Why should you add Easter eggs to your games
Updated: Feb 27
An Easter egg in video games is a hidden object, feature or reference, often meant not to be found by most players. They can be interesting, hilarious or simply silly or annoying. But why do they exist? And should you be including Easter eggs in your levels?
The first Easter egg
The first video game secret to be named an Easter egg comes from the 1979 Atari game ‘Adventure’. Because Atari didn’t feature programmers in their games’ credits, Warren Robinett secretly included his credits in a hidden part of the map of his game.
The secret wasn’t found until shortly after Robinett had left Atari.
‘The first Easter egg’ in Atari’s ‘Adventure’
Initially disapproving, eventually Atari management came round to the idea, leading to Steve Wright to coining the term “Easter egg” and encouraging their inclusion in future games.
I believe if Easter eggs are done well, they can have a significant positive effect on your game. Let’s look at some reasons why.
Word of mouth
If an Easter egg is very absurd, topical, funny or puzzling, people tend to want to talk to other people about it. Whether it’s friends at school, colleagues at work or social media posts, it can result in wonderful word of mouth advertising
Help your content creators
Content creators like Youtubers and Streamers will rarely turn down a chance to produce easy content that entertains their viewers. Whether it’s a list of “top x Easter eggs”, a segment about Easter eggs in your game on a stream or “funny moments” compilations, Easter eggs provide obvious but entertaining content for them to push out. The more content created about your game, the more people will hear about it!
Fun & engagement
When players realize there are Easter eggs in your game, many take joy in searching for them and in the final pay-off of figuring one out. They’re a lighthearted way to reward the most fervent explorers in your player base.
Fans of games with particularly mysterious or meaningful Easter eggs have often formed communities around sharing clues and discussing the possible meaning behind them. Specific Easter eggs and memes can create a sense of shared culture amongst your fanbase and help bolster long-term loyalty.
In Valve’s game, Portal, the player can find a couple of “Ratman dens”. They’re hideouts in little nooks and crannies spread out over the Aperture testing facility. Someone seems to have been hiding and living in the facility, leaving behind improvised beds, food and scribblings on the walls. They hint towards what was later refined into the character ‘Ratman’: a former Aperture Science employee who survived GlaDOS’ takeover but succumbed to his schizophrenia. One of his scribblings went on to get a life of its own within the whole gaming community: “the cake is a lie”.
The universe of Half-Life and Portal is heavily documented, researched and speculated about by online communities. Every possible clue found through Easter eggs or snippets of code is heavily discussed and debated online.
Deepen the narrative of your game
Sometimes there can be a thin line between Easter eggs and implied narrative (read my post about narrative here). But in examples like from Half-Life and Portal (see above), they can definitely be both. Having some of your implied narrative hidden or shrouded by mystery makes it a talking point in the community. This allows for an opportunity to create a lot more depth or expand on your narrative in a way that invokes curiosity. This way, the average gamer that isn’t as interested in your lore, will likely never be bothered by it either.
If you pay close attention in Bioshock 2, you can spot a part of the plane that the player crashes in at the start of Bioshock 1. Now that’s continuity!
Hype your sequel
Occasionally, while developing a game, you might already have plans in the backlog for a sequel. Or nowadays, the possibility exists for many developers to include new content and therefore Easter eggs in a post-release patch. This is too good of a chance to miss out on: creating some buzz for your upcoming installment!
In a secret room in ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’, blueprints for a large expansion of the asylum can be found: a teaser for the upcoming game ‘Batman: Arkham City’.
If players discover it as a secret, rather than the developer simply posting an announcement on Twitter, it is way more enticing for players to share the news and speculation with their friends.
Developers have fun too!
Because of the complexity of the development process, scheduling -even when done well- is often far from perfect. There will simply be times when some of your team members won’t have that much to do. Especially when there’s a heavy dependency and they’re waiting for another team member or department to wrap up their work. Quickly adding in a hidden message or reference doesn’t need to take a lot of time but can be a fun break from the regular job.
Additionally, when the development team gets to add personal touches to the game and create moments to break the fourth wall and engage with their audience, they build a much more personal relationship with the product they're creating. It can be a wonderful motivational boost.
In general, being able to have a bit of fun at the workplace can only result in good things!
If the schedule permits, why not slot in some time for an Easter egg jam? If it doesn’t, you can try to organize a voluntary jam over a weekend.
I believe we’ve discussed plenty of reasons for you to consider adding Easter eggs to your game, though there are many ways to mess it up and actually make your game worse.
Stay posted for my upcoming writeup on how not to implement Easter eggs.