All photos courtesy of Dylan Cuthbert.
John Davis is one of the top organizers at BitSummit. He’s been working at Q-Games since before James Mielke came up with the idea for a Japanese indie developer focused event and has been helping hold the event together since the very beginning. He’s answered some questions for us about his experiences with BitSummit and how it’s developed over time.
You’ve been working at Q-Games since before the first BitSummit, right? What was your initial reaction when the idea for running a Japanese indie-centric event was brought up?
Yes, I joined Q-Games in Summer of 2012. Shortly after that James Mielke (Milky) joined. He started talking about doing BitSummit in the fall of that year.
It was a little hard to envision at first. I didn’t know if Milky wanted to do a conference similar to GDC where we just had speakers and panelists, or if he wanted to do a gamers’ event where people would just show off their games. The first event ended up being a little bit of both, while 2014 it was a little more consumer oriented simply because of the location of the stage. I think this year we hit the “Goldilocks Zone” and it was beneficial to both the devs and the public.
In what ways, exactly, do you think BitSummit was beneficial to devs this year as opposed to last year?
BitSummit continues to garner more and more attention from media, platform holders, publishers, and the public. More eyes on your game is always good!
What has been your role(s) in the organization and running of BitSummit each year? Have your responsibilities changed much? How has the creation of JIGA affected your involvement?
I’m not sure what my official title is with regards to my involvement for BitSummit! I tend to do a lot of things. Initially it was just working with Milky and interpreting since he didn’t speak Japanese. When he returned back to the US in the Fall of 2013, I took a much larger role in planning, doing developer support, PR, event coordination, etc. I would say that along with Masaya Itoh and Shouichi Tominaga, the three of us are the backbone of the event. With the creation of JIGA this hasn’t really changed too much, but we had more help this year than any of the previous years with regards to staff. Pygmy’s Hisashi Koshimizu and Kazuhiro Umezawa were integral to the event running so smoothly this year.
Regarding BitSummit itself, what in your opinion were the biggest/most important changes from year one to year two and/or from year two to year three?
The biggest change is the experience we all have as a group putting the show together. We’re learning from year to year and the show’s become better because of it. As I mentioned before, we had a problem trying to figure out just who the show was for in the beginning. Is it for devs? The media? The consumers? I think we have a good balance now and because the format is successful we now understand how to present BitSummit better to the world.
This is the first year that BitSummit curated which games would be shown at the event. What are your thoughts on that change in particular?
This was really born from the huge amount of games that we had at BitSummit 2 in 2014. We quadrupled the amount of space we had and decided to let everyone who wanted to be there show their games. We had over 120 developers that year, which was a big jump from the 50 or so from the first year. We went from struggling to get people to attend to having way too many! But the first show did so well, people wanted to be a part of it and we didn’t want to turn anyone down. We’ve always wanted BitSummit to be an inclusive event because it’s about nurturing the indie scene in Japan.
For this year’s show, however, I was pretty adamant that we do some type of curation. It made sense in a lot of ways. We knew we were going to have a smaller space this year, and the only way to cap the devs was either to do “first come, first serve” or actually select the games. We had almost 200 submission for BitSummit 3 in the short time that the submission were open and it would have done many people a disservice if we took games in the order that they came in.
We also wanted to be able to give the creators some measure of control over how their games were being displayed on our website. One of the benefits of partnering with Indie MEGABOOTH was learning how they did their submission system. Games that were judged and selected for the show had their own place on the BitSummit website with trailers, screens, and descriptions of the game. We couldn’t do any of that in the past, so I was happy it was implemented. It gives the devs something to point to when promoting their game. They can say, “I was selected [for] BitSummit!”, which makes everyone feel really proud.
How did the curation process give developers more control over how their games were displayed on the web site?
Once the games were selected the devs could upload their game assets and copy to our website. In the past we’ve just had a list of the devs attending, but this year the devs could show trailers, screens, etc.
What do you think are BitSummit’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I think BitSummit is great for exposing really quirky titles that are being developed by small teams and individuals in Japan now. Japan is all about mobile or AAA development now, so it’s good to see that the spirit of Japanese games that we grew up with in the 90s-00s is still alive. The Golden Era of Japanese games was all about the off-the-wall games that did weird and new things, but somewhere along the way that kind of got swept to the side while trying to make the next million-seller series. Walking around the show floor, I think you can see the individual passion in all of the projects.
The other great thing about BitSummit is the sense of community that has continued to grow from show to show. People are there because they love sharing their games and they love playing other people’s games. And that community seems to have grown past BitSummit – Sagar Patel and Alvin Phu both do monthly indie events in Kyoto and Tokyo respectively now. Tokyo Indie Fest was born this year and TGS now has a dedicated indie games area. I’d like to think that the BitSummit spirit has something to do with all of that.
As for weakness, I think that’s all internal. As one of the organizers, as people are patting my back and telling me they loved the show, all I can see is areas that we (and myself) need to improve upon next year. This has a lot to do with improving how things are organized and delegated. It’s something that we learn from each year and we’re getting better. It feels like a snail’s pace, but it is improving. Around a week or so before the show every year I swear I’ll never do it again, but I met with Kelly Wallick and Milky just last week to talk about how we can improve the show for next year.
Can you name a few quirky titles from BitSummit this year that captured your heart?
Besides Nom Nom Galaxy and Galak-Z? ;p Pico Park is great simply for the sheer number of people you can get playing it. Vane had some amazing visual direction.
What has been the biggest challenge about organizing/running BitSummit?
I think the challenge for any big event is all the moving parts. So many things have to fall into place and so many things are contingent on other things being settled. At its best, it’s like dumping a puzzle on the ground and trying to piece it together. You have a picture of last year’s show, but you don’t know exactly how this year is going to look, so some of the pieces might not go exactly where you thought they would. But as I mentioned before, year on year you get more pictures to reference and it gets easier to say, “oh yeah, these pieces all go over here,” and you get a more beautiful picture than the last one you created when it’s all said and done.
What has been your favorite thing about organizing/running BitSummit?
Seeing the final product! It’s a little like making a game, I suppose. You slave over it for a while and when it’s released you get to see people enjoying it. And spending time with everyone at the show is pretty awesome, too.
What if any effect do you think BitSummit has had on the Japanese indie scene in general?
Like I said before, I think that even though BitSummit isn’t a huge conference, we’ve proven that there’s an interest in Japanese indies beyond just the doujin scene. And in the past couple years we’ve seen more people paying attention to the scene in both a micro and macro level. I think that the quality of games of the past few BitSummits has increased a lot, too. I don’t want to take credit for that, but I interpret it as the scene becoming more mature and confident, which I think we’ve had a hand in. BitSummit didn’t invent Japanese games – there’s been a thriving independent scene in Japan for ages. But we’ve been fortunate enough to shine a light on it and help get some attention to some great creators.
What exactly is the difference between doujin games and indie games in Japan? Is it like the difference between making fan art and coming up with your own stuff to draw?
I think that’s a good way to put it. My impression of the doujin scene is that they are content making content for themselves and their circle, while most indie devs are making games for a comparatively wider audience, usually with the intention of using those funds to support themselves or future development in some way. I think there’s some overlap. Though – RIKI and SKT feel like they would be at home at a doujin event, no problem.
Do you have any other thoughts on BitSummit and how it’s changed over time that you’d like to share?
I think I’ve run out of thoughts… lol. BitSummit 4 is gonna be awesome, though!