How Fall Guys, a battle royale game with jelly beans, became this summer's mega hit

Key Points
  • Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has rapidly become the hottest game of the summer, attracting millions of players within a month of its release.
  • The game sees up to 60 people play as jelly beans trying to navigate through a series of obstacle courses to win a coveted prize: crowns.
  • Experts say there are a number of factors behind Fall Guys' success, from a subscription deal with Sony to internet virality.
A screenshot of gameplay from Fall Guys.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has rapidly become the hottest game of the summer, attracting millions of players within a month of its release.

But why is it so popular? CNBC takes a look at some key factors contributing to the game's success.

What is Fall Guys?

Fall Guys, as the game is more commonly known, is a fresh take on the battle royale genre popularized by well-known shooter titles Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

Unlike those games, which see up to 100 players fight to be the last person standing, Fall Guys takes a different — and more comical — approach. Up to 60 people play as jelly beans trying to navigate through a series of candy-colored obstacle courses to win a coveted prize: crowns.

These crowns act as in-game currency which players use to buy skins — cosmetic items that have no bearing on gameplay. There are also so-called "kudos," a less valuable currency players can earn either by playing the game or purchasing them. The latter option, often referred to as "microtransactions," are common across the industry.

Developed by British indie studio Mediatonic, Fall Guys takes inspiration from classic TV game shows like Takeshi's Castle and Total Wipeout. There's a variety of levels that are randomly selected each time a player launches a session or advances to the next stage. It can often be a chaotic experience, with players having to avoid swinging balls, jump over spinning rods and memorize fruit to avoid falling into a pit of slime.

A screenshot of gameplay from Fall Guys.

Since its Aug. 4 release, Fall Guys has sold over 7 million copies on PC via the Steam game store and became the most-downloaded title on Sony's PlayStation Plus subscription service in history. The first few days into its release, the game saw so much traffic that many players found they were unable to enter a match due to the strain on its servers.

"I think success on this scale is inherently unpredictable and not something you can truly plan for — it's been quite surreal," Paul Croft, co-founder and chief games officer of Mediatonic, told CNBC. "But it's been amazing to see so many people playing and enjoying the game across the world."

Why is it so popular?

Experts say there are a number of reasons for Fall Guys' popularity.

One is its deal with Sony, which saw Fall Guys added to PS Plus, a subscription service that gives players access to two free games each month. A downside of this launch strategy is that it doesn't include important platforms like Microsoft's Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, but these could be supported later down the line.

While neither Sony or Mediatonic have disclosed how many PlayStation 4 copies of the game were downloaded via PS Plus, the figure is bound to be sizable. PS Plus has over 41.5 million subscribers in total, and Sony recently confirmed Fall Guys became the service's most-downloaded game, putting it ahead of big titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered and Destiny 2.

Another factor in the game's favor is its accessibility. Players only need to know three controls — running, jumping and grabbing — meaning it's much easier for newcomers to learn how to play. This, combined with consumers' search for escapism during the coronavirus pandemic, has helped broaden the game's appeal.

"Fall Guys has really flourished in this environment because, at its core, it is a simple, family-friendly game," Louise Shorthouse, games industry analyst at Omdia, told CNBC. "Unlike traditional, violent battle royale titles, Fall Guys appeals to all ages, and is approved by parents."

Then there's the virality of Fall Guys on streaming platforms like Amazon's Twitch and Google's YouTube, as well as social media. The game was watched more than Fortnite across Twitch, YouTube and Facebook last month, according to esports intelligence firm Stream Hatchet, racking up 118.5 million hours of watchtime versus Fortnite's 106.3 million between Aug. 4 and Aug. 28.

Figures provided by Stream Hatchet show Fall Guys got more watch time than Fortnite in the month of August.
Stream Hatchet

Ahead of Fall Guys' release, Mediatonic beta-tested the game on weekends with streamers and a limited number of general players. Croft says this "helped drive excitement and interest around both watching and streaming the game on Twitch."

"Fall Guys is made to be streamed — it is a 'TV show' after all," Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at Ampere Analysis, told CNBC. "The game session length is perfect to keep viewers interested and streamers can squad up and play together. It's great content and easily understood, adding to its organic growth." 

Meanwhile, the developer's savvy social media use has also paid off. Its official Twitter account, run by Mediatonic's senior community manager, Oliver Hindle, has over 1.4 million followers and is known for posting memes related to the game. It's also convinced big online celebrities like Ninja and MrBeast to bid for in-game costumes, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity in the process.

"I still don't think I've processed just how big the game has gotten," Hindle, who joined Mediatonic from fellow British indie developer Bossa Studios, told CNBC.

What next?

The challenge for Mediatonic long-term will be to sustain the momentum it's experienced with Fall Guys in the game's first month.

Like Fortnite, Fall Guys has seasonal changes that add updates like new maps and costumes. Fall Guys is set to have its second season, a medieval-themed event, next month.

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"I think Fall Guys could have great longevity, but it depends heavily on the content pipeline," said Shorthouse. "If the developers can continue to release engaging content that streamers like to stream and viewers like to watch, Fall Guys could be in it for the long-term."

But Fall Guys doesn't yet support cross-play, the ability to play online with people using different machines. And with it only being available on PS4 and PC, future growth could be limited unless Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital bring the game to Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, mobile and next-gen consoles like the Xbox Series X and PS5. A mobile version is coming to China, though the timing on this remains unclear.

"At the moment, we're still figuring all of that out," Mediatonic's Croft told CNBC. "It's clear that people would love Fall Guys to be on more platforms, and we would love to bring it to them. We hope to be able to announce more details soon, when we know more."