Last Friday, Dan Salvato — most known for creating the hit video game “Doki Doki Literature Club!” — came to Rutgers to share his story and give advice to aspiring video game developers.
The event, which was hosted by Rutgers STEAM, started with Salvato taking off his jacket to reveal a shirt with one of the anime characters from “Doki Doki Literature Club!”
“I put on a nice, thematic shirt for today ... I figured people are here probably out of the interest of 'Doki Doki Literature Club!,'” he said.
Then, Salvato launched into the story of how he first became interested in game development, and later created his own games. He said it started in middle school, which was when he first felt the drive and passion to create.
Interested in flash animation, Salvato used to go on Newgrounds — a social media website for creators to share their content — which was the center of the internet when he was younger. He would then pirate parts of other people’s flash animation software in order to learn how to program.
“The learning process that was right for me was doing stuff from day one, because it was stuff I was passionate about,” he said.
Salvato later attended Rutgers as an information technology and informatics major, although he dropped out before completing his degree. During his time in college, he started to create more in-depth projects such as FrankerFaceZ, which was an extension for the live-streaming video platform Twitch.
Reflecting on his earlier years in college, Salvato gave advice to current first-years. He said they should not aspire to be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, but instead focus on smaller, more basic aspects of game development first.
Touching on the business aspect of game development, Salvato realized that "streamers" — people who livestream their video play online — were a way for video games to reach a larger audience. Salvato gave extra game perks and even a badge to users who donated money in order to balance between his games being freely accessible and profitable.
“They’re driven by the desire to support me, and there’s no way that they will be unhappy with the purchase because it’s what they already enjoy,” he said.
While Salvato did not graduate, he told students not to follow his lead and instead make decisions with as little risk as possible. He learned valuable skills in the University, and was first able to get a desk job in information technology, which was a way for him to start saving money for future projects.
Salvato then explained the process for creating "Doki Doki Literature Club!," a game which has garnered more than 5 million downloads. He said the game took him approximately a year and a half to make, even though the word count was lower than most visual novel video games and took users only 5 hours to complete.
The target audience for the game was not only for those who like anime, but also for those who make fun of anime.
“Anime itself has become something of a meme,” he said. “People who have nothing to do with it still love making fun of it, and that was the type of game I wanted to make.”
Since "Doki Doki Literature Club!" is partially a dating simulation and includes romantic aspects, he hoped people would play it out of curiosity. Later in the game, though, when it switches to a psychological horror, Salvato said it forces players to take the game more seriously and recognize the emotional merit it has.
“It makes you question how you felt about it before that point. These characters that seemed like generic anime tropes ... now that horrible things are happening to them, you question where it’s coming from,” he said.
Though the game ended up being a surprise success, Salvato said he was not ready for the popularity and attention he received. But he ensured the audience that just because he was more well-known, it did not mean he would change direction in his future projects. Instead, he would continue to keep doing what he had been doing.
Salvato then gave general advice on how to start making games in the first place. He said those with ideas should not only have a concept for a game they want to make, but also provide proof with physical prototypes to show they are serious about their idea.
For those who do not have the skill set yet to physically create the game, he said there is still time for them to learn.
“Think of all the time in your past that led up to where you are now, how long of a period it was and how much it has grown your career as a person,” he said. “It’s okay if you’re not doing your biggest project now. You can build up to it.”