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Looking to get some top tips on attracting game journalists to your upcoming indie game and securing coverage? We’ve got your back! Episode 18 of the Games PR Podcast sees Jack and Tom joined by former Rock, Paper, Shotgun video producer, and co-host of the Indieventure podcast, Liam Richardson!
Together, they’ll cover a range of different methods that can help make your game more attractive to the media, as well as dissecting the nuanced factors that shape the identity of indie games, from the size of their development teams to the subtleties of publisher relationships.
In the face of an industry saturated with new releases, the challenge for indie developers is to stand out. Our episode delves into the practicalities of game promotion, highlighting the importance of an engaging hook and striking visuals in all outreach to media. These are crucial for capturing the attention of both journalists and players. The role of PR is dissected, discussing the delicate balance between crafting unique game narratives and the need for SEO-friendly content that garners media interest.
In a marketplace brimming with both indie treasures and blockbuster giants, we break down how journalists strike a balance to shed light on hidden gems amidst the clamour for the next big title. The topic of discoverability is a focal point, with the conversation turning to the hurdles faced by indie games in a market dominated by major franchises. We ponder the effectiveness of events like Steam Next Fest and Nintendo Indie World Showcase in aiding the discoverability of indie games. While these platforms provide opportunities for exposure, they also present challenges for developers, including the pressure to polish their games for one-time showcases and the risk of being overshadowed by a plethora of other titles.
As the episode draws to a close, we reminisce over the transformative journey of indie games, from novelty pastimes to influential market contenders, and Liam’s preferred ways to discover indie games, through festivals such as Next Fest and trawling social platforms!
Welcome to the GamesPR podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down, relax, as our team of experts and special guests share tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influences.
Welcome to the GamesPR podcast, your cheat code to everything PR, media and marketing in the games industry. I am your host, Jack, joined as ever by my trusty co-host, Tom, for this episode all about the weird and wonderful world of indie games. We welcome the world’s biggest fan of Hypnospace Outlaw, Liam Richardson, from the IndieVenture podcast. You are on a different podcast! This is kind of like when Yoda and Darth Vader turned up in Soulcalibur or for the wrestling fans out there when Fred Durst was in WWF. Just bring it on the PS2 as an unlockable character.
I am always pleased to know that my hyper fixation on Hypnospace Outlaw does not go unnoticed. Fred Durst also showed up in the Fight Club game, is that right?
Is that a wrestler? I’m assuming that’s who Fred Durst is, I don’t know.
Our sometimes co-host Amie would be having a right go at you for now. Fred Durst?! Limp Bizkit.
I’ve heard of Limp Bizkit as a name, but I know nothing else. I know nothing else about these things. You know me.
Everyone’s favourite Fight Club character Tom, Fred Durst.
Me with my lack of. I’m a good co-host, not for my WWE or wrestling knowledge, but for my almost too incessant knowledge and wishlisting of indie games. Why don’t you introduce yourself, Liam, to anyone who may not have stumbled across you or any of the work you’ve done in the past?
Yeah, of course. Yeah, I’m Liam. I am a former video producer for Rock Paper Shotgun. I currently work for Greggs, which is quite funny. I’m now a UX designer, but I make videos for a YouTube channel called 7 Out Of 10, which is all about indie games. I co-host a podcast called Indieventure, as Jack mentioned in the intro.
Yeah, it’s a real. It’s a fun crossover of podcasts. In a way, it’s going to be interesting. It’ll be interesting for you to go from being a host with all the power and the ability to take the episode where you want to go, and now you’re in the guest seat. We’re in a virtual studio, but if we were in a proper one, you’d be across the room rather than on the hosting table. So, yeah, welcome.
It’s quite nice. I think I’m normally so obsessed with audio files and how audio sounds. It feels quite freeing. So yeah, I’m excited to get into it and not be constantly looking at my waveform and panicking, as I normally record podcasts.
Yeah, you can just enjoy this one. Well, hopefully, as Jack said, we want to talk about indie games today and ask you some questions about them. I think what we want to ask to start is a bit of a, not a controversial question, but something that’s been a bit controversial at the moment. And that is what, in your opinion, what makes an indie game an indie game?
Because there’s been a lot of end of year controversy at the moment, with certain games not fitting the bill potentially. So where do you stand on the indie game?
So I mean, this is a topic that we’ve discussed on the podcast that me, Rachel and Rebecca do, and it’s something that keeps coming up. I think it’s a certain degree that what an indie game is is quite a nebulous and fuzzy definition. I think if you’re owned by a billion dollar corporation, you’re not an indie game, Geoff Keighley… But I think if you’re not supported by a very large corporation, then you are, I would say, independent. It does get fuzzy, like I say, you start to get into double A territory at one point when you start to maybe have a couple of investors or your team grows to a certain point. The problem with the definition of being self owned is that you can make a claim for CD Project Red being indie, or Larian who make Baldur’s Gate, when I think, quite clearly they’re not independent.
I’ve seen Valve throwing around the room multiple times.
I think if it’s made by a small team of people who are funding it themselves or off the back of a couple of other small projects, if they’re not being published by someone like Microsoft or another big publisher, you can be attached to a publisher to a degree. No more robots is a big indie publisher. I would still say the games that they are publishing are indie. Devolver I think you can probably have a bit of an argument about Devolver because Devolver are a public listed company that have shares owned by Sony. I would still say their games are indie. Yeah, I don’t really know what the definition is. I can probably point an indie game out of a list once you start to dig into it. I mean, I thought Dave the Diver was indie I’ll put my hands up and admit it until I realized it was published by such a big company.
