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Mad Mushroom explains what devs might expect from a streamer-owned publisher

Every publisher has their own strategy. Here are the upsides and downsides of working with one co-owned by high-profile streamers.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

April 24, 2024

10 Min Read
A screenshot from Rumble Club. A cute player character with a monocle and top hat looks at the camera.
Image via Lightfox Games/Mad Mushroom.

At a Glance

  • Mad Mushroom is one of many game publishers trying to capitalize on the passion for "content creators."
  • Streamers like Sodapoppin, Emiru, and Asmongold can help developers figure out if their game has streaming appeal.
  • But signing with such a publisher may lead to developers affiliating with streamers who incite controversy.

"Content creators" on Twitch, YouTube, and other social media platforms have become an essential part of game marketing over the last decade. Developers and publishers eager to capture the interest of their fanbases are regularly pitching streamers like One True King (OTK) network member Sodapoppin (real name Thomas Jefferson "Chance" Morris IV) on either organic or paid opportunities to stream their games.

Morris, who's been in the streaming business since he was a teen, has a good sense of what will and won't be interesting for his 8.8 million Twitch subscribers (he's credited for being one of the first Twitch streamers that propelled Among Us to explosive success). He's had such a good sense that he and other OTK members got to thinking—with so many developers and publishers pitching them on games to stream, why not cut out the middleman and fund games they'd want to play themselves?

Game publisher Mad Mushroom emerged from that idea. Helmed by CEO Mike Silbowitz and co-owned by members of OTK, Mad Mushroom's mission is to use the expertise of its content-creating owners to publish indie games that will be enjoyed by the network's 50 million fans and beyond.

The company isn't the first to try this streamer-aligned model. Streamer Dr. Disrespect founded the studio Midnight Society, and influencer network 3BlackDot attracted (negative) attention for its bid to get into game publishing.

This type of venture is easy to pitch to investors, but has proven harder to turn into a stable business. Content creators will run headlong into the fact that they don't know much about game development. Developers will learn that streamers' larger-than-life personalities don't turn off when the camera stops rolling. And in possibly the worst-case scenario, streamers will disregard FTC guidelines and stream games they're financially invested in without disclosure.

Those are all problems Mad Mushroom wants to avoid, Morris and Silbowitz explained in a conversation with Game Developer. There's a genuine interest from the founders in finding good games their audiences will connect with, promoting in compliance with FTC rules, and teaching developers how streamers look at the game streaming space.

The company is releasing Lightfox Games' Rumble Club later this week, and has also signed BitCake Studios' Atomic Picnic. Morris and Silbowitz were keen to chat about the pros and cons of pitching a publisher like Mad Mushroom. The pros include getting sharp feedback from creators who know how to introduce a game to their audience.

But there are cons too. Streamers and other content creators are lightning rods that can attract an audience—but not all the attention they bring is the kind developers may want.

What does Mad Mushroom offer developers?

In the end, it's all about authenticity.

Authenticity is what makes or breaks a relationship any streamer or content creator has with a game. There's an entire subsection of game marketing now called "influencer relations" that orbits around trying to build relationships with streamers so they think about featuring a game on stream. Some in this field will turn to sponsored partnerships, but the very nature of those arrangements threatens the goodwill that authenticity brings.

Morris' genuine interest in playing indie games on his channel is at the heart of Mad Mushroom's business. He explained that in his 16 years of streaming (he started at age 14) he's honed a strong instinct for figuring out what his audience wants. Games signed by Mad Mushroom will be scrutinized by Morris and other influencers in the OTK network, and developers can expect reliable feedback on whether their game is a good fit for the network's audience.

"My role is to be a gamer, to understand how gamers are going to look at this game and go 'hey, yeah this game is sick,'" he said.

Even if the company passes on a deal, Silbowitz said developers can expect to leave with feedback that might help their game appeal to streamers down the line. He encouraged indies of all stripes to submit their pitches and take advantage of the sample publishing contract that's listed on the company's website.

Streamer-led feedback isn't the only service developers can expect from Mad Mushroom. The company offers developers a 70/30 split on revenue (70 percent for developers, 30 percent for the publisher), a full suite of publishing services including platform relations, quality assurance testing, customer service reps, and of course playtesting.

Mad Mushroom's hook is that its streaming co-owners don't just check in at the beginning or end of the process, they regularly offer feedback on the game as it's headed for the finish line. Morris himself once streamed a build of Atomic Picnic for his channel, soliciting feedback from viewers about what features or changes they'd like to see in the game.

Will those viewers know that Morris is financially invested in the game's success? "Absolutely," the pair said. Silbowitz said the team has prepared graphics so even viewers new to the network can tune in and know they're watching a game that Morris or his peers are invested in. (Morris was once dinged for not properly disclosing his sponsorship from a gambling company in 2018. He seemed eager not to repeat that mistake).

A diverse group of characters (one with pink skin) look to the skies in Atomic Picnic.

Silbowitz said the company is generally looking for games in the "late stage" of development, but that his team is happy to look at early pitches and offer feedback for developers to pitch again later.

He also said the team is selective about which streamers will take an interest in which games. Developers shouldn't expect all streamers on OTK to play their games—if one of them plays a game that's not right for their audience, that authenticity evaporates.

