A LETTER TO THE GB COMMUNITY
November 11th, 2023 by Tom Lockwood (Gumpy Function)
Table of contents:
In 2019, Chris Maltby created “untitled GB game” for the Bored Pixels 3 Pixel Art Game Jam. Soon after its release, Chris would rework this game into a tool he called GB Studio, a streamlined Integrated Development Environment enabling users to create Game Boy titles of their very own with relative ease. The GB dev community has been simmering away in the background of games development well before 2019 using many tools to produce great results, but there is no question that GB Studio has inspired many creatively minded individuals to try their hand at retro game development. Subsequent releases of GB Studio (currently up to v3.1) have ensured the output of titles has become even more complex and innovative as time goes on.
Coinciding with the release of GB Studio (particularly GB Studio 2.0), this GB and GBC homebrew releases list from DMG page shows that there was an explosion of substantial GB and GBC titles in 2020 being published and sold to retro game enthusiasts. In the beginnings of this grassroots movement, many of these titles were manufactured and distributed by the developers themselves. As developers improved their skills, and began making games that could rival the complexity of licensed Game Boy games, more and more retro games publishers have since gone into business or existing retro game publishers have incorporated Game Boy games into their own catalogs, facilitating a growing demand for all new Game Boy games.
Now, in 2023, there are so many Game Boy titles being released, it's hard to keep track anymore. What's more, it's difficult to afford even a fraction of the releases if you’re the type that wants to dive into all that's to offer. Both from a developer and consumer view point, what was a grassroots community of die hard GB enthusiasts has now grown into a thriving micro-industry. A lot of games are coming out and a lot of hard earned money is being spent on those games.
With that said, for a while now I have been concerned about a trend I see surrounding the public discussion of homebrew titles within the Game Boy scene. This problem is a serious lack of critical reviews of commercially available Game Boy titles. In this essay, I will be discussing why I think there is a lack of critical reviews within the online space and why I think that is a serious issue for the overall health of the Game Boy community moving forward. If this thriving micro-industry is to continue growing in a healthy way, I believe it's in the best interests of not just developers and publishers, but also the player base at large and content creators to take pause at this crucial moment in time, and consider where the industry should be heading.
This will be a large essay as the topic is complex and involves many players - not just developers and gamers, but also publishers, content creators and hardware manufacturers. Feel free to read this in chunks. I have created chapters of sorts to assist in making this essay easier to digest over multiple sittings. To conclude this essay, I will offer a suggested blueprint for each of the players involved which is designed to improve the health of the Game Boy homebrew ecosystem and assist what was an obscure niche retro game community transform into a legitimate retro gaming micro-industry moving forward.
2. A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MYSELF
Before I start, I thought I better explain my background as a Game Boy developer as it will form the basis for this essay.
For those that don’t know me, I’m Tom Lockwood, or better known in the community through my developer pseudonym Gumpy Function. I stumbled upon GB Studio via YouTube in 2021, fell in love with it and have been making Game Boy games ever since. My story parallels the majority of developers that are now pursuing game development using GB Studio in a serious way. At first GB Studio was a simple hobby, a way to express myself. The stakes were low and the community was (and still very much is) a source of encouragement, inspiration and helpful advice. Having gained some experience over the past few years (and even co-developed a GBC game for McDonald's of all things), I have been actively trying to turn this hobby into a feasible profession with a sustainable income. I am a long way from that goal I must admit, but I do believe it is reasonably possible to do Game Boy development full time given enough effort and luck.
Early on in my GB dev journey, I looked to GB Studio Central, a website created back in late 2020 and now managed by managing editor and founder Emi Paternostro as a source of great help. This was a site specifically designed to help developers learn how to get the most out of GB Studio (GBS) with tips and guides on programming, spotlights on new games developed using GBS, news articles relating to GBS, interviews from chiptune musicians to Game Boy developers and much more. Wanting to help the community myself, I joined the volunteers and became a writer for GBSC in 2021. Since then, I have written 37 articles at the time of writing this essay. My focus has been to offer development workflow guides and licensed Game Boy game design analysis in the hopes that other developers can improve their own game design practice. And to spotlight some of the new and notable GBS games in an attempt to encourage beginner developers to continue working at their goals and (hopefully) direct more attention towards their hard work.
