June 22nd, 2023

Totally Real and Not at all Fake CEO Nina Struthers & The Importance of Brand Identity

By Colby Tortorici

Nina Struthers.

A lot of things might come to mind when you think of the CEO of Devolver Digital. Perhaps an image of her being gunned down at her Very Normal 2018 E3 showcase? Perhaps the straight-up murder that she committed earlier in that same show?

But what you aren’t thinking about is the fact that Nina Struthers is NOT a real person (mostly … more on that later). The CEO of Devolver Digital is not, in fact, Nina Struthers, as she was simply a character created to help further Devolver Digital’s brand identity as a publisher.

Fork Parker is real though, don’t you forget it.

When you watch a Devolver Digital summer showcase, you know exactly what you’re getting; a batshit meta-narrative that is almost as entertaining as the games themselves. And you know this because Devolver Digital has crafted an unmistakable identity for itself - something that has been a part of the company since its inception in 2009.

As the very real co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of the company, Nigel Lowrie, puts it, “Our successful brand is a product of timing, just as much as anything else. We were one of the first indie publishers. We've been doing this for over 14 years now. So we have a long history, we’ve built up a catalog of games, events and activities that have helped build a brand. That's not something that can just be invented.”

What absolutely can be invented, though, is fictional C-suite tycoons to help solidify said brand.

If you’re a fan of video games, you’re probably familiar with most companies having a CEWG, Chief Executive White Guy. You know, the White Guy that gets on stage at E3 wearing a blazer and a graphic t-shirt to sell you products. Well, that’s where Fork Parker comes from.

“The persona was created from all the talking heads that we were used to seeing that were older white dudes. And we thought that we needed to have the older white dude espousing this kind of generic, over-the-top corporate speak,” explained Lowrie.

And the company’s CEWW, Nina Struthers, was created to be the hypewoman for E3 conferences and what she believes to be the absolutely groundbreaking, never-before-seen announcements and murders happening there.

But you must be thinking, surely, Devolver must have no shortage of real, living white men working for them to fill this role, so why create fictional people?

A key aspect to Devolver Digital’s identity is, in fact, not having a true face of the company. Devolver Digital has one goal in mind - providing their best-in-class publishing services in the background, giving the real spotlight to the developers behind Devolver’s iconic catalog.

While Devolver prefers to operate from behind the scenes and allow the developers to shine, that doesn’t mean that the company has no personality of its own, of course. Beyond the jokey, self-referential identity of Devolver, it also has a set of values crafted by the team, “I think that one of the core values that we will preach is just being honest, and having honest relationships and conversations with people. To the consumer, to influencers, press, developers, partners - we're not trying to play games.”

“If we're in a pitch and someone's coming off as too much of a salesman, too disingenuous, the red flags go up, and we don't really want to work with them. But if the person really has this vision and believes in it, and that could mean the silliness of Fall Guys or the kind of more adult issues and themes of what Deconstucteam works on, or the cleverness of something like Minit, that all comes through, because the developers had a very clear vision that can express themselves openly and clearly.”

All-in-all, Devolver has had a clear goal with its brand identity from the beginning. It is known for a mix of best-of-class, eclectic games. And while you may not necessarily recognize the real faces behind Devolver Digital, they’ve crafted an eccentric, over-the-top brand identity that is always recognizable - and for good reason, “One person may pick up GRIS and be blown away, but they may not be super excited about Cult of the Lamb. But hopefully, they give it a shot because of the Devolver label on it - it at least piques their interest or they’ll give the trailer a watch. What’s important is that they don't dismiss the game. The Devolver brand gives you a little bit of a leg up to have someone at least check the game out. So that's to me what's important.”

Devolver Digital, in the end, is about three things. Making great games, putting developers that truly care about their works in the spotlight and promoting video games amidst a string of murders both on and off stage. Isn’t that what video games are really about, in the end?

Nigel Lowrie