How important is the design of game icons, the visual indicators of the titles available to launch from our consoles’ dashboards? A number of Switch owners are very particular about the colourful squares that show up on their home screens. They’re calling for changes, and developers are listening.
On Thursday, 18 September, three days before the launch of SteamWorld Dig 2, Swedish game developer Image & Form tweeted out an image of their new game installing on the Switch.
— Image & Form Games (@ImageForm) September 18, 2017
Ignoring the classy socks being worn in the image, people instantly latched on to the quality of the icon design. Some in the Twitter thread compared it to the logo for the movie D2: The Mighty Ducks. Others warned the devs that they’d be getting backlash from Reddit and NeoGAF communities regarding the icon design. Indeed, despite the developer assuring fans the icon would change, come launch day it spawned a thread on the Switch Reddit titled “In the contest to outdo the last worst icon, Steamworld Dig 2 might be taking the prize.”
It’s no surprise the original icon for SteamWorld Dig 2 caught such flack. For one, it’s pretty ugly. According to Image & Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson, speaking to Kotaku about the icon kerfuffle, the icon was the result of accidentally including the Windows/Mac desktop icon file with the final build sent to Nintendo.
Icon, via NeoGAF
But the Switch game icon critque has been going on for months. One of the earliest examples involves a downloadable game called Snake Pass, a unique slithering platformer from developer Sumo Digital.
When Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass launched in March, it had a relatively standard icon, featuring some art from the game and a logo. It looks like many other game icons on the Switch, or any game console for that matter. Indeed, according to an image posted to Reddit last month, Nintendo guidelines suggest game icons feature both an image representing the game and a logo.
On 21st June, the Snake Pass icon changed.
Image via NintendoLife
The logo was removed, and the snake character’s head was made more prominent. Developer Sumo Digital told Kotaku the change was made in order to make the icon consistent with the one used on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
The tweet from the Snake Pass Twitter account announcing update 1.2 immediately drew comments about the icon redesign. One particular comment seemed to strike at the heart of the criticism: “Seriously, you guys need to change the icon back... I don’t want my Switch home screen looking like the bargain bin of mobile F2P (free-to-play) games.”
It’s a common conceit among Switch game icon critics. An icon without a logo looks like something you’d find on iTunes or Google Play, where space is limited and logos are too small to read. Clash of Clans maker Riot Games has had tremendous success with icons that are little more than angry faces, and other mobile developers have followed suit.
But the Switch isn’t lacking in game icon space. Of the current major game consoles, the Switch’s game icons are the largest, taking up a substantial amount of screen real estate. Is a giant head the best use of that space, or is it, as NeoGAF user Neitieo puts it in an oft-referenced thread regarding Snake Pass’ icon change, “cheap and tacky, like a popup ad for those cheap shovelware games I have to x out whenever I use abload.de.”
One of the more divisive no-logo icons is Sonic Mania, with many Reddit threads discussing its pros and cons.
With each new “bad” game icon showing up on the Switch dashboard, the voices of dissent get louder, and developers seem surprised by the powerful reactions.
“The reaction to the icon change has been interesting, and as this is our first self-published title, it’s definitely a valid part of our learning experience,” said a representative of Snake Pass developer Sumo Digital in a statement to Kotaku. “It’s also testament to the passion that players have for Nintendo and Switch that a detail like icons are part of the overall gaming experience and connection they have with the handheld.”
The reaction from the team behind SteamWorld Dig 2 was a bit more animated.
“A few of my coworkers had a hard time not reacting negatively,” said Image & Form’s Sigurgeirsson of the Reddit threads and Twitter responses to SteamWorld Dig 2's Switch art. “And what were these people talking about? An icon!? What about the game, a magnificent game that we just spent 15 months making? Talk about style over substance... which wasn’t right either, because the style of the game was magnificent too.”
Furthering Image & Form’s frustration was the fact that the criticism began days before SteamWorld was to be released. “The game wasn’t even out yet when people started talking about it, so they couldn’t really say ‘bad icon, but hey, the game is great’; they were in fact limited to just ‘bad icon,” said Sigurgeirsson.
Sigurgeirsson’s initial, self-admittedly sleep-deprived reaction was to script and film an over-the-top sardonic “new icon announcement” video, which he said would have been a lot of fun but akin to “shooting mosquitoes with a bazooka.”
“What happened instead was that (a) our art director Tobias Nilsson read my video script, (b) he got really scared/worried about my mental state, (c) he put together a new, wonderful icon in just about no time, and (d) instead of getting a video production company to produce a $20,000-30,000 video, we issued the following tweet:”
— Image & Form Games (@ImageForm) September 21, 2017
The new icon will be coming soon in an update to SteamWorld Dig 2.
Image & Form isn’t the first company to change its Switch icon based on community feedback. TT Games, the publisher of Lego Worlds, caught a lot of flack from the community when its game first showed up on the Switch, and for very obvious reasons. It’s the second from the left in the screenshot below, and it looks like absolutely nothing.
Lego Worlds was released for the Switch on 5 September. The icon showed up on the Switch Reddit two days prior to launch. On launch day, a representative from TT Games posted a picture of a new and improved icon, which was recently added to the game in an update. It’s much better.
Note the Lichtspeer icon also changed via an update between the first and second screenshot.
While it fits the style of the game, many Switch owners also did not appreciate the minimalist icon design for the recently-released strategy adventure game Kingdom: New Lands.
Publisher Raw Fury, during an AMA held on the Nintendo Reddit on 15 September, pledged to revise the design, saying, “We’ve been using that crown logo for all the other versions up till now but we’ve seen the feedback from the Nintendo audience and will SWITCH it.”
As for Snake Pass, the game that made rallying against ugly Switch icons a thing? Sumo Digital has good news.
“We’ve definitely taken the feedback on board and will be changing the icon back with the next update which is due early next year. It’ll mean the branding isn’t unified but our focus is on our players and community so we’re OK with that.”