Most developers like to make their games as widely available as possible. For large companies that need to make a profit, it makes sense to put a game on as many platforms as possible and ensure that it has the type of gameplay people might already be familiar with and are interested in picking up. GoodbyeWorld Games and Skybound Games’ indie title Before Your Eyes bucks that trend in many ways.
Before Your Eyes‘ primary method of control is blinking. It’s a game about someone remembering their life after they died, but they can only stay in a particular memory until they blink. On PC, the player’s webcam tracks their eyes and moves the story forward every time you blink. The player’s body commands the experience, even if it’s not always possible to control blinking. It’s a poignantly emotional experience that will have you in tears by the end, but it’s also a game that only works on specific platforms and isn’t comparable to much else.
That’s why its arrival on iOS and Android via the Netflix app on July 26 is a logical evolution for GoodbyeWorld’s underrated gem. Ahead of Before Your Eyes‘ Netflix Games release, spoke to creative director and writer Graham Parkes and game director and composer Oliver Lewin to learn how they brought Before Your Eyes to life and how its bold rejection of gaming norms is the key to this atypical experience’s success.
Before Your Eyes started as a capstone project at USC. Parkes admitted that they didn’t really think about if the game needed to have broad appeal and compatibility with every gaming platform. The PS5, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch don’t have built-in webcams, so GoodbyeWorld couldn’t put Before Your Eyes on those platforms with their desired controls. As a result, there are only specific platforms to which it can expand. Mobile was the most logical place to go next from Parkes’ point of view.
“We always knew that mobile was a great fit and wanted the game to come to mobile because we’re using a mode of control that everybody is inherently familiar with,” Parkes explained. “Everyone has eyes and everyone blinks, so we always wanted to design the game to be played by gamers and non-gamers alike. We feel like mobile is a perfect home because you can get those casual gamers who might check something out on their phone but don’t have a Steam account or console.”
Of course, bringing the game to phones presented a unique set of challenges. Modern phones all have high-quality cameras, so that wasn’t as much of an issue. Still, GoodbyeWorld and the port developers at BKOM Studios did have to account for things like arm positioning and phone rotation.
Before Your Eyes on mobile can seamlessly switch between a horizontal and vertical perspective if someone turns their phone so that people can play in the most comfortable position for themselves. This feature presents challenges with localization and camera framing, though.
“The way text appears on screen actually requires a ton of programming and design work, and to be able to just completely change it from vertical to horizontal means we need a pretty robust solution for how that text is going to swap smoothly, so it doesn’t look jumbled,” Lewin said. “Another challenge was camera framing and getting it to flow cinematically. The PC version has a traditional landscape ratio, and while we liked the comfort of playing it vertically in your hand, it felt too zoomed in and claustrophobic. We had to find ways to pull the camera back a little bit when you swap to vertical, so it retains that cinematic, lifelike quality in the look.”
“Netflix is a platform that’s known for stories.”
Before Your Eyes is a game that takes advantage of the technology at its disposal, and that ethos also clearly applies to the mobile port. It’s the same narrative adventure players had on PC but adapted to work best on a gaming device almost everyone has. While the port’s development had unique challenges, Before Your Eyes‘ most significant obstacle to success on mobile is visibility.
Seen on Netflix
GoodbyeWorld knew the mobile version of Before Your Eyes needed to be part of the right gaming service or collection. Parkes admits that short, story-driven, linear games don’t have great chances of becoming popular on the App Store or Google Play Store. That’s where being on Netflix came into play. Parkes credits Before Your Eyes publisher Skybound Games with getting the deal to happen.
GoodbyeWorld almost immediately agreed to the partnership when Skybound Games brought Netflix’s interest up during a Skype call as the team believed Before Your Eyes would be a good fit for Netflix’s audience and ethos. “Netflix is a platform that’s known for stories, and things like Bandersnatch showed that it has already made some plays into the interactive space,” Parkes says. “I think games are a natural extension of that.”
Netflix is just one of many companies trying to trailblaze the video game subscription service scene. Xbox Game Pass is currently the top dog, while other platform holders like Google, Amazon, and even PlayStation are getting in on the trend. Indie developers have a lot to potentially gain from the added visibility subscription services bring, but could also stand to lose money if people decide not to pick up the games.
“My intuition tells me that subscriptions are good for indie games.”
GoodbyeWorld currently has a positive outlook on game subscription services that helped fuel its decision to work with Netflix. While Parkes’ view of subscriptions’ broader impact on the indie scene is limited, being on a service lets Before Your Eyes cut through the noise in the wild mobile game market effectively.
“One of the challenges of the indie space is that we don’t always know what other studios are going through or what other deals look like, so there’s a lack of visibility on the broader subscription space,” Parkes said. “From our experience, something like the Netflix deal is really exciting. My intuition tells me that subscriptions are good for indie games because they want to build a portfolio. If you can spend less money on a smaller team to get their game onto a streaming service, then a game that might have not normally cut through the noise might get a gamer to check it out because it’s already on the subscription.”
Meanwhile, Lewin believes that subscription services are for “broadening access to different games and having less homogeneity in the few games that rule the roost a lot of the time.” Before Your Eyes is special, both as a standalone experience and within the Netflix Games lineup. By being a boutique game on Netflix, it has a greater chance of getting the recognition and appreciation it deserves.
Before Your Eyes has been met with acclaim, garnered the attention of Netflix, and successfully launched on one of the few new platforms that the game works on. So what’s next for GoodbyeWorld and Before Your Eyes? A VR version that tracks eye movements could work well for Before Your Eyes. While Parkes and Lewin had nothing to announce at this time, they did point out that GoodbyeWorld made a Before Your Eyes VR tech demo for the canceled SXSW 2020.
Even if mobile is the furthest Before Your Eyes’ platform ambitions stretch, Parkes and Lewin have learned some valuable lessons from the project. Namely that it’s OK, and actually beneficial, to take big risks with your game, even if it doesn’t fall under industry norms or might only work on particular platforms and technology.
“It’s a limitation, not being about to come to consoles, but I think that the uniqueness and freshness of the concept are really what helps us stand out and attracts people to check out Before Your Eyes,” Parkes says. “What we might have lost in coming to a lot of consoles, we made up for by being able to cut through the noise and the discourse and bring a lot of people to the game.”
“We were nervous about doing innovative or weird things. Now, we know that’s actually our sweet spot.”
This mindset applies to both the game concept and the development process. “The big thing I learned, which Before Your Eyes’ story also teaches you, is to let go and submit to the process,” Parkes said. “Know that you’ll fail a lot and do it wrong a lot, but if you keep hammering away at it, you’ll get something that you’re happy with. For so long, we knew that this game could be amazing, and it really wasn’t. It took us years and years of iteration to get there.”
Now, GoodbyeWorld knows that it’s OK to be weird and to own up to and be confident in that. Lewin explains that Before Your Eyes gave the team a big confidence boost going into its next project as it proved that there’s an audience for games that are different and don’t conform to industry expectations. In fact, that’s where this team excels.
“We were nervous about doing innovative or weird things,” said Lewin. “Now, we know that’s actually our sweet spot and comfort zone. We find our success through doing things differently. We saw that there’s a huge appetite for games that are different and for storytelling in innovative forms. Now that we know people are just as excited about it as we are, it energizes us to keep going with it and push it forward. So that’s what we’re going to do.”