The Triple-I Initiative: A video game showcase from the people behind your favorite indies

By Dave Tach, Contributor

Next month a group of independent developers are joining forces to solve a collective problem. The teams involved have already been successful with games like Dead Cells, Darkest Dungeon, Risk of Rain 2, Slay the Spire, Vampire Survivors, and V Rising. These studios aren't triple-A. They're triple-i, as in independent—and together, they think they could be mighty.

They're calling their upcoming video game showcase the  or The Triple-I (or iii) Initiatiive. Premiering on April 10, it will feature more than 30 studios, coming together to announce new games and also highlight and hype up fan-favorites and established indie classics. Triple-i is backed by strong independent studios such as Evil Empire, Red Hook, Mega Crit Games, Poncle, Stunlock Studios, Thunder Lotus, Re: Logic, Ghostship Games, Extremely OK Games, Heart Machine, and more, and promises to pack game announcements and reveals into a roughly one-hour livestream.

You can catch the show on YouTube, Twitch, bilibili, IGN, and Steam on April 10 at 1 PM EDT.

Pronounced (and sometimes written as) “triple-i,” we sat down with some of the folks behind this intriguing new "mystery initiative" to discuss where the idea came from, how it came together, and what they hope to achieve. And as we chatted, the thing that everyone kept talking about was The Triple-I Initiative—but the thing I kept thinking about was the iPad.

Even before Steve Jobs revealed the heavily rumored device back in 2010, Apple’s greatest pitch man talked about where it fit into the established world of computing. On the one hand, we had laptops for the full-fledged computing experience on the go. On the other, we had the smartphone, for a powerful but limited experience that fit in our pockets. Was there room for a third category in the middle?

If there was, Jobs said, then those devices “are going to have to be far better at doing some really important things” than the tools we already have.

Thus the iPad was born—not as a device to refute the smartphone or replace the laptop, but to sit happily and comfortably between them. Nobody had to pick sides. They only needed to pick the device that made the most sense for them at the time.

As Evil Empire's Benjamin Laulan and Bérenger Dupré and Thunder Lotus's Rodrigue Duperron talked and smiled excitedly about The Triple-I Initiative, they effectively sketched out Jobs’s best-case scenario. They’re the iPads of the gaming industry—not as big as triple-A studios, and not small enough to be super independent.

But here’s the thing about being triple-i: The world isn’t quite set up for them. It’s more of a laptops and smartphones kind of place.

They’d like to change that.

So they’re teaming up to help each other.

Bad timing

It began, really, because the timing wasn’t right for Evil Empire.

The Bordeaux, France-based studio was founded in 2019 as an outgrowth of Motion Twin, the original developer of Dead Cells. The studio spent its first few years supporting and expanding that game with a mixture of free and paid downloadable content.

A couple years ago, Evil Empire was working on an audacious expansion that would bring elements of Konami’s Castlevania series into Dead Cells—a game that wouldn’t have existed without drawing inspiration from the very Castlevania series it was about to incorporate. Now they wanted to share their news about Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania with the world.

“And with this new game,” said Bérenger Dupré, Marketing Director at Evil Empire, “for timing reasons, basically there were no showcases we could attach our announcement to.”

This wasn’t a new problem—but it led to a new solution.

For many years, the annual video game hype cycle was built around E3, an industry-wide celebration and expo of video games where updates and announcements and trailers and interviews and debuts flowed like the water over Niagara Falls. In more recent years, Geoff Keighley has become the unofficial spokesperson for video games, as the driving force and host of the annual Summer Game Fest and The Game Awards. You'd also see some announcements out of Gamescom, which takes over Cologne, Germany every August. And of course, the industry’s biggest players, Microsoft and Nintendo and Sony, run their own showcases for their games throughout the year.

Independent developers like Evil Empire are a regular part of these events. In fact, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania ended up being announced during The Game Awards’ pre-show, and its release date was announced during a Nintendo Direct.

But from the perspective of independent developers, they and their games aren't really an entree. They're more like side dishes when competing with, say, a new Mario or Halo or Call of Duty announcement. They know and understand that publishers schedule events for times that are most beneficial for said publishers—which doesn’t necessarily line up with what's most beneficial to their indie dev partners. And so while these indie developers are happy to be included, they know that they’re not the real stars of the show.

But what if they didn’t have to follow someone else’s schedule? What if indie games didn’t have to be the side dish?