That’s what I’ve read in a few places, where the jury selecting it generally had no idea that Nexon were involved. They just saw it for what it was and thought that looks like an indie game. It deserves the nomination. The VP of Nexon America had said the game may look like an indie but it’s not necessarily the case. But now it’s up to the best indie. They might want to change their definitions of it.
I mean, yeah, it should probably be put into a different category. It’s a brilliant game. It’s a really, really good game. But yeah, I think it probably speaks a lot it looks like indie is something we talk about on the pod as well because I saw some people saying that Hi-Fi Rush was an indie game because it was 2D, cell-shaded and like that’s published by, it was made by Bethesda. It’s not an indie game, but yeah, what are your definitions of indie games?
Oh, that’s, that’s, it, isn’t it.
I would say some sort of radical thing and say maybe there is no such thing as an indie game anymore. I’d chuck labels out the window entirely because, as you say, something might look like an indie game, but it’s the same as if we look at music. Someone might classify something as indie music. You might be an indie band signed to Sony, signed to Warner Music, blah, blah, blah. Does that stop you from being indie? The genre just became called indie. So it might be here that the genre is known as indie, but there’s no such thing as an indie game anymore. Who knows, that’s my radical out-of-field. Just chuck that out there, yeah.
I can see the argument for it.
I think, yeah, it’s really. I feel like what you said before, Liam, about if you gave me 10 games, I could probably very easily tell you which ones aren’t, but when it comes to which ones are because, again, you could have, I’ve seen people say that if something’s not self-published, it isn’t because, obviously, having access to I feel like we have these, like just making up more words now to make things even more complicated. You know, like Devolver, Team 17, Raw Fury, Annapurna, who all exist within an indie space but have access to resources that a lot of independent teams don’t. So I don’t know, it is a tricky one. I mean, I don’t know, it is hard.
I feel like I get on my soapbox so much, and now I’ve been put on the spot, I don’t think I can answer. You’ve got quite a good point, Jack. If you look at what it was 10 years ago or even a little bit further than that, you had things like Braid as a good example, Meat Boy, but then, on the other hand, you have things like Grow Home, which is Ubisoft published, but from an independent team. I think another good example is Sea of Stars. Sabotage was published by Devolver for The Messenger but then it went fully independent for Sea of Stars.
I think it’s tricky. You get some projects that begin as indies, and then they get bought by larger companies, so are they still indies? Minecraft is an example. Obviously, it was seemingly the textbook indie, and then it’s now a massive phenomenon. You can’t really call it an indie when you put things in boxes, but it started out as an indie game.
I think you just have to take the spirit of what makes something an indie. I was going to say Indie Adventure then, but I didn’t even do that on purpose. Something that has an indie spirit and where it’s got that independent field to it. Maybe then it grows to be like Minecraft which is a good example, very much one of the independent games, and then now it’s the complete opposite of that. It’s wishy-washy.
Like so many things in the games industry, there’s no clear answer.
Yeah, rarely defined and subject to endless Twitter discourse for the rest of time, I’m sure.
Oh, the most intelligent place for that discourse as well. On the subject of indie games or not indie games, whatever an indie game is, I think it’s an undeniable fact that there are more and more and more releases now, year on year, than ever before. I mean, I don’t know, would you Jack? You’re the man with the stats. Do you know how many releases has been on Steam this year?
So, according to SteamDB, as of recording, there have been 13,256 games released on Steam this year, and that is already more than the entirety of 2022, which peaked at 12,596, and that’s just on Steam. So a lot, and a huge percentage of those, will be indie titles, all competing for eyes from audience from writers, from creators yeah, it is a lot.
So, from your experience from the journalism and consumer sides, as an indie game fan. Are they eating each other? What can they do to stand out when there are five in that genre trying to stand out? How important is it that indie games continue to still give it a go and not just go? You know what? There’s too many.
I mean, yeah, that is the million dollar question, as it were, right. On the one hand, it’s brilliant. We live in an era where tools have never been easier to acquire, the ability to make a game has never been easier, and that is a net benefit for the industry and for fans. I think people hear that stat, as a budding developer. I don’t think. If you’ve got it a creative bone in your body and you want to make something, nothing should ever put you off right, make things for yourself first, and if people like it, that’s brilliant.
As a from the journalism side, which I can speak, you know with some experience on. It is a nightmare trying to find the things to talk about when that many games are being released. When I worked for RPS, we were a PC focused publication. If anything, we technically had less to cover because we didn’t have to worry about console exclusive things like that, and we were still overwhelmed every single week by the amount of stuff that would come out. Every single day I would go on to Steam, I would look in the new releases and I would see four or five things that I would have liked to have done something with and just did not have the capacity because of all the other things that demanded my attention. There is definitely a discoverability issue and this has been a problem for so long, and you know, with games in general, if you don’t have the billion dollar marketing budgets, you have to rely on the tools that the platform holders are giving you, and although Steam have introduced a lot of things over the years, they were trying to do things like discovery cues and you know better recommendations but even that only goes so far and so it.
You know it’s very disheartening for me because you look at this year and the amount of incredible indie games I’ve played, the amount of incredible indie games I know I need to play and haven’t had the time. You know that list is already huge and I know, I know for a fact, there’s ten games a week probably coming out that I would probably love, that I might just never even hear about, and that is. You know that’s difficult as both a journalist and as a consumer. It’s, it’s tricky.
