Oct 17, 2022 - Technology

Trombone Champ developer explains the hit game's viral appeal

Video game screenshot of a gaming character playing a trombone

Trombone Champ. Screenshot: HolyWow

One of the year’s best video game success stories is Trombone Champ, a lark that’s become a genuine, note-warbling hit.

Why it matters: Big games from big game companies hog a lot of players’ attention, but titles about the unlikeliest of topics can still break through.

Details: Trombone Champ is a fairly simple proposition: play the virtual trombone by tapping buttons and sliding a mouse.

  • The challenge is to enter those inputs in time with prompts that scroll across the screen, hoping the results sufficiently resemble “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or other songs in the game.
  • The game’s hook is its humor. It went viral on social media late last month because gameplay sessions of Trombone Champ — all that honking and tooting — often sound funny.

What they’re saying: “The game is generally more entertaining when you perform badly,” Trombone Champ lead developer Dan Vecchitto, told Axios over email.

  • Other music games sound cleaner, because they're programmed to forgive mistakes in timing and still play correct notes.
  • Trombone Champ, however, lets its players gleefully blunder through a tune, and emits all the right and wrong sounds, accordingly.
  • It does demand skill to be played well, but the developers found that letting players hear their mistakes made the game more appealing.
  • “The more work we did to correct things,” Vecchitto said, “the less entertaining the game would be.”

Between the lines: Vecchitto spent the last four years making the game on the side, with the help of his wife, while the two worked full-time jobs in web design.

  • But Trombone Champ’s success has been transformative, doing well enough that Vecchitto is quitting his day job.
  • “There's too much work to do, and it's impossible to continue doing it on nights and weekends only.”
  • The tiny development team is now working through a list of updates, adding songs and accessibility options, preparing to port the game to platforms other than PC (Mac is next) and are embarking on at least a year of updates.

The intrigue: Trombone Champ is now the second shock gaming hit from Brooklyn in the past 12 months, following another accidental sensation from a part-time developer, Josh Wardle’s viral Wordle, which blew up in late 2021.

  • Vecchitto hasn’t met Wardle and can’t quite explain the coincidence. But he has one theory: “If anything, it's possible that COVID forcing nerds indoors caused more of us to pump out passion projects.”

Sign up for the Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper