On ‘Twitter Games’

As I teeter between web and game development, and as trailers have been firing from all cannons this week, I’ve naturally been keeping tabs on what kind of new releases and developments are popping up on my social feeds. Instead, I found a lot of familiar releases and developments. Strangely familiar. A kind of same-ey-ness that I just don’t remember the (English-speaking) indie game scene having before.

My gut thought it might have something to do with the biggest game dev youtube channels, which might have spread the exact same design philosophies to a whole generation of new developers. That might have something to do with it, but after thinking for some time, I concluded that it’s more likely just the most marketable ideas floating to the top of the algorithms. Naturally, these just so happen to be the games that are recognizable, easy to meme and caption, and look the most interesting in a 10-second social media video.

For about a year now, I’ve come to start calling this kind of game design philosophy a ‘Twitter Game’. It’s something very particular and easily felt when you hear the term, but not quite as easy to describe. ‘Twitter Games’ will have a stylish parry button, an invariably ‘cozy’ pastel art style, speedrun-friendly mechanics, and a bunch of pop culture quips for characters. You’ll find it all crammed into a game you’re certain you’ve already played a decade ago, with a central mechanic taken from your favorite indie game of yesteryear. The self-aware story beats in the trailer won’t suspend your disbelief at all, but there’ll be enough cameos and nods to other games you like that you won’t mind it at all.

And while this approach to game design isn’t bad in itself, I can’t shake the feeling that the games I’m seeing share a whole trunk of design decisions instead of just the roots. It’s almost like someone’s held them all to a set of rules which can no longer be broken. Even as I type this I start to question, perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking of it as a problem at all? Gamers are getting their nostalgia pandered to, mercy mechanics and accessibility options are closer to being a standard, and most people consider these to be net positives. Even if it technically reduces the diversity of game releases, isn’t having lots of games with broad and reliable appeal a good thing for both creator and consumer? I’m not sure if there’s a certain answer.

My only real worry about this emerging pattern would be if it’s an emergent bias that some developers themselves are unaware of. I can totally understand devs who are making a ‘twitter game’ for common-sense marketing reasons. Though with ‘high-budget’ entertainment media making sequels and rehashes for the foreseeable future, as a customer I don’t want to see the same kind of homogeneity happen to indie games. I personally try to keep a conscious eye on where exactly my ideas for games are sourced from, and I hope that mindfulness will help a future title stand out from the ocean in a more organic way. But until then, and in short? I really want to see more games that are unafraid to go against the grain, even if just a little.

Give me some low-poly graphics that do their own thing, instead of strictly emulating Silent Hill and Jet Set Radio. Show me more indie fighting games that spare a thought away from 30-second cutscene combos. Tease me with a platformer that isn’t a airdash-centric and smothered in lightyears of Coyote Time. Or if you really want to surprise me, show me a western indie release this year where you can’t pet the dog.






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