May 2, 2020 7:24 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Hey all! We have a cracking interview for you all today. We reached out to Top Hat Studios who are a video game publisher and developer situated in New York. We spoke to them about developing and publishing indie games in general and for Nintendo Switch, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them and much more.

You can check out our Interview with them below.

Miketendo64: A nice easy question to start with. Who are you and what is your role at Top Hat Studios?
Joe: My name’s Joe, I’m the owner and main operations manager at Top Hat Studios. We have some other members here at the studio, but I’m the primary owner. I’d say we all come from pretty unique backgrounds, haha. This has given us some pretty varied and interesting perspectives on things, so I’ve collated a few thoughts from the others into the answers here.
Miketendo64: For those who don’t know, what is Top Hat Studios and what is your your goal?
Joe: We’re a niche developer, porting studio, and publisher for both PC & Console. Our goal is to become multi-genre boutique curator of indie games. Unlike a lot of publishers, we’re self owned, and our operations are fully organic; no influence from investors or similar. We want to make a splash in the industry by providing a unique, organic image of what it means to be a publisher, and bring an amazing variety of games to players which might not get the shine they deserve elsewhere.
I think  in terms of character we’re much more like a mom-and-pop type of business than a franchise or something of the sort. We really value grassroots connections (because we started our own careers in these groups) with fans and building communities, and allowing developers to chase their passions.  The way we see things, things are becoming increasingly stacked against indies, but we want people from to chase their dreams and strive still be able to thrive – so we’re heavily interested in finding and elevating talent that’s often unfairly glanced over or not given the full chance they deserve.
LAZR
Miketendo64: How long has the company been running for?
Joe: Well, we’ve had an interesting history. We’ve gone through a few phases, originally starting out as an outsourcing company quite a number of years ago. We shifted to a development studio, and then to a publisher maybe two or so years or go. Since then we’ve slowly worked on building our image, tools, outreach, and catalog of games.
Miketendo64: Top Hat Studios has a number of games coming to Nintendo Switch. Would you like to talk more about them?
Joe: Definitely! We have quite a large variety of upcoming games on Switch. In the upcoming future we have Synergia, a cyberpunk dystopia visual novel, and Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story. Both have been long-awaited titles by our fans we’ll be co-publishing with EastAsiaSoft this summer on Switch. Besides that, we have lots of other projects we’re really excited about. In the direct future, we have have a title called Redo!, which is a dark souls-inspired post-apocalyptic metroidvania. We also have other some games later in the year, like LAZR – a unique physics enhanced “clothformer”, and Thief’s Roulette, a Zero Escape inspired first person puzzle game.
Then next year we have some more games like the Zelda-inspired Arkanya, and some other goodies we haven’t announced yet! We’re also working with the developers of a game called Steam Dolls – Order of Chaos to bring their game to Switch. Look out for a big announcement about this next week. If I had to describe it in a nutshell, I’d say it’s an MGS-meets-Dishonored Metroidvania. The production values are insane. What’s really cool about the project, is that David Hayter – THE Solid Snake – saw the project and was really impressed, and signed on to voice the main character.
It’s phenomenal work considering the developers behind it, The Shady Gentlemen, are just like 3 guys or so following their passion. No industry bigwigs or something like that. So in other words, a lot on our platter in the near future!
SteamDolls
Miketendo64: How are you finding publishing games for the Nintendo Switch?
Joe: It’s very refreshing. I think the ecosystem for Switch is very unique for developers. I’d say it’s a lot more streamlined and centralized than PC, which is always nice as a publisher, but it’s also not too overly centralized that porting games to it to getting titles setup is a hazard because of a complex submission system, which is certainly an issue console distributors faced in the past in my opinion.
The Switch seems to be a refreshingly great place for developers and publishers and we’re really excited to put more titles on it! We’re also really happy with how Nintendo treats developers and how they curate the platform, but still make it easy with allowing games and developers on it. Further, the audience on the Nintendo Switch is also really friendly and welcoming.
It feels like a genuine community. I think one of the largest problems small and indie developers have in the modern market universally, is uncertainty. There’s very little uncertainty in that regard on Switch, and it’s all the better for it. To a certain extent, it feels like the perfect platform for indie developers. It’s all a nice change of pace I think all developers are thankful for.
Synergia
Miketendo64: With the current COVID-19 pandemic, how has it affected your business?
Joe:  That’s a good question! Our team is all remote anyway, so luckily we haven’t had too much of a change ourselves. However, because of how widespread and unpredictable the pandemic has been, certain teams we work with have been affected more than others. They’re all okay thankfully, but it’s pushed back development cycles for certain titles slightly, which was something we had predicted may happen early on.
The safety and health of teams we work with is more important than delivering a title at an arbitrary date though, so we’re just happy everyone’s okay. Other than that not too bad, since we’re mainly digital-focused.
ThiefsRoulette
