One of the best-reviewed games on Steam is about watching plastic ducks

It’s a game about nothing.

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Valve’s own beloved sci-fi puzzle comedy Portal 2 has a user rating of 98% positive on Steam (opens in new tab). A handful of indie hits like A Short Hike, The Case of the Golden Idol, TOEM, and Frog Detective 3 go as high as 99% positive. About to join their number, with a rating of 98% positive trending up to 99% in the last 30 days, is Placid Plastic Duck Simulator (opens in new tab).

If you haven’t heard of Placid Plastic Duck Simulator, you’re not alone. Despite accumulating over 3,500 glowing write-ups (opens in new tab) on Steam, this game about watching ducks float hasn’t exactly made waves. (I’m sorry.) That said, over 1,000 people are following it on Twitch (opens in new tab), and a video by Irish streamer RTGame (opens in new tab) where he spends 15 minutes watching it while saying things like, “Fuckin’ riveting gameplay,” has over 764,000 views

It really is just a game about watching ducks. The only controls are camera controls, and clicking on the toy ducks simply makes them quack. Initially, a single yellow duck floats in a lovingly rendered swimming pool by itself, but as the “duck meter” fills, further fowls fall from the sky. The ducks come in different colors and patterns, some striped, some checked, one in full clown makeup. A couple of them have propellers, one on its hat, which it uses to fly around. Still, all you the player can do is watch as the sun sinks and the ducks float. 

In the months since its release, Placid Plastic Duck Simulator has sold over 70,000 copies, as developers Turbolento Games revealed to the GameDiscoverCo (opens in new tab) newsletter. Turbolento also developed a survival game called Starsand, a desert-world survival game that Chris road-tested last year, under the name Tunnel Vision Studio. As the designers told GameDiscoverCo, Placid Plastic Duck Simulator was made as part of an internal game jam two-and-a-half years into Starsand’s development. They threw it on Steam with “zero marketing”, and were pleased to see “at least two big Japanese Twitter pages” post about it on the day of release. It took off in Asia first, and has now spread to the west.

Turbolento put its success down to the fact that “Players tell their own stories” as the ducks bob about, particularly while streaming. It’s a cheap game too, one you might pick up on a whim, though there is more going on than its pricetag might suggest. As the devs put it, “people throw 2 dollars into a game that it’s supposed to be a joke, only to find out that there are 47 different handpainted ducks to collect, several weird interactions, environmental events, one UFO, achievements, secrets, and a soundtrack to vibe on. They are happy and leave a positive review to share that happiness with more people.”

Though on a much smaller scale, it reminds me of the way Coffee Stain Studios took a game jam prototype made as a joke after finishing tower-defense shooter Sanctum 2, released it, and made a smash hit out of Goat Simulator. Turbolento intend to continue supporting Placid Plastic Duck Simulator, with an expansion called Quacking the Ice (opens in new tab) that adds a winter location and “increased chilling” this month, and plan to add multiplayer support some time around March next year.

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