Yet another indie publisher has emerged, but this one comes from a company that has a considerable track record. 33 years in the business, in fact.
Hook is the new indie-focused publishing label from Italy-based Digital Bros Group, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal. The group has already enjoyed a number of indie hits over the years thanks to its subsidiary 505 Games, which has contributed to the success of Stardew Valley, Human Fall Flat and No Man’s Sky. But in recent years, the publisher has been focused on AAA products such as Control and Death Stranding, as well as investing in high-end indie endeavours such as Ghostrunner.
“505 Games is becoming more and more of an established publisher, having some nice successes with very established studios,” Digital Bros co-founder and CEO Raffaele ‘Raffi’ Galante tells us ahead of Hook’s official unveiling today. “At Hook, we’d like to give the opportunity to other, emerging talent that haven’t yet had the chance.”
There’s been a steady cadence of new indie publishers coming to market over the last five or six years, but Galante is confident that Hook will stand out thanks to its access to Digital Bros’ resources. The group was founded back in 1989 by Raffi and his brother Abramo ‘Rami’ Galante — putting the ‘bros’ in Digital Bros — and has since grown into a sizeable business.
In addition to 505 Games, Digital Bros also owns a number of development studios — including Assetto Corsa creator Kunos Simulazioni and indie team AvantGarden (formerly Ovosonico) — plus the educational institution Digital Bros Game Academy, which trains up new generations of developers. The company also has resources to handle submissions to various stores and platforms, as well as QA and localisation — all of which Hook will tap into.
Even the Hook team itself is a mix of Digital Bros Academy graduates and established professionals, with Galante telling us there’s an average of more than 15 years’ experience across the team.
“Hook is a start-up, but as a group we are not,” says Galante. “A worldwide presence through the Digital Bros network, as well as the relationships we’ve established with Microsoft, Nintendo, PlayStation, Steam, Apple and so on — that’s all part of the service.
“We admire and always learn from the other [indie publishers], we respect what those publishers are doing. Other indie publishers are very well organised, but we give [studios] the chance to reach the market globally.”
The QA and localisation resources are particularly important here, with Galante emphasising that: “We cannot deliver a game that does not have quality even if it’s coming from an indie publisher.”
Each title will be approached as a global release, with Hook not only targeting Western markets like the US, but also some Asian markets, including China and Japan.
“Sometimes games aren’t a global success, but will succeed if you focus on a specific region,” Galante adds. “If you don’t have good localisation, maybe you’ll miss the region that brings success to the game.”
“If you don’t have good localisation, maybe you’ll miss the region that brings success to the game”
Hook has signed a number of games, two of which have come to market. Hand-drawn Lovecraftian shooter Kingdom of the Dead debuted on Steam back in February, while horror themed rogue-lite Madshot entered early access last month. And today we can reveal Hook has signed Duality Games’ upcoming psychological horror Unholy, due for release later this year.
Despite the similar themes of these three titles, Galante is keen to emphasise that Hook plans to be a much broader indie publisher.
“We don’t want to be linked with one genre of title,” he says. “We want to give this opportunity to any indie studio with a great idea. It could be a shooter, a platformer, an adventure – we’re not going to have one strategy, we are very open. We’re not targeting one audience with one taste, we’re open to any audience in the market.
He adds: “If someone has a crazy idea, Hook is always happy to support it.”
This last comment references Hook’s main focus: finding games with a unique selling point. Even the publisher’s website immediately asks developers: “Do you have a vision? Does your game have a hook?” In an increasingly competitive industry where so many studios are exploring the same themes — a conversation amplified by the line-up at events like last month’s Summer Games Fest – having a unique selling point is vital, Galante says.
“This is what Hook is interested in, ideas that are different. It’s important to have a good idea, and be very brave with your idea. Other publishers might not do that, they might focus on the sequels. The ‘hook’ needs to be the reason you’re bringing this to market, and that comes from the creativity of the [developers].”
Crucially, Galante says the Hook team is determined to take an almost hands-off approach when it comes to the games themselves.
“We must not touch anything to do with creativity, we have to let them create everything,” he says. “We don’t want to manage them, this is something we have to avoid. We have to help them slowly, step by step, in order to make their idea happen. The creativity is important, and we are never, never to touch that.”
Galante estimate that Hook will aim to release around four to six games per year, although this will depend entirely on the team’s bandwidth and the needs of the studios it signs with. And while 505 Games may still work with some established independent teams, Hook will focus on forging ties with brand new studios, whether they’re newcomers or veteran developers branching out for the first time.
“Hook is a good way to keep Digital Bros close to the ground,” he concludes. “When you’re working with an established studio, it’s already very well organised. We need to understand what is coming in the future, but indie studios might be future AAA studios, maybe these teams will be acquired by the big studios.
“It’s a good opportunity for a company that has 505 for AAA Games and Hook to keep us close to the ground as well as giving opportunities to new talent.”