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King for the day: 'underdiscovered' games get the spotlight!
Thanks to some special guests, as we round off our summer holidays.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s. Welcome to the final ‘summer holiday’ edition!]
Hey folks - and welcome to the final ‘summer holiday’ newsletter, as we branch out from our regular subjects. As a reminder, we’ve had a deep-dive on PC casual game markets, a guest-post on a ‘hit game’ that didn’t really exist, and now - this one!
For our ‘summer holiday’ finale - sure, we always write about discovery. But why not create a little discovery of our own? So we asked notable devs, streamers and writers to spotlight some PC/console games they think deserve more attention.
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‘Underdiscovered’ games - as picked by our special guests
In the past, GameDiscoverCo has loved features like GiantBomb’s ‘Game Of The Year’ guest picks, where you get uniquely personal points of view on games you might have missed. Because wow - there’s a lot of video games nowadays.
So we gave a few honored guests the chance to be the King (or Queen) of All Cosmos and pick a “game released in the last year or two that you think didn't get the attention it deserved”. Here’s their picks - many of which are fascinating, niche and unexplored:
SplatterCat (750k+ sub variety YouTuber): ‘tiny MMORPG’ Book of Travels (Might & Delight): “An odd but pleasant little emergent MMORPG that drips with style. Book of Travels isn't really about anything other than exploring the world as a trader flipping objects for profit to gain new skills. But the loop ends up being very enjoyable.” He also gave honorable mentions to Power of Ten, Delta V Rings of Saturn, and Rise to Ruins.
Holly Gramazio (designer, Dicey Dungeons writer): ‘broughlike’ puzzler Mosaic (Sunil & Corey Hardt): ”I had this game open in a tab for weeks earlier this year, just playing it for twenty minutes at a time. It's smart and fun and so neatly designed, and has that great mix of making you feel clever when it goes well, and like you want to try just one more time to redeem yourself when it doesn't. Plus it's free!”
Patrick Klepek (writer, VICE): clever 2D platformer Below The Ocean (Retro Casual): “a game about an underwater explorer manipulating a tether to solve puzzles, it’s is everything a 37-year-old father of two wants: very short and very smart. Every stage felt unique, every puzzle made me feel cool as hell when I stumbled into the a-ha moment, and by the time it was all over, I was left equally satisfied and really wanting more.
Stuffed Wombat (dev, qomp & many tiny games): surreal ‘point and click’ adventure Manglepaw (resnijars): “It’s one of those games that is super enigmatic, super specific, super memorable AND super cheap. So of course, not enough people have played it.”
SkillUp (800k+ sub ‘This Week In Video Games’ YouTuber): 2D platformer Narita Boy (Studio Koba): "It's not the deepest 2D side-scroller you'll play, as combat is serviceable at best. But the lo-fi sci-fi aesthetic combined with the Shinto spiritualism, all wrapped up in a 1980s nostalgia-bait wrapper is just too charming. Plus, the soundtrack absolutely slaps and would make any Tron/Daft Punk fan very happy indeed”
Emilie Reed (games writer/researcher): ‘outsider art’ adventure Beautycopter (Graceless Games): “I love how it combines strange and familiar multimedia textures into a world that feels coherent - like it extends beyond the 30-minute-or-so play time. The short character vignettes you find as you go about your job at Shiver Spa strike a perfect balance of surrealism and unexpected emotional impact.” Emilie also recommends the demo for Renaissance nun visual novel (!) Misericorde.
Stephen Totilo (writer, Axios Gaming newsletter): incremental puzzler Orb Of Creation (MarpleGames): “At the risk of spreading a contagion, I recommend this game, which I can't stop playing, and might take over your life as well. It resembles an idle game like Cookie Clicker, but it's really more of a puzzle game. You are tasked with deducing how to marshal an ever-expanding cluster of algorithms to in order to hit new numerical targets.” (Wanderbots also recommended this game as “quite possibly the best, most varied incremental game to date.”)
Clara Sia (influencer strategy, Devolver) gave us 10+ picks (!) Some highlights include: APICO (TNgineers): “A fantasy bee conservation sim that is simple and low stress, made by two brothers passionate about saving the bees”; The Captain (Sysiac Games): “A retro-styled choose-your-own-adventure that’s got some ship combat and modern conveniences built in.”; Pinecone Game (Frameblade): “I had to put at least one meme game in here. You pick up a pinecone and throw it in a well.”
Wanderbots (400k+ sub variety YouTuber): top-down ARPG Unsighted (Studio Pixel Punk): “A fantastic labor of love action RPG with an interwoven map that players can explore somewhat freely. Unsighted also features optional and impactful time constraints, difficulty levels, and even co-op to cater to a variety of play styles.”
Kate Gray (writer/narrative designer): Tux And Fanny (Ghost Time Games): “a strange little artifact that can trace its lineage through the weirdest and most wonderful Flash games of the mid-'00s, and all the way back to text adventures like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You play as the two titular characters, who need to re-inflate their football, but you'll end up composing music, helping a worm escape from a horse's bowel, and occasionally reading fairytales. Or the entirety of Moby Dick.”
[NOTE: I’ve linked to Steam as default. But a few of these games have console SKUs, and many of the experimental ones have Itch.io versions - so grab those if you want!]
Bonus: our Plus subscribers weigh in with their picks!
If you’re one of the hundreds of GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscribers - and you totally should be if you’re not - you have access to our Plus Discord. We set up a new channel there, ‘#underdiscovered-games’, and asked folks for their picks.
