Indie games frequently struggle to find their place. Whether it’s attempting to appeal to browsing users on services like itch.io or developing content unique enough to stand out against the ever-expanding service that is Steam Greenlight, creating games that are one-of-a-kind and marketable is always an uphill battle, especially for new developers. For most developers attempting to showcase their work it’s a constant struggle against the odds, full of attempts to sway discerning users into buying their games.
Yet for Alain, sole developer at BMC Studios (or Branche Moi Ca, which translates roughly to ‘Plug Me In’), it seems to come naturally. While he’s only 16 years old, Alain already has two games published to Steam. His first, Kimulator: Fight for your destiny! is a shooter where you play as an awkward French-Canadian teen whose family has been held against their will and must assassinate Kim Jong-Un, the current supreme leader of North Korea, to get his family back home safely. Not three months later he published another, Zombitatos the end of the Pc master race, starring another pair of gangly teenagers struggling to survive against the apocalypse while attempting to put aside their preference of gaming platforms.
Both games scream independence. Kimulator consists of a number of different drag and drop games created with GameGuru creation software. While the core campaign plays as any ridiculous, cookie-cutter GameGuru shooter does, it’s interwoven with a series of silly and amateur Full Motion Videos. Zombitatos itself is made almost entirely of footage shot by Alain and his friends at his school, complete with Canadian flags flying in the background and people walking by in the distance. Special effects in both of his games are usually lacking, the acting is what one would expect from a high-schooler’s short film, and the gameplay is minimal and often uninteresting altogether. And yet, they’re both surprisingly full of charm.
“I love the Panasonic 3DO,” Alain explains. He excitedly tells me how he owns and adores the infamous 3DO classic Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties and mentions how he has an Atari Jaguar that is arriving any day now. Initially it might come as a surprise he enjoys the old Panasonic console (which was discontinued to lack of sales and reliance on poorly-made FMV games), but when I asked him why it was he liked it, the rationale behind his games became clear.
“The fact that it was not popular and everyone hates it.”
It isn’t only the 3DO which inspires him to take the FMV route with his games, “[It’s] the fact that it’s pretty easy to do. The same reason why they did it back in the day,” he remarks. Alain doesn’t have a lot of experience with complicated game engines, most of his experience being with GameGuru and other drag-and-drop engines, so practices which are easier to execute allow him to complete his projects without a difficult learning curve.
If punk rock can be seen as the reckless, Do-It-Yourself reaction to a samey music culture riddled with standard, safe melodies, then it’s reasonable to suggest that Alain’s games are a reaction to modern games. While games (especially independent games) are created with intense care and a focus on a finished, polished product, games which play with the idea of poorly put together and seemingly random design can be refreshing in their own way, especially to fans of media from the “it’s so bad it’s good” genre. His games even display some elements from counter-culture – stabs at tragic events such as 9/11 or mentions of hot-topic political figures are frequently the norm. Alain himself even boasts that, “Every game I’ve made on Steam: if I saw it I would buy it.” His game development origins are also as lively as any punk group; it all started with an English project.
“I had a script for my English class about Kim Jong-Un that I made with my friend. We made a script and people hated it, so I rewrote it and that’s Kimulator,” he remarks, before adding an important addendum, “We [got] 100%.”
It’s that high school charm that is prevalent through all of Alain’s games. Everything in Zombitatos feels very DIY – from the FMVs depicting a poorly-established encounter with off-screen zombies to the point and click gameplay of exploring the main character’s home through simple button presses.
Kimulator, however, features scenes (and only some scenes) with high production value, including scenes where a well-acted Jesus speaks to the protagonist and a military general belittles him via walkie-talkie. For this, Alain cites an online resource called which charges a rate of $5 for 5 words spoken, no doubt something which would add up given the amount of screen-time the Jesus character is present for.
“Every game I’ve made on Steam: if I saw it I would buy it”
For recording his footage and scripts, Alain usually doesn’t always work alone. His friends are always glad to help him shoot the FMVs found in his games, and he even makes the effort to reach out to fans to help create games with content they’d be interested in playing.
“I have lots of people who add me. They don’t talk in the group or anything because they don’t want people to know they like my games, but they add me to tell me to add a joke about 9/11 and stuff like that, so I do it,” he says about his tightly knit community. He’s even been mentored from the developers at Digital Homicide, a studio with an infamous reputation for being removed from Steam for some of their practices, something Alain states as being unjust. “James [co-founder of Digital Homicide] is the one that helped me submit my games, [taught] me the basics. He is a really cool guy when you talk to him, most of the stuff that is said about him or Robert [co-founder of Digital Homicide] are false or uninformed.”
One glance at the comments floating around his game’s Steam page or at numerous Youtube videos on Kimulator reveal he’s still very unpopular among the Internet crowd. It may be that his business strategy is the most divisive aspect of his games, and he sums it up in one familiar word: “Memes.”
