On a snowy night in Cambridge, I got to sit down with the founder and sole employee of 82 Apps, Erik Asmussen. Growing up in the woods of Austerlitz, New York, Erik typically found himself playing on the computer while his older brother played outside. Despite his childhood love of video games, Erik attempted to shed his “nerdy” image when he went away to Colgate University, where he majored in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Digital Music. After graduation, while working a typical 9-5 job, Erik returned to his roots, casually teaching himself coding to make iOS utility apps.
It wasn’t until playing a frustrating game of Catan that he realized he could combine his love of coding and his love of games to create what he felt was a better, more fun version of Catan. Four years later, Erik is hard at work on his 4th title, Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball, which impressively claimed the title of #1 Best Rated Multiplayer Game on Steam, knocking Counter-Strike down a peg.
Corey Atwood: Why make video games?
Erik Asmussen: There’s a couple things about it that I really enjoy. I like creating things and then sharing them with people and I love the process of programming. It’s like solving a logic puzzle everyday. The process itself is fun. Disco Dodgeball is an online, multiplayer game, so when you’re playing, everyone’s laughing and having a great time and going crazy. To know that you created that experience for them is cool. GoldenEye was my big thing growing up and playing games with friends are some of my best memories. It’s competitive, but it’s friendly competition and it’s just a great way to bond with people. I enjoy knowing that’s what I’m putting out there and that other people are now having that same shared experience.
CA: What’s it like to run a studio by yourself?
Erik: I know that I could accomplish more with more people, but for every person I bring on, now a game has to support that person. For me, this is a lifestyle career. It will take longer to build this game, but I like knowing that I only need to make enough money to support me. If the game fails, I don’t have to worry about crushing someone else’s life, I’ll only ruin my own! The other benefit of having more people is the collaboration. But, because of Steam Early Access, I now have forums full of players that I can brainstorm with and I’ve got tons of great ideas from them. This way, I get that kind of collaboration without that pressure or the hassle.
CA: Tell me about the moment you saw Disco Dodgeball become the best rated multiplayer game on Steam.
Erik: I had a hunch it would happen because I’d been looking at the Steam charts and the game had been positively reviewed, but the user reviews still said “Very Positive.” It didn’t say “Overwhelmingly Positive” and according to Valve’s classification system, that’s where all the top games are. Unless it has at least 500 reviews, a game doesn’t get that tag, which makes sense. Well, I saw that I was really, really close to that. I was at like 480 or something, so I was on Twitter and I was posting screenshots and stuff, almost like trying to hype up the event! When it did click over to five hundred I saw immediately that it changed to “Overwhelmingly Positive.” After getting the new tag, it wasn’t immediately on the charts, but it looked like it just hadn’t refreshed yet. So, when I finally refreshed, I saw Disco Dodgeball at the top, and then Counter-Strike in second place, which is insane! I was talking to people on Twitter I’d known for awhile and they’d also been anxiously awaiting what would happen. When I finally had that announcement and screenshot, it got shared around a whole bunch and I feel like I got to celebrate with people I had a connection with. It’s particularly validating because Disco Dodgeball hasn’t gotten any press and it hasn’t received any festival awards, and all that kind of effects you and makes you doubt yourself. Seeing it at the top of the charts answers those questions for you.
CA: What’s the worst part of making games for a living?
Erik: There’s a lot of pressure. If things succeed, you know it’s because of your efforts. If you fail, you have all that responsibility and you don’t have a safety net. The thought “Why won’t people care about this game?” does keep you up at night. In a traditional job, you can create a nice disconnect between work and home. Games are all consuming and your identity becomes wrapped in your game. If people think your game is stupid and nobody cares about it, it makes you feel like a failure as a person.
CA: If you could work with any studio on any project, what would it be?
Erik: I don’t think there’s a project out there that excites me more than the stuff that I want to build. I’m not saying Dodgeball is better than other games, it’s just what excites me is the process of making my own stuff. If some big studio wanted me to be part of their project, I don’t even know if I would want that. It’s not why I’m doing this.
While there are no official plans for other platforms, Erik says he would love to bring the game to home consoles. Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball is currently available on Steam Early Access for $9.99, with an official release date scheduled for February 19th.