Insomniac Games has a new title in the works: Song of the Deep, a waterlogged metroidvania (the exact term the studio uses on the game's website) starring a little girl who searches for her missing father in the depths of the ocean.
Song of the Deep has an interesting premise, and it looks beautiful -- plus there aren't too many people who would say "no" to a well-constructed 2D metroidvania title that resembles a mix of 2007's Aquaria and the classic arcade shooter In the Hunt. But here's what makes Song of the Deep particularly eye-catching: It's being published by GameStop.
Yes, the same GameStop where you presumably buy, sell, and trade your games, provided you still stock your game library with physical copies.
But a lot of people don't collect hard copies of their games any more, certainly not with the frequency they used to. That's what makes the chain's partnership with Insomniac so interesting: The game market is undergoing a shift, and with less demand for "the real thing," GameStop has been scrambling to find ways to survive.
It dabbles in sales of phones and tablets. It publishes Game Informer magazine. But few of us predicted it'd just jump directly into game publication. It's certainly not a bad idea, given how closely the company has its ear to the ground regarding market trends.
In that vein, there's understandably some worry that GameStop will use its wealth of data to strong-arm the studios it represents into making artistic indie games more marketable. "Throw some football in there! Or guns! How about football with guns?"
But as far as Song of the Deep is concerned, GameStop has seemingly been hands-off for now.
"Insomniac owns the intellectual property. We have full creative control over what the game is and how it's being developed," Insomniac Games' founder, Ted Price, announced. "GameStop has been incredibly collaborative and supportive of everything we're doing.
"When [GameStop's Mark Stanley] and I were talking about how the market's evolving and looking ahead and bringing more to players, we started connecting on that particular topic, and we were serendipitously working on a pitch for Song of the Deep, and sparks ignited."
For his part, Stanley describes the partnership as "very natural," emphasizing that GameStop will let "artists do their job" while the game retailer handles the promotion and publishing.
Unsurprisingly, physical copies of Song of the Deep will be available exclusively through GameStop, though the digital game will be downloadable on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 by summertime. GameStop locations will also sell merchandise related to the game, including PopVinyl figures.
Is this the official start of GameStop's publishing business? That remains to be seen, as Stanley says the chain is treating Song of the Deep as a kind of test case.
Game publishing could definitely be an effective way for the giant to ground itself in these changing times, though. While people casually download games at an increasing rate, there's certainly still demand for physical media. Some people can't spare the hard drive space, and some people have crummy Internet connections or low bandwidth. Most importantly, there is still a huge portion of the population for whom buying video games (particularly for a young grandchild) still means walking into an actual store and saying to the clerk, "One Mario, please." These customers still want and need a personal touch when they shop, even if that means getting a particular title means going to GameStop instead of Target or Wal-Mart.
GameStop exclusives aren't a new idea, but there isn't much reason to begrudge GameStop's exclusivity as long as the game is still available digitally -- and as long as GameStop truly keeps its fingers out of the creative process. We're definitely interested to see what its future publishing plans entail.