Video games have become a multibillion-dollar industry, which means there’s a lot of loosely related market space to be filled by companies that aren’t just developers, publishers, and hardware manufacturers
For iam8bit, that meant switching from pop culture marketing to specializing in limited edition collectibles for gamers to obsess over. Ranging from vinyl soundtracks and exclusive artwork to limited run physical editions of otherwise digital-only games, the Los Angeles-based producers have worked with everyone from HBO and Disney to Nintendo and PlayStation.
Currently responsible for projects like the Ori vinyl releases as well as the physical game and vinyl release of last year’s charming viral internet sensation and Game of the Year winner, Untitled Goose Game, Amanda White and Jon M. Gibson have established themselves and their 15-year-old brainchild as the industry leader when it comes to truly unique collectibles.
SPIN caught up with White and Gibson to talk about their passion for collectibles, the growth of the industry, and everyone’s favorite waterfowl terrorist.
SPIN: Starting with one of your recent major projects, what inspired the vinyl that you created for Untitled Goose Game?
Jon M. Gibson: Working in collaboration with composer Dan Golding and our pals at House House and Panic, we saw a lot of potential embodying the Goose’s lifestyle as part of the fabrication process. In the game, the Goose is collecting all of this junk from townsfolk — anything and everything. We connected those dots to something that we’ve wanted to try for a long time, but never had quite the right project for: recycled vinyl. If Beyoncé wants a really specific color for her Lemonade album, recycled vinyl isn’t the right path. But with Untitled Goose Game, it just felt really freakin’ appropriate.
How have you seen the demand for limited edition collectibles grow and change with the expansion of the gaming industry?
Gibson: The thing that most people take for granted is the advent of a little cultural movement called “social media.” Fanfare for collectible things has always been there, but since Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and everything else grabbed society and hasn’t let go, what you’re seeing is the punctuation of subcultures in a much more visible way. The barrier to entry to discover something beloved is far less than 15 years ago when we started iam8bit. Whereas before you had to work hard to find your community, now a few keyword searches, and boom! That’s an important distinction, because what’s going on with collectibles now — because of the ease of access — is the ability to make rad quality artifacts that would have otherwise been considered to be super-duper niche.
For instance, we made our first vinyl in 2010 and were the only label dedicated to video game and pop culture soundtracks — about a year before our pals at Mondo minted their first release. Ten years later, there are nearly three dozen labels releasing video game soundtracks on vinyl — which are often for games that you’ve barely — if at all — heard of. It’s incredibly cool because, now more than ever, the economics of doing low-run limited editions are reasonable. A decade ago, you’d lose your shirt.
With all of the items that you’ve created and games you’ve worked with in the past, are there any that stand out above the rest?
Amanda White: All of our vinyl collabs are unique and bring something new and evolutionary to the existing narrative. In line with that sentiment, our Cuphead 4 LP set is definitely one of the standouts. Its classic vintage design sensibility coupled with the heavyweight 180-gram discs give this package original flare. Collectors and fans alike love this set for its authenticity and style.
Gibson: I’m really proud of the custom packaging and presentation for Rez Infinite. After all, Rez was the game that really began the era of “music games” as a genre, so it was really cool to not just release the soundtrack on wax, but bind into the package a 64-page book that tells the real story, with full access to the dev team, never-before-seen production art, and so much other delicious stuff that everyone thought was lost. The story being hand-and-hand with the music is really cool.
How did you two decide that you wanted to go into a career in video game collectibles?
White: When iam8bit’s focus was primarily marketing for games and pop culture brands, we made a lot of unique collectible swag items that quickly became coveted by those who received them. We realized very quickly that what we were creating was so revered by collectors that it just made sense to go wider with these offerings. We wanted everyone who was interested to have the opportunity to experience the joy of holding this special kind of quality in their hands. In 2010, we decided to start making retail products and from there, things just took off. We’ve tried to stay true to the collector’s mindset with everything we do — creating super high-quality items featuring unexpected but thematically appropriate details.
Gibson: It’s funny to think that before iam8bit, IP owners simply didn’t allow merchandise that used artistic interpretations. It began with the iam8bit art show 15 years ago — which was the very first pop culture show of its kind — and paved the way for our pals at companies like Skybound, Fangamer, Limited Run, Mondo and so many others to build businesses around the idea of artist-designed vinyl, physical games, collectibles and apparel. iam8bit was the first brand trusted by partners like Nintendo, PlayStation, Microsoft, Capcom, Konami and Square-Enix to respectfully create new mythology through art and collectibles. Before iam8bit, everything was very much driven by key art and corporate style guides.
A lot of people may not realize that you were also an instrumental part in Mike Mitchell’s ‘I’m With Coco’ movement to support Conan O’Brien in 2010, but what’s it like to look back on that — particularly considering it’s now used as one of the textbook examples of a viral campaign?
Gibson: Honestly, it’s so funny to look at things in retrospect, because the world would like to believe that anyone with a forward-thinking idea was some kind of “visionary.” When you break it all down though, at the core of every project we work on is a simple idea of motivation. Why are we doing this? Maybe it’s for a cause we believe in that could help better society, or maybe it’s just something we really like — like a game or a cartoon or a movie or a musician.
For iam8bit, we have to be able to actually contribute in a meaningful way, and it needs to be a collaboration with our partners. If something feels too prescriptive or too fully baked before we enter the equation, there’s simply no room for us to lend our creative direction and expertise. That’s not a collaboration, it’s an assignment — and we’ll always turn down assignments.
Something magical happens when you actually collaborate with people who care about your opinion. It’s in those cases — whether we’re talking about I’m With Coco and our collaboration with the amazing artist, Mike Mitchell, or the Fortnite World Cup with our longtime collaborators, Epic Games — real innovation occurs. When everyone is working together to try something new in a really organic and honest way, you end up making history.
We’re here to contribute new things to the universe — things that expand mythology rather than carbon-copying it. The ‘making history’ is never the goal. It’s just a happy side effect when all the right ingredients come together.