Should developers be pitching specific genres of games to the company? Not necessarily. Morris said he's interested in all kinds of games, but he'd advise devs working in certain genres to see how their games compare against the heaviest of heavy hitters in that space.

"If it's a top-down hack-and-slash game [like] Hades, I'm going to of compare those and see where it is on that level," he explained.

Silbowitz offered some other guidance, saying developers should pay attention to how fun it is to watch their game be played, not just play it. He noted that when OTK members are looking at builds of games, they're not just scanning for fun value, they're looking to see if a game is in a state that they'd want to play early builds with their fans watching."

He also said he doesn't want developers to feel like they're beholden to Morris or other OTK creators. "They can literally say no to every piece of feedback we provide...not that we can recommend that," he said with a laugh. (It's fair to say any developer hoping to sign with a publisher with such a streaming-based business model would be seeking that feedback in the first place).

Creating genuine authenticity is a tough needle to thread. Earlier efforts from publishers like 3BlackDot may have stumbled because there was some insecurity about the authenticity their streamers provide. OTK's success certainly shows they've figured something out about that topic, and that each of their creators is building a genuine relationship with their fans.

But authenticity by OTK creators comes in many flavors. Some streamers chase it by building on highly opinionated or combative personalities. They start beef with other streamers, rail against developers and sometimes throw themselves into political culture wars.

That brings us to one of the highest-profile streamers on OTK: Asmongold.

There's a downside to building close relationships with some streamers

Asmongold (real name: "Zack," last name withheld) is a high-profile content creator and one of the founders of OTK. His brand of authenticity is founded on his combative personality during frequent streaming sessions of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, but in recent years he's switched to more infrequent streams and uploading videos on YouTube.

Asmonold walks the well-trodden path of "angry gamer" content creators that follow in the footsteps of The Angry Video Game Nerd. Watch his videos and you'll find him sharply criticizing developers for topics ranging from aggressive in-game monetization to content updates to his favorite games that he dislikes (and to be fair, regularly praising games for design decisions he does like).

But starting in March 2024, he went a step further and began platforming the harassment campaign against narrative consultancy studio Sweet Baby Inc. After uploading his own video on the topic, he interviewed Steam user Karbrutus, the creator of the Steam Group named "Sweet Baby Inc. Detected," which the studio told us accelerated the amount of hate mail flowing into their inbox.

In that video, after Karbrutus unexpectedly dropped from the call, Asmongold expressed sympathy for the Steam Group's stated mission of warning players away from games Sweet Baby Inc. consulted on. "I think that a lot of people are just tired of it," he said. "They're tired of being patronized by people who hate them...by people who have no context or understanding of the meaning of games, and they're tired of being told what they can and can't think about, and playing video games and thinking that they're constantly being forced a message. That's what I think."

In the following weeks he uploaded several other videos where he reacts to the work of other creators that single out the company and other industry professionals for purportedly pushing a "woke agenda" in video games.

"These people are fundamentally not game developers," Asmongold said in a later video, reacting to a clip from Sweet Baby Inc. CEO Kim Belair's 2019 GDC talk. "They're not game designers. They don't want to make video games, they want to use video games to push activism. That is their real goal."

Later in that video he cast blame on developers like Blizzard Entertainment and Rocksteady Studios (the maker of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, a game Sweet Baby Inc. consulted on) that introduce more diverse casts in their games that also feature unpopular live service monetization and game mechanics to "attract a more diverse group of people."

"You end up doing that, and you end up trying to cast a bigger and bigger net and at a certain point all the fish go through it and don't catch anything at all. That's exactly what's happened—they've tried to make these games that appeal to everyone in the same way [Belair] is saying."

Linking the portrayal of diverse characters in video games to poorly-received monetization mechanics or game content casts a cynical lens on what many developers know is a sincere, often uphill effort. Sweet Baby Inc. is not responsible for such design decisions made on the games it's worked on. Conflating the narrative consulting studio with the ones responsible for unpopular decisions makes it easy to villainize them to viewers who don't know the ins and outs of game development.

Asmongold's willingness to frame Sweet Baby Inc. and other professionals in this context appears to be—well, authentic. Developers who sign with Mad Mushroom and want to feature diverse casts of characters in their games may need to consider if his brand of authenticity is one they want to be affiliated with their game.

When we asked Morris and Silbowitz about Asmongold's spree of "anti-woke" videos, the Mad Mushroom CEO was willing to address the topic. "Asmon is an outspoken creator and his authenticity to his audience is really important, Silbowitz said, following up with a comment that Mad Mushroom and its employees may not agree with "everything he says or does."

"While we are not in the business of censoring Asmongold, his opinions do not reflect those of Mad Mushroom's. We are an inclusive workplace, we believe that diversity and representation is important in art and especially in this industry."

In a world where streamers and content creators have learned to mimic shock jocks, reality TV stars, and WWE wrestlers, the buffet of creator offerings goes beyond what's seen in traditional media. Harnessing that authenticity—whether it's positive or toxic in nature a challenge that Mad Mushroom or any developer pursuing this business model will have to reckon with.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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