Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How Indie Game Undertale Became A Top Selling Game On Steam In 2015

UndertaleWOM-Jan2016_AL-04

Undertale’s original Kickstarter states that it is a “traditional role-playing game where no one has to get hurt.” However – traditional is something it definitely isn’t.

An extremely unique game where you are able to get through the entire game without fighting any monsters, it successfully raised 50 thousand dollars on Kickstarter for the game development, and eventually sold 500,000 copies on Steam just 3 months after its launch.

How exactly did a small, indie game like Undertale achieve such success?

1. Creative premise that goes against traditional gaming norms

undertale papyrus date

Undertale flips the usual fight-till-you-die premise in games on its head.

It not only allows you to not only get through the game without fighting, but allows you to interact with the monsters, from having a flexing match with them, to even going on (really bad) dates!

Instead of ordinary role playing games, where the monsters are essentially just entities to slaughter, Undertale gives each monster unique characters, speech patterns and different ways of interacting with the player, depending on the different choices that the player makes.

Even if the player wants to play it the way they normally would, sure!

But be prepared to deal with some very resentful and hurt monsters…

undertale tsunderplane

Read next: Examples of unexpectedness in marketing

2) Old-school graphics with a twist leads to feelings of both nostalgia and anticipation

undertale waterfall

Just looking at the old-school 16-bit graphics brings me back to the days when I played classic RPG games like Chrono Trigger and (early) Final Fantasy as a child.

However, this is contrasted by the wholly different plot, gameplay mechanics modern slang and themes featured within the game. 

This contrast, therefore, appeals to both players that want a good, classic game with players who want a fresh, new game, combining the best of both worlds.

3) An absolutely bangin’ soundtrack – an often neglected, but important part of gameplay


Undertale’s soundtrack is a fantastic complement to the game, with every track echoing the emotions of the scene, from the happy and carefree town of Snowdin to the epic, trumpet blares when fighting boss monsters.

Even as creator Toby Fox was entirely self-trained, the soundtrack comprises of a complex medley of orchestral, rock and electronic sounds.

He also tweaks with the soundtrack depending on the players choices – if the player chooses to go for a ‘genocide route’ (as you can imagine, it involves a lot of killing), the soundtrack slows down, making even the most happy songs extremely eerie. The soundtrack becomes an integral part of the game, warning you when you trigger something, or when a plot twist is in front of you.

Every classic game needs an epic soundtrack to accompany the player’s travels, and the OST of Undertale does not disappoint.

4) The carefully-created storyline keeps the game exciting and encourages multiple playthroughs

undertale toriel

One thing that Undertale is consistently praised for is it’s storyline. Eurogamer.net praises it for it’s wonderful humour, both because of the writing, and its incredible warmth”, and Gamespot describes it as “cleverly written and constantly subverts your expectations.

Think that everything’s going to be fine? You’ll probably proceed to find out that things are absolutely not the way that they seem.

The player is constantly forced to deal with new surprises and details throughout the game, and there are probably loads of details that will only be discovered in later playthroughs.

undertale mettanon

Every decision you make triggers different outcomes, which allows players to experiment with the different reactions NPCs (non-player characters) give them. This allows for multiple playthroughs as players figure out how different types of actions by them create entirely different storylines.

I’d love to dive deep into the details, but honestly, that would spoil the whole point of Undertale – its surprises, its secrets and its complexity.

Ultimately, Undertale succeeds because it captures the heart of the player and makes the player care about the game. Instead of just being a mass shooter-style game or another adventure RPG, it carefully differentiates itself by creating the elusive balance of lovable characters, shock factor, excitement and action.

RECAP: How did Undertale succeed?

  1. Unique premise that differentiated itself
  2. Combining the old and new
  3. A great accompanying soundtrack
  4. Deep and nuanced storyline that keeps players hooked for more

_____

Read next: Social Referral Programs: World of Warcraft

ADD_THIS_TEXT

Melody Madhavan

Melody is a history major and part of the pioneer batch of Yale-NUS College. She hopes to be able to bring forgotten historical narratives back to life, and learn how to make the perfect latte.

Add comment