When I first joined GBSC, the contributors to the website were all unpaid volunteers. An important point to understand is GBSCs contributors are not game journalists. Game journalists are writers paid to produce content for publication in order to acquire more readers. A game journalists articles are also geared more towards gamers. GBSCs volunteers are typically developers who wish to help the community learn how to use GBS and how to improve their game design knowledge. For a more detailed breakdown of how the target audience of an article dramatically affects the content of that article, you can read this 2011 essay by Daniel Cook, specifically the section on types of writers. Ultimately, for GBSC, all articles are written not with an end goal to build GBSC as a profitable business, but to facilitate the growth of other GBS developers. In fact, GBSC was running at a loss for a considerable amount of time. Since its launch, GBSC has grown substantially, both in output and quality of articles and the number of volunteers as well. GBSC is now fortunate enough to not only cover its running costs, but also pay the contributors at least a little bit for their time through generous patreon donations and profits from the excellently produced physical GBS Magazine.
3. THE GAME BOY HOMEBREW EXPLOSION
I raise all of this because I want to illustrate that GBSC, the GBS community and the GB Dev community as a whole has been growing at a lightning fast pace in the last few years. Since I started at GBSC, I have watched a relatively small community of passionate people wanting to express their joy for a 30 year old console grow into a thriving micro-industry filled with talented developers and publishers prepared to enter the market and take considerable financial risks.
This growth is not limited to the development side either. The Game Boy player base has grown substantially thanks not only to more experienced GB developers releasing better games, but also thanks to the explosion of modern handheld consoles entering the market in recent years. Because of these two factors, the consumer is more than prepared to support this growth with their own hard earned cash. A positive feedback loop has begun, such that the developers, publishers and hardware manufacturers are providing better products for consumers by investing more time and money into their crafts. This encourages the consumer base to expand which translates to more money ending up in the hands of developers, publishers and manufacturers, which allows the development side of the equation to sink even more time into their craft, gaining more experience and making better games and so on. It’s quite frankly incredible that some developers (including myself) are seriously entertaining the idea that Game Boy development can potentially provide enough of an income to support something close to a full time occupation. And that’s important, because if developers can put more time into honing their craft and this micro-industry can get to a point where it can support full time development, then the snowball will only get bigger, better games will be made and the whole community on all sides benefits.
So what’s the problem? This is a critical time in this micro-industry’s life and if not handled wisely, we could risk seeing this expansion slow to a crawl or even collapse. You may think I am being hyperbolic here, but by the end of this essay, I hope you will see how critical this moment is for yourself.
4. GBSC SPOTLIGHTS VS REVIEWS
Let’s go back to GBSC. Specifically, I’d like to discuss the philosophical approach to writing a spotlight article on a brand new labor of love homebrew Game Boy game.
GBSC does not do game reviews. Not ever. It does spotlights on games and has been doing spotlights ever since it started. Spotlights are recommendations of games made using GBS that are in some way inspiring enough for a volunteer to want to spend their personal time writing an article on and share the project with the broader community. Most often, the game has been developed by a single beginner developer just starting out on their GB dev journey and has been released using a free to play model, often with the option to donate to the developer. It may not be a perfect game, but it is charming or innovative in some way and worthy of attention. These spotlights may offer some words of advice when it comes to improving the experience but there is never anything overly critical. Their prime directive is to encourage the beginner developer to continue working on their skills by shining a spotlight on them and their hard work and hopefully they can gain some followers on itch.io or social media.
All in all, GBSC is focused primarily on providing a service to developers, less so on providing a service to the Game Boy software consumer base. There is obviously some crossover with the spotlights but because spotlights usually feature smaller free games, consumers of Game Boy software would typically use the various social media platforms to find out about new and upcoming physical releases.
The reason why GBSC doesn’t do reviews stems from this grassroots movement the Game Boy dev community has come from. Many of the developers are beginners producing homebrew that is not a commercial product but an expression of their love for the Game Boy and an extension of their own artistic development. These games are not commercial products and should not be treated as such. It is not ethical for GBSC to critically scrutinize a work of self expression in the same way a journalist would review a commercial product for the benefit of the consumer. What’s more, GBSC mirrors the developer community at large because its contributors are primarily developers. It tends not to critically pan even the worst of games because when the vast majority of developers are beginners producing not for profit games, you offer words of encouragement. You don’t tear their hard work to pieces.
