Another independent publisher has emerged, but this one comes from a company with a considerable track record. 33 years in the business, in fact.
Hook is the new independent publishing label of the Italian group Digital Bros, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal. The group has already chained indie successes over the years thanks to its subsidiary 505 Games, which contributed to the success of Stardew Valley, Human Fall Flat and No Man’s Sky. But in recent years, the publisher has focused on AAA products like Control and Death Stranding, as well as high-end indie investments like Ghostrunner.
“505 Games is increasingly becoming an established publisher, having some great success with very established studios,” Raffaele ‘Raffi’ Galante, co-founder and CEO of Digital Bros, told us ahead of Hook’s official unveiling today. . “At Hook, we would like to give the opportunity to other emerging talents who haven’t had the chance yet.”
There’s been a steady cadence of new indie publishers hitting the market over the past five or six years, but Galante is confident that Hook will stand out with its access to Digital Bros. resources. The group was founded in 1989 by Raffi and his brother Abramo ‘Rami’ Galante – putting the “bros” in Digital Bros – and has since grown into a major 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) – as well as educational institution Digital Bros. Game Academy, which trains new generations of developers. The company also has resources to handle submissions to various stores and platforms, as well as quality assurance and localization, which Hook will rely on.
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 over 15 years of experience on the team.
“Hook is a start-up, but as a group we are not,” says Galante. “A global presence through the Digital Bros network, as well as the relationships we have established with Microsoft, Nintendo, PlayStation, Steam, Apple, etc., is all part of the service.
“We always admire and learn from each other [indie publishers], we respect what these editors do. Other independent publishers are very well organized, but we give [studios] the chance to reach the global market.”
Quality assurance and localization resources are particularly important here, with Galante pointing out that: “We can’t deliver a game that lacks quality even if it comes from an independent publisher.”
Each title will be approached as a global release, with Hook targeting not only western markets like the US, but also select Asian markets including China and Japan.
“Sometimes games aren’t a global hit, but they will be successful if you focus on a specific region,” Galante adds. “If you don’t have a good localization, you may miss the region that makes the game successful.”
“If you don’t have a good localization, you may miss the region that makes the game successful”
Hook has signed a number of plays, two of which have hit the market. Lovecraftian hand-drawn shooter Kingdom of the Dead debuted on Steam in February, while horror-themed rogue-lite Madshot entered early access last month. And today we can reveal that Hook has signed Duality Games’ next psychological horror, Unholy, slated for release later this year.
Despite the similar themes of these three titles, Galante is keen to point out that Hook plans to be a much larger independent publisher.
“We don’t want to be tied to any kind of title,” he says. “We want to give this opportunity to any independent studio with a good idea. It could be a shooter, a platformer, an adventure – we’re not going to have a strategy, we’re very open. We don’t are not targeting an audience with a taste, we are open to any audience in the market.
He adds, “If anyone has a crazy idea, Hook is always happy to support it.”
This last comment refers to Hook’s main goal: 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 programming at events like last month’s Summer Games Fest — having a unique selling point is vital, Galante says.
“That’s what Hook is interested in, different ideas. 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 sequels. The ‘hook’ has to be the reason you put this on the market, and that comes from the creativity of the [developers].”
Importantly, Galante says Hook’s team is committed to taking a near-hands-off approach when it comes to the games themselves.
“You shouldn’t touch creativity, you have to let them create everything,” he says. “We don’t want to manage them, it’s something we have to avoid. We have to help them slowly, step by step, in order to bring their idea to fruition. Creativity is important, and we must never, ever touch that.”
Galante estimates that Hook will aim to release around four to six games per year, although this is entirely dependent on the bandwidth of the team and the needs of the studios it signs with. And while 505 Games may still work with some established indie teams, Hook will focus on building relationships with all-new studios, whether they’re newcomers or seasoned developers branching out for the first time.
“Hook is a good way to keep Digital Bros close to the ground,” he concludes. “When you work with an established studio, it’s already very well organized. We have to understand what’s coming in the future, but independent studios could be future AAA studios, maybe these teams will be acquired by large studios.
“It’s a great opportunity for a company that has 505 for AAA Games and Hook to keep us close to the field and provide opportunities for new talent.”