"Slime Rancher" gives Alumnus First Video Game Hit

Friday, May 20, 2016
Slime Rancher Screen Shot

Jolly Rancher: Rustling slime is the object of "Slime Rancher," a new video game produced by computer science alumnus Mike Thomas and a business partner.

Since the now-antique video game "Pong" first captivated the public in the 1970s, video games have evolved dramatically. Gaming is now a $20 billion industry offering increasingly sophisticated alternative universes where people, especially young people, spend countless hours.

One game making a big splash in this hyper-competitive industry is "Slime Rancher," released in January by Mike Thomas, a 2000 computer science alumnus, and his business partner, Nick Popovich. "Slime Rancher" transports players into a make-believe world light years away to eke out a living rustling slimes--happy little creatures that look like bouncing water balloons.

"We wanted to make something that was very different," Thomas says.

"Slime Rancher" has a rare "overwhelmingly positive" rating from the thousands of reviewers who have taken the time to critique the game on Steam, an online game store, where Slime Rancher sells for $19.99.

So why is the game a hit?

"There's no global secret that I know of," Thomas says.

"Slime Rancher" benefits, he believes, from being nonviolent and appealing to virtually all ages. But, at the end of the day, "the market is fickle. You never know what people are going to latch onto."

"Slime Rancher" is a single-player game where the object is to suck up slimes using a "vacpack" and then deposit them into corrals where they produce valuable gems called "plorts." Plorts can be sold for cash, enabling the rancher to purchase useful accessories, including holding pens for additional slimes. The game includes alluring landscapes of cliffs, canyons, and lakes, nighttime and daytime effects, and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Mike Thomas

Ranch hand: Mike Thomas worked in the defense industry before following his dream into the video game industry in 2005. He and a business partner launched Monomi Park, a video game company, in 2014.

"You wish you could walk around in it," Thomas says.

For five years after graduating from Rose-Hulman, Thomas worked in the defense industry for Lockheed Martin. He moved to California in 2005 where he joined gaming company Three Rings Design as a game engineer. At Three Rings he contributed to such games as "Puzzle Pirates," "Doctor Who: Worlds in Time, and "Super Monkeyball: Bounce."

Growing up, one of Thomas' favorite video games was the "Legend of Zelda," a popular game where players explore a magical kingdom. "Slime Rancher" is also about exploring a strange and magical world with the added intrigue of making a living as a rancher.

"Playing the game seems to give you a positive feeling," Thomas says. "We're really happy with how it turned out."