Dunkey launches Bigmode, indie video game publishing company

Video game content creator Jason “Videogamedunkey” Gastrow has established himself as one of the most popular satirists, critics and video essayists in the field. This week, the YouTuber added a new role to his resume: video game publisher.

Gastrow, whose distinct comedic voice has earned him an audience of millions, will bankroll video games of his choosing through a newly formed independent game publisher, Bigmode, co-founded with his wife and fellow content creator Leah “Leahbee” Gastrow.

Dunkey, as the creator is best known, announced the news Wednesday on his YouTube channel. In a video, Gastrow recounted his own career as a content creator dedicated to highlighting “truly inspired works of art” in video games, while excoriating titles he described as “soulless cash grabs.” Gastrow said he was inspired to start Bigmode out of a desire to help create good indie games in a market he referred to as “a sea of mediocrity,” where quality titles are buried by subpar releases.

“I am not looking for creative control over your games but I do want to be involved,” said Gastrow in his video as a pitch to potential clients. “Bigmode will be all about building up the games and the developers. We’ve put a lot of effort into making the most developer friendly contracts possible. I think we’re going to bring insane value to the table[.]”

In the announcement, Gastrow said he would be a good publisher because of his decade long experience as a game critic. He also assured his audience that his content would remain unchanged moving forward.

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Gastrow is the latest in a wave of influencers who have dipped their toes into game development. Gaming collective One True King invested a minority stake in Notorious Studios, which is working on a fantasy role-playing game. Esports organization 100 Thieves is developing its own shooter title. The controversial streamer Guy “Dr Disrespect” Beahm co-founded the studio Midnight Society to develop a game with blockchain capabilities. (Before streaming, Beahm worked as a community manager and level designer for Sledgehammer Games).

However, not many influencers have started publishing companies. Gastrow joins the Game Grumps (a YouTube collective that published “Dream Daddy” and “Soviet Jump Game”) as one of the few creators involved in shipping titles.

As a prominent figure in the gaming industry — Gastrow has 7.2 million subscribers and 3.5 billion views on YouTube alone — Gastrow’s unveiling of Bigmode immediately drew a mix of responses. Most of the discussion centered around Gastrow’s lack of experience in game development: He has never made or published a game before.

“It’s exciting to have more publishers catering to new audiences — friendly competition between publishers is excellent for developers, signals potentially better terms for teams and creates a hopeful future for a more inclusive creative economy — especially when players are involved in the co-creative process,” wrote Evva Karr, founder and CEO of video game consultancy Glitch, in an email to The Washington Post. In the past, Karr worked on strategic partnerships at Activision Blizzard, and as a publishing consultant at Riot Games.

Still, Karr wrote, “it can be challenging to balance a hands-off approach while also having enough creative control to deliver the best game possible to players. It’s tough to ship, sell, market games, negotiate with platforms, navigate distribution channels, plus advocate for and do right by the teams making them until you’re in the thick of it.”

Game journalist Danny O’Dwyer, founder of the video game documentary channel Noclip, raised concerns about Gastrow’s new venture while also wishing him the best. O’Dwyer tweeted that games criticism doesn’t translate to development ability, and that indie developers are unlikely to work with an untested publisher.

“I’ll just say I don’t know many indies who want an involved publisher with no experience or industry rep,” wrote O’Dwyer. “To me, his value is in selling exposure on his channel. Should be interesting to watch.”

Indie game designer Dave Hoffman, creator of the musical puzzle title Mixolumia, echoed O’Dwyer’s in a more critical tone.

“Dunkey starting a publishing company with the ethos ‘I have played so many games I know what makes them good and bad so I will only publish good ones’ about to learn some stuff the hard way,” tweeted Hoffman.

The video game review process is broken. It’s bad for readers, writers and games.

Obsidian Entertainment studio design director Josh Sawyer noted that lack of experience hasn’t stopped many other publishers and developers. Jason Schreier, journalist and author of the books “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels” (on the difficulties of game development) and “Press Reset” (on the volatile corporate environment of the video game industry) quipped that Bigmode is not exceptional among game publishers.

“Can’t believe Dunkey started a video game publisher with no experience instead of taking the normal approach: getting a Harvard MBA, working at McKinsey for five years and then failing upward between C-suites for the rest of your life,” wrote Schreier on Twitter.

Both Jason and Leah Gastrow tweeted out their thanks to supporters who had praised Bigmode’s unveiling.

“The response to Bigmode has been incredible!” tweeted Dunkey. “Thank you so much everyone we can’t wait to bring you some great stuff.”

Bigmode’s website is live and receiving applications from developers. Interested particles can specify publishing needs such as porting, marketing, localization, public relations and funding requirements. Notably, Bigmode is rejecting any projects that make use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrency or any other form of blockchain technology.

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