We are at a point where there are many GB developers who are no longer beginners and are taking the industry to new heights. Some are talented, experienced and motivated enough to produce games that can be sold to consumers and gamers are very happy to pay for these titles. The fact that consumers are spending their hard earned money in considerable amounts is critical here, and I’ll go into this in more detail in a moment. But at this point, I want to make this clear; when I express a need for reviews of homebrew games, I am not referring to any game that is not for profit. I refer to games that are commercially produced and/or sold as a marketed product only.
So what happens when GBSC spotlights a homebrew game that is not only a developer's labor of love, but also a professionally published commercial homebrew product sold for profit? Every so often this does happen and well, we end up with something like this, a spotlight that is a glowing recommendation that also happens to be a commercial product. In the case of 'The Machine', it reads like a positive review but it's not a review. It's just a homebrew game that I played. I felt inspired enough to volunteer my time, write an article about it and spread the good word. The process and intent here is no different to writing an article on a smaller grassroots title released for free by a beginner. These published games are just a larger, more polished, more marketable labor of love because the developer has devoted more time to the game and typically has more than a beginners level of experience. This situation is serendipitous for everyone. GBSC gets to celebrate a pivotal moment in a developers career, the developer gets a massive dopamine hit because someone wrote a glowing article about a game they spent hundreds of hours pouring their soul into. The retro gamers who read GBSC may learn about and purchase a great new game and the publishers and developer both benefit financially. Everybody wins!
But what about the commercial homebrew games that haven’t been spotlighted? Is there something wrong with them? Did they not inspire any of the contributors enough to compel them to write an article? Did the contributors even play them? The truth is that the contributors simply don’t have time to even play all the games coming out anymore, let alone write articles about them. It's much easier to pick up and play a 5 to 30 minute experience that was uploaded as a free download on itch.io and write an article on a beginner dev than it is to commit potentially 10s of hours of a volunteer's time to a commercial homebrew title.
There are a few more reasons why you don't see many spotlights on commercial homebrew games. Firstly, when it comes to commercial homebrew, you are more likely to see a developer interview or a making of feature on the GBSC website over a spotlight on a big physical release because these kinds of articles are more beneficial to other developers seeking to understand the game design process. Secondly, the contributors to the site have commitments to part or full time jobs, or families, or any number of responsibilities to manage. They volunteer their time when they can. GBSC does not assign any games to a volunteer, instead the volunteer will play a game in their free time, have an idea for an article and propose that article for approval. In other words, GBSC operates like a not-for-profit organization, it does not operate like a for profit commercial business that manages its workers time. Finally, although GBSC can request review copies of ROMs and publishers will happily send them for free, contributors to the site rarely use this service simply because the mission of the site isn't to promote the sales of all the professionally published titles out there. Afterall, GBSC is a site focused on the developers, not on the consumer.
5. GAME BOY HOMEBREW AND THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE
As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the release landscape for commercial Game Boy games has been exploding in recent years. It is becoming harder to find out about and play all the new games coming out and many are now being released as fully realized titles and rightly locked behind paywalls. Furthermore, the market is saturated with games and some are better than others. Every developer that goes on to great success must release their first game and let's face it, the first is not going to be a perfect game. I'll be the first to admit that! There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Except that it does become a problem in the context of selling commercial games without some kind of built in quality control mechanism.
As it stands now, there is a lack of coverage on commercial homebrew titles on the whole and a serious lack of rational critical reviews in particular. I’m careful not to call them “negative” reviews, as I want to make the distinction between a critical review which helps players and developers understand why a game is flawed, as opposed to a negative review, which does not offer worthwhile criticism but instead seeks to “make fun” of the bad aspects of a game without addressing why it's bad.
Because of this lack of critical reviews in the Game Boy homebrew scene, it's becoming more and more difficult for consumers to form their own opinions on a title until after they have already committed to purchasing a commercial homebrew game.
And that's a BIG problem.
Without a way for consumers to assess the quality of a commercial product outside of advertising materials, the consumer runs the risk of not only spending their money on a poor quality product but may also get so frustrated by the gap in expectations versus delivered product quality, they may lose interest in the Game Boy scene and look elsewhere for there gaming needs.
