From its origin as a point-and-click website game to multiple sequels and spinoffs, and now talks of a movie and AAA game in development, Five Nights at Freddy’s (click here) will long be remembered as re-popularizing the browser-based jumpscare.
Oh no, it wasn’t the first. Browser games featuring jumpscares games go back a long time, although many were originally pranks. One of the most famous examples would be The Maze, which possibly popularized the “reaction video” back in 2004. It appeared to be a simple maze game, yet some time during gameplay, a ghost picture would flash across the screen, accompanied by a loud scream.
Screamer pranks go back even earlier than The Maze, but I don’t want to get off-track. The point I’m making is that screamer pranks sort of disappeared for a while, along with shock sites, as the internet became generally desensitized to such things. But Five Nights at Freddy’s put a unique spin on the screamer. It combined elements of the screamer prank game genre while being a real game.
FNAF was following in the footsteps of similar horror games; P.T., Slender, and Amnesia had popular fanbases before FNAF was released, and were the subjects of streaming gameplay and reaction videos. The difference though is that, aside from Slender, these popular survival-horror games were made by established game studios. P.T. was a trailer from Konami for the (cancelled) Silent Hills, Amnesia was from indie game studio Frictional Games. FNAF was created by a single developer.
Shortly after Five Nights at Freddy’s release, it made waves in the game streaming community. It became the subject of tons of reaction videos, as well as a popular game to stream on Twitch, and overall became a viral success due to YouTube “Let’s Play!” videos. FNAF was at the top of iOS and Android app stores, had millions of YouTube views, and continues to be popular on Twitch – in fact, its peak amount of viewers since 2014 came just this past February 2019.
The overall success of Five Nights at Freddy’s has led to a total of five sequels, two-spinoffs (FNAF World and FNAF Custom Night), three novel adaptations, rumours of a movie adaptation, and further rumours of an AAA title in the works.
What made Five Night’s at Freddy’s so compelling?
As we mentioned earlier, the success of FNAF was predicated upon the success of previous survival-horror genre games, and the prank screamer genre as a whole. But what made FNAF compelling was that, theoretically, you could play the entire game without encountering a single scare – if you played correctly.
In many horror games, jumpscares are just par for the course. They can be normal gameplay events, or peppered into cutscenes – but either way, jumpscares are typically heavily featured in survival-horror games as part of the gameplay. In Five Nights at Freddy’s, however, they’re more like punishment for taking the wrong action during gameplay.
So what makes FNAF so compelling to watch during live streams or Let’s Play videos is that the streamer might not encounter any jumpscares at all. The audience doesn’t know beforehand when the streamer will reach a part of the game with a jump scare. It all depends on how the streamer plays. So not only is the audience vested in seeing the streamer’s reaction to jump scares, they’re vested in whether or not the streamer is able to complete the game without encountering any jumpscares at all.
FNAF introduced plenty of unique concepts to the horror game genre, and seeing as how the series’ creator is worth $60 million USD from game and merchandise revenue, we’re really interested to see what’s next for the series. With a movie and AAA game title in the works, we’re sure FNAF has some scares left for veterans and newbies alike to the series.