Bennett Foddy: Streamers And YouTubers Will Drive Diversity In Games

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Bennett Foddy: Streamers And YouTubers Will Drive Diversity In Games

Bennett Foddy’s Getting Over It became an internet sensation, so when the Australian designer tells me the game has just one review on Metacritic, I’m stunned. But lo and behold, one of the biggest indie games of the last few years has basically never been reviewed. And partially because of that, it’s why Foddy believes YouTubers and streamers are the future for driving the discourse around niche, indie titles.

The change in media discourse and the gaming landscape is a running theme through my email chat with Foddy, maker of Getting Over It and the web hit QWOP. He’s a developer whose success has primarily been viral, and yet, the nature of that success didn’t translate to reviews.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Getting Over It never received coverage, but it does highlight a quirk in the legacy of broad-based media, and a transition towards niche content and creators servicing niches within that. “Last year there was an alarming trend of consolidation, when streamers went from playing a wide range of games to just playing Fortnite or Overwatch and a handful of other games,” Foddy said.

“It’s good to go deep on a game once in a while and really get to understand it, but it creates an enormous pressure for studios to focus all their efforts on trying to be one of the small handful of success stories — and that has a narrowing effect on the type of games that get made. But to my eye that trend seems to be easing and we’re back in a zone where streamers are engaging with the culture more broadly.”

As a creator of smaller titles that lack the marketing weight or push of a Destiny or a giant publisher, Foddy has a natural interest in the diversity of games, and a diversity in those consuming them.

"It’s looking like that breadth of interest and discourse is going to have to be driven by streamers and YouTubers, rather than traditional media outlets ... if only because there are too many games for a traditional broad-audience press outlet to make sense," he said.

"In the early '80s you could have a monthly magazine that wrote something about every commercially-released game… a magazine that did that now would need to be thousands of pages long, or be a website that was updated thousands of times per day. The future, at least the near future, has to be driven by players curating their own shortlist of critics or performers that are interested in the same kind of work that they are interested in."

Foddy - who did the art for Ape Out last year - has always had a different relationship with gaming and the industry around it, as a developer who openly brands his name and likeness into his games. The openness goes further than just a branding exercise: by being a cheeky, but welcome, presence in the game, it helps him when dealing with some of the more toxic or irate emails he might have received.

"The players can’t help but be aware of me as a presence in my games - hopefully a playful, rather than a hostile presence," Foddy said. "That means there’s a human relationship there which might not be there if I was more invisible in the work."

There's still a degree of genuine outrage, of course, and Foddy can't always determine the difference between someone having a go and a gamer who's taking the piss. "I think the only way to deal with that is to respond as though each of those interactions is coming from a playful, positive place."

Foddy, who originally left Australia for a job as a philosopher focusing on drug addiction, also works as an instructor for the NYU Game Center. We were chatting because Getting Over It is one of the newer games being exhibited at Game Masters, an exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archives (NFSA) that runs until March 9. Foddy's been interested in the archival for a while - he's spoken about teaching American students more about the history of European and English games, and in 2014 his keynote talk to Indiecade East focused on the history of indies, touching on the tools and mods developers used to become developers.

I asked Foddy what he thought about the NFSA's mission, and he said it was important for countries and creators outside of the United States and Japan. In his view, while Australia has never had a huge game industry, the efforts of local creators now surpasses the local music and film industry.

"If I can strike a parochial note for a moment - as an Australian and as a game designer - the economic output of Australian game designers now dwarfs that of Australian musicians and filmmakers," he said. "Australia punches well above its weight in games, culturally and economically, and that work absolutely deserves to be preserved."

The preservation of niche titles, then, is inextricably tied to how we talk about those games, as the media, creators, individuals and communities. How those conversations happen and where they happen has fragmented into a million different pieces across the internet, from Twitch chat to Twitter to Facebook groups to Discord channels, official forums, Steam friends and more.

Foddy, however, took a longer view of the change. While the decentralised nature of how gamers connect makes it even harder for smaller titles to break through the noise of everything, the overall gaming industry is now so large that every platform and subculture is large enough in and of itself that you can find success by targeting just one of those.

"It’s true that the culture is fragmented, but I feel like a lot of the separate subcultures and platforms are each as large as the entire industry was in the 1980s, so you can pick the perfect venue for your game idea and really tune it to match the audience and hardware," he said.

"In the case of Getting Over It, the perfect audience turned out to be people who watch streamers play games for entertainment, and who play games on PC with a mouse. That’s a niche inside of a niche, but it still amounted to millions of players."


Bennett Foddy's Getting Over It is part of the Game Masters exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archives, which runs until March 9. Tickets and more details about the show can be found here, and information on the NFSA's mission to archive Australian games can be read below.

How The Archival Process For Australian Games Will Work

The National Film and Sound Archive has announced this morning that it'll be adding locally-made video games to its collection of more than 3 million items. But given that the department hasn't archived video games before, and the difficulty of archiving games that require online authentication, or multiplayer games that require an always-online environment, I had to ask: how exactly does the national custodian plan to archive these games in the first place?

Read more

Comments

  • I think people still vastly underestimate the effect streamers and YouTubers have on sales. I’ve bought many games solely based off watching a streamer/YouTuber play it.

    A popular YouTuber playing your game could lead to many more sales than compared to an article on a website. The audience engagement difference between legacy media and new media is vastly different.

