Thanks to 'Deltarune,' surprise game releases are having a moment

In a crowded game market, pomp and fanfare might be overrated.

A screenshot from the game 'Deltarune'
Toby Fox

In news that likely sent your quirkiest nephew into a tizzy, the second chapter of Undertale follow-up Deltarune comes out this Friday evening. As with the first part of this new project, developer Toby Fox announced its release only a few short hours before it became available to the public.

This sort of move is becoming increasingly popular in the indie games space as developers eschew the usual expensive marketing blitz to reviewers and big online outlets to focus purely on their core fanbase.

Overnight shock — To be fair, this trend is hardly limited to games — I think all of us still remember when Beyonce dropped her bombshell self-titled project back in 2013 and Lemonade to massive acclaim in 2016 — but that strategy has become more common in gaming over the past year or so. For example, Thomas Happ surprise-released his highly-anticipated Metroidvania sequel Axiom Verge 2 at the end of a Nintendo stream back in August.

This prevailing attitude also extends beyond actual game releases. In recent years, updates to hit games are almost as big a deal as new games themselves, as these patches can totally remake the face of a game almost overnight. We've all heard about the transformative journey that spacefaring game No Man's Sky took from its controversial 2016 release to now, but there are just as many indie gems that have used big patches to revamp things months after launch. For example, a recent update to the 2014 fencing game Nidhogg went totally unannounced until its day of release, even though it added a new map to a popular seven-year-old game.

High volume — While there are a lot of reasons for this shift, the biggest one is obvious: year after year, there are more games coming out than ever before. The global pandemic might have temporarily slowed the pace of big-budget video game production, but the indie gears are always spinning, and it's become clear to many developers that for a game of a certain scale, cultivating a loyal fanbase is ultimately more important to the bottom line than trying to capture mindshare with a splashy review at your favorite gaming site.

This isn't to say that the traditional video game press cycle is going anywhere any time soon — after all, we saw Arkane's Deathloop at every major PlayStation gaming event over the past calendar year, if you somehow missed it the first two times — but it does mean that video game makers are becoming better at connecting players to their games. While big names like Undertale dev Toby Fox don't have to worry so much about getting eyes to their games when they're ready for the spotlight, others struggle to capture an audience. Sadly, it's the name of the game.