Last generation — before Anita Sarkeesian, Jonathan McIntosh, and other pseudo-academics attempted to co-op the gaming industry by turning the landscape into a toxic landfill of politically charged divisiveness — a lot of big gaming websites were focused on actually informing gamers about games. That’s become a rarity these days and developers are taking notice.
In a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz in preparation for the launch of their upcoming game Nex Machina, Housemarque’s CEO Ilari Kuittinen finally said what every core gamer and indie developer has been thinking this entire generation: where’s the coverage for non-AAA games that aren’t sociopolitical commentary?
Kuittinen explained to GamesIndustry.biz…
“[…] it seems that we aren’t having that many digital console hits in this generation, even though this generation has been more successful. For me, Rocket League is maybe the only smaller, digital-only game that became a really big success story on the console side.
“I might be totally wrong, but you don’t see the coverage of small games like you did, say, eight years ago. There was a stream of hits at that time, but it dried up when we started this [generation]. Journey was the last one, I think.”
He’s not wrong.
Rocket Legaue Has been one of the only few notable smash hits this gen on home consoles that wasn’t backed by a multi-million dollar AAA publishing house.
Before passing off Kuittinen’s comments as the bitterness of an indie dev fallen out of the ameliorative spotlight of an ever-changing industry, or maybe that they’re just some indie hipsters angry their 8-bit fanfare didn’t receive any coverage, keep in mind that Kuittinen has been in the industry for more than 20 years, and Housemarque is a long-time independent Finnish studio who have worked on indie hits like Super Stardust, Super Stardust HD, Dead Nation and Resogun, just to name a few.
Kuittinen’s comments isn’t just about his studio’s games, though. He’s paying attention to the market and noticing that the regular outing of smash hits during seventh gen – such as Trials, Braid, Hotline Miami, Journey, Castle Crashers, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Geometry Wars – don’t seem to be as consistent or visible this gen.
A lot of that may be due to the fact that a lot of games that aren’t AAA titles, made by friends of journalists, or games that aren’t stuck deep in sociopolitical commentary pushing a very specific political agenda, are likely to go unnoticed by major gaming outlets. Sure there are places like COG Connected, TechRaptor and Cliqist that regularly cover indie title, but the big boys are the ones with real market reach… and they don’t always seem to be using that reach to cover popular indie titles or mid-budget games.
Take for example Mr. Shifty… how many articles did Kotaku produce for that game? Just one. A review.
How about Dead Cells? This is one of the most popular games released recently, selling 100,000 copies in just over a week, according to Steam Spy. How much coverage did this game receive? Just one article on Polygon. A review.
How about Gamespot? Nada.
What about Alien Swarm: Reactive Drop? A game with nearly a million owners, according to Steam Spy, since releasing on April 27th, 2017, would net some kind of coverage right? Wrong. Nothing on IGN. Nothing on Gamespot. Nothing on Polygon. Zilch.
Presumably the excuse would be that all these big sites have more pressing games to cover than the typical indie fanfare, right? Wrong.
Check out Polygon’s coverage of Ladykiller in a Bind, an indie title that received quite a bit of press from them because they’re friends with the developer and the game is a sociopolitical piece about queer sexuality.
Six individual entries.
Kotaku gave the game ample coverage across four individual pieces on their site.
Well then, a game garnering this much front page space from larger outlets must surely be a top seller, right? Wrong. Ladykiller in a Bind only moved 4,100 copies since launching on January 9th, 2017.
2064: Read Only Memories, a game that infamously garnered a lot of attention recently when the developers told Trump supports to “f**k off”, also managed to receive regular coverage on Kotaku across three entries. It received four news stories on Destructoid, and had mentions across two separate entries on Polygon.
According to Steam Spy, 2064: Read Only Memories managed to pick up 220,000 owners over the course of two years. There was definitely no shortage of coverage from enthusiast press. A lot of the coverage, however, centered around the fact that the game was targeted toward the LGBTQ community and was designed to be “diverse” and “inclusive”.
The exact same situation played out previously with the game Gone Home, which was highly praised by the media and marketed by some gaming outlets as a horror game, when in reality it was just a walking simulator. The hook was that it was a story about lesbian acceptance.
The game Sunset also received ample coverage from major outlets, receiving more than a handful of articles from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a handful of articles from Kotaku, and even managed an 8 out of 10 on IGN, which is actually a higher score than what IGN gave No More Heroes for the Wii. After two years and an ample push from gaming media, Sunset only managed to move 19,000 copies according to Steam Spy. So why did this game receive so much attention when it sold so poorly? Well, it was about an oppressed, black female, civil rights activist trapped in a war-torn city. Another title steeped in sociopolitical commentary.
While Kuittinen didn’t explicitly point to the media being politically biased as the reason for coverage drying up, it’s impossible not to see the trend of favorites being played and certain politically flavored games receiving more attention and press than others, especially compared to last gen. This certainly isn’t to say that outlets shouldn’t be covering games positioned on a certain notch of the political spectrum, but Kuittinen is right insofar that a lot of deserving games out there just don’t receive much coverage at all.
Kuittinen and the rest of Housemarquee are taking a different approach with Nex Machina. They’re focusing more on courting the PC crowd instead of console gamers, since the later definitely requires reaching more into that community pool either by promotion or enthusiast media, and if you have neither your game is likely to go completely ignored.
“There is now a bigger audience for digital games in general, but not exactly on the console platforms,” […] “Steam and PC are offering great success stories. The audience on PC is much more willing to try out different stuff than the console audience. I don’t know if that’s more demand or supply, but that’s what has happened.”
I think a lot of it has to do with exposure, and if you aren’t getting proper exposure for your game a lot of people just won’t know that it exists. With software overcrowding becoming a real threat to the success of some titles, Steam’s discovery channels and the large integration of streaming and broadcasting also helps get the word out.
The other problem is that large enough YouTubers that can really help spread the word about various games are a limited commodity that usually relies on gameplay elements or hooks that can be used to exploit the audience, such as Five Nights at Freddy’s or the multiplayer survival games like ARK or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. If your game doesn’t have an exploitable hook for entertainment purposes, it’s a tough sell for some YouTubers.
Kuittinen rounds out the piece by chalking up the uncertainty of sales and the lack of engagement from console owners for digital offerings to an audience who just may not be interested in the games they make, saying…
“Most of our games have been exclusive to various PlayStation platforms – not all of them, but most. But we can see the need to diversify, and I wonder if there is still breathing space for the games that we do. Basically, you can ask, ‘Is Nex Machina the last of its kind?’
A better question would be: if the media didn’t play favorites so handily and weren’t so politically biased in their coverage, would middle-tier games fare better in being exposed to the gaming audience than they currently are?
Then again, even if the media started regularly covering more indie and mid-budget games that weren’t politically motivated in their design, they’ve lost so much integrity over the past few years since #GamerGate started that it might not even matter anyway.
You can look for Nex Machina to launch on June 20th for PS4 and PC.