From your perspective, do you, when you’re looking at what you’re going to play, is that something where the AAAs are competing with that time? Or do you tend to find that you’ll divide your attention between AAAs and indie games, and then you look at all the indie games, and they’re competing against each other for your time?
They’ve always been very even in my eyes, and I tend to not really play as many triple-A games as I used to. But if let’s say you know the option over Christmas, for example, Spider-Man 2 is as much competing for the top spot as In Sea of Stars. It’s an amazing RPG, apparently, that I must play, and it’s very, very good, very good. I think they have equal weight if anything. Have you played it?
Yeah, I Finished it Around the end of October. Very good, I played about 50 hours!
Damn. Okay, that might be a nice Christmas game for me, then. Maybe it’s more like the journalism mindset that I think I’d like to be abreast of the conversation around the Indies. I think I, you know, I like to make sure that I’m playing the things that people are talking about, and so I know I know most consumers probably won’t feel like that, but yeah, for me, I think the indies in the triple is, they battle each other for my attention, definitely.
So when you are deciding okay, I’ve got the time, this is gonna be the game that I’m covering. How does it get to that stage? You’ve you’ve alluded to and we’ve mentioned many times in this podcast. You know Just how busy media are and we’ve just mentioned about 13,000 odd games. That’s a lot of emails coming in. Do you already have an idea? If you’ve heard about a game before and it comes in you like that’s gonna be the one. So that’s the discoverability. You know Rytmos was one we were really proud of to help branch out into the world, and it got a lot of coverage and people seemed to really gel with it. You know, from from your perspective, how did you decide Rytmos was a game that you wanted to take a look at, compared to maybe like five other things you had at the same time.
Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting question because obviously that is a game that you know, me and Tom worked together on, in the sense that you know you gave me code for it and then that that helped with the coverage, definitely. I launched a supporters only video series at RPS about indie games, and Rytmos became the candidate for that just because I had had my eye on it for a while and I was able to almost book my time in to do this sort of like side project alongside the bigger things that would have made the site more money, as it were. You know, the AAAs, guides, videos, things like that, and so what helped with Rytmos is that I was already aware of it, I think as well, because this was a, you know, a show that was behind a pay wall. It didn’t have to be relevant. I’m pretty sure that I Covered Rytmos a couple of weeks after it actually came out as well, which is also quite unusual for press to have the opportunity to do that. You normally have to strike while the iron is hot. So I was given quite a unique opportunity with with my coverage of Rytmos and that I was given the space to talk about it in my own way, in my own time, sort of after the conversation, and moved on a little bit. I think Christian Donlan had already given it an essential on Eurogamer, which, which also sort of like, lifted it up in my eyes a little bit as well.
And when I’m when I was going to cover a game at RPS and I will speak, as you know, as that role, because I think that’s probably more relevant to your listeners. What would always help for me is, yes, if I knew that game way in advance, if I’d been receiving information about it for a couple of months, if I’d seen it on Twitter, if I’ve been getting emails from, from PRs who were saying, hey, you know, here are some cool gifs, here are some cool screenshots, here’s who’s behind it. This is why I should be, you know, exciting, and that would really help, because then it would be in my mind and I’d be able to say, okay, well, it’s coming out in three months. I can look at it in the space of. You know, we’ve got a Resident evil coming out here. We’ve got a Starfield coming out here. I can squeeze it in between these two things or do it around.
You have mentioned this on the podcast before: we do get like an unhinged amount of emails into your email boxes, like the amount of stuff that comes through, and you know, I used to try and read all of it. You couldn’t. 80% of it would be spam. That wasn’t even games-related because you’ve got a publicly listed email. But you know I would get emails through from PRs who would be saying look at this game. And I’d look at it and I’d say that’s so cool.
I have no time to even reply to this email, never mind play this game, and that is really disheartening and devastating and unfortunately, I don’t really think there is there is much of it. You know, a solution to that, really, other than if something comes out during a quiet period or you find that you’ve got a little bit of time or you’re willing to play these things in your spare time on weekends? You know that’s normally how we find the time for the smaller things, unfortunately, but for me, when a PR is, you know they come in my inbox, they’re really friendly, they’re super up for just like having a conversation and they’ve got really cool, you know Screenshots and the game takes, you know, visually, front and center on that email. I know exactly what it looks like and I know you know and get a gauge for how it functions and that always used to help more than anything else. That was a long answer. I do apologize.
That was a good answer. There was a good answer.
Apologies if you heard a siren in the background. There was the inbox police come to arrest you for having unread emails.
Please come into arrest you for reading emails and not replying.
So If there was somebody listening to this and goes, well, I still want my game to get discovered.
I still want to reach out to Journalists, and I think I have the right idea. Back in your journalism days and you know, still now, from that consumer point of view, we know people have specific genres they like to cover. I think one easy question might be, what if someone feels their game doesn’t quite fit a genre? Because we’ve worked with a couple of projects when they might reference a project they were inspired by or they might say, well, it’s a puzzler which can turn a lot of people off, and they say, well, it’s also like an RPG. And if somebody’s making a game that doesn’t fit one of these tags, I always use Steam as an example; all these different tags on Steam, and they go.
