Wholesome Direct’s journey to E3

From Discord to the front page of Twitch, Wholesome Games is changing the face of games. Wholesome Games founder Matthew Taylor tells us the full story of the grassroots organisation's strange journey to E3.

During the fast-paced announcements of 2021’s digital E3, Wholesome Direct appeared on my screen like an oasis. Celebrating a variety of picturesque, gentle, uplifting games like Unpacking, Moonglow Bay, and Ooblets, Wholesome Games’ pastel-bright 2021 Direct ran for just over an hour with hosts Victoria Tran, Jenny Windom and Derrick Fields easing the transitions between 75 different trailers, a breath of fresh air between the major publisher’s announcements. 

Wholesome Games has been a growing presence online lately, with a Twitter account that now boasts 60,000 followers regularly curating gentle, uplifting games, and a thriving Discord community. While this has come with its share of criticism, there’s no denying the organisation’s popularity: people are looking for smaller, more personal games experiences, which Wholesome Games are in a perfect position to provide. This year, the Direct’s impact was felt by audiences, developers, and event organisers alike: PC Gamer reported that in 2021 a third of the games showcased during E3 this year were non-violent, a major improvement from the 17% non-violent games shown in 2019 that can be attributed largely to the many gentle titles of the Wholesome Direct. 

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With the Direct ultimately streamed on IGN and GameSpot via Guerilla Collective, as well as the /twitchgaming gathering day, a casual viewer could never have guessed that this sleek operation was the product of a volunteer initiative that was less than 2 years old. Nor is it evident that Wholesome Games’ meteoric rise has been powered by community effort, not cash injection.

‘We didn’t have space before, and now we do,’ might be Wholesome Games’ rallying cry. 

That’s not to say that the Direct didn’t have material impacts; participating gamemakers have reported huge spikes in their Steam wishlists. The transition from facilitating an online community to having a financial impact on the lives of developers is a significant responsibility – but it’s one that Wholesome Games founder Matthew Taylor says he’s proud to shoulder: ‘It’s a big responsibility and something I don’t take lightly, but at the same time, all the pressure is worth it when I see a game like Venba [Featured in the 2021 Wholesome Direct] succeeding and the dev gets in touch to tell me “hey, we didn’t have this kind of space before, and now we do.”‘

‘We didn’t have space before, and now we do,’ might be Wholesome Games’ rallying cry. 

Jini Maxwell is a writer and curator who lives in Naarm. They are an assistant curator at ACMI, where they also host the Women & Non-binary gamers club. They write about videogames and the people who make them. You can find them on Twitter @astroblob