Before the boom of the hidden object adventure format, hidden object games were much simpler. While traditional hidden object games are often regarded as old-fashioned or outdated, their relentless charm and great replayability are still attractive to fans from all over the world. Joe Cassavaugh, the founder of Puzzles by Joe, saw this as an untapped opportunity and the Clutter series was born.
When the first Clutter game was released, it was quite a dark horse. Having initially made a small splash, nobody had predicted that this seemingly-simple hidden object and puzzle hybrid game would have become a mainstay on the best-selling charts and greenlit eight more sequels as of the interview date. Because of its old-school magic, incredibly addicting gameplay, and high replayability – Clutter games have now taken over the casuals gaming world by storm and generated over $3.5 million in sales.
It was a great pleasure for us to interview Joe Cassavaugh on how the Clutter series was first created and the current success of this best-selling casual games series.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi. I’m Joe Cassavaugh, the Joe of Puzzles By Joe and I’ve created “Clutter” which is now considered a sub-genre of the Hidden Object Game genre in the Casual PC Download Market. I released my first Clutter game in 2011 and released Clutter-IX: Clutter IXtreme in November of 2019. I will be releasing Clutter Evolution: Beyond Xtreme sometime in the next few months.
What made you decide to venture into the casual gaming industry?
In 1989-ish, I had been a programmer for 7+ years, and I was the only Non-Cobol programmer in a Cobol group, and I decided to learn C (wave-of-the-future). To do that, I decided to create a game (I’ve been a puzzle-guy my whole life, and making a computer game seemed like a fun way to learn C). I worked on that game “Modern Problems”. It took me 2.5 years working 20 hours a week in my spare time, made me 0 money….but it got me 3 different job offers and my break into the games industry. In 1993, I started to work for Interactive Network that had a controller that let you play along with the TV, Sports, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, etc… in real-time. I was a tools guy from 93-2000, mostly supporting games while designing some smaller things like trivia games. In 2000, I came into some bonus-money, and quit to do game programming full time. From 2000-2003, I made very little money but created 9 Windows games. That led to me writing the Mah Jong Quest series for iWin from 2004-2009. In 2009, I quit to become a full Indie-Game-Dev and write my own games and have never looked back.
What inspired you to create the very first Clutter game?
After co-creating the highly successful Mah Jong Quest series for iWin (during the boom of the Casual market, pre-Hidden-Object-Games), I created a game-design for a game called “Diamonds: A Peter Zelle Mystery” which was half-green-lit by iWin. It was mid-2009 and the Casual Boom was over as that market place got more and more saturated. We had two other games at iWin at that time, that did not do well when they were released, and iWin stopped all in-house development (except for the lucrative Jewel Quest series and spin-offs). My Diamonds game was about 1/2 done and when they pulled-the-plug on it, my future wife, Ana, asked me if I could do it on my own. I said something to the effect of – “Can’t do that game exactly, but I can do something close that I think will sell”. We were traveling between New Hampshire & New York at the time and going over Hogback Mountain in Vermont. What was funny…is that HOGs (Hidden Object Games) were starting to be hugely popular, and I decided that I could do a non-verbal HOG that spent more time on the addicting mechanic than a gorgeous-story. The next day, I wrote the basic Clutter engine/prototype and I was off to the races.
What was the most challenging thing about developing each new Clutter sequel?
Making sure each game is truly “different” but also still “familiar”. Although each Clutter game uses the same basic matching mechanic, I’ve been able to come up with variations after variations that keep each game different. I could write a few chapters of a book on how each and every game in the Clutter series is different from each other…but it’s still the same…”spot something, find a match, remove it….” activity going on in every Clutter game. The picture above is from Clutter Infinity: Joe’s Ultimate Quest (the 7th game in the series) that showed most of the variations that I had created up until that time. (And I’m about to release my 3rd game since that, so there’s at least a bunch more that’s not shown).
So that, and the fact that my games now have over 1000 puzzles in each one (and they’re all replayable (randomly generated)). I have “fans” that have been playing one or more of my Clutter games every day, for over an hour a day, for 7+ years now. “Addicting” is the number one compliment I get about my Clutter games.
What are some of your favorite games right now?
I love Free Cell, always have, always will, and I do really hard Ken-Ken puzzles with pen & paper. I don’t really play many computer games except for some old-school logic games by Everett Kaser (www.Kaser.com). Currently, I’m really enjoying a “Skittle/Dots” game I’m creating as a minigame for Clutter-X.
Anything you want to tell your fans? Can you tease any future projects?
The big thing to tell the fans is that the next game titled Clutter Evolution: Beyond Xtreme is dedicated to them, especially the ones that always wanted the games to be more difficult. You’ll still be able to turn off the timer/treadmill (which has been true for every game except for the first Clutter) but for those that like to play it timed, this game will be a real challenge. Even on the untimed mode, there will be lots and lots of killer levels – more so than usual. Above is a picture of a Clutter Abstraction level, that creates a whole new type of object set (that they’ve never seen before).