Well, my game doesn’t fit any of these labels. How am I gonna describe it to someone who I know doesn’t have any time or I know likes RPGs, but I’m like, it’s a risk if I pitch them. Do you think people should be ticking boxes on what their genre is as a very easy kind of starter? And then, within that, would you prefer something that is way out of the ordinary? Or, as a journalist, do you need something that fits a very defined box To make sense with all your lack of time, editors needing to know things, etc. Etc.
I mean, I’ll definitely speak for me on this and you know I worked for RPS, which I think is quite a unique publication in the way that it does cover games anyway. So I’ll speak just on what I know and honestly, it does not have to fit in that genre box. For me personally, my favorite types of games are ones that take a bold swing. I’m a big defender of the six out of ten because I think that you’re doing something really interesting in that space. Right, you’re trying something, even if you don’t quite pull it off If there is a hook to a game. So, if we talk in Rytmos, the thing that really appealed to me was this concept that it was based on planets that were themed around albums from musical genres around the world. Now as like an elevator pitch. That’s a tricky thing to try and, like you know, speak succinctly as it were.
But if, if that, if that hook, if that like weird part of it or that really unique aspect of whether it’s a mechanic, it’s a theme, it’s a vibe, to use that terrible words you know there’s a story to that, right, there’s, there’s a story to maybe even publish on the site there, never mind to put in your back pocket and wait until it comes out for review. I always think that’s maybe the best way of hooking me in anywhere is if you email me and say, oh, you know here’s a music puzzle game. Great, you know, that’s probably gonna get my interest, because I’m into things like rhythm games. But if you can try and like get into that one thing, that one thing that’s like punchy and interesting and cool and you know that’s where the heart of the thing lies, that’s always gonna maybe get people’s attention a little bit more.
It’s a very difficult thing to do, totally aware of that, but I do think if you can see that, you can more easily make a story out of that. And quite often when you see, like you know, sometimes stories like that do take off on social media, they take off on websites of, oh, this game has something cool. You know, Dredge is a horror fishing game and it’s about pulling horrible things out of the ocean like that’s a cool hook. No pun intended, yeah, stuff like that. Stuff like that always helped me.
That was a very good pun. Jack is the big games machine, self-proclaimed and proclaimed by everyone else as king of the pun.
Obviously, we speak to the media all the time. In email, when we go to events, and we get a chance to speak to people, and something we have seen quite a few times is that people will say you know when we’re saying so, how do we try and make things stand out when people and journalists will say one of the best ways to do it is to make things SEO friendly for us, and that can often involve it can often be a case for us of then going away from perhaps looking at what makes satellite, especially in like a subject line, going away from what might make something unique and making more easy comparisons to other things.
So I can think of I’m trying to think of an example, but if we had, I think an obvious example is I’m just gonna say Hollow Knight, because Hollow Knight’s always on my mind, especially because Silksong is nowhere near coming out clearly. But if there’s a Metroidvania, I feel like one of the easiest, and perhaps more like slam dunk ways to try and get people interested, and that is by making some comparison to Hollow Knight. But from your perspective, would you see that and think not that it’s necessarily lazy but that it’s a bit derivative?
I don’t know quite how to phrase it. Yeah, derivative. Is that something that you’d see and think, Actually, that might push me away because there doesn’t seem to be an attempt to actually make this thing stand on its own two feet.
It’s a really good question, I mean. Yeah, I mean this speaks to maybe a wider issue with online media in general. In that SEO has to be front of centre all the time because that’s how sites get people in; that’s how sites make money. I think, yeah, definitely anything to assist with that is taking a small amount of burden off the writer. If you’ve already made that comparison, that probably is gonna get maybe bumped up the list a little bit, because it’s definitely a trend that I’ve noticed all the time.
Very rarely do you see a headline about a brand new indie game that doesn’t compare it to another game. Oh, this Hollow Knight-like platformer or whatever. If you like dredge, you’ll probably like X, and I do totally get that. It’s probably down to personal preference. I would never. I know that. I definitely wouldn’t think it was lazy.
On behalf of the PR who sent that to my inbox, I know that PRs are fighting for our attention as much as we’re fighting for a reader’s attention, and all any of us wanna do is highlight cool games.
Right, and I think really, am I gonna click on an email that compares to one that doesn’t? No, I’m probably gonna click on anything that comes through from sources I’ve worked with or that I know they represent games I’m normally interested in. That’s probably gonna be my first thought. If, Tom, you sent me an email, I’d open that because the games you’ve represented have interested me, so I’m going to.
Just if I see your name come up, I’m gonna read it. But if it’s from someone I don’t know, yeah, if it’s a game I’m interested in, I probably am gonna look at it because it has that comparison. But again, similarly, if it was like here’s a retro FPS with a cool thing, I’d probably click on that too. The sad reality is it’s probably not the look of the draw so much, but it’s gonna depend on just the time of day and how much stuff has been going on. But I do think those two things comparison to a game that people already know and putting that hook front and center feel like surefire ways of getting some attention definitely.
I know Jack wants to move on to the next question. I just really want to follow that up really quickly, just with something small, like you spoke about having relationships with people already being something that can help push things over the line. Do you think, then, that just reiterates that, even if you’re small, even if you’re unknown, even if it’s your first project, it is important to put those feelers out and to try and contact people and to speak to people, because even if it doesn’t directly lead to coverage or this has just been announced, or look at the trailer for this the fact that if you see something that catches your eye just once and you don’t go back to it, but over three, four, five, six months a year, you see that name pop up a couple of times that can then lead to eventually, when important milestones are coming in, you’ll click on it because it’s something that’s already in your mind, rather than just be in the case of I used to have this two years ago and then tomorrow it’s coming out.