The Game Boy consumer landscape is starting to look like the video game market right before it crashed in 1983. Consumer demand is driving a huge explosion of releases, GB Studio has enabled people of all skill sets and backgrounds to create Game Boy games quickly and easily and publishers are looking to capitalize on the boom and are releasing a lot of games of varying degrees of quality in quick succession. It is reasonable to assume this trend will continue at an accelerated pace until it plateaus at some point. In any case, all of this has contributed to a considerable market saturation and a lack of critical reviews is increasing the chances of consumer burnout.
The Game Boy homebrew scene is no longer in its infancy. It's no longer a community of beginner hobbyists exploring Game Boy development for fun. For many it is still this (and I hope forever more), but it has also become a legitimate subset of the lucrative retro game market and it's time to accommodate.
6. GBSC REACTS
Recognising there is a need to provide a service to consumers if the GB community (developers, publishers, hardware manufacturers and players) is to remain healthy and continue to grow, the GBSC team recently discussed this issue at length. The decision against expansion into servicing consumer needs was made in order to keep GBSCs developer-centric mission focused. In addition, to help promote commercial games within GBSCs not-for-profit volunteer based model, volunteers are now encouraged to play a review ROM from a developer and share a commercial game through developer interviews and making-of features more often.
Ultimately, it's practically impossible for GBSC to provide a review service to consumers, anyway. For many of the volunteers, who are either developers in their own right, or closely linked to the developer community, writing reviews is a kind of conflict of interest. In order to provide that service to consumers with honesty and integrity, it is not possible to ignore the "bad" games and only review the "good" ones. So critical reviews must be a feature if this service is to be taken seriously. However, if developer volunteers are outputting critical reviews that affect the sales of games and well being of other developers, then the GBSC contributors run the risk of alienating themselves and compromising their own career path by potentially making enemies of publishers and developers alike. Publishers won't discuss future publications, and other GB developers will no longer want to collaborate, or worse - communicate with the reviewer. So in the end, I think the decision not to review commercial homebrew is the right path for GBSC.
For me personally, 'The Machine' will be my first and last commercial game spotlight as I believe ignoring the less than perfect professionally published homebrew games and only spotlighting the "good" ones, even as an innocent spotlight is another form of dishonesty, just more cunningly disguised. The focus remains on spotlighting talented beginner devs and supporting developers through analysis based tutorials.
7. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The current trajectory as I have explained it within this essay has been concerning me for some time. If you agree with me then it's plain to see that honest, systematic and thorough reviews are essential if the Game Boy community is to continue to grow in a healthy way, take a step out of its grassroots infancy, and towards a more prosperous and exciting future. Without this essential service, the result is what we had in the early days when pretty much everyone was navigating this industry as a beginner. In summary:
No one is prepared to criticize developers for fear of hurting the feelings of a beginner developer starting out their dev journey. No one is prepared to criticize a developer’s and publisher’s product for fear of negatively affecting the financial success of an industry they love. Even when the developers of commercial games are now not beginners and are selling products in large numbers. It sounds counter productive as you want to see developers and publishers receive more money for their efforts, but this is a double edged sword without reviews as a quality control because:
What's left in the public space is more or less only recommendations of any and all homebrew games as if all developers were still beginners and not selling commercial products. There are only two outcomes currently, either a game is excellent and there is content online telling people it is a great purchase, or there is very little or no information online about a game to assist consumers with their purchase. The grassroots beginner mentality has been applied to a commercial game and not enough people are talking about these commercial games in review form critically. This causes:
An inability for consumers to make informed purchase decisions, risking consumer burnout and ultimately impacting the sales and well being of the industry in the long run.
And this brings me to the major takeaway of this essay: a suggested blueprint for each of the major contributors to the community. Some of these points may seem blunt. Remember, this code of conduct is here to help the community continue to expand its horizons and prosper into the future.
8. TO THE NON-BEGINNER DEVELOPERS
If you are going to release a labor of love as a commercial product, learn to accept criticism from both a reviewer and the consumer. As you move away from hobbyist development and into the wild world of the commercial indie game market, learning how to deal with criticism in a productive way is all part of the journey.
Normalize the honest discussion of your games within your player base by being open to and encouraging constructive criticism from your players or other devs. Ask them what they think of your game and in what areas can it be improved.
