OPINION: Happy Wheels Was Fundamental To YouTube's Success
8 March 2017, 17:10 | Updated: 17 July 2017, 12:25
Are you ready to learn some YouTube history?
A little while ago, I wrote a piece about how influential small indie games such as Goat Simulator are to the wider YouTube community. Today, I'd like to eat away into your free time to talk about why Happy Wheels is not only one of the greatest games ever made, but that it will be forever noted in the history books as the game that single-handedly invented the gaming community on YouTube.
If you don't already hate me and my opinions, feel free to read on!
The happy origins of Happy Wheels.
Even though Happy Wheels hit the Internet in 2010, lead designer Jim Bonacci started working on it way back in 2006 following another title, Divine Intervention (seen below). Originally intended as a project to pass his free time, it quickly became apparent to Jim that he wanted to create a game that tried to do rag-doll physics correctly... because all other game developers were seemingly doing it so wrong.
In an interview, Jim explained why he was so focused on creating a game with realistic rag-doll deaths: "No one was making their rag-dolls die properly. They'd usually flop around harmlessly or in some instances have the same canned animation over and over". Whilst recent games such as the Tomb Raider series have sought to rejuvenate the cliche of yawn-inducing death gameplay, Happy Wheels was truly on the forefront of giving their players a unique and wholly personal near death experience every time they hit play.
And so, Happy Wheels was born, and in no time at all the Internet was addicted to throwing their children into walls covered head to toe in spikes.
But exactly how did it take over the Internet?
Well, no one really knows. Not even Jim Bonacci knows what happened to the world when his free browser game hit TotalJerkface, but it took the f*ck off. To date, the game has "generated a grand total of 12.3 million plays a month, 1.2 billion total logged sessions, 352 million independent participants and 14 million downloads of its official app".
Name a more iconic game, I'll wait.
In fact ScreenRant, a website with it's finger firmly on the pulse of popular culture, described the game as if it was the second coming of Christ: "To say that the Happy Wheels franchise is one of the biggest names in gaming would be an understatement at this point". Was it the hyperbolic violence? Was it the friendly #relatable characters? Who knows and honestly who's counting anymore because when Happy Wheels went live on the world wide web, a fever swept over the planet.
But there's one place in particular where you literally could NOT escape the side-scrolling death simulator...
And thus, it took over YouTube.
If you've been able to go even one day in the last seven years without being recommended a Happy Wheels video, then I am extremely jealous of the way you're using the platform. Personally, I believe (hand-in-hand with other games and a fabulous personality) games like this helped creators such as PewDiePie, JackSepticEye, CaptainSparklez and more find fame on YouTube. Basically Jack didn't just finish his 100 episode playthrough of a free browser game for no reason.
There's something inherently magical about watching people play a game that sums up how Let's Play culture skyrocketed seven years ago, and how it served up a unique user experience for all. I could play Happy Wheels right now if I wanted to, and whilst I'd have a damn good time, nothing beats watching other people fail miserably at completing a level that seems so freaking easy. It's addictive, free entertainment.
The inevitable climax of death in this game means that not even tough-skinned YouTubers trying mock the game (just look at Felix's most recent #101 playthrough) can get through a level without laughing uncontrollably. Honestly, unlike games such as Goat Simulator and I Am Bread, no other game has come close to the success of Happy Wheels on YouTube - it practically BUILT the Let's Play community we know today.
Once there's a bandwagon, you need to jump on it.
As is the way with many great things, once one incredibly simplistic and free game makes it to the top... 10 million other games will be spawned to jump in on its success. Goat Simulator had Crazy Goat. Flappy Bird had Faby Bird. And in no time at all, Happy Wheels had Unicycle Challenge amongst many, many more.
These games are still making huge waves on YouTube as people test out new games on the market once they know a specific genre of video game is an overnight success. And now, since Jim Bonacci has released an official Happy Wheels app, the thievery has just kept on going! Even though we're certain the dev team at Fancy Force were able to make a hot buck on their original IP, you can't argue that somehing isn't popular or influential when it has spawned this much buzz.
And finally, the future for Happy Wheels.
JackSepticEye has just finished his epic 100 episode run of Happy Wheels. Felix seems to have started, or is quickly taking a final stab, at the game too. The official Machinima animated TV series of the game has aired and been lost to the depths of all, streamable television shows. But is there a future for this violent piece of gaming history?
We don't know the answers for sure, but as a game that will continuously do well on YouTube, we're certain that any upcoming YouTuber will eventually feature a Happy Wheels playthrough just for the sheer lols of joining in with the rest of the community.
We'd love to know your thoughts on Happy Wheels and if you've ever played the game. Let us know in the comments below!