In 2003, everyone’s favorite entrepreneur, Wario, had an idea. Instead of spending all his time making one big game, he would aggregate several smaller games, put them together in a curated collection, and distribute them.
He was ahead of his time.
We aren’t advocating for a new Warioware release (Well, we are. Warioware is awesome. It’s just not what we’re talking about here).
We are saying that there is a lot of power in the idea of creating a curated content platform for smaller games, and we might very see that happen in the future.
If you aren’t heavily into the indie game scene, then you probably get all your indie titles from Steam, Epic Games, or maybe even first-party digital stores on consoles. However, hundreds of thousands of indie titles come out on more indie-friendly platforms like Itch.io, Gamers Gate, and Game Jolt every day.
That’s just full titles. There are heaps more demos, alphas, and prototypes to play. They are all free, take no time to download and install, and can be played in a few minutes to a few hours. They are also some of the coolest experiences that are out there to be had, titles that fool around with genre and mechanics in ways AAA titles are afraid to.
And they are impossible to find. That’s the problem with any platform that has tons of titles. You have to go searching yourself. Every so often a neat title comes out and outlets pick it up, write an article about it, and it catches on in mainstream consciousness, but for each title that lucks out, there are hundreds and thousands of titles that don’t.
This is because curation on these platforms, and arguably curation on big platforms like Steam, is pretty bad. Sure it can show you the most popular games and it can sort by tags, but tags can sometimes be deceiving. Steam is trying to tailor recommendations to your preferences and they are getting there, but there is still a major barrier: cost.
It’s really difficult to take a chance on a lot of games on Steam because they cost money. Spending money on a game you never played before and know nothing about is always a crapshoot, and if you are living on a budget you’d likely be a little hesitant to make impulse purchases, and there aren’t a whole lot of games that have free demos.
But that’s not the case on platforms like Itch.io and GameJolt. Most of the games there have free demos, or are still in development and have free alphas. Yes, there are plenty of games you can buy and you should spend money to support your favorite developers, but the wealth of free gaming experiences is a truly untapped goldmine, both for gamers like us, and for developers in terms of exposure.
So the question is, how do you get these games in front of an audience?
This brings us back to Wario.
Wario is a genius. He predicted in 2003 that one of our primary methods of consuming media would be through short-form content. We all Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, all platforms build upon short easily digestible, and, more importantly, easily scrollable media. Each tiny bit of content on these platforms can be consumed in a short period of time. If you like it, you comment, share, and interact, and “the algorithm” will make choice pieces of content float to the top and curate them to people based on their preferences, followed tags, and general viewing history. If you don’t, just scroll past, no harm, no foul. This is our breakneck speed low attention high content social information age.
While lots of people like to pull an “old man yells at cloud” and complain about this media landscape, we think it can be harnessed for good. We have short-form platforms text, pictures, and video, why not games? Well, as we said before there are platforms that have tons of short-form proof of concept games. All that would have to be done is to package them in a familiar social media formula.
So here’s the thought. Think of a service like TikTok. You get to scroll through game after game, watching a video or trailer being played. At any time, you can click play, and BOOM, you are trying the game out. This can be done with game streaming, especially since most of these small indie games don’t take a whole lot of graphical processing power. You play for a bit in some shortened demo version of the game, see if you like it, give it a few comments, and then scroll on to the next one. Or maybe you just scroll to the next one if you are bored. If you find one you really like, you can purchase the full version, or pre-order it if it’s not out yet, or perhaps even just wish to list it.
In a perfect world where our game streaming services aren’t so... bad… you could do this with AAA gaming platforms like Steam too. It would require many, MANY more games to have available demos, or at the very least publishers would have to be comfortable with users playing small snippets of an otherwise complete game.
Why do this? Well, social media platforms are built around one philosophy: ease of access. Absurd ease of access. They want nothing coming between you and the content that you scroll through endlessly. They want to keep your eyes on their platform. It’s how they make money.
And ease of access is, in fact, one of gaming’s biggest problems right now. Finding, trying, and buying games that fit your tastes is still kind of difficult. It requires a lot of research, a lot of skepticism, and a lot of purchases that end up being duds. Yes, this model works just fine now, but it could be better. Why not harvest the immense attention retaining power of social media for the good of gaming everywhere? Let’s face it, we aren’t going to be getting our demos at events like E3 anymore. The pandemic saw fit to put a stop to that. So we might as well think of new and interesting ways to try games that we might potentially love.
I mean what else are we going to do, bring back Blockbuster Video? Ugh… perish the thought.