If you are self-publishing a commercial home brew game, release review ROMs for free to even the smallest legitimate content creator to help spread the word of your game and promote a healthy, honest, holistic approach to critical game reviews. You will get a broader discussion regarding your game and be able to use that information to make your next game even better.
If you have a publisher, encourage your publisher to give out review ROMs for free to legitimate content creators near the release window of a new homebrew game.
Listen to the critical reviews when you can. If they are written well, they should be informative not only to the consumer but also constructive to the developer. As with all creative endeavors, developing games is just as much about experimenting as it is about knowing what works, so not all projects will be a success in every way (or at all) if you are trying to innovate. And that's okay, if you make a poorly received game, well, your next one will be much better!
Disregard “negative” reviews that only seek to sensationalize the bad aspects of your hard work. I seriously doubt anyone in the community is that heartless and this is more a symptom of the mainstream, but I felt I should say this nonetheless.
Releasing your first commercial game can be a very exciting time. Do not rush to a predetermined release date schedule. Your game will be ready when it's ready and although it may be hard to mitigate impatience, you can rely on the expertise of a publisher to help you complete and release your first game to a high standard.
9. TO THE PUBLISHERS
More than anything, we as a community need to ensure content creators can have access to commercial games without having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to provide this service. Any content creator committed to a thorough critical review service for a niche market like the Game Boy is not going to be able to support the kind of spending required to offer that service effectively. The only way to combat this problem is to allow content creators access to any and all commercial games on the market so this financial barrier no longer suppresses critical reviews. If the trend is allowed to continue, content creators are not only encouraged, but forced to avoid discussing any game they wouldn’t already purchase as a consumer first. This makes any spotlighted game an after-thought and not a timely service that corresponds with the games launch window.
Canvas for content creators that will help disseminate information about your releases to the appropriate crowds and create a database of worthy recipients of review ROMs. Give out review ROMs for free to any legitimate content creator. How do you know some one is a legitimate content creator? They will be able to prove they are providing a critical review service to the community by linking to a website, their blog, a YouTube profile or a podcast as a start. Share your review ROMs with legitimate content creators during the release window of a commercial game so helpful consumer information is being delivered at the crucial time. If you are doing pre-orders for a commercial physical game and not releasing the digital ROM in tandem with this pre-order window, release a demo of the game and encourage content creators to critically review that.
Encourage honest reviews. If an honest review is all positive, then great. If it's critical, the consumer wins, the developer wins and ultimately the publisher wins if we can avoid consumer burnout. It's the publishers responsibility to make sure they are selling a good product to the best of their ability. It's the developers responsibility to ensure they make a good game to the best of their ability. Honest critical reviews are there to help and can prevent the potential erosion of trust between the seller and the consumer.
Give out some physical editions of a release to some content creators for free so that the product itself can be reviewed. Packaging quality, presentation etc. should be reviewed as a product too and if the industry is to go beyond grassroots, keeping the physicals locked behind paywalls as if a content creator is a consumer will suppress timely reviews.
If a developer is moving out of hobbyist development and into the realm of selling their games for profit. Help them navigate this critical time in their career by ensuring no one is rushing to get a game out and quality assurance is upheld.
10. TO THE CONTENT CREATORS (OR THOSE THINKING ABOUT BECOMING ONE)
The content creator committed to reasonable, rational and honest reviews written with integrity and seeking to provide as broad a service as possible is nothing less than a hero to the community. It takes a considerable amount of strength to put your points of view out there and for better or worse, help others try and navigate a very noisy landscape.
If the publishers can help accommodate a pathway towards circulating critical reviews with no financial cost to the content creator then the only barriers to you are time and the will to put yourself out there. If you feel like you could talk about commercial games critically and would like to give it a go, give it a go. Jump on YouTube, a social media platform or create a blog and give it a Red. Hot. Go! The community needs it and there is little competition from other content creators currently. Makes sense to capitalize on this gap in the commercial Game Boy homebrew community, right? If you are already set up as a content creator and could incorporate critical reviews of commercial Game Boy games into your current repertoire, then contact some GB game publishers, and introduce yourself.