Miketendo64: Have you exhibited at video game events and how was the reception for your games?
Joe: While we haven’t exhibited at trade-specific shows, oddly enough we’ve exhibited twice at anime conventions a few years back, given that a lot of our back catalog is very tailored to anime audiences. It’s fun experience, albeit a bit tiring to be out in the field, hoping something doesn’t break, or making sure your booth is setup properly and everyone’s questions are answered and such.
Truth be told we’re a bit hesitant to visit a lot of other gaming conventions; we aren’t a bit fan of some of the behavior shown by the organizers at a lot of them. I won’t go into depth with that though, as it’s neither here nor there. While we think they serve a purpose, and certainly for the wider industry as a whole, we’re not hot on going to all of them, especially with what we’ve found the return ratio to the effort and cost of going to them is often.
While I don’t want this to sound too wrong, we’ve sometimes found that there’s a certain partially elitist attitude to attending some conventions being part of a club rather than a means of really promoting games, and we can’t get down with that. But who knows! Maybe in the future we’ll be back at some of them again. Well, after the whole virus situation blows over, anyway, haha.
Arkanya
Miketendo64: When it comes to contracting indie video game developers, who reaches out to who? Do indie devs reach out to you? Do you contact them? 
Joe: Good question! It’s a mix of both. We welcome developers who want to work with us to reach out so we can talk. We can’t accept everyone unfortunately (even though we’d like to!) because of resources, but we always welcome new friends. We also reach out to developers if we really like their game. We see a lot of developers on social media who have amazing games, but need more resources to realize their vision in full, and when we find games like that, we always like to extend a helping hand and see what we can discuss.
We have members of our team who spend a lot of my time hanging out in or looking out for things in niche video game circles, or amongst indie game interest/development circles. Not because they’re trying to like, suck up titles or work, but just genuinely because they enjoy participating in the community and seeing what people are developing. It’s a great pleasure to spend time sifting through the wealth of stuff that people are just putting out online, be it on twitter, facebook, wherever. We can spend hours looking through this stuff.
There’s so much wacky and creative, inventive and out there concepts if you just bother to engage with the community. It’s how we scouted or made connections to the majority of our developers initially. Of course, we also have the fair share of developers who approach us first, too.
Sense
Miketendo64: Following up on the last question. If indie game Devs wanted to get in contact with you, how can they get in touch?
Joe: If anyone wants to get in contact with us, they can find details on our contact page: https://tophat.studio/contact-us/, or DM us on twitter, our DMs are always open!
Miketendo64: Do you look for anything in particular when it comes to publishing indie games? (Good story, great gameplay, etc).
Joe:  Hmm, that’s a hard thing to say. I think just like with any other form of entertainment or media, there’s no single thing which makes a game good. When we look at games, I’d say one thing that primarily helps us decide is; is this something we’d play ourselves? Or, in simpler terms, is this something we’re interested in? It’s a hard thing to answer fully, because it’s so variable. We like games which excel in what they’re trying to be, as vague as that sounds.
Not everything is a story-based game, or not everything is trying to be a mechanically tight skill-based experience; but everything is trying to be something, and I think that sometimes that shines through especially well. We like developers who are dedicated to what they do on top of this; who really are following their dreams with their games.
It’s that palpable sense of motivation and creativity alongside a great looking game which make us excited. All in all, it comes down to that if you’ve truly put the hard work into making a game, we – our someone else – will recognize it. This is a matter of perspective, of course – no one thinks they’re ever making anything other than the best stuff. But I think you’ll get what I mean.
Redo
Miketendo64: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to our readers and how can they find out more about you?
Joe: If we could address your readers, I’d really just like to thank them for supporting outside-the-box games and developers, and providing a new crucible for the indie gaming movement. We’re trying our hardest to support these kinds of things ourselves, and I’ll be honest the industry has developed in many ways which make it increasingly harder for a lot of grassroots developers to survive.
Nintendo has done a really great job shaping the Switch ecosystem and the community that’s grown around it really is fantastic. A lot of developers – us included – are finding a home again. So, thank you  thank very much, and I hope you’ll continue to find what we bring you in the future worthy of your enjoyment.
If you’d like to find out more about us and keep up to date on what we’re doing, then please follow us on twitter at @TopHatStudiosEN, and like our page on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tophatstudiosEN/). To never miss an important announcement, all of our projects appear on our mailing list, which you can sign up for at our homepage on https://tophat.studio.
MASCOTS_EXPORT

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We would like to express our sincerest thanks to Joe and his team at Top Hat Studios for joining us for this interview. We hope you will follow them on social media to keep up to date with their upcoming games.

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This post was written by Mike Scorpio

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