Dupré and Evil Empire COO Benjamin Laulan started asking questions to answer questions of their own.

“So this is when we started to reach out to all of our friends and tried to get their experience and their feedback,” Laulan said. “Like, 'Did you experience the same struggle as us when you needed to announce your next game or anything like that? Have you experienced the struggle of not really finding a place that fits the size of the game, the scope of your game?'”

The answers became the seeds from which The Triple-I Initiative grew, with Evil Empire taking the lead on growing it.

Good timing

Rodrigue Duperron is the Marketing and Publishing Director at Thunder Lotus, the developer perhaps most notably of Spiritfarer, a beautiful, painterly game in which you ferry souls to the afterlife. Its upcoming multiplayer roguelike, 33 Immortals, is based on Dante's Divine Comedy and has some seriously medieval art.

Thunder Lotus is part of The Triple-I Initiative, and Duperron makes the decision sound simple and obvious.

“I guess the easiest door into how these discussions started is—at least just speaking for ourselves—I feel like there’s a mutual respect for what we’re doing and what Evil Empire is doing. Like I, myself, as a publishing guy, totally admire what they’ve been doing with Dead Cells over time,” said Duperron.

This theme emerged several times in our conversation. Independent developers don’t tend to see each other as de facto adversaries. They tend to share what Duperron termed “mutual respect,” and are often fans of each others’ games.

So when Evil Empire’s Dupré and Laulan asked Duperron if he felt like he lived in an awkward middle between big and small, often unsure about where or how to market their games?

“The answer is yes,” said Duperron. “The answer is that I have literally, as the head of marketing and publishing here, built most of my planning around, ‘OK, when’s E3? When are The Game Awards?’ That sort of thing. ‘How can we get into that?’

“What do we do? What Benjamin [Laulan] and Dupré correctly identified is the fact that there’s no other choice. Either go it alone or or just keep on trying to steal a little of the thunder of something much larger.”

With enough buy-in from like-minded independent developers, The Triple-I Initiative was born as a showcase for indie developers, by indie developers, dedicated to their fans. It’s a chance to promote themselves and link their communities. It’s not for triple-A developers. It’s for triple-i developers—which stands, tongue-in-cheek, for independent.

They believe that, together, they can exist alongside what you’d see from a triple-A presentation. Together, they think their showcase can stand toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the industry—and not simply from a presentation standpoint, but with the quality of their announcements, too.

“It’s not an exclusive thing,” Duperron said. “It’s a, ‘Is this newsworthy for people?’ And we may feel, each individually, that we ourselves are newsworthy. But it’s not even a belief. It’s a knowledge that, if you pull all this stuff together, people are going to say it’s like top-shelf publishers and developers there.”

Best timing

They’re excited, with tempered expectations. The truth is that they’re shipping a games showcase next, not a game—and they don’t know how it’ll be received, just like they don’t know how their games will be received. But it’s the hope and the conviction that they’re making something worthwhile that animates these developers.

“Clearly we won’t be the next Nintendo Direct, definitely not the next Game Awards. And it’s actually not the point,” Dupré said. “But what I know is that, if we manage to bring the Dead Cells community plus the Thunder Lotus community, you can expect a certain significant amount of well-targeted, interested players. Sometimes you put your trailer into another showcase, but you’re not sure. You know your trailer is cool, your game is cool—but maybe the viewers, they are not the type of players you seek. And the idea is at least to make sure that we will be talking to all types of players. And like I said, we are not competitors, so we share basically the same type of players, I think.”

So what can you expect? While they don’t want to spoil any surprises, we could make an educated guess or two based on what they were looking for—and they’re happy to talk about that, at least.

“We were very concerned about the quality of the announcements,” Laulan said. “We didn’t want to just create this big mashup trailer of everything that you already know about. We wanted it to be exciting for viewers. You need to have surprises. You need to have exciting news. You need to have never-before-seen gameplay and everything like that. And I think that we managed to have all of that. I hope so!”

And that’s the pitch for the in-between, the iPad of video games, built on a firm (and growing) part of the video game ecosystem.

“It’s just such a positive thing,” Duperron said of the collaboration, born out of mutual respect.

“We’re just trying to grab people’s attention before we get swallowed by the tsunami of the big tentpole triple-A titles and how they just sort of dominate the cycle," Duperron continued. "And we are not in competition. We believe that the people who love our game are going to be so stoked to see what Evil Empire is announcing. And that’s just great. It’s great to take part in something like that, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.”