Dunkey is going Big Mode – Can the Youtuber succeed as a Publisher?

Youtuber VideoGameDunkey (Jason Gastrow) uploaded a video two days ago where he announced his launch of BigMode, his Indie Publishing Company. In that video he makes some big claims, not only will he get eyes on your game, provide the best contracts in the business but also only publish good, fun games. The reaction to the announcement was mixed, people were excited at what they saw as potentially a “company of the people” but there was also a considerable backlash especially from industry professionals about whether or not Dunkey would be able to hold up his part of the promise when he has little relevant experience.

What does it mean to be a Publisher?

If we’re going to speculate on the success of BigMode we first have to define what a Publisher does, thankfully the website tells us what services Dunkey wishes to provide.

Screenshot from the BigMode publishing application. (24.9.22)

For simplicity’s sake there are four categories: Funding, Marketing, Other Services and Community support. The edges of these categories are blurry as they are related but let’s discuss them as such. Let’s go through them point by point. First of all funding.

It’s not clear how much liquid capital is available for BigMode, different websites estimate Gastrow’s Net-worth to be somewhere between 2-7 million Dollars, of course these websites are notoriously unreliable. What we can do is estimate the following, since the company at the moment probably only consists of Dunkey and Leah and likely only has the regular cost of running the website we can assume that all other operating costs will consist of funding developers and providing the listed services such as hiring temporary playtesters or translators. Depending on the projects BigMode takes on yearly costs can vary greatly but I would suggest they would be around the high five figures, conservatively. Funding also raises the question of return on investment and the aforementioned contracts. If we take a look at a generic Whitethorn agreement, how will the most important figures compare? Will a lower percentage of revenue (lower than 100%) go to BigMode as it seeks to make its money back? After it’s broken even, will the revenue shared be less than 10%? Will merchandise be publisher driven or will the developers get some greater amount of control over it. These are factors that developers should pay close attention to, especially those semi-amateurs that applied to BigMode out of a feeling of fandom. 

Marketing is the second thing a publisher has to provide. Nowadays this will likely be mostly social media driven, providing merchandise to influencers, promoting the game through Instagram or Twitter. But for the company’s biggest projects it will still likely come with the need to promote in more “traditional” ways, for example through the production of trailers, presentations, interviews, etc. Here, having an intimate knowledge of the market could be a great benefit.

Other services, such as localization and porting, are also something BigMode wants to provide. This comes as somewhat of a surprise as it really falls out of the area of expertise of Dunkey, given that fact and the size of the company we must assume that for the foreseeable future these tasks will be outsourced which can increase costs considerably but will likely be much more economical than building departments for it at this stage of the company.

The final, and overlooked part of BigMode’s operation is the community service it seeks to provide. Not only with regards to PR but also by being a hub for networking. I think this is probably the most interesting aspect, if developers find a community on BigMode, something with a friendlier face than LinkedIn it might help the company’s image a lot.

How will BigMode deliver?

Funding should be the most straightforward part of this operation assuming BigMode publishes successful and profitable games and Dunkey’s net-worth is close to those estimates. If I had to speculate then the company will likely take on one or perhaps two big projects that will get “full service” deals. Those will be Flagship projects that will try to prove to the public that BigMode can truly deliver on its promise of publishing “only good games”. These will likely be supplemented by a few medium sized deals that will possibly only involve services such as localization or ports and a number of small, four figure deals. Those last ones might be a big drain for the company as not all of them will be up to the standards BigMode needs to keep to right now.

Marketing on the other hand might be a more complicated affair. To start though, BigMode positions itself well by being attached to the name of Dunkey who can pull millions of views on a video. The difficulty will come with more specialized markets which might elude him but also with how he navigates promotion. Will he promote a game with micro-transactions if it’s deemed the only way to turn a certain game profitable? Will every game he publishes be featured on the channel, if so in what format? It’s important to keep the audience happy and not to annoy them. What we can look at for an indication of his behavior is Katana Zero, a game made by a friend, which he has mentioned on a number of occasions. Despite the connection he has refrained from promoting it heavily which I believe is a good sign that he is capable of being restrained in his use of his influence. The plan likely should be to make use of this while he networks in order to expand the company’s tool-set in the future. Tools like retail deals in markets that still rely more on physical products or premium deals for digital stores. In short the starting conditions are not bad for BigMode to succeed and will likely depend on more “boring” factors such as being able to discern which games will be profitable (rather than which games are “good”) in order to support a transition from a start-up to a more established company. For that, his promotion of Celeste before it became “big” can be a positive indication.

As the other services provided will likely “run by themselves” to a large extent they also don’t add anxiety to my estimation that, despite backlash, this company could very well be headed towards success. In fact, and so long no flagship titles get stuck in development hell, I predict a good first year for BigMode. I wish Jason & Leah, and more importantly I wish the developers working with BigMode, the best.

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