Welcome to the re-exploration of an idea we tried during Top Shelf Gaming’s infancy. Our game of the month series, while not a new concept, is unique in that the criteria for being selected is more than just being the “best” game released in a given 30 day period. The main considerations are how big of a splash did a game make in the culture and is the game pushing the industry forward (and in some cases back) in a significant way. So without further ado, I would like to award the first Game of the Month accolade to the puzzle adventure game The Witness.
The Witness is the second game by outspoken independent developer Jonathan Blow and features 600 puzzles of varying levels of difficulty. Players guide the protagonist through a colorful and stylized island solving maze puzzles and uncovering its cryptic mysteries. Praised for its difficulty, The Witness delivers a seemingly endless stream of challenges that often require a player to step away from the game for hours at a time and return to it with fresh eyes. Our very own Devin Valdivia had a lot to say about it in his review.
The game took $6 million and seven years to make. Impressively, Blow and co. made $5 million of that back in the first week of sales alone. These sales numbers shed light on the biggest reason why this game was selected as Top Shelf Gaming’s Game of the Month: The Witness comes in with a retail price of $40. Gamers have grown accustomed to paying $20 or less for indie games like Rocket League and $60 or more for big budget AAA games like Call of Duty. Contrast that with Odd World: New ‘n’ Tasty, which many people considered to be a hard sell with an initial price point of $30.
The Witness has been successful in disrupting the widely held belief of what an independent game should cost and how we should value games in general. The Witness is a AAA puzzle game developed by a small team of about a dozen people. Blow would not be unjustified in asking for $60 for such a content dense and beautiful game. The unconventional $40 price has sparked numerous conversations of what games should cost and will cost in the coming years.
The Witness may be the most notable example in the resurgence of a middle tier of games. The scope is more ambitious than a more contained experience like Gone Home which was developed by a handful of people, but not as vast as a game like Fallout 4 which is the product of thousands of people and millions of man hours. Until now, Double Fine Productions cornered the current market of mid-tier game making. Upcoming independent games like A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee also hope to fill that medium-sized niche when they eventually release. However, The Witness has been successful in reminding the game industry of the importance of games of this size, and for that it is this month’s winner.