Gaming Editor Benjamin Oakden gives his opinion on videogamedunkey’s new publishing company ‘Bigmode’

Written by Benjamin Oakden
Redbrick Gaming Editor, Third-year history student, Chairman of the Ryan Yates Open Water Swimming Society
Last updated

In April 1968, at the height of their global fame, influence, and artistry, the Beatles set up their own company, Apple Corps. The main goal of the company was to provide a platform for talented unknown artists to get their break in the music industry. Adverts were placed in newspapers encouraging fans to send in demo tapes, with the chance of using Apple’s facilities to record their songs, which would then be released through the company’s record label. It was an altruistic vision, with Paul McCartney proudly proclaiming “we’ve already bought all of our dreams. We want to share that possibility with others”.

The result? Apple received so many demo tapes that their entire office was overloaded just for storing them, with the switchboard and conference room being bombarded. It says something about the quality of the demos on offer that, out of the hundreds of applications they received from artists, both musical and con, not a single contract was offered. Haemorrhaging money, the company was scaled back and almost completely mothballed in the 1970s, now only existing as a holding company for Beatles assets and target practice for the legal team of the far more famous Apple Inc.

The Beatles founded Apple Corps in January 1968

We’ve already bought all of our dreams. We want to share that possibility with others

So, when popular YouTuber videogamedunkey announced that he would be starting his own indie gaming company, Bigmode, it was hard not to draw comparisons to the Beatles’ ill-fated misadventure into publishing. Dunkey, real-name Jason Gastrow, claimed in his announcement video that he wanted Bigmode to act as a ‘seal of approval’ for indie games in a crowded landscape, offering budding indie developers the chance to submit their games on the company website, with Bigmode publishing the project, networking the developer with other staff members and receiving the promotion of Gastrow’s YouTube channel. Set up as a joint effort with Gastrow’s wife, Leah, the company is looking to deal exclusively with games that offer ‘originality’, ‘passion’, and ‘artistry’, with Gastrow pointing to his extensive record of highlighting and reviewing video games on his channel as proof of his ability to take the leap into publishing.

The first thing that seems appropriate to do is to praise the pair on their bold and passionate vision. Taking the step from YouTuber to publisher is a massive step that, while no doubt designed to turn a profit, seems genuinely motivated by a desire to better the gaming industry. While Gastrow’s videos are often comedic in tone, his genuine love of the medium often shines through, with him playing a wide variety of genres, reviews that show a deep level of understanding of video game history and design, and, appropriately, has gained consistent praise for putting indie games on the same pedestal given to bigger-budget titles. And yet, as the Beatles found out, running a business is a far harder, messier and more expensive task.

As the Beatles found out, running a business is a far harder, messier and more expensive task

When we look at the two cases in parallel, the first question that the Gastrows face is, how are they going to filter their applicants? The Beatles received far more demo tapes than they could possibly sit through, with any genuine talent washed away by a sea of mediocre efforts and obsessed fans that made discovering artists an impossible task. Bigmode allows games to be submitted directly over the website to Gastrow’s international audience- fans don’t even have to pay for the magazine and postage stamp needed to send music to Apple. 

Given the fact that videogamedunkey videos are filled with running jokes, and that Gastrow is known to have legions of fans that repeat those jokes across the internet, expect Bigmode to be showered with countless jokey responses before a single serious applicant can be found, never mind one that shows any actual talent. The website doesn’t even require the applicant to submit a demo or any assets, merely an idea – what’s to stop the pair from being strung along by swindlers with no real development talent? Employing staff to help the couple tackle the oncoming waves of submissions may be wise but, since the announcement video sold the company as a personal venture based on Jason’s talent at judging quality games, having employees do the job for him would be a betrayal of their own concept.

Questions also must be raised about their talent spotting ability

Along with filtering issues, questions also must be raised about their talent spotting ability. While I have always found Gastrow to be an excellent judge of quality in games, that is of course subjective, with some criticising him for coming to opinions too quickly and for having a dislike for certain genres, particularly JRPGs. In addition, while the announcement video sees Gastrow boast about the respectable level of coverage of indie games on his channel, some of the examples he gives, including Undertale, Cuphead and Celeste, are all titles which had already launched to significant hype and critical acclaim. While the channel has highlighted smaller indies too, there is undoubtedly a massive difference between recognising the quality of a game when it has been polished and publicly released, compared to recognising potential from a demo, asset reel or concept.

At the time of publication, videogamedunkey has 7.25M subscribers

The final hurdle that the Gastrows must overcome is their lack of experience, both in game development and in running a business. The Beatles went into their ill-fated Apple Corps venture backed with immense musical talent and years of experience in producing records, and yet neither Jason nor Leah, both being content creators, have ever worked on a single game. Moreover, a significant reason for Apple’s failure was the Beatles’ decision to put their fingers into too many pies, setting up Film, Retail and Electronics branches of the company without necessary experience of those industries, and without competent management to make up the shortfall. Gastrow may well have proven that he has an eye for quality in video games, but with Bigmode promising to offer development support, community relations, porting, and localisation, it may be possible that the Gastrows may have bitten off more than they can chew.

We wish him every success in the world

Given the doubts around Bigmode’s public submission model and the lack of experience that the Gastrows have in game development and business management, it’s fair to say that they are facing an uphill battle with this venture. Their best chance of success may come from hiring experienced people to cover the many steps involved in game publishing, allowing the Gastrows to focus purely on spotting game ideas and developing talent. Jason and Leah may have one trick up their sleeve that the Beatles never did however- genuine passion for the company. Apple was only ever a side-project to the increasingly fractured Beatles, allowing them to play businessman for the day, quickly falling into disarray as they went back to their usual pursuits of music. To the Gastrows, however, Bigmode is a passion project, born out of a sheer love of gaming and a desire to give talented artists a platform for success. There are countless risks, and it will be a massive undertaking, but their vision of a developer-friendly publisher that seeks out truly original games is extremely commendable. For that, we wish him every success in the world.  

Watch videogamedunkey’s Announcement Video Here:

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