Tonic was shaped through the rise of mobile phones and the iPhone in 2007, and forced into survival mode in the mid 2010s as big studios shut down dozens of titles amid restructurings. In 2016, the company had four major projects cancelled in one year. “Instead of letting people go, we started to work on our own ideas,” Bailey says. “That is where Fall Guys comes from.”
Since then, the industry has once again surged on a rise in free-to-play games and mobile gaming. In 2019, Tonic secured capital in the form of a round thought to be worth about £25m from private equity fund Synova Capital, giving it cash to fuel the development of Fall Guys. The company had been eyeing the chance to develop more of its own intellectual property, which would see it take a far greater cut of revenues than outsourced projects.
Bailey gave the creative team a clean slate. The only parameter was “don’t build a battle royale”. These have become the mainstay of the last two years of games. Epic Games’ Fortnite, which has more than 350m players, Call of Duty: Warzone and others all dump 100 players onto a gigantic map to fight to the last man standing.
The format, while popular, is oversaturated and wearing thin. So creative director Jeff Tanton was unsure when in 2018 one of his team came up with an A4 pitch of a game that seemed similar. “But in that one page I knew it was a very good idea,” Tanton says.
Unlike previous shoot-’em-ups, Fall Guys took inspiration from 1980s television, such as Takeshi’s Castle. Such shows see fancy-dressed contestants stumbling over obstacles, falling into slime and failing their way to a victory.
The particular style of Fall Guys is perhaps unique to British gaming; a zany, simplistic arcade game where you are the underdog. “We didn’t want them to be superheroes,” Bailey says. “What makes Fall Guys special? It is that they fall over,” Tanton says. “You look at Mario or Sonic and you can have confidence they won’t stack it going up a small incline.”