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Building House Flipper 2 from the ground up

House Flipper was a surprising Steam hit of 2018. While not necessarily enthusing the critics straight from launch, the simulation title found a large and faithful community that ensured its long-term success.

This also allowed developer Empyrean to continually update and improve upon the game, release several DLCs, and port it to all platforms, guaranteeing its own sustainability and making House Flipper a standout success.

Empyrean partnered with co-developer, publisher, and fellow Polish company Frozen District throughout the original House Flipper’s development, and to deliver its sequel, coming out this Thursday.

“We weren’t expecting this big success at the beginning,” Frozen District lead producer Jakub Bujas tells “I started working [on House Flipper] one year before release. So, at the beginning, it was rather focused on being a small indie project, focused on renovating houses, flipping them. It was a nice idea, but we weren’t sure if that was a gold mine. That was the biggest project of our company.

“As we got nearer and nearer to the release date, we realised it was getting huge. People were focused on it, got an interest in it. After the release, we got a big community, and they really like to play our game.

“I think [it was a success] because [it had] chill vibes and it hit a niche, that’s for sure. The second thing is that despite many problems with the release – we had bugs and some optimisation problems – people from our community were really heartwarming. They understood what we were doing, and they were really supportive. We were really small, like seven or eight people, working on this project. So, I think that the success is also [thanks to the community], because they understood that we could sometimes make mistakes, because we were still learning.”

Bujas moved on to working on House Flipper 2 after the original title’s console ports, around 2020. At that point the team had more than doubled in size, to over 20 people. The whole architecture for the sequel was created practically from scratch by Frozen District’s veteran developer Rafał Kańka over the course of a year and a half.

“We were aware of some problems in House Flipper 1 that couldn’t allow us to create, for instance, the sandbox mode in House Flipper 2,” Bujas says to explain why the team started from scratch with the sequel. “We were really constrained by many things in terms of the whole logic. The backbone for House Flipper 1 was also [made by] our senior developer, Rafał. So he knew what he had to improve in House Flipper 2, [the code] and the core engine, to allow us to expand even more, and to be more flexible.”

For House Flipper 2, the team wanted to make sure the visuals would be matching throughout, as the original game had some items that didn’t feel like they belonged together, both because they were designed by different teams but also because of the use of asset store packages.

“We were learning how to use Unity just to be able to do what we’d like to do, and it was tricky,” Bujas says. “With House Flipper 2, we knew how to do things.”

He continues: “With House Flipper 1, we wanted to achieve photorealism, but at some point, it was really tricky, because it was really hard to maintain coherence in the style of the game, because each graphic designer had a different feeling about what photorealism was. So, they were creating different styles of items, and in the end you’ve got different items in the game, and [they didn’t match]. You cannot create one coherent style from different companies and from different styles. So, we wanted to change it, and for House Flipper 2, we created a different art style, so our production, our graphic designers, created a really coherent style, and you cannot figure out which item is from whose side.”

The second aspect the developer was keen to get right for this sequel was giving tools to its community, to create their own levels and increase the replayability potential.

“There are two kinds of people in our community. One kind is people focused on fulfilling jobs, following only the plot, and that’s all. They finished it, and went ‘Okay, it’s the end of the game. We don’t have anything left to do here.’ The second one is people who are really creative. They like buying those houses, flipping them however they want, and selling them. So, we wanted to combine those two worlds, and give tools to those creators so that they can create levels for those who don’t like being creative and [prefer] just doing the jobs.”

That’s what led to the creation of House Flipper 2’s sandbox mode, which consists of giving players the same tools the team used to create the game in the first place.

“Our level designers work in the game engine inside of the build with those tools. If you see any house in our trailers and so on, most probably you’re going to be able to create the same thing yourself.”

House Flipper having been consistently supported with new content leads us to ask Bujas whether its business model could take a turn the same way The Sims did: free-to-play with paid-for DLC. While he clarifies from the get go that he’s not responsible for that aspect of the business, he does mention that going on Game Pass has been a successful strategy for the studio.

“Game Pass showed us that people, even if they don’t understand House Flipper, or don’t like this genre, if they’ve got this game for free, then they give it a chance. And after that, many people just messaged us [saying], ‘I really don’t like the simulator genre, but it was for free, so I checked it out, and I just was sucked in.’ And they spent a lot of hours, and they say, ‘Okay, now I have to buy DLCs and so on.’ So, yes, maybe that’s a strategy!”

Whether or not Frozen District will continue supporting House Flipper after its sequel releases was still in the balance at the time of our interview with Bujas, as he says it will depend on how the community reacts and what it wants.

“We are in continuous communication with our community, so we see that there is some space for improvements in House Flipper 1, and for updates. But also, this product is a bit constrained [in terms of] putting more items in. For example, on consoles, we struggle a bit with putting in more and more, because people at the same time want to have smooth gameplay, and they don’t understand that at some point, you cannot give more. So, we think that really it depends on [House Flipper 2’s reception] and how we’re going to do more stuff after the release, because it’s [depending on] the feedback, basically.

“If people tell us that House Flipper 2 is the new main product, and to give [them] updates then we’ll for sure be focused on House Flipper 2 and expanding it, and then House Flipper 1 will be most probably just maintained. It’ll be supported with bug fixes and so on, but not updated. But there is still a possibility that our community will stick to House Flipper 1. And there, there is a possibility to just keep updating the game. So it depends on many factors.”

Talking about his hopes for House Flipper 2, Bujas says that at a very basic, short-term level, he just wants to make the community happy as he knows there are a lot of expectations around the release of this sequel.

And in a distant future, Bujas is already thinking about what Frozen District could create next, maybe beyond the House Flipper franchise.

“We think about maybe creating some new projects. Maybe some prototypes and so on, because we are experienced right now in the genre that we are working in and I’m sure that many of our developers would appreciate to also have the opportunity to work on something else!”

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