The Making of Hooked on You, the Dead by Daylight Dating Sim Built On the Strangest Fan Service

Why Psyop was picked as the developer, Behaviour won't include real serial killers in its horror giant, "us service," and more.

Pitching Hooked on You, the dating sim visual novel spin-off for the massively popular Dead by Daylight, consisted of one of the shortest meetings Mathieu Côté — the Head of Partnerships at Behaviour Interactive — has ever had. With various statistics and a great number of “very thirsty tweets” from the asymmetrical horror game’s player base, the pitch presentation worked. Whether or not the team should do it wasn’t the ultimate question by the end of the meeting; they knew they absolutely had to.

“The question was, ‘Shouldn’t we do more than one?’ And we’re like, you know what, we’re going to start with one,” Côté says. “And we’re going to see how that goes. We’re going to see the reception.”

The foundation for Hooked on You emerged from a community survey asking what type of new experiences fans wanted in the universe of Dead by Daylight. One of the options was a dating sim, which the community overwhelmingly voted for — it makes sense because, as Côté aptly points out, “everybody wants a shirtless someone.”

But you’ll get far more than a shirtless someone, or even someones, in your extravagant trip to Murderer’s Island. In Hooked on You, you’ll wake up on a beach with your memory wiped and your pockets empty, as well as nary a soul in sight save for four attractive Killers you can woo. You can expect all sorts of dangerous non-canonical shenanigans to occur throughout this six to eight-hour-long rendezvous in The Entity’s beach realm. (And whether we’re talking about dangerous simply for your heart rate or your actual living status depends on your choices.)

Aside from its premise, Hooked on You has some fascinating implications as a visual novel and dating sim spin-off to one of the biggest multiplayer games. To learn more about how it came to be, we sat down with Côté and talked about the game’s genre, how the team picked its hot and horrifying potential suitors, and what other developers can take away from Behaviour greenlighting this project.

The Power of Visual Novels

Behaviour feels a visual novel is the best method to achieve its goal of beginning to tell more stories with Dead by Daylight’s colorful cast. Within the medium of video games, there are certain genres, like visual novels, which the team believes are “very good at making you feel things.” And while Dead by Daylight has already made people feel plenty of things considering its massive popularity, Behaviour knows it can go further.

It’s a surprising move to do this with a visual novel considering they tend to be overlooked by the larger gaming audience, especially when they’re also dating sims. In focusing on romance and having few mechanics aside from clicking to advance the text and make decisions, these kinds of games are largely seen as catering to some of gaming’s most historically under-respected audiences: women, queer people, and “casual” gamers. It’s evident through how dating sims are often used as punchlines, such as when Valorant teased a concept for one on April Fools’ Day in 2021.

But it’s a move that feels logical. Côté knows shorter, narrative-focused experiences like this lack the same broad appeal among the gaming audience as first-person shooters — in a way, they’ll “always stay a bit niche” in comparison.

Yet they also have the potential to “create these smaller, more comfortable communities” with “shared interests, those common grounds, inside jokes, and ways to do things and appreciate things that are extremely, I think, comforting and really nice.”

The biggest hurdle for Behaviour wasn’t in the idea or its execution; instead, it was in finding the right partner. For the first 25 years of Behaviour’s 30-year history, it made games for other developers and licensors. In the process, it became “extremely good at taking someone else’s property and giving them something that they like, that treats their property well,” Côté notes with pride.

It was a different experience to be on the opposite side; to tell someone to take “our baby, treat it well, and give us something that we would be proud to call our own.”

Behaviour eventually found that partner in developer Psyop, who handled “everything.” The publisher approved, rejected, and modified ideas throughout the two companies’ constant communication, staying extremely close to the whole production and making sure it aligned with the Dead by Daylight universe. But otherwise, it was happy to leave Psyop to do its best work in creating Hooked on You’s storyline, artwork, and gameplay mechanics.

Marketer’s Island

Psyop was well-poised to do this project, as its latest release was the quirky visual novel I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator. It served as a viral marketing project for KFC in which you got to romance a very sexy anime version of the founder of the fast-food restaurant.

Critics at publications like Polygon and Kotaku found it was too transparent in its purpose as a marketing stunt. I ask Côté if these reviews factored into discussions to ensure Hooked on You feels more than just a gimmick.

“We know that if we look purely at the financial numbers, it’s probably not going to be as financially viable as Dead by Daylight,” he says. “That’s not the kind of product we’re going for. The money side is not the intention here. It’s really about fan service. It’s putting something in the hands of our fans that they’re gonna go, ‘Oh, my god, Behaviour gave us that.’”

It certainly helps that Behaviour has cultivated a “relationship of respect” with Dead by Daylight’s player base. It isn’t just marketing talk: Dead by Daylight’s first DLC was released for free after Behaviour saw the game’s overwhelming success. Behaviour constantly doles out free codes for the game’s main currency. Cosmetics are optional, fairly affordable, and not even difficult to grind for. To an avid player like myself, part of why I love Dead by Daylight is that it feels like its company has rarely toed the line of being greedy (aside from a past attempt to incorporate NFTs).

“The money will come; people will buy the outfits and they’ll enjoy the game and they’ll be happy to get the new chapter that’s coming out,” Côté says. “It’s a delicate balance.”

If anything, he believes Hooked on You is “probably closer to a marketing expense than an actual game development expense because that’s how it’s seen.” It exists for players to hopefully enjoy and for people — in the media and otherwise — to talk about with interest. Behaviour enjoys asking ‘Can we do this?’ and doing things others haven’t done.