If the game interests me, I’ll make a note of the game and who sent me that, and even though I might not be in touch with them, and I’ve still got that list for when I was at RPS as well and I will keep an eye on that. So, definitely, 100%. So that contact, if that person follows me on Twitter, if I start to see them around or we sort of make that connection in some way, whether it is just through the inbox that you mentioned or we connect on social media outside of that and I don’t even mean having a chat, I literally just mean Jack followed me and that name’s suddenly there, and then I am probably gonna notice that more and I think that probably is the most important part is just familiarity, a friendly face. You know, Tom sent me an email. I wonder what he’s got for me today. That does really help, I think.
See, that’s why I replied to your tweet this morning, to make sure you wouldn’t forget about me for today. That was the thought process behind that, so I just make sure he doesn’t forget that 8pm appointment.
I can’t believe that I thought we were friends.
Quick, how can I make up some situation here to respond?
I do use Last FM for the record.
I was very specific for you to have made up just to make sure I came on this podcast Tom
Relationship building very, very important stuff.
If we wanna just chat about something else, how long have you had such an interest in indie stuff in particular, and how long has that passion been there? And, from your experience within that time, how have things changed? I feel like even within the last couple of years, the whole indie scene in itself, even since, I’d say, the Switch launch in 2016 and 2017, things have changed so much. From your experience, I wonder what you’d say about that.
Yeah, I mean. So you asked me this before we started recording. I was thinking about it earlier today and, interestingly, I think this nebulous concept of indie games, as we discussed at the start of the episode, have been part of my life since I was very young. I grew up on PC. My dad was big into PC, so I grew up in a household that had a lot of shareware floppy disks and I grew up in a household that had a lot of games that were very small.
At the time, my dad would bring home things from computer fairs and a lot of that was like homebrew stuff. And then, as I got older, I’d buy PC Gamer, and PC Gamer had demo disks that would have sometimes full games that were freely available online. And then, when I started getting into Steam, when I first started using Steam, I didn’t really have a definition of what was indie and what wasn’t. And then I started begging my dad to use his credit card to buy AudioSurf if you remember that which you put your own MP3s into it and it would generate rhythm tracks for you to complete.
It was brilliant. I don’t know if it still works these days. But when you had an iTunes library, you could just go on AudioSurf, and you could ride as many Metallica songs as Teenage Liam could dream of playing.
Playable on the Steam Deck, apparently. It’s on the wishlist.
I had no idea what you. I think. It had no tracks of its own, it was purely generated by music you owned on your own computer. So if you’ve got some MP3s at hand, AudioSurf is still worth turning out with.
I’ve got a fair few video game soundtracks that I just buy on Steam rather than being a normal person and listening on Spotify, so I’m going to have to give that a go now.
I think it used to have Last FM integration. I might be making that up, but I feel like it had Last FM something. That would be amazing, which speaks to how old AudioSurf was. It was published 15th of February 2008. Great times. I remember the day it came out as well. I had a Chinese buffet and then went home and played Audiosurf. The glory days, what a memory.
What a memory. I remember Xbox used to do their summer of gaming festivals where you would get things like Meat Boy and Fez and Bastion. I was always so excited by those kind of titles. At one point these games became Indies the definition just swapped. Suddenly I was aware that these smaller games I’d been playing since I was a kid, alongside AAAs, were this different classification of titles. To be honest, it was probably with the release of Indie Game the Movie, which I think sort of alerted me to a lot of these creators and the work they were doing and how they were making these games. It felt like for a couple of years there, when I started to do I used to run a gaming website when I was at uni. I’d be big into Indies. At that point it felt like it was very easy to have a take on every Indie that came out and hit that success metric.
Over the last six, seven years and I agree, I think it’s been since the launch of the Switch it’s just become impossible to stay afloat in the sea of releases, which, on the one hand, is brilliant because the opportunity to uncover a gem that no one has heard of and you’re the first to almost bring it to people’s attention and say look at this really cool thing I found, and then people start to play it and then you can share that experience with the people. That becomes a bit easier to do. But also it just sort of feels like you’ve got no idea from where to start and that can be incredibly difficult, both as a fan and as someone who you know within the adventure, the podcast that me, rachel and Rebecca do. Our whole goal is to try and find these games and talk about them and celebrate them, and it just feels like there’s too much to celebrate, which is is that a complaint? That shouldn’t be a complaint. Right, it’s never been better, but professionally it can be quite stressful.
I wonder how much of that goes, because I still feel like there is a stigma around indie games in that they can be oh, it’s an indie game, it must be pretentious. Or indie game oh, that means low quality. So you talk about celebrating and a lot of these games often aren’t seen as games. They’re seen as like artistic projects or concepts and it just happens to be through the medium of being a game and some people that is their whole idea of what an indie game is. It’s some kind of crazy, weird, separate thing. It’s not really a game, it’s an indie game. Oh, do you think there is a stigma? When do you think, if there is that perhaps lessened? We talked about the switch here. So when games stopped being weird art projects or weird shovelware on a demo disc and then became democratized. So games, people can make indie games. But also, you know, we’ve heard and seen people from cinema, people from music getting into games and the way is through an indie project.
That’s an interesting question, so before I maybe give my answer, do you feel like there’s a stigma from your side, from the PR side? Do you come up against that at all?
I’ll let Jack speak first before I jump on the soapbox.