If the algorithm of your chosen platform doesn't encourage a measured holistic approach to critical reviews, and rewards only positive reviews, remember this: reviews are a service to the community and the critical reviews are an essential part of that service. Keep going and the community will support you. Leaving out the poor or mediocre titles will make the positive reviews lose their value as there is no longer a point of comparison between the quality of titles. If you are picking and choosing only great games to review, it is not a review service, it is an expression of your love for good games. There is nothing wrong with wanting to create content that celebrates good games, but be cautious of calling this kind of content a review service. To reiterate, a review service means you can’t ignore the bad or mediocre commercial games, even if you think a video on this or that game review won’t be as popular as the hot new game out. It is this self-sacrifice that makes the critical reviewer a hero in the community.
Reviews are there to primarily assist the potential purchaser, yes. They are also there to provide feedback to a developer and publisher. They are not a platform to dump on or make fun of people's hard work. Constructive criticism is an art form and a skill that will improve over time as you learn to spot and determine why a design choice doesn’t work. If you can provide an additional service to the developers by contructively critiquing the design elements of their game, they can improve their practice and produce even better games in the future. When it comes to critiquing "poorly designed game", staying silent benefits no one in the end.
When receiving a free ROM or free physical edition from a publisher or developer, don't feel obligated to pay it back by omitting the critical part of a review. You are providing a service to the consumer before all else.
Regardless of your platform, if you are a content creator, let publishers know you exist so they can send you ROMs before or near to the release window of a commercial game. Make sure to show you are legitimately trying to provide a critical review service to the community by providing a link to your website, YouTube channel, podcast etc. A secondary component of a review is it may act as a positive advertisement for a game. If you find yourself only doing reviews for free copies of the top tier products only and it's easier to butter up the publisher than provide a critical review service for the consumer, then sorry, you don't have journalistic integrity and you are taking advantage of the system. Don't take advantage of a publisher's goodwill when they send out free review ROMs or physical editions for the good of the community. Taking free games to build your own collection rather than to provide a service destroys that publisher’s good will and hurts the community in the long run.
Try to release a review close to the release window to inform your viewers at the critical time. If you have bought a game as a consumer after release, and then decided it's “good enough” to review, the review becomes an after-thought rather than service. That being said, a review is always better late than never.
And last but certainly not least,
11. TO THE GAME BOY PLAYER BASE
Don't be afraid to give meaningful feedback to a developer or publisher in regards to a commercially sold game. Developers and publishers can improve their practice at a faster rate and you will end up with better games and better products in the long run. This kind of discourse should be normalized to promote a healthy ecosystem. Encourage respectful discourse regarding recent releases amongst fellow GB game enthusiasts on discord or social media. It's okay to critically analyze a new game and it will help others make an informed decision about their own purchases.
If you don't see reviews of a publisher's game online, respectfully ask them why not through social media channels or privately through email. Encourage the publisher to share some free review ROMs to content creators to help you navigate purchasing commercial homebrew titles.
If a content creator is only reviewing games they like, encourage them to discuss a game they do not like, or are not used to playing every so often. This will help them improve their own design analysis skill set and general practice.
Support the crap out of content creators that deliver a holistic approach to critically reviewing commercial homebrew games. Often the YouTube or social media algorithms disincentivize this approach and make it difficult for a content creator to gain followers when they are starting out. Share their posts, comment on their videos, click that like button, all that call to action stuff.
It's a significant commitment for a content creator to review games they don't necessarily want to play and/or discuss but do so for the good of the community. What’s more, they often provide this service for little to no monetary gain. A critical review of a game can lead to personal attacks towards the content creator and discourage the review service from continuing. So be respectful. Honesty and integrity driven reviews are extremely important for the health of an artistic community and should be respected at all times.
Whether you are a developer, a publisher, a content creator or a retro gamer, this letter is to you. Critical Reviewers are sorely needed and this service is prime for the taking for anyone even remotely interested in giving it a shot and growing their own followership. Without critical reviews being produced by content creators and encouraged by developers, publishers and the player base, this blossoming industry will at best stunt its own growth and at worst, collapse in on itself due to a lack of quality control. Ensuring the Game Boy homebrew community is the best it can be is a joint effort from everyone. If you care about the future of this micro industry and want to see it prosper, consider sharing this essay with anyone who loves the Game Boy and all it has to offer so we can help to normalize a more healthy discussion around commercial games. I think there is a bright future for the Game Boy homebrew scene and with a little work, we can ensure it continues growing in a healthy way.
Thanks for reading and happy gaming!
Tom (Gumpy Function)
Special Thanks to Emi Paternostro for editing this essay.
