Simulation video games are often purposefully, gloriously mundane. But they can also make the quotidian highly entertaining. And that’s certainly true of this U.K.-made example of the genre. Meet: Chippy, a fish & chip shop simulator game for iOS that’s plenty of fun to play – partly because its subject matter is so spectacularly mundane (frying fish and chips), but also because it turns that mundane task into an addictive game of time management.
Firstly, for non-British TC readers, “chippy” is slang for a fish & chip shop – aka a staple of the British small-town high street, selling battered fish and fat-soaked chips. Traditionally, this comfort food would be served straight from the deep fat frier, wrapped up in yesterday’s newspaper, and drenched in salt and vinegar. It’s about as quintessentially British as a cup of tea.
Now to Chippy the game: The game-play involves memorising orders, and remembering the correct sequence in which to swipe items around the screen to make up each order. If you lose track and leave the chips/fish in the frier too long, they’ll start to blacken and burn, eventually giving off a plume of dense black smoke and being good for nothing but throwing in the trash.
Burnt food also attracts flies, which has a knock on effect on your hygiene rating. You can dispatch flies by throwing stuff at them individually or by activating a UV fly zapper on the wall of your shop to net the whole swarm. But pressing on that until all the flies are pulled to fiery death means you can’t be making up orders so risk falling behind and having angry customers storm out of the shop.
Chippy scores are reputational, based on customer satisfaction, factoring in things like speed/efficiency of order fulfilment, quality of the food (burnt or uncooked fish and chips won’t win you many points), and whether you got all the aspects of the order right or not.
The game eases you in with simple orders, and steadily introduces new elements to ramp up the complexity – so you move from making up a single portion of chips, to making multiple fish & chips portions, with or without salt & vinegar, at the same time and so on. There are also challenges going alongside the basic pipeline of orders. These appear on the newspaper you use to wrap the food, prompting you to ‘cook up three of everything before you open the shop’ or ‘knockout a fly by throwing something at it’.
For the rest of the time, the newspaper headlines are pure entertainment, plus a dash of humour – such as ‘Hipsters alarmed by choice in craft beers’. For a game focused on a single screen environment, there’s a lot of detail to enjoy.
The developer behind Chippy was also involved in making the iOS pirate game Plunderland – a paid title that was downloaded more than 500,000 times. Chippy is not being made by Plunderland’s studio (Johnny Two Shoes) but is the first game from a spin-off sister company, called Glitche.rs. Co-founder and game designer Maxwell Scott-Slade says Glitche.rs will be focused on “making more targeted apps with smaller development cycles and a slightly different team”.
The studio (and Chippy) is being self-funded. “We don’t have any investors, our mantra is keep development cycles small and cheap – get the minimal viable product out there and add to it in response to fan feedback,” Scott-Slade tells TechCrunch.
Chippy is a paid app ($2.99/£1.99) that deliberately eschews in-app purchases – in part to ensure it can appeal to kids and their parents (who can be wary of gaming costs racking up expectedly). But Scott-Slade also reckons there’s plenty of life left in paid games, especially as he argues that gamers are getting tired of virtual currencies and would prefer a simpler, up-front approach.
“I think [an app being paid] shows an intention to the player. We did experiment with in-app purchases, but never with virtual currency, only to unlock the entire game,” he says. “It’s absolutely nuts to suggest that paid apps are dead. Knowing what you’re getting for a fixed price is important for a lot of players. Listen on the ground and see the general frustration from players being constantly sold virtual currencies – they don’t like it!
“But we also don’t like it as gamers ourselves, the choice to go ‘premium’ was partly due to age range reach but also to support the idea that charging up front for something is still a viable option. I want to prove that,” he adds. ”Another important thing to note is Chippy is potentially quite a niche game, with free you need millions of players before you really start to make any money.”
Being niche, Chippy is also going to have to work to pull the punters in. Scott-Slade says Glitche.rs will need around 20,000 downloads of the paid app to break even and they have “zero dollars for marketing budget.” To help spread the word they have built a gameplay recording feature into the app that lets players share short clips to social networks.
“Part of the reason we included Kamcord (the CCTV gameplay recording feature) was actually directly a result of Chippy being a single-scene game. There’s not much you can do for a gameplay trailer and it’s really the hands-on experience that makes you most excited. Sharing little segments of gameplay to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are our best options for piquing interest that doesn’t cost us a thing!” he says.
The studio has also been frugal in its development approach – building a “minimum viable product” and being strict about paring back their list of game-play ideas to keep costs and time down. Lots of ideas they had, didn’t make it in – or not yet anyway.
“Chippy will grow as more people download it – the idea was to build it with the fans after launch,” he says, confirming that new features will be added if Chippy fans clamour hard enough for them, whether it’s curry sauce, pickled eggs or deep-fried Mars bars.
“We had a strict 12 week development cycle with just three people plus our sound designer,” he adds. “Keeping development costs down was also key to us being able to make a potentially niche game.”
How niche the appeal of playing at making virtual fish & chips turns out to be will be fun to watch. “We realised that potentially, not every market would get Chippy. But we’re glad to see that most players seem to really love it – even in Japan!”