I think so, and I think especially with certain genres as well, like we’ve already alluded to, like puzzle games, and you know Rytmos did really well. But I think you try and sell the idea of a puzzle game being unique and interesting for the average person. It’s a puzzle, oh, it’s indie. That’s already two like oh and two there on the on the strikes. So I think, and as a consumer, I’m guilty of it sometimes seeing a game, and I’m like, oh, it’s a that’s a bit pretentious, looking that indie title like, and you just hear, oh, they’re, they’re trying something unique and innovative.
And he like I feel like there’s quite, there’s still, and when I say mainstream here, I mean I mean like mainstream. Mainstream as in FIFA, Call of Duty.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah, which you know, which are all perfectly fun games spent. I’ve invested a lot of time into those series, like across my life I have. So it’s not a dig against the people that play those games, but I feel like I feel like there’s a stigma that I’ve seen from people who primarily play those games and then that is something that, just through the need to survive, is somewhat passed on to a lot of media and I don’t think it’s something that’s done on purpose and I don’t think it’s something that’s done maliciously. But I feel like a lot of the time, as hard as it is to find those games because there are so many coming out, a lot of websites will talk about how much they champion indie games and when you actually look at the indie games they cover it’s from the usual suspects, because they’re the ones that have kind of passed the into this realm of what’s safe to look at and what they know will get attention. So you end up in an even worse situation. I feel for a lot of, a lot of smaller games where they’ve got no hope because they don’t even pass the test of what it means to be like an indie darling now because they don’t come from a certain developer or a certain publisher, and it’s just now. Now this indie label has added a whole nother hurdle into the process, and so I don’t think it’s a.
I don’t think it’s a stigma that people attach maliciously, but I think it’s just something that’s naturally come about, maybe because there is so much stuff, there’s so many games, that there has to be some way of saying these are the ones that we nine times out of 10, we know these ones are going to be worth the investment. We know people are interested in the publisher, so we’ll get the return on the time put into it as well. I didn’t ramble too much there. I really am trying to stay off. I’m trying to not go on the soapbox too much today. But now pass it over to you. So it’s your turn to throw your thoughts into the ring.
Time for the king of rambling to give his thoughts. I mean, that’s very interesting to hear your perspectives from where you are coming from. Right, because you are representing games. You are closer to the careers than I’ve ever been, right, which is just such a different position to be in and that must be very frustrating and I can understand why this, this perceived stigma and I get it as well. I mean, yeah, from means mainstream audiences, unless it is something like, well, this is the thing, right, like you talk about the call of duty in the FIFA crowds of the year FC.
My apologies, but you know I was in Spain a few weeks ago and every other stall on the beachfront had among us merchandise poppies playtime five nights at Freddy’s. These are indie games, right, you know. I think under a certain age don’t care right If it’s, if it’s a fun thing and their friends are playing it, they’ll play it. I do get from like an older perspective, like I had to really convince some of my friends who don’t play games to play a return of the Obra Dinn and I sounded like the biggest, most boring nerd in existence when I was like no, no you don’t get it.
It’s set in the 1800s. I’ve lost them immediately. Do you know what I mean? But when I actually got them, where are the guns?
Where are the guns?
Yeah, exactly, but when I actually got them to play it. They had an incredible time right and they, you know they were really happy that they played it. But I get that. I get that like.
I think maybe the subject matter that indie games are able to explore make them more fringe to a mainstream audience, in the same way that independent cinema might seem pretentious to most filmgoers, right, like, if you’re used to a certain type of game, you know if you’d like shooting guns and you like kicking balls at the goals, then you know playing a game set in an alternate reality 1990s is probably going to make you feel a bit queasy, and I get that. So, yeah, maybe there is. You know, I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, but yeah, there probably is a perceived stigma, in the same way that there is about indie films. Just to go back slightly to the to the website point you made, tom, about how you know sometimes websites won’t pick up games that aren’t by developers or publishers that they know that they’re going to get a return on. I don’t think there’s a single journalist in the industry who would would hear you say that and not think, yeah, we hate that.
You know, I think in an ideal world we cover whatever we want to cover, but at the end of the day, these places they have to keep the lights on, you know.
You know that the people who have to, you know that people with jobs that you’ve got mortgages and no one, no one, wants to be the publication that picks something because they know it’ll get more views over the thing that maybe they want to talk about more and just finding that space is going increasingly hard. As you know AI, you know this nonsense comes into play. That is putting these people’s livelihoods at risk, and but it’s interesting here in your perspective, because I’m sure, if you know, if everyone was in the pub in a place that was away from from the years of managers, I’m sure everyone would say, yeah, you know what. I’d love it, I’d love to just talk about these things that I want to shout about and champion alongside triple A’s and and it’s just a shame, it’s just a it’s this discoverability issue, right, there’s just a fundamental flaw in the way that things are done right now.
That makes it unfortunately difficult and sad for everyone involved.
In that sense, yeah, yeah, I will. I will just clarify as well, Because I’ve now now you’ve said that from your perspective, I think it, I think just what I said, came across not entirely how I meant it and I completely, having had conversations with you before and other people, and that’s the. Those are the. I’m not blaming anyone because I fully, having been on the side of having to pitch stuff to editors, I understand how tricky that can be. I think it’s just that general, I think it’s just, I think it’s a problem the industry has as a whole, but it’s not something that you know anyone, you know one journalist, can solve and and so, yeah, I apologize if that came across quite combative.