UPDATE: Since writing this article, I have discovered backloggd.com, a platform focused on managing your personal video game collection as well as writing, sharing and comparing personal reviews and thoughts on video games. I think this is an accessible way for any one to get involved in sharing their own experiences with games they've played, and particularly commercial homebrew titles.
I invite you to consider joining and sharing your own reviews. I have personally begun sharing reviews on both licensed and commercially available homebrew Game Boy games. Feel free to check out my reviews here.
13. SUMMARY OF POINTS
The following is a summary of Chapters 8 to 11 in dot point form for quick reference.
TO THE NON-BEGINNER DEVELOPERS
If you are going to release a labor of love as a commercial product, learn to accept criticism from both a reviewer and the consumer.
Normalize honest discussion of your games.
If you are self-publishing a commercial home brew game, release review ROMs for free to even the smallest legitimate content creator
If you have a publisher, encourage your publisher to give out review ROMs for free to legitimate content creators near the release window of a new homebrew game.
Listen to the critical reviews when you can.
Disregard “negative” reviews that only seek to sensationalize the bad aspects of your hard work.
Do not rush to a predetermined release date schedule when releasing your first commercial game. Your game will be ready when it's ready.
TO THE PUBLISHERS
Give out review ROMs for free to any legitimate content creator.
Canvas for content creators that will help disseminate the information to the appropriate crowds.
Create a database of worthy recipients of review ROMs.
Share your review ROMs with legitimate content creators during the release window of a commercial game.
If you are doing pre-orders for a commercial physical game and not releasing the digital ROM in tandem with this pre-order window, release a demo of the game.
Encourage honest critical reviews.
Give out some physical editions of a release to some content creators for free so that the product itself can be reviewed.
Help developers releasing their first commercial game navigate this critical time in their career by ensuring no one is rushing to get a game out and quality assurance is upheld.
TO THE CONTENT CREATORS (OR THOSE THINKING ABOUT BECOMING ONE)
If you feel like you could talk about commercial games critically and would like to give it a go, give it a red hot go!
If you are already set up as a content creator and could incorporate critical reviews of commercial Game Boy games into your current repertoire, then see the above point.
Don’t ignore the bad or mediocre commercial games.
Remember this: reviews are a service to the community and the critical reviews are an essential part of that service.
If you are picking and choosing only great games to review, it is not a review service.
Constructive criticism is an art form and a skill that will improve over time as you learn to spot and determine why a design choice doesn’t work.
Reviews are not a platform to dump on or make fun of people's hard work.
Let publishers know you exist.
Do not omit the critical part of a review. You are providing a service to the consumer before all else.
If you find yourself only doing reviews for free products and it's easier to butter up the publisher than provide a critical review service for the consumer, it's time to stop reviewing games.
Do not take advantage of a publisher's goodwill when they send out free review ROMs or physical editions for the good of the community.
Try to release a review close to the release window to inform your viewers at the critical time.
TO THE GAME BOY PLAYER BASE
Don't be afraid to give meaningful feedback to a developer or publisher
Encourage respectful discourse regarding recent releases amongst fellow GB game enthusiasts on discord or social media.
If a content creator is only reviewing games they like, encourage them to discuss a game they do not like, or are not used to playing every so often.
Support the crap out of content creators that deliver a holistic approach to critically reviewing commercial homebrew games.
Be respectful to content creators you may disagree with.
If you don't see reviews of a publisher's game online, respectfully ask them why not?
14. ONLINE CONTENT LINKED IN THIS ESSAY
A Blunt Critique of Game Criticism, by Daniel Cook (2011)
DMGpage, Homebrew Releases
The Electric Underground, “Negative Reviews Need Protection”
gbdev.io, Choosing Tools for Game Boy Development
GB Studio Central
GBSC, “Soul Void” Spotlight
GBSC, “The Machine” Spotlight
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Grimace’s Birthday - The McDonald’s Game Boy Adventure That Became A Viral Sensation, by Damien McFerran, Time Extension
Gumpy Function, itch.io Profile Page
Gumpy Function, Full List of Articles
Johnny Depp in Ed Wood (1994), “Really, worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!”
Retrododo, 30 Best Retro Handhelds of 2023
Untitled-GB-Game, by Chris Maltby
Wikipedia, Video Game Crash of 1983