For us at Devolver Digital, watching people share their experience of our games online is, fundamentally, a joy.
It’s a joy that we share with almost every one of the developers — indie and otherwise — that we can think of. Witnessing someone really getting into a game that you’ve worked on is such a powerful experience, validating the years of hard work and dedication that it takes to produce and promote a fun and functional video game. (Hehe.)
Beyond that, it's given rise to a new kind of celebrity and we think that's kind of cool.
Hi, I’m JM from Devolver Digital, a publisher of particularly interesting video games like Broforce, The Talos Principle, Hotline Miami and the upcoming Absolver, among others. I want to sit down by the fire that you can’t see and talk about video games, Let’s Plays and streaming for a minute while I sip some bourbon out of a coffee mug.
We get more than sales out of streaming
Encouraging the community to create content for your games keeps them engaged, extends awareness of the games far beyond those who might take the time to read articles and official announcements and, again, it’s really fun.
Putting up walls between our artists' games and streamers or YouTubers does more harm than good. Aside from the obvious business benefits this content gives publishers and developers, there is a tangible emotional benefit for us as well.
We invited streamers to livestream Shadow Warrior 2 prior to its official launch and by our count, we've never had a more successful week on Twitch. More importantly, we had a lot of fun watching people experience the adventures of Lo Wang, some for the first time. That excitement and satisfaction was felt among everyone involved in the title, whether on the marketing, business or development side. It was indescribable, and one of the most memorable times in Devolver Digital's publishing history.
Best of all, this visibility is at no cost to the developer. Producing elaborate trailers and crafting announcement timelines are vital, but by allowing a fanbase to explore a game on their own by finding things they like about your game is a godsend, particularly after launch. If it’s too early to discuss sales figures, DLC plans or post mortems, supporting streamers is a great way to get additional promotion for your game. We have yet to meet a game developer who didn’t love the idea of fans passionately sharing their game.
This is one of the things that is often left out of this discussion: watching people stream your game as a publisher or developer is incredibly satisfying. It’s a rush when a talented streamer finds something cool in one of our games or they make a great joke when something unexpected happens in their play through. We care about our players, but we rarely get a chance to see them enjoy what we do outside of shows like PAX. The rise of streaming means that we can sit in with our players as they enjoy our games and share them with their community. That’s an amazing feeling.
And some people are really good at this streaming stuff. There are so many different ways for them to share the experience of your game. Some create thoughtful, engaging or interesting breakdowns, others resonate on a more emotional level. Some are just video game playin’ machines. I’ve seen people play DarkSouls II like a goddamn Stradivarius, and it’s exciting to find out what players like that can do with your games.
Speaking as the guy who had his nose “broken” on the Twitchcon stage last year, producing great content for your audience is rewarding in itself. We applaud the folks out there who take the extra step and are able to come up with informational, yet hilarious, content.
That kind of advertising is particularly valuable to those small developers who cannot make it to conventions like PAX — which are incredible for visibility — but most developers can’t realistically attend the ever-expanding gauntlet of often expensive shows to connect with their audience.
Nurturing engagement through livestreams or produced video content helps reach gamers who may never have the chance to meet on a show floor, and it gives them a chance to share a bond over something that they love with their friends. It’s a wonderful way to rally up fans before or after launch.
Livestreaming also presents a terrific way for developers and companies to connect directly with their audience. One of the best parts of my job is popping into livestreams of Devolver Digital games and dropping keys. Several of our developers will often do the same thing. We chat about upcoming titles and have fun answering whatever questions that people throw at us. Granted, that means enduring a lot of, “When’s Hotline Miami 3 coming out?” but it’s worth it.
The spoiler issue
So what about spoilers? Are you potentially hurting a game’s sales by letting streamers share narrative games?
In our experience, those fans keen on experiencing a game’s surprises firsthand won’t watch livestreams until they’ve played the game themselves. When Hotline Miami 2 came out, the ending of the narrative that began in the first game was widely available. We personally witnessed how the community of fans were eager to play through the game and experience it themselves before they watched any livestreams or Let's Plays of it, even those by their favorite streamers or YouTubers. The fans can decide what's best for themselves.
There is little evidence that limiting streaming helps sales anyway. Firewatch had plenty of streams at launch, and that game did alright.
Trading stories and secrets with friends the day after playing a scene is as valid a play style as ever, but it is increasingly overshadowed by the collaborative nature of witnessing moments with friends, be they beside you on a couch or with you among an audience.
At its core, Devolver Digital is just a small band of nerds who came together over a love of video games, art, artists and collaboration. Through pluck and luck, we’ve somehow managed to succeed at it. We feel a sort of kinship with the millions of streamers and other content creators and fans out there who, through their livestreams and Let's Plays, manage to connect with others and create communities. To quote Devolver Digital's Mike Wilson, "Sorry, Hokey Pokey, but that's what it's all about."
Going beyond the obvious promotional values of the content creation community, we greatly value the sheer entertainment that our artists' games bring to other gamers around the world and their audiences. We look forward to continuing to support them and thank them for choosing our games for their creations.
P.S. Buy our games.
JM Specht is Executive Director of Counterintelligence Operations at Devolver Digital and Head Scrub at Devolver Public Access (@DevolverPA), the streaming branch of the Devolver Digital publishing empire. twitch.tv/devolverdigital The secret code to unlock Hotline Miami 3 is buried somewhere in this article.