This is the story of a mainly Christian-oriented game developer named Scott Cawthon. It’s also the story of a career departure that saw him break from his normal creative focus to design an indie point-and-click survival horror video game that is not just nightmare fuel, it’s an unquestionable hit. The game is Five Nights at Freddy’s and its fandom is still growing, not just among gamers, but for collectors as well as merchandise is springing up everywhere these days.
How much of a hit is it? During July of 2015, the game was installed an estimated 4,694 times per day earning a daily revenue of over $12,879 (via wikipedia). Now, a little over half a year later, those number are still strong with 1,266 daily installs and $3,785 daily revenue (per ThinkGaming.) It has also managed to spawn three sequels, one spin-off, and a very devoted fan base.
Here is a rare face reveal (which Scott Cawthon did via twitter) after remaining quite private despite his game’s success.
The story of how this game came to be is about as interesting as they come. Scott lives in Salado, Texas with his family and he’s associated with Hope Animation. Per their site, Hope Animation is a collaborative project of Christian animators, programmers, and designers who spread the message and teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible through the use of new media, digital arts, computer games, and animation. With this background, who would have considered Scott a likely candidate to create a chilling game that is ground breaking in its approach to horror? Very few, most notably Scott himself.
You see, Scott is not a new name to gaming design. If you do some digging you will learn that he’s been associated with or directly designed roughly 33 games prior to Freddy. That said, the 2013 game Chipper and Sons Lumber Co. would ultimately prove life changing for his work, though not because it was a hit. This and other games he designed found heavy reviewer criticism over primary characters that moved and acted more like animatronic machines than natural creatures or people. This really hit Scott and by some reports he considered walking away from game development. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead he took the criticism and leaned into it, designing a game featuring animatronic machines as the driving force. Part as a retort to critics and part self-discovery, something dawned in Scott and he dove into this new game idea. Soon Five Nights at Freddy’s was a reality.
The game itself is so strong because it plays on atmosphere rather than direct attacks on you as the player. In the game you are an overnight security guard at Freddy Faber’s Pizza. The restaurant is a children’s food and game themed place in the flavor of Chuck E. Cheese or ShowBiz Pizza. Much like in those businesses, life-sized characters entertain the kids by day and creep out the adults by night. Playing on that idea, Scott’s game puts you in the security room where you are trapped as the animatronic stars of the show roam the business in the night trying to get to you. You are running low on power, trying to survive the night, and you can control a series of lights, cameras, and audio devices. You can also control doors and through these tools you balance keeping the critters at bay while conserving power. The game really shines in the brief glimpses of what’s happening around you and the story you partially create in your mind as the unease builds. Basically, you don’t really see the animatronic nightmares moving all that much when the lights are on. It has a very Weeping Angels, Doctor Who feel. Each level is a night at Freddy’s and when you run out of power, all the doors are open, the lights are out and the horrors come for you. Your punishment if you lose is a single jumpscare at the end, coming at you from the dark.
The games, as much loved as they are, have only been the start. A novel entitled Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes (written by Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley) was released on December 17, 2015 expanding on the mythos created in the games. For those more geared toward collecting, we’ve seen action figures, vinyl figures, plush toys, key chains, apparel, and even ear buds.
That said, don’t expect these characters to fade from the public eye anytime soon as McFarlane Toys has just announced upcoming building sets and Warner Brothers has acquired the rights to adapt the series for film. Roy Lee, David Katzenberg, and Seth Grahame-Smith are now said to be producing the film with Grahame-Smith stating they are collaborating with Cawthon “to make an insane, terrifying and weirdly adorable movie.”
Sounds like a great combination to me!