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Game Industry Rebel Devolver Launches Money-Grubbing Mobile Game Without A Hint Of Irony

TheGamer 1/29/2023 Eric Switzer
© Provided by TheGamer

If the game industry was a high school, Devolver Digital would be the motorcycle guy who smokes cigarettes during P.E. and calls the principal by his first name. The indie publisher has spent years cultivating the image of a rebellious disruptor that isn’t afraid to criticize and undermine the rest of the industry. This is best exemplified by the publisher’s annual E3 showcase, which presents Devolver as a comically evil parody of triple-A companies, but it also satirizes the industry with other viral marketing campaigns such as the Devolverland Expo - a ‘marketing simulator’ set in an abandoned convention center - and Devolver Bootleg - a collection of rip-offs of Devolver’s most popular games.

Devolver gets away with criticizing the game industry because it has the games to back it up. It’s in a position to mock the greedy, anti-consumer antics of other publishers because it stays out of the muck. There’s an implicit statement Devolver makes every time it lampoons the industry in one of its showcases: other publishers are driving the industry towards total ruin with microtransaction-filled games and soulless cash-grabs, but we still make good ol’ fashioned video games. It’s true. From Hotline Miami to Cult of the Lamb, Devolver has an impeccable track record for making hit indie games and avoiding the temptation to bilk its fans - until now.

Related: The Devolver Digital Showcase Got Me More Excited For Games Than 2 Hours Of Summer Game Fest

The newest game from the industry’s most self-aware publisher is Devolver Tumble Time, a generic mobile matching game that wouldn’t even be worth mentioning if not for Devolver’s carefully cultivated image. Tumble Time brings together dozens of characters from almost all of Devolver’s most popular games and transforms them into cutesy icons that you can mindlessly tap away while you watch MILF Manor. So many characters from fantastic games such as The Messenger, Minit, Observation, Crossing Souls, and Downwell, reduced to meaningless symbols for exactly the kind of game Devolver routinely makes fun of. For most other companies this would be a quintessential example of ‘making your IP work for you’, but for Devolver it’s a nightmarish display of a publisher abandoning its values.

At first I assumed there was more to Tumble Time than what it appears to be. I thought if I played for a while I’d eventually stumble upon a dark storyline that deconstructs these kinds of free-to-play mobile games, or some kind of Frog Fractions game within a game. I bought some Gems - one of Tumble Time’s six premium currencies - and expected a fake-out that would instead mock me for trying to spend money. Unfortunately none of that happened, and Tumble Time is nothing more than the worst example of what mobile has to offer.

It has everything you hate about mobile games. You can only play so many rounds until you run out of energy and have to wait to play more (or spend money), it has loot boxes for earning new, more powerful characters (which cost money), and it has a mess of overlapping currencies without any apparent use or determinable value. Don’t forget to keep coming back for those daily and weekly log-in bonuses, and when you run out of lives, there’s a nice big link on the main menu to Devolver’s merch shop.

It’s fitting that the Disneyfication of Devolver Digital would start with a rip-off of a Disney game. Tumble Time is just Disney Tsum Tsum with Devolver characters. There’s nothing original or creative about Devolver’s take on Tsum Tsum, but why should that stop it from making some money, right?

It’s pretty dire to think that this is just the end game for anyone that makes cool things. Devolver spent years publishing great games, building goodwill, and fostering a loyal fanbase, only to throw all of it away for the least creative mobile game imaginable. Was that always a goal? Is the whole point of building up a good reputation just so you can sell out eventually? Tumble Time certainly isn’t the most egregious thing a game publisher has ever done, but it’s painful to see Devolver heel turn like this. This is the company that said you don’t need to wring every single dollar possible out of your IP, and now it’s doing exactly that. Maybe it was naive to think that a big publisher like Devolver could actually have values, and capitalism is just going to do what capitalism does no matter what, but I also don’t think we can let Devolver pretend to be the cool kid sticking it to the man anymore.

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