No, it didn’t. I thought no, no, no, no. I thought it was an interesting point that I thought you know that’s. That’s the kind of thread between what you do and what you know I used to do that, I think, is very rarely sort of discussed. At the end of the day, all of us just want to champion these things that we were all invested in and there’s there’s, unfortunately, blockers in the way that make that difficult. But no, you don’t have to apologize at all, it’s discussion.
The statements coming out. It won’t be written by chat GPT there, don’t worry not going to make the mistake that other developers have made On the on the subject of discoverability, then I think that’s probably quite a nice place to wrap things up. I know, jack you. There was something you wanted to ask specifically about discoverability.
That, yeah, I know you were with when we’ve heard from other developers. We have heard some previously on the podcast talk about their views on Steam Next Fest and you know, there’s the Nintendo indie world showcase. Are these actually useful to find games or do you find that these can be hijacked by those kind of double A or bigger indies we’ve alluded to throughout the show that maybe don’t fit the bill and really this showcase that the smaller games deserve is kind of taken away from them by one that might be a bit flashier because it’s got a bit more budget behind it. It doesn’t really fit. What we think, if there is such a label, is an indie game.
Yeah, I mean, I mean I think I’ll probably answer this question in like two parts, I think. In regards to Next Fest, I think that feels very democratized, to the point where it can almost be overwhelming to find things to play within that event. I love Next Fest. I love that it exists. It was always a very exciting time for us at RPS and I know that you know, on IndieVenture, we’ll definitely be leveraging Next Fest to find cool things and to find, you know, to spend an hour just playing cool demos. Whether or not that’s the way that the average consumer uses it, I’m not sure, but I do definitely think Next Fest has been. You know, I mean I like it. So when you’ve spoken to developers about Next Fest, what was their opinions on it?
Oh, that’s a good question. We’ve had a very juicy response. We’ve recommended this news. Go check out the festival.
We were chatting to the developer of Bullwark if I can get the pronunciation right this time and he felt there were just some issues on Steam’s end kind of pressuring developers to get involved or maybe they weren’t ready.
With Steam Next Fest, the idea is that you get one shot at it, so your game has to be as polished as possible, and then you get chucked out. And then you are also then chucked out with hundreds of other games and maybe it’s not the right time for your timeline or audiences might see a different build of the game that wasn’t ready, and they get oh, this game looks bad, and then they’ve turned off forever because the developer was in a rush to get it ready for Next Fest Again. As a consumer I’ve downloaded some really cool demos from Next Fest that have been great for me to find in the games I wouldn’t otherwise have done. But I can understand from the developer’s side that maybe it’s a bit too much pressure to get involved and there are just so many other competitors now that maybe it’s not as useful as it once was.
As a consumer. I totally get that and that sounds really difficult. And you’re right, you get one impression normally and if you’re being pushed out alongside things like Next Fest has AAAA stuff in there too. Like I know that I played the Robocop demo during Next Fest and thought that felt a little bit strange and felt like maybe it was a bit too everything was lumped in together in a way that maybe wasn’t working. Maybe it’s something that I genuinely will just think about all the time and I don’t know what the solution is for it.
I love Indie World Showcases, but you definitely get a certain level of indie game that obviously gets put on there. You normally get a couple of interesting things that I may be given the first shot there, but I think Nintendo definitely have a very selective process for what they put there. The PlayStation will have indies right in their state of play, which is great, but again, it’s normally the bigger, not budget, but maybe more high profile things. I wish I had an answer. If there’s a billionaire listening who wants to fund me to spend the rest of my life just finding smaller games and talking about them on the internet, that would be my dream job. We’ll put the call out there.
You’ve got a lot of billionaire listeners, I think.
Yeah, I think a couple. I think Elon’s put most of his money into bringing Twitter to its knees, though, so I don’t think he’d be able to support the journey. What a shame.
Yeah, honestly, I’m sure we could sit and do another hour of audio about the ways in which we wish that this process worked. That benefited ultimately the people who matter, which is, the people who are making the games. I don’t know if we’d even come to any answers, but yeah, it just sucks, doesn’t it? It’s just really hard.
I think probably you and Rachel and Rebecca are a good example of what I’m about to ask, because you’re public-facing, Do you because obviously you get on really well with them do you put a lot of weight into what they recommend? Is that a way you genuinely find out about stuff that you hadn’t heard of?
To a worrying degree. We put too much weight into our each other’s opinions. I think I recommended again to Rachel over the weekend that I really liked and she did not like and that weighed heavily on my soul. But yeah, ultimately when they recommend something, we have a joke on the podcast where you can hear us typing in the background as we go to Wishlist on Steam. My Wishlist was like 20 games when I started that podcast. It’s 180 now.
I was going to say can you put a current number on that as it?
stands. I think it’s 180 as of maybe yesterday, because we recorded one yesterday. How many?
Of those do you think you’ll actually play?
I don’t know, you know, because I don’t think I’m going to live a long and healthy life. So I think, and there’s probably a lot of monster. All that monster. Yeah, I mean, that’s also the worrying thing, right? It’s 180 games. Probably take me a couple of years to finish. I think I finished 30 this year, which is not many.
I think that’s quite good, though I think 30 is quite a good amount.
Because Indies are short normally, which really helps Exactly, certainly a couple that I’ve played this year. Yeah, I mean really, you know, word of mouth is ultimately the thing that I you know, when colleagues appears recommend a game, if Rachel and Rebecca say something, it goes to the top of my list 100%. Those are the ways that I tend to find these games and the ones that end up meaning the most to me.
