person team released the long-awaited Untitled Goose Game for PC and Nintendo Switch in September, it became an instant hit. That popularity, along with its eventual release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, helped the game honk its way past 1 million in sales.

The idea of playing as a dastardly goose who terrorizes a small English town was so irresistible that even celebrities and famous musicians started talking about it. Goose-related memes spread like wildfire. Some fans even came up with clever Halloween costumes based on the game.

But Untitled Goose Game’s massive success came so fast and sudden that the developers, which previously made the goofy sports game Push Me Pull You, weren’t quite sure what to make of it all.

“It was this weird, several stage process where for the first few days, almost the first whole week, we’re like, ‘Yeah, cool, people like this game. That’s great. It’s getting good reviews,’” said Untitled Goose Game composer Dan Golding in an interview. “Then I remember one morning I woke up and Chrissy Teigen had tweeted out a photo of her and John Legend [buying the game] and was just — I have no frame of reference to understand what’s happening.

“And I still don’t, really. It’s just been kind of weird from then on out.”

I caught up with Golding during Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP), an annual developer conference that takes place in Melbourne, Australia. At GCAP, Golding gave a talk about how he and House House came up with the dynamic soundtrack for their unusual game, which slows down or intensifies depending on your actions. As GamesBeat reporter Jeff Grubb pointed out, the music is a big reason why Untitled Goose Game is so entertaining.

But House House never expected its goose simulator to translate into huge worldwide sales, and at GCAP and other events I attended for Melbourne International Games Week, Untitled Goose Game was the talk of the town. So I spoke with several people to see what they thought about the game and what, if anything, it might mean for Australia’s gaming industry.

Above: House House won Best Sound Design and Game of the Year at the 2019 Australian Game Developer Awards.

Something in the water

According to journalist Angharad Yeo, one of the hosts of Melbourne-based TV show Good Game: Spawn Point, Untitled Goose Game is an ideal example of what makes Australian games so great. She said it combines Aussies’ “wicked sense of humor” with a willingness to experiment with new ideas and then obsessively iterating on those for the finished product.

“[Untitled Goose Game] is very silly. And the concept of it is very silly. I could see other studios that really care about being taken seriously not wanting to make a game like that, not being open to making something silly. But it is really well designed,” said Yeo.

The soundtrack reminded her of the piano tunes from another Australian production: the popular children’s show Play School.

“It would almost be like Australian Sesame Street. It’s very big,” Yeo explained. “Being able to weave in those factors as well and really celebrate Australia is what makes Australian games great. There’s this passion behind it, and there’s this playfulness and cheekiness.”

Others see Untitled Goose Game as further proof of the country’s wildly creative talent, just the latest in a long line of games that managed to capture the gaming zeitgeist. In 2018, the spotlight was on Hollow Knight and Adelaide developer Team Cherry. Melbourne studio Hipster Whale is best known for mobile hit Crossy Road. And years before that, it was Brisbane’s Halfbrick Studios with games like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride.

Above: Hollow Knight is another critically successful game from Australia.

Due to those and other breakthrough games, Summerfall Studios cofounder Liam Esler said that their indie community has always enjoyed “a certain amount of attention.” Based in Melbourne, Summerfall is made up of Esler, renowned narrative designer David Gaider, and a handful of developers. They’re currently working on Chorus, an adventure musical game that recently hit its crowdfunding goal on Fig.

“There’s definitely something special in the water that is influencing people to make these hits over time, right? Apart from giant countries like Canada and the United States, I can’t think of any other countries that have consistently had those major hits in the same way,” Esler added.

For Digital Lode business manager Nick Acciarito, Untitled Goose Game is also a testament to the vibrant culture found in Melbourne, which has long been a champion for the arts with its filming and game-funding programs. House House received two grants from the Victorian government for Untitled Goose Game. Digital Lode also got funding for the development of its virtual reality stealth game Espire 1: VR Operative.

“Australia’s got a little bit of reputation of being a little bit behind sometimes, a little bit slower than some of the other larger markets. But I think [Untitled Goose Game and others] are great examples of the skill set that is here and the capability that’s here as a creative arts community,” Acciarito said.

Above: You might as well kiss that sock goodbye.

Just about a goose

With its unwitting celebrity endorsements and mainstream media coverage, Untitled Goose Game was Australia’s biggest indie hit of the year. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, House House’s Nico Disseldorp said Goose Game’s success means he and his fellow teammates can “keep making video games as long as we like now.”

Golding, meanwhile, felt too close to the project to think about what its popularity means for the local indie scene. But he recognized how fortunate he and House House were to have the support of their development community and the way they’ve rallied behind the game.

“I think there’s something about the game that speaks to this moment in time where the whole weight of the world often seems to be crushing people. And this game is just about a goose, you know? Nothing more, nothing less. If the game has done anything, it’s managed to create a little space of relief, which I think is fantastic,” said Golding.

Disclosure: The state government of Victoria paid my way to Melbourne. Our coverage remains objective.

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