You may have seen some recent posts, on social media accounts typically associated with self-serious multiplayer shooters, about the “skill gap”—the general disparity in ability between pro players and casual fans in a given game.
For competitive multiplayer games, “skill gap” is worth obsessing over. Let’s say someone who’s never played a game before could mash some buttons and take down the best player in the field. That’s a low skill gap, and no fun to watch. But watching a game with a high skill gap is akin to watching an Olympic sport, gawking as pros pull off jaw-droppingly balletic moves, all while making them look like a piece of cake. You hear “skill gap” tossed around all the time in conversation about high-level play for games like Halo and Call of Duty.
But not this time. Nope, this time the game everyone’s obsessing over is Fall Guys, a two-year-old platformer royale that’s having a hell of a second wind right now, in part because it’s a blast to watch. Turns out, Fall Guys, despite its over-the-top silliness and Mario Party-inspired hijinks, appears to have a ludicrously high skill gap.
It’s not so often a game takes the world by storm twice. British studio Mediatonic first released Fall Guys for PlayStation 4 and PC in August 2020, its pastel visuals and sense of connectivity (60 players at once!) proving to be a social salve during the darkest days of the pandemic. The community boomed, in part thanks to buzz drummed by an unconventional Twitch-based publicity campaign. But it was also just really fun: Each round plays out as a series of inventive, bite-sized minigames that slowly whittle the number of players down until a single victor is left standing.
In March 2021, Epic Games acquired Mediatonic. Fall Guys made its way to Xbox and Switch last month. At the same time, following in the footsteps of Rocket League—another multiplayer game developed by a studio that was purchased by Epic following meteoric buzz—Fall Guys fully adopted a free-to-play model.
Going free-to-play has been an enormous boon to Fall Guys, if you can ignore the launch day server woes. Last week, Mediatonic said Fall Guys had been played by 50 million people since its free-to-play pivot. (Some of the biggest free-to-play shooters in the world, like Fortnite and Apex Legends, have clocked records of around 70 million unique players per month. Estimates peg action-RPG Genshin Impact at a bit shy of 65 million.)
That brings us to Fall Guys’ nascently emergent skill gap. With a player base that large, some people are bound to get mind-bendingly good at the game, far outpacing standard players. One such clip making the rounds (7 million views and counting, as of this writing) shows a player nailing a flawless run through one of the game’s races. It was first shared yesterday morning by ModernWarzone, the popular Call of Duty fan account, who quipped that “Fall Guys has a higher skill gap” than Activision’s high-stakes battle royale:
The clip alone has prompted flummoxed reactions from some of the biggest names in competitive esports. “I’ve been grinding the wrong game clearly [skull emoji],” Alex “Shyway” Hope, a well-known Halo analyst and esports caster, said in a tweet. “Bruh on god no video game is ever just casual anymore wtf [face with tears of joy emoji],” Jake Lucky, the popular esports commentator, said in a tweet.
It’s just one instance of a miniature cottage industry of attention, where Fall Guys players are sharing impressive gameplay clips that then go on to rack up hundreds of thousands of views (or more). Some have shown off “skill jumps,” wherein players make use of unsanctioned but physically traversable pathways through multiplayer stages:
Others brag about their back-to-back-to-back-times-50 victories, another form of proof that Fall Guys has a legitimate skill gap, and isn’t based on luck:
Oh, yeah, and if you still don’t believe in the game’s sudden and undeniable second wave of dominance, there’s this: clones, capitalism’s ultimate stamp of true success. Nintendo has Kirby’s Dream Buffet in the works, announced yesterday and slated for a Switch release this summer. (Obviously, development of Kirby’s Dream Buffet was in place long before Fall Guys moved to a free-to-play model last month.) Just this week, Stumble Games, a clone so shameless it’s bound to get DMCA’d out of the sky, topped the iPhone charts.
Dammit, I’m absolutely redownloading Fall Guys tonight, aren’t I?