Fresh Look Celebrates Innovative Publishers Like Hooded Horse

Readers, I have been covering video games for a long time. Generally, I have been a grumpy, negative type of reporter in regard to market shifts. Part of the reason for this is that I have been playing for many gaming generations. It can make someone cynical when they have seen that so many “new” ideas are just repackaged from generations ago. This has been especially true for me lately as I am watching so many developers closed down by AAA publishers in order to boost shareholder margins. Not only does this mean the loss of whatever potentially innovative games the developers were working on, but it also means a loss of jobs as talented developers and their support staff are booted from their former studios.

Despite all of this, I have been seeing a ray of hope. Relatively new publisher Hooded Horse is bucking this trend and offering an alternative viewpoint where publishers actually respect the developers that they work with. And the results for Hooded Horse have been really good, as titles like Manor Lords and Against the Storm have been published by them to great acclaim. In fact, Hooded Horse is rapidly becoming my favorite publisher.

Most of the time, Hooded Horse officials live up to my high expectations in this area. For example, in a recent interview, CEO Tim Bender made the following statement:

“You know, [there are publishers that will] sign five games. Four will flop. One will succeed. And they forget about the flops and put all of their efforts into the one that’s perceived as having the highest ROI.”

Bender mentioned that this could allow publishers to ignore potential great titles if they aren’t financially strong from the onset. I agree with Bender and welcome a publisher calling out some industry trends. It also shows us how a publisher can be patient and provide their developers support. In fact, it leads me to my main point about this article:

Video games are art.

In all honesty, I feel like the AAA games market has become oversaturated with bland, safe titles that are nothing but endless sequels or reboots. I am so grateful that the indie market is thriving. It’s also great that publishers like Hooded Horse exist that want to develop unique games that enhance the art. I don’t know of a single publisher that would take a chance on a game as unique Against the Storm, which is a combination city builder and roguelike.

The layoffs that racked the industry have been nothing short of substantial. According to Beebom, there have been over 9,100 layoffs since the start of this year alone. I get it, sometimes restructurings happen. But some of these studios are legacy ones that were bought up by bigger publishers and then closed within a year. Business culture has become too focused on year over year growth, exceeding profit projections, and bolstering sales to cover astronomical budget projections.

Video games are far from the only industry that has this sort of mentality. And I’m not naive enough to think that companies don’t need to make a profit. That said, if a publisher’s main goals when starting a video game project are about maximizing revenue and profit margins, then the effort is already off to a bad start. Games should be developed and published with gamers in mind. A part of me wonders what would happen to legacy franchises if artists took over with a non-corporate mindset.

I have tried to make this column as positive as possible since my boss does not like me putting on my grumpy pants all the time. I just find myself struggling with disappointment that so many titles are releasing these days that feel kind of underwhelming. Rumor has it that Star Wars: Outlaws is just the typical Ubisoft sandbox with Star Wars wallpaper. The first college football title releasing in over a decade looks like a microtransaction-littered Madden carbon copy. Sometimes, I just find the selection of video games is too underwhelming.

The one thing that helps alleviate the stress of the industry is there are still great publishers and developers who put their heart and souls into titles. I have not had nearly as much fun lately as I had with Against the Storm, Manor Lords, Palworld, and 7 Days to Die.

I know we can never go back to the past, but I just hope that talented indie developers and forward-thinking publishers like Hooded Horse can continue to support building better and more innovative titles in the future. It’s what all of us gamers need and deserve.

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