A crab fights other crabs to be top crab in the crab-eat-crab world of hit indie video games.

Screenshot: Aggro Crab

Dozens of games were shown during Nintendo’s Indie World Showcase earlier this month, but only one featured a crab heading out in search of treasure, sword in claw, and taking on the undersea world. The Switch game in question, Another Crab’s Treasure, sounded perfectly niche, but its developers at Aggro Crab pitched it as “selling out.” They were only half joking.

“Previously, Aggro Crab released Going Under and it didn’t make us rich so this time we’re selling out and giving the people what they want: crabs,” one of the designers, Caelan Pollock, said during the Nintendo Showcase. The studio described Another Crab’s Treasure as a 3D soulslike in which players level up by fighting other crabs and stealing their trash to use as armor.

The punchline was the team’s ironic tongue-in-cheek setup for their latest reveal, and yet it also contained a bit of truth. “‘Selling out’ is said jokingly in our announcement video, but we really do hope this game can become more mainstream and bring new fans into the fold,” Pollock told Kotaku in an instant message.

Soulslikes can be big sellers, and crabs are a perfect vehicle for that Steam-bait formula, the thinking goes. “When I say ‘mainstream’ I mostly just mean it’s what’s hot right now!” Pollock said. “Elden Ring successfully brought a TON of new attention to the genre, both in the form of new players and many folks who would love to play but are held back by its difficulty or oppressive atmosphere.”

Going Under was a 2020 roguelike about interning at a Soylent-themed startup and fighting your way through capitalism’s absurd and mind numbing excesses. It was fun, it was clever, but it didn’t become a huge breakout hit the way some stylish indie roguelikes have. It found a publisher in Team17 and also swung a Game Pass deal. Eventually the money ran out though, and future DLC had to be canceled.

“I wanna recognize that even having a funded and released game, not to mention that game doing well enough to propel us into a second project, puts us well amongst the luckiest 5% of indie devs,” Pollock told Kotaku. At the same time, having successfully “made it” as an indie game developer, Aggro Crab now maintains a team of over 10 people, and the goal posts have moved.

“We had to move to the next big thing if we wanted to keep the lights on,” he said. “And we really do hope it’ll be the next big thing. Another Crab’s Treasure is a huge step up in ambition from Going Under, and we want to prove that Aggro Crab is capable of growing beyond our niche and creating a game with real reach.”

Amid ongoing debates about whether subscription gaming like Xbox Game Pass is sustainable in the long term, the glut of great games flooding storefronts like Steam and the Switch eShop every month has also raised the stakes of discoverability and success. “There’s just so many good quality games on the market that it’s difficult to accumulate ‘hype’ for all games nowadays,” GameDiscoverCo author Simon Carless wrote at GamesIndustry.biz yesterday. “That’s an independent, separate problem to Game Pass.”

Pollock hopes Another Crab’s Treasure will “sell out” where Going Under couldn’t in part by capitalizing on the genre’s popularity with innovative difficulty settings. Aggro Crab is chasing that elusive middle ground between making a game approachable to everyone while also preserving high-level Soulslike play for those so interested. But the team’s not ready to share more about that yet, he said. The game is currently due out on Switch in 2023, and with private investment through game-funding outfit Kowloon Nights, the studio has the funding it needs until then.

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