The biggest critic in gaming is getting into publishing. Jason “videogamedunkey” Gastrow announced in his latest YouTube video that he and his wife, Leah Gastrow, will run a new indie label called Bigmode dedicated to discovering and evangelizing the best games that haven’t even been made yet. “I’m sick of sitting on the sidelines waiting for great games to appear,” the YouTuber said. “Now I want to get in there and help make it happen.”
Gastrow is far and away the most dominant YouTuber when it comes to game reviews, with polished videos featuring a mix of running gags and unvarnished opinions consistently garnering millions of views. He now says he wants to take his years of tastemaking and funnel it toward helping new indie projects stand out in the current “sea of mediocrity.” As examples of what he’s looking for, he cites some of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed indie games in recent years like Enter the Gungeon, Celeste, and Hades.
So what exactly will having Gastrow publish your game entail? The YouTuber doesn’t go into many specifics, but claims Bigmode’s contracts will be the most developer friendly out there and won’t limit creative freedom. “I am not looking for creative control over your games but I do want to be involved,” he said. The announcement video ends with a call for developers and studios to go to Bigmode’s website and share their projects and portfolios.
It’s not uncommon for big gaming personalities to collaborate on individual games or even have ones made as part of the overall promotion of their brand. Comedy gaming channel Game Grumps previously made the move into development with the release of dating sim Dream Daddy in 2017. But launching an entire publishing business is no side-hustle, and the space is already full of other established players as the indie gaming scene exploded over the past decade.
Typically, publishers help fund the development of a game and pay for its distribution, marketing, and other logistical necessities in return for a cut of any revenue it makes. It’s often not until those initial costs are paid for in game sales that the original developers begin to see any profit, which can take days, weeks, or years depending on how successful the game is.
One thing Gastrow is promising is that the financial incentives around his new business venture won’t skew or dilute the opinions on his gaming channel. Reviewers on YouTube have long promoted themselves as fearless and uncompromised voices who aren’t beholden to anyone but their audience. The subtext is that the opinions they share are authentic, while everyone else is a shill. That’s certainly one of the messages in Gastrow’s announcement video.
“For gamers that actually play and care about video games, my channel is where they come to find out what’s actually worth playing, and I want all of the real deal gamers out there to know that I would never risk the legitimacy of my channel to push some junk-ass video games I don’t believe in,” he said. Of course, figuring out which game will be the next Cuphead and which will be just another trash imposter during the early phases of development is very different from pointing out that the latest blockbuster sequel is broken and boring.
Gastrow goes on to say that his videos will remain mostly funny and lighthearted, while also serious and heavy-hitting when necessary, and that Bigmod will be a “harmonious” continuation of that ethos. We’ll see how that ambition pains out when the label’s first game releases.