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The Untold Truth Of Gas Station Simulator

Like "Among Us" and "Valheim" before it, Drago Entertainment and Movie Games S.A.'s "Gas Station Simulator" became a surprise hit on Steam in September 2021 when it reportedly outsold "Deathloop" during the games' shared release week (via Game Rant). The indie title, which sees players tackle the mammoth task of fixing up and running a dilapidated service station on Route 66, sunk its hooks into individuals like Polygon's Nicole Clark and Isaiah Colbert of Kotaku, who found themselves drawn in by the addictive gameplay loop. Though it achieved only a 70 Metacritic score, consistent updates and continued attention from streamers such as Markiplier have helped keep "Gas Station Simulator" in the limelight.

With over 3 million people tuning in on just one occasion to watch Mark stake his claim on the Dust Bowl, it's hardly a surprise that the project turned out to be, as the CEO phrased it, Drago's "absolute jackpot." Behind this success story you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of details and decisions spanning core design philosophies, gameplay elements, and even marketing strategies. What makes "Gas Station Simulator" so unique? Why did the developers move in the directions they did? What can the studio's past reveal about what it has in store for the future? Take a look.

The 'monster' of Gas Station Simulator

While other games pit players against zombies or alien swarms, "Gas Station Simulator" has its own enemy: the sandstorm.

In an effort to keep gas station life interesting, Drago Entertainment incorporated several events into the gameplay. The list includes a persistent young vandal, buses filled with customers, loans and requests from the player character's uncle, and random challenges. While all of these occurrences test your skill, agility, and even patience, the environment serves as the biggest threat. At any time, a sandstorm may appear out of nowhere, damaging property, burying the landscape in piles of sand, and forcing players to take refuge inside.

As hinted at by the name of the gas station, the developers drew inspiration from the Dust Bowl, a devastating event that unfolded in the U.S. in the 1930s. For eight years, droughts and sandstorms ravaged the Southern Plains region, resulting in mass crop failure and the deaths of both people and livestock (via History). Set on Route 66, "Gas Station Simulator" takes place in the same area affected by the historical drought, with the titular gas station serving as another victim of the winds and dust. "[Rudy, the excavator,] is our weapon to fight the recurring monster, which is the sandstorm that destroyed this place earlier," advised the lead designer during a dev talk. "This monster will return."

Your very own Dennis the Menace

Have you ever watched 1993 film "Dennis the Menace" and thought, "Gosh, I wish such a lovable scamp lived next door to me?" If you answered "yes" for some unfathomable reason, you may just be Drago Entertainment's target audience. In "Gas Station Simulator," Dennis is very much alive and well, if a bit older than his movie counterpart. Clad in overalls and armed with paint, Dennis materializes to vandalize your property and graffiti your walls whenever business booms a bit too much. Why has he set his sights on your little slice of Route 66? It seems you've put down roots on his turf and you need to learn exactly who the real king of the rock is.

"Out there, not too far from your Gas Station stands a lonely fort cobbled together out of metal sheets, wire, duct tape and a healthy serving of goodwill," warned DevLog #7. "Within that fort dwells Dennis, a child that nobody quite knows how he got there. Nobody quite knows where Dennis should be. Asking about the child yields a simple 'he's always been here' or 'I don't know.'" 

Just who — or what — is Dennis? Is the blonde-haired hellraiser the abandoned kid he appears to be ... or something far more sinister? Whatever his origins, players love to hate him, to the point that his voice actress, Yenni Ann, stepped back into character to respond to some of the more venomous comments players have made about the "defenceless young man." Luckily, those who don't want to contend with the '90s-inspired nemesis can opt out of Dennis events entirely.

The not so simulator simulator

Though they proudly placed the genre in the title, the developers at Drago Entertainment approached "Gas Station Simulator" with other ends in mind. "We didn't want to just make another simulator game," shared studio head Lucjan Mikociak, "but make a game not taking seriously the sim elements of it. This is why we focused on the gameplay elements which are not strictly sim elements." Realism played a key role when creating components like the vehicle AI; however, Drago instilled a bit of wackiness with additions like Dennis.

According to Zoey Handley of Destructoid, this approach has grown increasingly popular in the simulator space. "What used to be a look at how to fly a plane or build a city has become streamer fodder," wrote Handley. "It's not about how accurate it is, it's about how weird it is." By design, "Gas Station Simulator" falls somewhere between a running gag and a true-to-life recreation of a largely mundane profession — a sweet spot that seems to attract streamers while still appeasing less high profile players. Drago and Movie Games used this to their advantage following the release of the prologue. Coordinating with streamers and YouTubers to get the word out about the title served as the first step in the "Gas Station Simulator" marketing campaign (via Movie Games S.A).

"A lot of the jank is probably left intentionally to attract the aforementioned streamer crowd," suggested Handley. Whether the studio designed aspects of "Gas Station Simulator" with gaming influencers in mind remains up in the air. No matter the approach, the project has turned into something of an overnight success. However, If you're looking for a pure simulation of running a Route 66 pit stop, "Gas Station Simulator" may not be for you.

Is that Elon Musk?

The folks at Drago Entertainment have not been shy about their love of pop culture. From extraterrestrials and Dennis the Menace to Route 66 and the Dust Bowl, the developers have filled "Gas Station Simulator" with jokes, references, and small details. "This place is crazy and our research just pointed out that anything could be put there, to the point where we were afraid our game would be perceived as overdone with some elements like aliens," confessed the title's lead designer.

Perhaps one of the more amusing aspects of "Gas Station Simulator" is its knockoff celebrity cameos. Elon Musk, or Melon Task as he's known in-game, has gained quite  a following on r/gaming and the title's official subreddit. Players love to share Musk sightings, with one such thread eliciting an intriguing response from Drago itself. "Maybe he is trying to build a battery charger at your station," responded the developer after the original poster stated that the Musk lookalike never buys fuel during his visits, but only "alcohol and cookies." The Redditor was quick to suggest that the studio's comment hinted at a future DLC featuring electric cars.

Beyond picking up booze and treats, Melon Task serves as a potential employee for your gas station. According to his application, Task is a "very fast learner" with "great potential" who appreciates the finer things in life, such as space travel and cryptocurrency. This might just be the closest most gamers get to bossing around a billionaire.

Drago Entertainment has a simulator for that

Polish developer Drago Entertainment seems intent on establishing itself as the king of simulators. Though "Gas Station Simulator" has secured its moment in the spotlight, the studio has a number of other titles under its belt, including "Oil Tycoon 2," "Cold Zero – The Last Stand," and "Hell-Copter/Vulture." Following over two decades in the industry, Drago has transitioned to creating its own IP and has a host of simulator games in the pipeline for release over the next 2-3 years.

Those who have sampled all Route 66 has to offer can trade their gas pump for a metal detector in "Treasure Hunter Simulator." Released in 2018, Drago Entertainment already announced the sequel, promising ancient mysteries, an open world, and even a bit of Lovecraftian influence. Artifacts and exploration not your style? Check out the "Winter Survival Simulator" demo or wishlist the upcoming "Detective Simulator," "Paparazzi Simulator," "Food Truck Simulator," "Red Frost," "Airport Contraband," or "Miner's Hell."

As detailed by GamesIndustry.biz, the simulation genre has grown ever popular in recent years. Streamers and YouTubers have contributed to this success, introducing their thousands (sometimes millions) of viewers to titles and design philosophies they might not have considered before. While simulators once drew mostly older gamers, the market has trended increasingly younger. Drago Entertainment tapped into this trend with "Gas Station Simulator," a streak it hopes to maintain with a robust lineup of genre games and content drops.