Popular YouTuber Dunkey has revealed that he will be launching his own publisher, called Bigmode, to focus on indie games. There is a sense of logic to this, if you're prepared to look hard for it. Dunkey focuses a lot on indie games on his channel, and thus has a decent level of appreciation for what makes a good game, as well as a successful game. He's also made enough money from his channel to branch out, and this is a smaller leap than protein shakes or NFTs or a stock trading app. He's a gaming content creator, so games publishing makes sense. Unfortunately, being able to spot a good game once it's out in the world all finished and shiny is not the most important skill in becoming a games publisher, and when Dunkey is seemingly boastful that that's all he brings to the table, it doesn't seem like this is going to end well.
Hubris, thy name is YouTuber! This is the second big news story to come from YouTube this week, following news that mysterious leaker TheRealInsider was not a mastermind nor an old school investigative reporter bringing news to the masses, but just Dan Allen Gaming breaking embargoes. Most of the stuff he leaked I already knew, because I'd signed the same embargoes - I just didn't try to make life harder for PR, publishers, journalists, content creators, and fans by blabbing about it to make myself feel like a big shot. Other inside stories from TheRealInsider were in fact TheFakeLies, as he admitted his rumour on the Silent Hill remakes was "bullshit" and that his prediction of God of War: Ragnarok in the PS Showcase, as well as being a very obvious thing that was going to happen, came after Christopher Judge had already teased it. Dunkey going into publishing isn't related to Dan Allen Gaming, but the timing makes it difficult not to draw comparisons. In both cases, there's an air of arrogance and untouchability based on being popular on YouTube, and assuming that will always be enough to carry you through.
Gaming journalists and content creators are very different things. Both have their positives and negatives, and I don't think it helps anyone to start a pissing contest over it. There are things journos do better and things content creators do better. But the biggest difference is the tone of the audience. Gaming journalists face an increasingly hostile audience, one often stirred up by content creators and occasionally by developers when we dare to ask serious questions or interrogate their art. Literally today I had two messages in my Twitter inbox, even with my various filters, calling me a "dumb woke bitch", I think for suggesting that lots of games have come out since the last GTA so 6 will need to be special. Content creators are generally more positive, and with that comes less hard hitting questions and critique, less treating games as art to be examined and more as toys to have fun with. As a result, their audiences come to them to support them, to tell them they're great and to be their friend. It can have a dangerous effect on your ego, as Dan Allen proves. Dunkey is far more interrogative than your regular content creator, but this venture, and the way it was promoted, screams "I have had too much positive reinforcement and now I am invincible". It feels like the wings are made of wax, and all his fans can tell him is how beautiful the plumage is.
In the reveal video Dunkey says that across his 11 years on the channel, he has always tried to "slam dunk soulless cash grabs into the garbage" and has "sought out the best indie games and tried to do them justice", highlighting Untitled Goose Game, Spelunky, Hollow Knight, Celeste, Cuphead, Undertale, Hades, Neon White, and Rocket League as examples. None of those games listed are particular hidden gems - Celeste was even nominated for Game of the Year at The Game Awards alongside Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, and God of War. Hades went head to head with The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Knowing that Undertale is a good video game does not qualify you to be a publisher. His channel is "for gamers who actually care about video games", and that is his channel is the place to be to find great games to play. So if you hadn't heard of Rocket League, now's your chance!
He also claims he understands "which ideas always work and which ideas never work", which he does not. No one does. You think game devs sit around and go "let's do a bad idea this time!"? It's the height of arrogance to think that playing games on YouTube, many of which were critically acclaimed before you got your hands on them, qualifies you to do this. However, I hope he succeeds. The branding is strangely negative for Dunkey, seeming to claim that all publishers are shysters and most indie devs don't really know what they're talking about, but another publisher championing fresh indie ideas is welcome. There's room for another Annapurna or Devolver. It just feels as though this is going to end in tears.
Obviously, Dunkey is not doing this alone. Perhaps he's more the face of the company, and people with more business sense and a greater understanding of the mechanics of publishing will be the ones pulling the strings while Dunkey merely dances on stage. I wish him well in this venture, especially for the sake of the indie games Bigmode will soon be overseeing, but the reveal video felt like everything wrong with how gaming sees publishers - as money hungry goblins with no idea of the industry, making bad games on purpose, and with no appreciation for art, rather than (for the most part, especially at an indie level) being just a bunch of hard working people up against difficult deadlines, budgets, and technical difficulties trying to do the best with what they have.