If you really like playing games, you definitely have faced features called Easter eggs. However, this topic may be interesting both for true gamers and for indie game developers.
Let’s define an Easter egg not only as a hidden subject or message in games to discover which you have to do a certain sequence of actions, but also any reference or an intentional inside joke. Easter eggs in video games are the best way to delight and surprise players in order to improve the connection between developers and users.
In this article, we suggest to look at Easter eggs as at an interesting method of engaging and communicating with players and try to find out if putting them in your game will be a right choice or it’ll just ruin the reputation of your project.
The Types of Easter Eggs
The history of Easter Eggs began in the late ’70s. A video game development studio Atari has such a politics that includes the concealment of the developers’ names. Can you imagine their shock after they found out their developer had left a hidden message with his name in a game? In one of the first action games Adventure, you have an opportunity to find yourself in a hidden room with the inscription “Created by Warren Robinett”. At the time Atari discovered the prank their developer had done, Warren didn’t work there yet.
This trick impressed them so much they began to implement Easter Eggs deliberately. The existence of these in-game secrets and the willing to figure them out motivates players and makes them interested in the company’s products.
Clearly, the name of this feature relates back to the annual tradition of finding colorfully painted eggs on Easter. However, there are less obvious aspects to discuss. Let’s try to categorize Easter eggs that reference other properties.
A Reference to Your Own Work
Many game development studios consider putting Easter eggs as a good way to self-promotion. Final Fantasy IX is just a great big love letter to all past games in the series. From the brief retelling on Final Fantasy II to bad guy Garland reappearing from the first game (you can see him on the picture below), there are many references throughout the game.
A Cross-Reference Easter Eggs
It usually consists of a slight non-parodic replication of an item or a dialogue of someone’s game. For example, in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game interactions with animals (like the ones on the picture below) represent defeating robots in the early Sonic series. There are also used sound effects that remind ones from Zelda, Sonic, and Mario.
A Parodic Reference to Another Person’s Game
Surprisingly, this type of reference is considered as a form of critique and is completely protected by fair use law; however, a game dev studio can’t just copy and paste a part of someone else’s work.
An interesting example is The Witcher 2 where you can find the main character of Assassin’s Creed series, lying dead next to a haystack.
Pros of Using Easter Eggs
Well, first of all, putting Easter eggs in your game makes it more interesting for players. Letting users solve riddles and enjoy pop-cultural references can make your game a fascinating experience for them.
Using Easter eggs is a perfect way to get gamers to know developers on a personal level without even realizing it. Putting in your games references to your favorite TV show, memes, movies or games and showing your own interests make you a friend for players and even create a “nerdy’ fandom.
Thus, Easter eggs can promote your game in a natural way. Impressed players can bring great popularity due to which gamers themselves share information about it on forums and their own social networks.
Don’t neglect yourself or your game development team. Working on Easter eggs is a way to relax during developing a game with thousand lines of code and hectic schedulу. Game development has never been just a routine, but a creative process. It allows the team to be more autonomous and is something that lets developers express themselves and do their work yet. Game development studio Techland even provides budget and additional time for creating ideas for Easter eggs and putting them into a game.
While fun isn’t free, hiding Easter eggs isn’t necessarily going to cost a developer anything. A lot of them prefer to do it in free time. However, the implementation can take both an hour and months of work, depending on the complexity of the idea.
Cons of Putting Easter Eggs for Game Developers
While for someone finding Easter eggs may be a reason to fell in love with a game, there’s no promise that a player will see and understand the reference. Even if they notice it, there may be a kind of misconception. The reference to Assasin’s Creed most famous mechanics in the Witcher 2 was understood in different ways. The message of the developers was “Assassin’s Creed is dead, here is the Witсher”, while some people thought that it was “You play the Witcher, while Assasin’s Creed is a great game too. Try it!”.
Therefore, if time is money, developers will just waste it on creating useless features. The creators of the 2013’s game named The Stanley Parable, a two-year project, spent the last three months of development process adding secret features to the game. While the above-mentioned game development company Techland spend two percent of the whole budget on putting Easter eggs in a game, hiding them in indie game developers’ The Stanley Parable took up to 30 percent of their budget.
In 1997, Steve Jobs even said engineers were wasting too much time on them and made the disk footprint heavier. Another problem, he saw, was that hidden credits made it easier for competing companies to poach developers. Easter eggs were forbidden in Apple products.
The last but a very significant problem is that the law regarding Easter eggs is no different than the one protecting other types of content or intellectual property in games. How to put Easter eggs in your game legally? You can put an item that you’ve created on your own and it just mimics an existing mechanics or style of someone else’s work. Remember that developers can’t just copy and paste another’s in-game objects.
A lot of people think that Easter eggs in video games are dying these days because of massive production teams and tight deadlines during developing AAA titles and the information dissemination on the internet. By Googling “top 10 video game Easter eggs” or watching videos on YouTube, you can discover most secrets placed in any game.
However, we consider that Easter eggs will always be an important part of gaming culture. Such features reward players who are fighting their favorite games so long they don’t know if they will ever see daylight again. Gamers will stay devoted to game development companies if they feel acknowledged and appreciated. It is still your choice for putting Easter eggs in your game or not, cause it has several pros and cons. Nevertheless, while these features are not practical nor functional, they can make users really fell in love with your product.
Maria Atmanaki is a Content Marketer at an independent game development company Knocknock Games based in San Francisco, CA. Her studio’s experience in game art and design, publishing and developing on different platforms allows her to share expertise with others.