Matt S: What was the appeal of doing a physical collection of itch.io games?
Ryan B: Developers from the small indie game scene on sites like itch.io and GameJolt are frustratingly overlooked by the entire industry, but I’ve been invested in the scene for more than 15 years now, before the big commercial indie game boom, and I’ve always found it to hold some of the most creative ideas. There ars literally thousands of gems on this scene from incredibly talented developers who deserve to have their work seen and played far more than they do currently.
This idea is something I’ve wanted to do for many, many years, long before I started at Super Rare Games. I think physically preserving these indie games is important – nobody else is doing anything like this. I once had to email an indie dev a copy of their own game for a talk they were doing – it had long been removed from the Internet and they didn’t know anyone that had a copy of it anymore. That seems absurd to me. As with all Super Rare Games goods, I’ll be assuring relevant museums can archive a copy of each Mixtape too.
Matt S: itch.io has such an incredible range of games that have been released for it. How did you go about forming your “tracklist”?
Ryan B: Honestly, a lot of it is just personal picks! The project in general is a personal passion project, so while I’ve intentionally pitched for games that I think add to the overall variety in regards to their different genres and art styles, many are here simply because they came to mind! I have a list of hundreds and hundreds of games I’d like to physically preserve in the future, of all different genres and release periods, so fingers crossed we get to do that in the future.
Matt S: What has it been like working with developers to pull this collection together, given that itch.io also features so many passion projects and games by people who aren’t all that interested in commercialising their work. Did you run into any resistance along the way?
Ryan B: Every single developer I spoke to for this was incredibly humble, kind, and excited by the idea of the project, which was really touching. Each developer is paid a small amount for allowing their game to be included on the Mixtape, and of course, we hold absolutely no rights or exclusivity whatsoever, so I guess it very much felt like a ‘why not’ scenario for most developers to have their games physically preserved and to be sent a copy.
Matt S: What do you think of itch.io itself? Obviously, you use the platform, but what strengths do you think it has in comparison to EGS or Steam?
Ryan B: Oh yeah, itch.io is wonderful. It’s DRM-free and lets devs take more of a cut if they’re selling their game on the service. But even for free titles, game jam entries etc, it’s just an ocean of creativity, where developers are making what they want to make, often unbound by the necessity of commercial viability.
Matt S: This is the first time you’ve tried this kind of publishing project, but what kind of expectations do you have – who will buy it and why?
Ryan B: One benefit of this completely being a personal passion project means that, much like many of the developers from this scene, we’re not really worrying about commercial viability. We just want to highlight some of these devs and preserve these titles – if we sell out of Volume 1, we basically break even. With that said, of course I think this brand new idea has a lot of appeal! Indie game lovers, physical game collectors and preservationists, fellow indie devs, people who remember the days of PS1 and PC compilation and demo discs… that’s really the vibe we’re going with here.
Matt S: I assume the future of the project depends on sales, but what kind of opportunity do you see for this concept? Could we have themed editions down the track (you should see how many VNs are on itch.io!)
Ryan B: My plan was to eventually do 3-4 volumes a year as well as themed editions; so that could be genre themes, or a Christmas, Halloween, or LGBT+ themed set. I have tons of ideas swimming around my head, but I think the standard volume format will always be the primary focus – as you say, it really all depends on whether Vol. 1 shows an interest in this concept or not. And if not, hey, I’m just thankful I got to realise my dream for even one volume.
Matt S: Can you tell me how you arrived at the aesthetic for the collection – it seems to me to be very street art inspired. Is there a reason for that?
Ryan B: Oh, that’s interesting! I was going for a general demo disc/mixtape-y kinda vibe, having grown up with PS1 demo discs and PC DOS compilation CDs. The cover art is actually inspired by the key art of Super Smash Bros. Brawl – I thought that the spiral effect would be a really cool way to show off most of the games in the package, and I wanted to make sure most developers had a spotlight on the cover.
Matt S: The collection does seem to be very “western”-orientated. Was it just language barriers that made it difficult to reach out to, say, Japanese indies with games on itch.io?
Ryan B: Definitely not intentional – language barriers can, unfortunately, make projects like this complicated, but I have many non-Western games on my wishlist for future volumes that I’ll hopefully be pursuing!
Matt S: Why a USB drive rather than a disc?
Ryan B: Partially accessibility, as many laptops and desktop PCs no longer have CD drives, but virtually all of them have USB drives. The other part is really just for the cool tape cassette shape, which I think makes it a cool displayable collectible in its own right if taken out of the box. Basically, I just thought it looked cool!
Matt S: Finally, which of these games would you particularly highlight as the ones people should look at playing first?
Ryan B: Every game is on here deliberately for a reason to add variety, whether they’re long, short, have mass appeal, or are more experimental – every inclusion is intentional and worth checking out. Picking some examples though, Paint Game was the title I used for my internal pitch for the project; it’s basically a virtual colouring book that you can walk around. It’s something you don’t see in commercial indie games, which was really the key pitch point for me.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb