Happy Halloween, folks. As October draws to a close, we're talking about cool games as usual, but also reflecting on something so scary that it could be the premise for a Twilight Zone episode: Why is the industry cursed to produce such incredible games, and yet still be so unsustainable, that thousands of creatives at being laid off at studios across the globe?
This is one horror story which we wish would stop coming back to haunt us. Yet more games companies have announced mass redundancies this month, bringing the total job losses in the industry to over 6000 for the year.
The industry as a whole is still wildly successful, and in today's roundup, we're talking about a number of excellent games - real success stories, which have generated massive revenue. But lately, it seems like no amount of success or prestige can protect you from the whims of shareholders, who will always want to squeeze out more.
The latest company affected (at time of writing) is Bungie, the talented team who historically created Halo and have gone on to find respectable live service success with Destiny 2. Sony acquired Bungie for $3.6 billion dollars last year. $1.2 billion of that money was reportedly earmarked for staff retention. And yet, here we are.
Not to get too political, but... Surely, there has to be a better way than this? It all just seems so indiscriminate and cruel. While consumers may celebrate the slew of great titles that we've received in 2023, if this trend continues, we won't be enjoying the same level of quality in the years to come. The teams behind the games we love need to be protected. And leaders in the industry need to act now, to ensure a sustainable future that we can all benefit from and enjoy.
As it's October, it feels only right to talk about something related to horror. A new game which released on the 27th October caught my eye recently, called "Don't Scream". I actually heard about this prior to the launch as it's co-creator Joe Henson was firing on all cylinders with the marketing.
I've followed Joe for a while, as I am a big fan of a previous game he was a part of, Hypercharge: Unboxed, and like me he works in the world of Games Marketing. He often shares great tips and insights, especially for indie games, so I like to keep a close eye on what he has to say!
Now I'm a big scaredy-cat, so horror games aren't really my thing, but I've been keeping a close eye on this one, as it has an incredibly interesting hook - the player needs to connect their microphone, and are thrust into a scary scene designed to scare them, but if they Scream, they lose. I've never seen any other game do something like this, so it really interested me.
Joe has spoken at length on LinkedIn and Twitter about they went through to create this game, and they intentionally went about trying to make a marketable game, as opposed to making a game then working out how to market it. A subtle, but an important distinction to make, and a great lesson for game devs to take on board.
The strategy was clearly thought out, and has performed exceptionally well for them. I could go on and on about why this has been a great strategy, but Joe tells it better so check out what he had to say about it.
My game, DON'T SCREAM, was a 5-month project in which I aimed to craft a game with a distinct and compelling hook, perfectly tailored for Halloween. Here's what I did:— Joe | Marketing your game is an adventure! (@IndieGameJoe) October 30, 2023
- 2 weeks of pre-launch marketing
- 130,000 wishlists during that period
- 40k copies sold in over 24hrs :thread::point_down:
This month I've been playing the early access release of the chill and cute co-op title "Core Keeper". I'm playing in a party of 4, and we're all really enjoying it. Our little village is thriving and never goes hungry, the enemies are kept at bay and our pets are keeping us company. Apart from that one time I was immediately (and annoyingly) killed by a growing root immediately after spawning, I'd still give it 7/10.
When I'm not Core Keeping, I've been slaying goblins in Baldur's Gate 3. And I'm also exploring isometric game design. I've even tried making some simple isometric tiles of my own. It's a nice, slightly mind-bending task! I think I'll design some very simple characters next...
It's my favourite day and season of the year - Halloween! As well as enjoying some spooky media, more sweets than one person should eat, and a jack-o'-lantern pizza from Papa John's, I'll also be taking part in some Halloween-themed seasonal events in my favourite games. Seasonal events have been part of MMO culture for a long time, with World of Warcraft's Hallow's End introduced in 2005, and many other multiplayer games following suit. With the rising popularity of GAAS, seasonal events (including Halloween!) are now a big part of many games' content and monetization strategies, and single-player games are also taking a slice of that pumpkin pie with themed DLCs, collaborations and swag.
Some of the favourite's this year include:
Elder Scrolls Online Fright Fest - one of my favourite events, in one of my favourites games! Not only are there spooky daily events to do for all manner of collectibles, but the entirety of Tamriel transforms with city decorations and many players choosing to don themed costumes and outfits as they adventure through the game.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons - the cutest Halloween in games for sure, with the ability to transform your entire village with spooky decorations, candy swapping with your favourite villagers and of course the appearance of everyone's favourite, Jack the Pumpkin! I love growing my own pumpkins around this time, and putting jack-o'-lanterns absolutely everywhere.
Station to Station - this game is a cosy little treat of a rail-themed puzzle game, so what is it doing in this list? Well the wholesome darling has teamed up with another viral indie - the horror game Choo Choo Charles - for a collaboration that I wasn't expecting, but am incredibly delighted by. Instead of cute little steam trains, you can invite Choo Choo Charles himself onto the tracks of your idyllic villages to scuttle around the peaceful surroundings.
If you had thought that this was already a strong year for the quality of games, you'd have been right. Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur's Gate 3 are two of the best reviewed games of all time, and they're backed up by commercial hits like Starfield, indie darlings like Cocoon and Sea of Stars, surprise hits like Hi-Fi Rush, and impressive do-overs of games like Metroid Prime, Dead Space and Resident Evil 4. Did I mention we also got a beloved new Armored Core this year?
So you could be forgiven for thinking that 2023 wouldn't have much left to give. But then October came along: Marvel's Spider-Man 2, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and Alan Wake II have arrived.
Business turmoil and behind the scenes strife (discussed above) makes this a horrible year for the industry overall. But it can still be said that 2023 is one of the best years ever for videogame consumers. Does it beat 2007, 2004, 2001 and 1998 though? You decide.
More Etch Play
You can browse our blog for more roundups like this one. Sometimes, when we're not too busy pulling off tricks in The Finals, or playing through indie treats, we write up a bit of games industry insight, too! If you're interested in our marketing work for games publishers and studios, check out some of our case studies. Until next time!