“Most of my money comes from the emojis and things like that,” he reveals. While some people (myself included) play his games for their unique flavour, he admits there are a number of his fans who frequently buy his games for the content he creates for social use in the Steam community. The Steam cards and unlockables from his game allow his players to unlock meme emojis for use in Steam – something other games usually keep to custom, game-related content. “They buy my game, they run it for two hours, they get their cards, they buy cards, they get the emojis and they’re happy,” he states, now well aware of the practice.
Some of the emojis being sold on the marketplace from his game even sell upwards of $50.
In the meritocracy that is the Steam store, it’s no wonder Alain’s games draw ire from Steam users. The idea of buying a game solely for meme content for use outside of a game itself seems completely backwards in a market designed to sell games to users.
This strategy does bring up a question worth considering. Is supplying these emojis for players at a price something to be looked down upon, or is it a flaw in Steam itself for allowing game makers to develop this kind of content in the first place? If they can’t get this content anywhere else on Steam, what should the repercussions (if any) be for allowing users access to it? It’s a practice that will continue so long as Steam users are looking for this custom content. As Alain aptly puts it, users “just want to send some Illuminati symbol on Steam, and that’s fine.”
Perhaps, just as with many other elements of user-centric marketplaces, it’s simply the downfall of having a community-run content curation system. After all, if users are willing to Greenlight bad games for the ability to purchase emojis, perhaps it’s simply a fault of Steam not understanding the needs of its users.
And while Steam’s flawed system allows these practices to continue, people continue to press the blame onto Alain, so he has to deal with heavy criticism frequently. He remarked on a recent controversy with YouTuber Jim Sterling who recorded a video of Kimulator: “Someone did a DMCA take-down with my name and everyone thinks it’s me. It really sucks,” he says, citing a recent incident between him and the critic from a few weeks ago, “He thinks it’s me and he sent out a message saying it’s me. He doesn’t want to give me a screenshot of the address of the guy that did it, so I can’t even prove that it’s not me.”
And Alain isn’t the only one using Steam’s flawed workings to his advantage — he’s even noticed some Youtubers exploiting Steam’s refund system to turn a profit from his game. The strategy is simple.“Someone makes a video about my game, put ads on it, and just refunds the game.” The ads generate the Youtuber revenue, and they’re still able to get their money back on the game they purchased. He’s even noticed some Steam users being so driven in their hate for his games that they purchase his game for the sole reason of leaving a negative review after playing for five minutes, the minimum amount of play time required to review a purchased product.
He laments that his experiences with the Steam community are something that could hamper his future enthusiasm for game development, as well. He believes he could invest more time and effort into making his games better, but since the community is primarily focused on the memes he supplies them rather than the work that he does, it can be difficult to motivate himself. “I could try to improve [the games], but I don’t see the point,” he admits. “Most people buy it just to have the emoji, most people don’t even play the game.” He has attempted to Greenlight other projects but to no avail, as the meme-centric formula has been his only way to get in the spotlight. “Every game I’ve tried to make that wasn’t memes didn’t work.”
An outlook such as this is incredibly crushing to hear coming from young developers no matter what type of content they create — especially considering the amount of projects packed into Kimulator. Aside from the core campaign, there are also a number of past experiments and prototypes he’s developed in GameGuru, from platformers to medieval combat sims. It’s about appropriate for a game priced at $2, but it shows clear evidence of his curiosity and experimentation with the medium, something which should always be nurtured.
Despite his apparent indifference towards how people view his games, he very much enjoys some of the community-centric elements of game development, just as any other gamemaker does. “Everyday I go watch new videos about Kimulator and Zombitatos; if people are really happy about it, I go contact them,” he remarks, adding how recently he heard of a streamer “named Sinow who really likes my games, and he’s pretty popular too, so that’s cool.”
In fact, watching others play his games is something that entices him the most about game development, and it helps formulate an underlying logic to his games which he tries to emphasize to players. His games are “100% self aware. I just don’t like it when people say false stuff about me, but if they just don’t like my games, I don’t care.”
His views on the Youtube attention he helps Let’s Players gather is surprisingly unique as well. He believes “most people don’t really realize it, but they do like my games. They like people to not like my games, and in a sense, they like them.”
This odd logic is surprisingly sound: Alain is creating games people dislike as a whole, and in disliking them they understand their value. In the same way the 3DO gave Youtubers such as the Angry Video Game Nerd content to play and express their displeasure with to the entertainment of their fans, his games actually encourage people to laugh together at the games he makes, for better or for worse.
Alain also advocates for a more lenient system for Steam Greenlight, suggesting a solution where gamemakers can create anything they want and post it for whatever price they would like, with only select titles being chosen to hosted on Steam proper. He isn’t against moderation as a whole, however. “Of course it would have to be moderated to avoid copyright and things like that,” he adds, obviously seeing how a system as such could get out of hand.
As for his future ambitions, it’s still up in the air. He plans on continuing to develop games for Steam for the time being, and with his growing fanbase helping him to Greenlight his future games there’s nothing to do but to keep pressing on until something, somewhere changes. Until then, he has one message to anyone who plays games on Steams:
“They need to understand that they are not alone on Steam, and that lots of people like having a small laugh for $1.00.”