    • I would say around 75% of the games I’ve bought in the past 5 or so years have been in part because I’ve watched videos or streams of them that made me interested in buying them.

      I… guess that’s why they’re called influencers.

      • The two biggest sources of advertising indies to me have been:
        1) https://twitter.com/TodayOnSteam
        2) Steam’s storefront – especially the ‘New release’ pages, but also their recommendation algorithms.

        Steam’s not the only tool to use, but the combination of knowing my history, having screenshots and videos and user reviews is the most convenient start point to get hooks in.

    • Some people no doubt do underestimate streamers and youtubers, but certainly not the vast majority of advertisers who have been loving the soft coverage they get in exchange for freebies and compliments for many years now.

      Mainstream media have a pretty good idea where all their advertising revenue has gone as well, and politicians are also pretty clued in too given the massive amount of work put into regulating promotional content in vblogs. The UK Advertising Standards Authority started regulating youtube bloggers in 2014.

      If there’s anyone left who underestimates the influence of youtubers and streamers they are living in aged care accomodation or off grid in a commune somewhere.

      • A good example of the ones to underestimate are the indie devs who think they can abuse the DMCA system to remove critical coverage of their game.

        In most cases, it blows back on them badly.

        • I was just listening to a podcast today with Pestily, who was talking about how sponsored content was a great way to make money right now. And he’s totally right (and god his stream has taken off lately), and a lot of the media landscape is headed in that direction generally.

          • You see it with Esports players. So many times you see them drop out to stream full time because they make far more money streaming than competing in esports.

    • Companies certainly don’t underestimate it. I’ve seen several stories on here about the insane paychecks streamers get to play a certain game.

      Dead Cells did this and I bought a game based off how smooth and awesome it looked. I think that’s the only one, I don’t really watch streamers of Let’s Plays.

  • There’s no denying that Streamers are a fantastic and cheap (unless you’re paying them for promotion) way to get your game on hundreds to thousands of eyes. It’s sort of the new “demo disc” though here a potential buyer gets to experience the whole game if the streamer chooses to stream it all.

    That’s kind of the double edge though. Someone watching the game doesn’t necessarily translate into a sale because watching might be enough for them. It’s more potential for a sale though than someone who has never heard of your game or only has a handful of mixed reviews by people who may or may not be into that type of game (Review sites only have limited staff for reviews) to go by.

    The interesting part of it though is going to be not falling into the trap of making games that are “For streamers”. Getting Over It is a good example of the kind of game that is popular for streaming but maybe not so much for the casual player because its difficult but encourages entertaining failures and reactions. There will be people who like the type of game for sure, and there will be those that play something because “X” is playing it but there are definitely games that fall into the “Purely for watching the streamer’s failures and reactions” category.

    • I’d go so far as sayingGetting Over it doesn’t work nearly as well without streaming. The vast amount of enjoyment is coming from the people either watching with glee, thinking “I could do that” or “I’ve been there, I feel your pain”. It’s the collective knowledge that we aren’t climbing that mountain alone that keeps you attempting to make it to the top.

    • That’s kind of the double edge though. Someone watching the game doesn’t necessarily translate into a sale because watching might be enough for them. It’s more potential for a sale though than someone who has never heard of your game or only has a handful of mixed reviews by people who may or may not be into that type of game (Review sites only have limited staff for reviews) to go by.

      I mean that’s not really a double-edged sword though? Someone not buying your game is not always a lost customer.

      A double-edged sword would be that if your game is bad and a streamer/ YouTuber plays it, its likely even less people will buy the game due to more people finding out how bad the game is.

      If your game is good, There is really no downside to having the game exposed to a wider audience via a content creator.

      • This was always my argument in favour of games coming out with demos.

        Of course, for those there was a double-edged sword in the way that there was an actual cost to producing a demo. So it could be a sale, it could be that their swing meant chopping off their own foot.

        Especially in the days when refunds weren’t the norm.

        • Refunds still aren’t always the norm, I bought Anno 1800 at launch last year, played it for 25 minutes before realising it only really had random maps and no proper campaign/missions, tried to get a refund and Ubisoft told me by opening the game I had waived all rights to a refund.

          That was a huge waste of 80 bucks 🙁

  • Well, I literally just finished reading PC Gamer’s Monster Hunter Iceborne review…

    The moment the Youtubers/Streamers completely take over from these ‘professionals’ cannot come soon enough.

    • Let me guess…

      There’s always been an unease for me in playing these games where I’m asked to go out, invade the habitats of these species and kill them to make the next set of armour and weapons. With World the discomfort was extreme at times, beating monsters till they limped then being asked to lop off their tails to hear whines and squeals. You don’t just kill the monsters in these games—you make them suffer. Engaging as its loop is, as enthralling as its fights are, I’ve always been disappointed that they’ve created such a rich ecosystem and the only thing they can ask me to do in it is murder everything.

      The hunters are the bad guys of the game, the excuses the game provides by way of, ‘the things we hunt are actually unusual for the habitat as a result of elder dragon shit, and the culls are good’ is somehow a lie, etc, etc.

      I wish games would be reviewed by people who don’t have deep philosophical objection to the fundamental purpose of the game. See: The Division, Ghost Recon, etc.

      You don’t send your vegan food critic to a steakhouse, for fuck’s sake.

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