Skip to main content

The future of PowerWash Simulator, and developer FuturLab

"What do we need to do to get the Millennium Falcon?"

PowerWash Simulator key art.
Image credit: Futurlab

PowerWash Simulator may feel like a sleeper hit, but veteran UK developer FuturLab knew early on it had something special on its hands. A brilliant blend of compulsive yet cosy gameplay, PowerWash Simulator sounds an unlikely concept - and yet it has found a legion of fans who don't want to stop playing. Now, with the successful launch of its first paid DLC - based on SpongeBob SquarePants - safely tucked under its belt, I'm keen to find out what's next for the game, and for FuturLab itself.

"The goal was the Millennium Falcon," FuturLab boss James Marsden tells me as we sit down for a catch up in Brighton - FuturLab and Eurogamer's shared home. "So, working backwards from that, what do we need to do?" Marsden is recalling the earliest conversations FuturLab had amongst themselves regarding the game's suddenly spiking popularity in early access, and the potential for the studio to popularise a concept they were rightly proud of.

Enter Elliot Greenwood, now FuturLabs' licensing and business development manager, whose job it has been to convince other brands and game developers of PowerWash Simulator's success - even before the game came out. "Literally, in my interview for this role, James said, 'we want the Millennium Falcon, can you get it?'" Greenwood recalls. "I was like, 'I'll try my best'."

PowerWash Simulator's SpongeBob SquarePants DLC is the first paid add-on following multiple free updates.Watch on YouTube

Marsden notes that no deal with Disney has been done (yet) but we are nevertheless now living in a world where, if one was announced tomorrow, I for one would not be too surprised. This month's launch of a SpongeBob SquarePants DLC follows previous add-ons themed around Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy. A Warhammer pack is due later this year. Suddenly, brands are falling over themselves to be in PowerWash Simulator. But how did this happen?

For SpongeBob, the idea bizarrely came to life after a suggestion from a QA tester who was a fan of the franchise. They thought SpongeBob would be a good fit, and suggested it to Greenwood, who got rights holder Paramount to pick up the phone. Was this all because sponges are good for cleaning, I ask? Marsden admits they actually hadn't made that connection. Instead, SpongeBob is simply a popular franchise, and Paramount acted quicker than other interested parties, hence why it has arrived as the game's first paid DLC. Other deals, some begun earlier than SpongeBob, are still in the pipeline.

"We saw the early numbers... the trajectory we were on was just much sharper."

"It's a weird conversation to have," Greenwood says, describing his contact with potential PowerWash partners. "'Why would we collaborate with PowerWash?' But once people get it, they pretty much love it and are obsessed." At Paramount, the pack is now played during work breaks, he adds - "and they've already talked about what's next."

"We saw the early numbers, the performance of the game when we were in early access," Greenwood continues. "We spoke with like-minded studios who had similar performance, though the trajectory we were on was just much sharper. The data was there to suggest we were going to perform as well as we turned out to perform, so it was a natural conversation. And thank goodness we started this conversation early because otherwise, we'd be waiting another year or so for SpongeBob."

Marsden credits PowerWash Simulator publisher Square Enix for helping turbocharge confidence behind the game by granting it access to the publisher's own licences, and offering the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy without charge. "Everyone wants to know what the shelf looks like - what they're going to be sitting alongside," Greenwood says. "Having two huge names up there to start with definitely gave us a big head start."

It's been a busy year for PowerWash Simulator, which is also now confirmed for Meta Quest.Watch on YouTube

Some potential licensees have been more hesitant, awaiting the results from SpongeBob's launch to get a true read on how many in PowerWash's audience are now willing to reach into their pocket for yet more things to clean. So, how well has SpongeBob done, I ask? "It's blown through our forecast," Marsden nods.

Beyond big collaboration packs, FuturLab has considered the power PowerWash Simulator has to create a relationship between players and the objects they're uncovering, to the point where simply working on something as straightforward as a logo - as seen in the Warhammer teaser trailer - could be something offered in future.

"It's blown through our forecast."

"It works as a platform for teasing or unveiling items too, which is exciting - to see what we can do with that," Marsden says. "We talked about power washing the E3 convention centre and then E3 got canned. The challenge now is bandwidth and time. People have started coming to us now, which is really nice. That was the dream."

"We're taking requests for sure," he adds. "There's a big old spreadsheet."

Amidst all this talk of future collaborations, Marsden repeatedly emphasises the importance of PowerWash Simulator's own brilliantly bizarre story, which is set to grow again with yet more free chapters. For a deliberately straightforward game about cleaning things, PowerWash Simulator has a surprisingly complex and well-rounded narrative, which ends up going places I never expected.

"The average playtime of the game is good. It's like 40-45 hours average play time," Marsden says. "To reach a playtime like that, people have to play through the game once, wipe their data, play through the game again, wipe their data and play it again.

"But we've got to be careful not to dilute the experience of the core story, with free packs that are going to be expanding the experience there, to counter the money we're asking people to play for licensed DLCs."

A Warhammer 40K collaboration arrives later this year.Watch on YouTube

And beyond that? Will there ever be a PowerWash Simulator 2, or is there not any need? Marsden isn't drawn either way, though discussion of a 2024 DLC plan suggests we won't see a sequel anytime soon. But how about for technical reasons - can the game as-is be polished up to offer more visual shine?

"The closer we get to realistic soap suds dripping off, reflections in the water, runoff and pooling, the closer we get to things like that, the closer people feel that sense of satisfaction they can relate to," Marsden says. "As we push towards that, there is certainly work being done under the hood to improve our technical stack, so we can improve the visual fidelity of the game. What that looks like long-term in terms of being a sequel, or us just continuing to update the base game, we don't really know. We're just focused on the DLC strategy and widening the appeal to the game to just get more and more people to experience it."

"Not a lot of people have clocked on to why this game is so successful."

Indeed, Marsden believes there's more work to be done to convince a much larger potential audience of PowerWash Simulator's promise, and turn audiences still hesitant about its off-beat concept into yet more power-washing converts.

"It's definitely the golden goose, so it's important we take care of it," he continues. "But it's also interesting that not a lot of people have clocked on to why this game is so successful. I've seen headlines in the press that 'mundane chores are all the rage'. But this isn't like other types of simulator."

FuturLab announced a spiritual successor to its sci-fi combat Velocity series back in 2021, but it sounds like the studio has also found confidence in its efforts catering for a slower pace of life. Returning to PowerWash Simulator, Marsden says he believes the games industry as a whole hasn't yet clocked why the game has been such a hit.

"In the same breath as the Millennium Falcon was Coronation Street," Marsden recalls. That's a lot of cobbles to clean. Watch on YouTube

"I don't think the industry has really caught on to why it's different yet," Marsden notes. "So there's an opportunity there, and we're looking at other things to do that soothe the soul in a similar way."

In the meantime? "Dreams are coming true on this game," Marsden continues. "I think it's fair to say for everyone on the FuturLab team, this the proudest they've been in their career. The job satisfaction, the amount of goodwill that's out there for this game in terms of helping people out... 'I've had a shitty day, I'll play PowerWash to make it a bit more bearable'. We feel very lucky."

Read this next