I’ll on that note. Then, as I’m aware that we’re approaching the hour mark, I’ll just ask one more thing. Kevin said what you’ve just said there. Do you, do you put I feel like I’m not going to get into a discussion about review scores or anything like that as someone who’s obviously, you know, produced a lot of, you know a lot of work, a lot of articles, a lot of reviews.
Do you put a lot of weight, then, into not only you know people you get on with personally, but other, certain, like Christian, who I know you spoke about earlier for me, christian, someone who, if Christian recommends something, it’s not you’re a gamer recommending it, it’s him. Is that do you have, then, those people who you specifically go to? Because something I’ve spoken with, you know, when we’ve had clients in the past, is is that sometimes a certain journalist can be a lot more valuable than even the outlet that they might be writing for because of the respect that’s attached to that name? And is that, from your experience, is that something that you, as a consumer and as someone who was on the in the in the business, I guess?
you say is that something that you’d agree with, or?
I mean, it’s a very interesting question and it’s definitely something I put a lot of thought into, and I definitely have reviewers that I will listen to, I guess like Donald and Stephanie one, Steven Tilby over at Push Square, Ed Thorn, who I used to work with.
You know, Rachel, these are people that if they recommend something in a review, I will, you know, take their word as gospel, but that’s more because their body of work speaks to a taste palette that reflects my own, which isn’t really an answer to the question you’ve given me, but I think that’s how I consume reviews and media is. I find I gravitate towards people that I trust that their opinions are very similar to mine, or at least the things they like I also like. The only exception to that is Edge Magazine, which doesn’t have bylines on their reviews. I do find that the you know, the voice of Edge, even though it is a lot of different writers. I find just the taste and the things that Edge is a publication value I also value as well. So, yeah, it’s kind of that’s kind of like. Really, it’s a lot down to like my own personal feelings about the people who review and if they seem to match my own tastes, then yeah, and I’ll listen to them.
It’s almost, yeah. I mean, it’s almost as if video games are subjective and that you know different people have different opinions. No, no, you should have a subjective, tom.
I’ve read many a comment that’s told me that review should be objective. You know, a score for sound, a score for length, replayability, graphics, graphics.
Yeah, if it’s less than a hundred hours, it loses a point in my book. That’s how I see things, right? I?
like to do a conversion between the amount I’ve paid for it and the amount of hours that I’ve spent playing at Tom. That’s how I do it, yeah.
Like a like a like a transfer fee for a footballer, If they’re not, you know if you spent a lot on them they have to be amazing and they have to get. You have to get a lot of time out of them. Otherwise five dollars five dollars an hour. What’s this about? I’m not.
I think it started at about 2015 or 16. We’ve had a few fun house references in this show already with the scrabbles and such. But Spool, part of the streamer now used to be part of the YouTube group Fun House. He had a thing where he was like I will spend money on a game if I think I get enough value out of it, and his thing was one dollar for one hour. That was his conversion rate, which was very difficult to sort of get into practice. But I think we’re people having the same conversation again now story for a different time. But yeah, I want to think about as we wrap up here in the game.
We’re not going to, we’re not going to speak on anything to do with reviews, because that will cause me to get started, and I do not want to. I do not want anyone else. I don’t want anyone coming at me after the fact of my opinions. That’s something that is for me alone to have.
You went slow motion there, Tom Of course I did.
I always go slow motion.
Well, I think we are at the end there. I was trying to think of a sort of indie game. To reference is the end point there, but I got nothing, so it’s too late. I’m putting a good shift.
I’m trying to think there’s so many, there’s so many going through my mind I couldn’t possibly pick one, which is the problem we’ve discussed. There’s so many it’s hard to it’s hard to discover just one to reference as a way to wrap this whole thing up. Nice, there you go. I’ll take that as a yeah.
Thank you so much for coming on, Liam, and for taking the time. We’ve been trying to do this for quite a while, so I appreciate you taking the time to come on when can people find you?
Thank you so much for your patience, you two. I really do appreciate that. Yeah, you can find me. I’m on Cursed Social Media website, formerly known as Twitter @mevil, it’s not @me evil, as people always think. I regret naming myself that as a teenager. You can also find me on the Indie Venture podcast. You can just search for Indie Venture wherever you get podcasts.
Richard Wants to Reckon. Jules, we’ll have a link in the description of the blog posts and whatnot, so go and check out. Thank you, go and check out Indie Venture. It’s a very well put together podcast. I won’t promote it too much, though, because I want people to listen to ours, listen to all of ours, and then go and listen to Indie Venture, because then, you’ll know.
Then you’ll know, you’ll have all the tips you need to figure out how to get your game to be spoken about on Indie Venture. Really, it’s a circle. That’s the point Go along with it, go along with it Go.
I can’t ignore that we spent 20 minutes talking about chicken run on one of our previous episodes. But yeah, we’re definitely the people you want to talk about your game Fantastic.
Fantastic. Well, thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks for coming on, Liam and Jack, as always, I’ll give you the honors of signing us off.
Yes, you can find us on, as you say, X, the site formerly known as Twitter at Big Games Machine. Thank you for listening. Share this if you found it useful. Give it a thumbs up or whatever on your preferred podcast platform and we’ll catch you on the next episode, whatever it will be about and who knows how many Steam releases will be there by that time? Who knows? Will we break the 14,000 mark?
Hopefully Well, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, thank you, bye.