Record Store Day, an annual event started in 2008 in order to bring attention to independent music stores, fueled a wave of vinyl nostalgia that last year reached a record high of $416 million in sales—the highest since 1988. Digital sales and streaming still soar over physical music, but vinyl is once again a vital part of the market. Independent video games exist in a similar corner, highlighting a more intimate creative process that draws in a loyal, though not massive, customer base.
Case in point: Devolver Digital, an indie game publisher tapping into that close parallel, partnered with Laced Records to couple video games with vinyl when they released this year’s Enter the Gungeon record. And they’re not alone. So why does pairing indie games with vinyl matter? Why is it effective right now?
Devolver has positioned itself at the forefront of indie publishing, exuding the quirky nature of the indie games while promoting them. Promoting and engaging with fans take extra effort when your games are mainly distributed digitally and rarely ever on physical shelves, as is the case with indie games. Devolver games often couple heavy humor with retro design and tropes—elements are at the forefront in their marketing, like the total-bro-American-hero stereotypes of the Broforce launch trailer.
Often, the original scores for these games receive just as much love as the gameplay and visual elements, and that realization sparked a conversation.
“How do we share that with people in a meaningful way?” says Andrew Parsons, one of the Devolver Digital’s “fractions,” according to his twitter bio. “What more can we do to make this seem special? Who do we need to talk to that will understand the nuances of our industry?”
Andrew recognizes that digital consumption can skate over the hard work that developers put into their games, and that vinyl soundtracks represent “part of the world that surrounds that game” alongside the lore, characters and environments. Having the physical records puts that specific part in the spotlight.
“It’s certainly nice to be able to meet that always-on, slightly-disposable feeling of digital distribution with something that is real and unique,” he says. “Fans can be voracious, and there’s nothing better than being able to give them more of what they love.”
By combining what Laced founder Danny Kelleher calls “the convenience of digital with the charm and emotional impact of something genuinely handcrafted,” Devolver and their game-developer partners further harness the intimate connection with fans. The team-up with Laced Records was borne of a friendship between Devolver’s Graeme Struthers and Kelleher, back when Laced was just a music agency. Kelleher helped Devolver through licensing and linking them with composers before becoming an official record label and making Devolver its first client. In addition to their collaboration for Enter the Gungeon, they’ve worked on original music by rock legend Stan Bush for the recently released Shadow Warrior 2 and a collector’s edition of Hotline Miami 2. His sentiments hone in on the cherished ritual of playing and then flipping over vinyl. “It feels like it’s going backwards to something more old-school…like the consumers are actually listening to the music.”
It feels like it’s going backwards to something more old-school…like the consumers are actually listening to the music.
Other companies have jumped on the train for vinyl-pressed soundtracks, a couple even born entirely from the idea. Iam8bit, founded by Amanda White and Jon Gibson, is a nostalgia factory that has often turned to vinyl to advance its mission to provide memorable and unique experiences across many brands. Iam8bit was created in 2005, but in recent years White and Gibson started taking notice of the rise of composers and musicians within the indie game space. Vinyl art was a perfect match for iam8bit’s previous creative efforts, and their years of experience allowed them to bridge the gap for musicians and handle production and distribution.
That close partnership has resulted in some major moves for iam8bit, including three new exclusive releases. New records for Flower and Flow round off their partnership with ThatGameCompany, with whom they collaborated for a Journey release. The benefits of providing unique physical collector’s item like vinyl has even bled into the mainstream gaming world as evident from iam8bit’s collaboration with Sony and Team Ico to release the vinyl for The Last Guardian, a game that has reached a near mythical status in the video game community. While it remains to be seen if this movement works its way into games that draw massive sales like a Call of Duty title, the marriage fits snugly into The Last Guardian’s niche fantasy-puzzler appeal.
Digital consumption, whether music or gaming, can be an ephemeral experience. The escapade arrives, peaks and dissipates as the consumer maneuvers through shiny new sonic and interactive adventures that are easily accessed through streaming and passive digital code downloads. There’s an enchantment to be found in the combination of gaming and vinyl, though—a magic that White and Gibson of iam8bit put into perspective: “It’s music incarnate, with sounds being stamped into hot wax via an intricate pathway of grooves. Put a needle on those grooves and you’ve got music. [It’s] also very much about the art, the package, the unboxing and the story you tell from the first instance of excitedly undoing the shrinkwrap.”
That magic accentuates a development effort that a transitory digital code can obscure. When you open a physical case, sort through a manual and insert that disc, there’s an air of legitimacy. That legitimacy, the pain and passion the developers went through while crafting this experience, is there in equal or maybe even greater portions with indie games. And having meticulously crafted vinyl records alongside those digital codes is as good a reminder of those labors of love as any.