AI NPCs helped an indie studio get $300,000+ in free publicity
How Vaudeville took off on Twitch and got millions of views
Simone Odoardi, the founder and CEO of Bumblebee Studios, first had the idea for Vaudeville several years ago. He wanted to create a gritty noir detective game set in the vaudeville era where players found the culprit by questioning characters just like a real detective would.
“I never developed Vaudeville because the technology to do so wasn’t available then,” he explained. “It wasn’t the type of game that would work well with pre-scripted conversations.”
When Odoardi came across Inworld in the Unity Verified Solutions marketplace in early 2023, he immediately thought of Vaudeville. “When I discovered Inworld, I realized that I could finally make this game,” he explained. “I then built the game around Inworld as a test of what we could do with this tech.”
After just two months of development, Simone had a working prototype. He released an Early Access version on Steam hoping to get feedback on his experimental concept. What happened instead surprised Simone.
Vaudeville got picked up by a number of popular YouTubers and Twitch streamers including MoistCr1TiKal and HasanAbi racking up over 7 million views of Vaudeville – and enough sales to convince Bumblebee Studios to develop the concept into a full game.
As a game that was only made possible by Inworld’s Character Engine, it was never a question of whether Bumblebee Studios would use Inworld. But there were a number of other reasons why Inworld was the perfect tool for developing Vaudeville.
Innovative new game mechanics
Simone has always seen himself as an innovator. When he realized what might be possible with generative AI, he wanted to be at the forefront of developing new kinds of game mechanics and game play. “My goal was to be the first one out with this kind of technology in a game like this,” he explained.
With Vaudeville’s Early Access prototype, Simone wanted to keep the scope lean and see what kinds of game experiences you could create from dialogue alone. “I wanted to make dialogue the core mechanic of the game,” he explained. “So, all the interactions revolve around dialogue. I wanted to give the player the feeling of interacting with real people as they try to extract information from characters to solve the mystery.”
Now that Bumblebee Studios is developing Vaudeville into a full-scale release scheduled to come out in early 2024, Simone plans to push what’s possible with generative AI NPCs even further. “We’re planning to take full advantage of the opportunities that Inworld offers in the full version of the game,” he explained. “Mainly, we’re working on a deeper integration focused on more immersion and more connection with the NPCs. We’re planning to use the goals and actions triggers function to unlock new locations, new content, and other conversations.”
Now that Bumblebee Studios is developing Vaudeville into a full-scale release scheduled to come out in early 2024, they plan to push what’s possible with generative AI NPCs even further. To do this, they have decided to strengthen the team and the first step was the addition of Lautaro Ariño, a game developer with experience creating similar games. “We’re planning to take full advantage of the opportunities that Inworld offers in the full version of the game,” Lautaro explained. “Mainly, we’re working on a deeper integration focused on more immersion and more connection with the NPCs. We’re planning to use the goals and actions triggers function to unlock new locations, new content, and other conversations.”
$300,000+ free publicity
While Simone was surprised Vaudeville attracted the attention of the large Twitch streamers it did, he wasn’t surprised that the game was seen as fun to stream. He’d suspected that its innovative game mechanics would help with marketing.
“I had a feeling from the beginning that the game was very streamable,” he explained. “I figured it was only a matter of time before someone streamed themselves playing it. But we were lucky that some of the biggest streamers picked it up.”
MoistCr1TiKal, who has 5.1 million followers on Twitch and 13.8 million on YouTube, was the first to stream the game. “I started seeing a lot of people popping up in our Discord server and I was wondering, ‘What's happening? Why is everybody here?,’” he explained. “Then, someone posted the link to MoistCr1TiKal’s stream.”
Other big streamers or YouTubers like HasanAbi, Mori Calliope, Call Me Kevin, and Watson Amelia then followed up within two to three days with streams or videos of their own. Combined, these influencers had over 22 million subscribers on YouTube and playthroughs and videos about Vaudeville garnered a whopping 7 million views across Twitch and YouTube.
Curious, he asked his marketing agency how much it would have cost for that kind of exposure if he’d paid for it. “My agency said it would have cost at least $300,000,” he explained. “And we got that for free.”
For such a successful Early Access release, it might surprise you that Simone developed the prototype as a one-man team. Inworld’s ease-of-use was certainly a selling point for the small studio. “It was really easy integrating Inworld,” he explained. “That’s what made it very possible to create a working prototype within just two months.”
While Simone had considered using the OpenAI API to make Vaudeville come alive, he felt like that kind of integration would be too complex for his small studio. “Integrating OpenAI would have been a much bigger project than just connecting it to Inworld and having everything work,” he explained. “We were more interested in creating characters – and Inworld is the easiest way to create characters.”
One thing that Bumblebee Studios wanted to add to their game was the ability to play it in other languages. However, while expanding language options is in Inworld’s future product roadmap, the Character Engine currently only supports English conversations to best ensure the quality and safety of all interactions.
Thanks to the flexibility of Inworld’s SDK, however, Simone was able to easily add in another step that includes API calls to an external translation service called DeepL to support text conversations in other languages. “We support 12 languages right now,” he said. “That includes English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Dutch and Ukrainian.”
Simone is thrilled by the results of Vaudeville’s Early Access release. With just two months of work, the game quickly racked up six figures in sales. Bumblebee Studios is particularly excited about the full version of the game set to launch in 2024.
“We’re improving the visuals, sounds, and interactions,” he explained. “We’ll add more advanced features to our characters like new game mechanics and the ability to remember previous dialogues and facts.”
While Bumblebee Studios might be among the first to experiment with AI NPCs, Simone is certain this is only the beginning. “I'm convinced that this is going to be the new normal in games and soon we’ll see every game implement AI NPCs,” he said. “I’m proud to have been the first to create a noir game with the tech – but it wouldn’t have been possible without Inworld.”