When Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator was initially revealed back on Father’s Day (of course) this year, it’s not entirely conjecture to state that a lot of people were sceptical of the title upon its reveal. In a world where horny millennials plastering the term ‘daddy’ underneath every celebrity tweet had become a commonly accepted part of browsing social media, it seemed inevitable that somebody would go that one step further – immortalise the gag for generations to come whilst poking fun at some sensitive issues in the process. But what the majority of people probably didn’t expect from Dream Daddy, however, was exactly what the final version of the game would turn out to be – an intriguing spin on the visual novel format with inclusiveness at its foundation, brimming with genuinely hilarious dialogue at the expense of nobody and heartfelt commentary on familial bonds and relationships.
The story of how the surprise hit Dream Daddy came to fruition is a fascinating one. In an interview with Broadly, Leighton Grey – one half of the game’s core creative team, alongside Vernon Shaw – revealed that she had pitched the idea to Shaw during a trip to Disneyland. Following an afternoon of blossoming dad-spiration, the idea was then presented to the Game Grumps – the widely popular gaming YouTube channel which Shaw became affiliated with in early 2016 – and the pair were supplied funding and a development team to assist in making their dream dads come to life.
Whilst Dream Daddy is not the first game to involve YouTubers in its creative process, it’s certainly an outlier when you compare it to some of the other titles that share YouTube personality branding. Previous examples of YouTuber-related games – such as PewDiePie’s Legend of the Brofist and Tuber Simulator – seemed to serve primarily as extensions to their affiliated creator’s brand. The key focus for these titles seemed to be tying in references and in-jokes tailored to the YouTuber’s audience, with the game’s content offering very little to anybody that doesn’t fall within their subscriber base. In Dream Daddy’s case, however, although the game might feature voice cameos from members of the Grumps team, its unique concept is the game’s focal point. In fact, it’s perfectly plausible to experience the game’s content without even realising the Grumps are involved at all – if you’re not a huge cynic and ignore the giant logo that swells up on the screen everytime the game boots up, that is.
With its overwhelming success, Dream Daddy could set an interesting precedent – is there a future in which YouTubers help cultivate, nurture and shine the spotlight on the next wave of indie-developed gaming genius? Whilst the relationship between game developers and the YouTube community might’ve been tumultuous at first – copyright claims ran rampant and the word fair use was rallied back and forth like a particularly intense round of Mario Tennis – most generally accept that the ‘Let’s Play’ model has become a fundamental aspect of marketing new gaming titles on the internet. So why not take it that one step further? A partnership between YouTube content creators and indie game devs could lead to the development of some awe-inspiring ideas that AAA companies wouldn’t want to take a gamble on but with a budget that ensures its team gets paid and have the resources to bring their ideal vision to life. There would also be enough transparency between YouTubers and their audiences – at least in the eyes of those watching them – that the end products wouldn’t receive the same asinine (but still potentially harmful) criticism of ‘shilling out’ that say, a game backed by IGN might be prone to receive.
Collaborations in the vein of Dream Daddy might also be able to shake up the release model for games going forward, much like Beyoncé’s self-titled record did for the music industry back in 2013. Whilst the notion that Valve might just drop Half Life 3 out of the blue one day is as likely as Gabe Newell doing a week’s worth of in-depth press, there’s opportunity for indie developers to pair up with YouTubers and stage a surprise launch without risking the audience base they’d usually muster up through a lengthy promotional campaign. The launch window for Dream Daddy was minuscule compared to the average game release cycle, with a mere 32 days between its reveal and release date – and yet SteamSpy estimates the game is currently owned by roughly 200,000 players on Steam, even piquing the no. 1 spot on the platform from the year’s gargantuan hit PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on release.
Of course, it’s understandable that not every game-affiliated channel can afford to fully fund and develop in the way the multi-million subscriber accumulating Grumps network can. It’s also likely many people on the platform already use their influence and earnings to support crowd-funding efforts for indie development. On the flip-side of things, there’s also the risk that some creators would use their platform to self-insert, bastardise and take advantage of promising, up-and-coming game designers. But considering the grassroots beginnings of the majority of indie developers and YouTube content creators, it would be great to see a combined effort from the two to create games that cater to underrepresented demographics and explore sensitive issues with both experience and care – particularly considering how traditional media outlets and advertisers have been keen to demonise the site and its creators over the course of the last year. Dream Daddy is a fantastic starting point, so let’s hope the future can bring with it some titles that are as broadly encompassing and exciting to play.