That’s why Hooked on You is not only fan service but also what he calls “us service.” Despite its drama and horror, Dead by Daylight is unafraid to get extremely silly — an aspect of its core that remains from the original team’s days of working on games like Naughty Bear. While they enjoy crafting a deadly and dire experience like Dead by Daylight, they needed “an outlet for all of that pent-up silliness to come out.”

Serial Dating and Serial Killers

Dead by Daylight’s team has fun perpetuating silly horror cliches across different eras and properties. However, it finds many past cliches of the genre are okay being left behind. In its aim to make the Survivors you play relatable and “representative of the diversity of the people that play our game,” Côté notes the team makes sure to avoid archetypes like the slut, the stoner, and the jock.

“It was great in the 70s and 80s for all these movies and classic things … [but] we don’t want to have them in Dead by Daylight,” he says. “There’s still quite a lot of work to do, but I think we’ve done well so far in trying to create characters that are relatable, that feel true and real.”

This is exactly why it’s the Killers who will be romanceable in Hooked on You rather than the Survivors. They’re hard to relate to, which lets the developers make these characters into entertaining caricatures and play with their archetypes.

Côté says narrowing down the four Killers you can court in Hooked on You among a roster of 28 was a process akin to picking the team’s favorite children. Originally, the team considered going in chronological order. It’s part of why The Trapper is in there; he’s “the cover boy, he’s the guy with the mask, he had to be front and center.”

After that, it was a matter of looking at the most played, most discussed, and most cosplayed Killers. It didn’t feel like there were any bad choices, especially because he says you can romance any of the Killers in Hooked on You — you pick a name but otherwise have no defined features, including sexuality. The Killers certainly don’t mind as long as you don’t tempt them into murdering you.

“Maybe The Twins would have been weird because, you know, twins,” Côté laughs. He also ruminates on Deathslinger, whom he describes as “kind of dusty.” (Sorry, Deathslinger stans, he had to do it to you.) Though he’s not here to judge, he shares that Deathslinger wasn’t high up on the thirst traps list, which was crucial in deciding on the romanceable Killers.

Speaking on them, Côté explains that perhaps the biggest development challenge was assuring that even though Hooked on You is a sort of comedy, it tries to stay true to these characters.

They have extremely cliche personalities — for example, The Spirit is your potential goth girlfriend who’s super emo and undergoing an existential crisis. This is markedly different from the original character, but the teams felt the jump stays true to why she’s a vehicle for pure anger in Dead by Daylight. With The Huntress, they made adjustments since she has the mind of a child in Dead by Daylight, which they wanted to avoid in a dating sim. Fans can look forward to seeing how these characterization and visual changes intertwine with the original intentions.

While all of these Killers are very attractive in Hooked on You, there’s the potentially sensitive matter that regardless of changes, you’re still dating serial killers. Doing something like a dating sim makes it easier for everybody to hopefully understand that “this is a fantasy, this is make-believe, and none of this is real.” But it’s certainly something that came up during development — and is even a point of contention for Dead by Daylight as a whole.

“There are very few rules that we haven’t broken in Dead by Daylight — we made a lot of rules when we started and a lot of them, we broke immediately,” Côté says. “But some stayed, and one of them is that we are okay with presenting a lot of different Killers and a lot of different nightmares.”

“One of the things that we never want to do, though, is glorify real violence,” he continues. “So you will never see Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper in Dead by Daylight because these are real people who did terrible, terrible things. And we are never going to give them more visibility. It is absolutely critically important for us that this stays in the realm of the fantasy and the fear and not glorifying actual violence.”

Hooked On Having Fun

This level of care, and how it’s balanced with having and encouraging fun, certainly plays into Dead by Daylight’s status as one of the most popular games to play and stream. It currently has over 50 million players, which made it easier to pitch a small but fun investment like Hooked on You. Even if it doesn’t make nearly enough as the main game, Côté says the team will “break even” because “it is not the most expensive product we’ve done.”

But while it was on the cheaper side to make, it was rich in emotional satisfaction for the team. “It’s still an investment that everybody was super happy to do because it felt like a great idea, and it was fun,” he says. “We need to have a little fun when we make these things.”

I ask Côté about how, as the Head of Partnerships for one of the most popular multiplayer games right now, he would advise other developers about taking this kind of risk with their own major franchises. There’s no shortage of demand for this kind of thing, after all — for example, the possibility of a dating sim feature in Final Fantasy XIV is a question director Naoki Yoshida often gets.

By earnestly and wholeheartedly creating Hooked on You, Behaviour has the potential to pave the way for more risks like this to be taken.

After all, it’s changed the culture of video games through Dead by Daylight. Though the phrase “asymmetrical game” barely existed a few years ago, now it’s an aspiration for many teams out there, and that’s largely due to the influence of Dead by Daylight. Games like Evolve, Friday the 13th: The Game, and Last Year: The Nightmare tried and sadly failed to endure for long. But Dead by Daylight has created an empire – one which newer games in the genre keep failing to even slightly topple, let alone overthrow. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon, either.

“We were trying to define a motto for Behaviour Digital, like, ‘What is it that we stand for?’ One of the ones that came out was, ‘We want to make games that need to be made.’ And it felt as though Hooked on You needed to be made,” Côté says. “I think that’s the only rationale behind it. And it might not be the right thing for everybody, but for us, it felt right.”

Ultimately, he doesn’t feel like he can give people advice on how to do things, especially since every game development team’s circumstances differ. But, he says, “if you’re making games that need to be made, and if you’re having a good time with your team doing things that you think are fun, there’s a good chance that a lot of players out there are going to agree with you.”

Hooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim is out now on Steam.