Hello Neighbor recently passed 30 million downloads, making it indie publisher tinyBuild’s most successful property to date. The hide-and-seek horror game was derided critically when it initially launched in 2017 for Xbox and PC, but positive word of mouth and regular updates have turned it into a surprise indie hit.
TinyBuild CEO Alex Nichiporchik isn’t surprised by the critical and sales discrepancy. While high reviews correlated to increased sales in the ‘90s, that isn’t always the case now. Some of the publisher’s most well-received titles have underperformed, while critically panned titles have had massive success.
Hello Neighbor has found most of its success with children, as the bulk of its player base is between 8 and 16 years old. Nichiporchik credits the game’s advanced artificial intelligence, which sees the villainous neighbor changing how he hunts down the player due to how they play, for its success. This gives children an always-changing gameplay experience and makes the game an attractive option for content creators to play.
“The advanced AI is what made fans really interested in the game,” says Nichiporchik. “We didn’t use it to target anyone. It’s simply that amazing feeling of playing against a creepy neighbor that stalks you as you’re trying to break into his house.”
Hello Neighbor becoming a hit with kids has led to unexpected opportunities for tinyBuild. It wound up teaming up with Scholastic and author Carly Anne West to create books based upon the series. Nichiporchik says that the deal was influenced in part by children of Scholastic employees being fans of the series. He also chose West as an author because her work was entertaining to him, a non-native English-speaking person, so it would also appeal to children as well.
The books have brought in over $16 million in sales and have sold over 2 million copies. While part of this is due to Hello Neighbor having interesting lore that tinyBuild and developer Dynamic Pixels have worked hard at fleshing out, the success works both ways. “(The book deal) unexpectedly opened up a whole new audience for us and gave fans a lot more lore that they were hungry for,” explains Nichiporchik.
Nichiporchik has been saying that traditional indie publishing is dead for several years now. That might seem preposterous upon first thought considering tinyBuild continues to show growth and financial success year on year, but it speaks to how the studio has managed to change up its business model. Nichiporchik wants to build franchises in the future, and Hello Neighbor has been a perfect example, as the multiplayer-focused spin-off Secret Neighbor has outdone internal expectations.
“Traditional indie publishing for one-off deals is simply not sustainable,” Nichiporchik says. (The issue is that) everyone can do it. It’s a Groupon-style business (that is) easy to replicate (with a) low barrier of entry. It can be good in the short term, yet it doesn’t result in something long-term, something that’d survive a financial meltdown or be relevant a generation from now. This is why we’re excited about building franchises.”
The sequel to Hello Neighbor, which many fans believe to be called Hello Guest, was supposed to be revealed at E3 this year, but plans have changed due to the show being canceled. Despite the setback, tinyBuild is looking to work with multiple studios to ensure that popular series receive an entry every year. Nichiporchik used one of its upcoming releases, Totally Reliable Delivery Service, as an example for its franchise philosophy. That game doesn’t need a direct sequel to continue, as other professions could be tackled in a similar manner. What matters is retaining what makes the series unique, which in Totally Reliable Delivery Service’s case is ragdoll physics and a distinct art style.
With the publishing landscape continuing to change, tinyBuild will continue doubling down on creating franchises and looking outside the box to grow its company. With so many games releasing, creative solutions are key to create games that capture consumer interest. Nichiporchik believes tinyBuild’s infrastructure, which can support both internal titles and working with external developers, is what sets them apart and will help them continue to grow in what can be a volatile industry.