We don’t have room for all of them, sadly. But here’s some bonus picks from our Discord crew - using their Discord ‘handles’ to identify them:
Lorenzo (Maschinen-Mensch): Penko Park: “Ghostbutter has been creating truly unique games with a distinctive art style since 2014 that have largely gone unnoticed. Pokemon Snap-inspired Penko Park [above] is their masterpiece, currently sitting on a 99% positive rating on Steam.”
ido: This Precious Land: “a jam game inspired by Triple Town that I always thought deserved a ‘fully fledged’ game made from it.”
Megan Carriker: We Are The Caretakers: “an afro futurist squad management RPG where you focus on the conservation and protection of a living rhino-esque species.”
Joel (IndieGamesPlus, GameDiscoverCo consultant): Critters For Sale: “a set of five surreal short horror tales that create this incredible sense of discovering forbidden knowledge. Delirious and eerie stuff, and the less you know going in, the better.”
Jezzarath (Konami): Kaze & The Wild Masks: “basically a love letter to SNES era platformers. Brutally hard in places and beautiful pixel art.”
Chris Faylor (vgReleaseList): Beast Breaker: “Imagine Peggle as a turn-based RPG. The brick-breaking debut from Vodeo Games, a unionized studio focused on ‘small, intimate games’ and sustainability.”
Andrew (Shiny Shoe): twin-stick roguelite platformer Revita: “Did a really great job sticking to a simple and core idea, tons of permutations on that core concept, and kept me coming back for more longer than I'd expected.”
To end, my (Simon @ GameDiscoverCo’s) pick is 2020 GMTK Jam winner You Are Now Possessed, a superbly clever free “puzzle game where you're not always in control” from JimJum Studios which I really want fleshed out into a full game. Sadly, as we all know…
The game discovery news round-up..
Yes, that was a lot of information. Can there be more? There certainly can, as we round off the week in free game discovery newsletters with the below, re: game platform & biz news:
Microsoft is adding Discord voice calls to Xbox, which is pretty cool - though you have to start the call in the Discord mobile app and then transfer it to the Xbox - “you always use the mobile app to sling calls across, and they integrate into an Xbox Party-like interface.” Wonder when the platform company that invested in Discord is getting around to integrating it?
Some of the initial Apple Arcade games are apparently leaving the service, and Macrumors has some inside scoop here: “When Apple Arcade first launched, Apple signed three-year deals with a number of developers… those contracts are now ending, and Apple is opting not to renew some of them.. developers retain the rights to their games and can re-release them on the App Store and/or through other platforms.”
Not one but two Valve Q&A videos regarding Steam best practices surfaced recently: this Digital Dragons chat with Alden Kroll & Augusta Butlin on all manner of Steam-related questions, and a Q&A with Ria Hu & Jenny Jacobi on the best approach to putting your game demos in Steam Next Fest.
Crypto no-no news: Mojang & Microsoft say that “integrations of NFTs with Minecraft are generally not something we will support or allow”, leading to existing NFT/Minecraft token prices crashing, oopsie. Oh, and PC F2P game Fault: Elder Orb is adding some blockchain game tokens as incentives, but didn’t get in trouble (yet?) with Steam, which is also a no-crypto zone.
An interesting editorial here - ‘The Steam Deck is changing how I play games’, noting: “With Switch games, though, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work with Nintendo’s next major console… With Steam I can be fairly confident that just about everything I buy that works on the Steam Deck now will work just fine on any [desktop/handheld PC device] I buy well into the future.” Extra relevant due to this!
The latest Netflix quarterly results “weren’t great, but they were good enough for investors”, and the video game part was fairly handwave-y, “We’ve had millions of our members play games through the service [and are] building a solid pipeline of new games that will launch over the next several years.” Outlook seems unfocused here, still, but expect more investment as the strategy is honed.
Roblox - oft criticized for its visual jankiness - is using better materials/textures to make its in-game worlds more attractive (above), while keeping it user-friendly for young creators: “Our vision for materials is to make them an integral part of the development process, giving people even more control over the look and feel of their content without requiring them to write code for behaviors we know to be true in the real world.”
Microlinks: game M&A aficionados Drakestar say $107 billion in deals were agreed in 2022’s H1 - though we’re definitely on a slowdown long-term, imho; PlayStation outage meant some PS5, PS4 owners couldn’t start games or access multiplayer; Polygon presented us picks for best video games of 2022 so far.
Google announced that it’s allowing non-gaming apps in Europe to use external billing on Google Play - in exchange for 3% less platform fee, yuck. Which set Epic’s Tim Sweeney off on one on Twitter: “The most bizarre thing about Google flauting the new EU law here by introducing fake "payment competition" is that they're NOT EVEN PRETENDING to comply with the law with respect to games, where they still demand their monopoly payment method be used exclusively.” (More analysis here - if confused about the ‘15%’ platform cut referenced by Google, that’s the <$1 mil yearly tier for all devs nowadays.)
Microlinks, pt.2: the Magic Leap 2 AR device is available to all on Sept. 30th for ‘just’ $3,299; the UK games market “bounced back in June, driven by improved console sales and the launch of F1 2022”; Google’s on a collision course with Korean government over in-app payment rules.
Finally, if you’re fed up with metaverse buzzword bingo, check out this James Whatley presentation, which posits aggressively that “the metaverse does not exist, but metaversal activities do… when people talk about the metaverse, they’re talking about gaming”:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]