Indie MEGABOOTH, known for providing unified floor space for indie developers at major gaming events around the globe, helped run BitSummit this year. It was their first foray into running an event rather than just going as a vendor. Indie MEGABOOTH “Overlord” Kelly Wallick has answered some questions for us regarding their involvement and what was different (or not) about showing at BitSummit vs. western events.
How did Indie MEGABOOTH get involved with BitSummit? Who approached who?
I was in Japan last fall for an extended stay around the same time as TGS. I had been talking with various teams about the indie scene in Japan and at had also been introduced to Milky a few years prior (when we were both starting out) to see if there was a way for the MEGABOOTH and BitSummit to collaborate. There’s a lot of nostalgia and also curiosity in the west about Japanese games, since most of us grew up with the idea that Japan is where video games came from. Seeing a resurgence to this via the indie scene especially would be really amazing!
While I was here I got talking with Dylan Cuthbert (from Q-Games) and Jake Kadzel (of 17-Bit) about the future of BitSummit. At this point Milky had moved to New York and there were a lot of questions on how to move forward. I thought it was an important event and there are a lot of people who care about making sure it kept going and that is grew in a way that was sustainable and good for the developers. I was super excited when they asked if I’d be interested to help make that happen. From there the rest is history I suppose!
In what ways has working with BitSummit differed from dealing with other conventions/shows?
Well, the biggest difference is that we normally work within larger events to coordinate space – this is the first time we’ve been involved from start to finish with a full, stand alone event. In some ways this is easier (ie you can determine who your vendors are) but in other ways it’s more difficult because the things that are normally handled for you are suddenly part of the equation. Like, badge designs and ticket sales and food access. It was expected, but also still surprising on the level of detail required. For me personally it was really great to see because it offered new challenges and a more intense level of preparation than we’ve done with other events.
Another more obvious difference was the language barrier and the cultural differences. Every country has its own style of business and in some sense it can be hard coming from a background in American business (ie heavy capitalism). What would seem like a quick question – for example “what does this cost” – can actually be pretty rude or complicated in many other business settings. Japan also has a lot of formal and regimented business practices which can unintentionally complicate things especially when there is a language barrier. The flip side of this is that the Japanese indie scene is still informal and counter culture, so there’s a funny balance between knowing where the traditional formalities lie versus where it’s socially acceptable to bend them. By the time the event had been pulled off and was successful we were all happy for the same reasons and excited for the work we were able to do together ? which is the same anywhere!
What did you think of the Japanese indie developers’ games that you saw? Did any of the games strike you as particularly interesting?
I had intentionally left the initial curation up to local representatives and companies who understood the significance of the selections. I didn’t want to just barge in and say “this is what indie games should mean for you!”, I wanted to facilitate that conversation and support the work being done locally. There’s a very particular style associated with Japanese games but a lot of what I saw at BitSummit was either outside of this completely or even bending the rules of what games are in general. Dreeps was an interesting example of this – basically an RPG that you don’t play. There was also Back in 1995 (which has been highlighted in numerous articles) that takes “retro” and moves it into the 90’s. It’s this sort of simple – yet original – take on “retro”, which I think says something really interesting about how Japanese indies are approaching game design.
Did you notice any differences in how Japanese and western developers operate at conventions? If so, what?
Somewhat – I mean, Japanese people in general tend to be more reserved than Westerners. Being a small team (or an individual) who creates something can already be an intense and highly personal affair. It’s scary and difficult to put that out in front of the world, and doubly so if there’s additional cultural pressure.
In my mind, the Japanese indie development community is pushing the boundaries of these fears and experimenting in an environment that makes sense to them. So even though the event overall was not the spectacle of say, Gamescom, it was exciting to see teams who are breaking these barriers come together. Overall the developers were excited and eager for the opportunity, which I think is the same underlying tone of events across the world.
Did you notice any differences in how Japanese crowds interact with games and developers? If so, what?
There’s the general level of respect and order that’s noticeable (for example many people played Crypt of the Necrodancer without shoes on!) but there’s still the same level of curiosity and fun that I think is present at a lot of indie events especially. There were a lot of couples and families and children which made the whole event feel really community driven and welcoming. It was really great to see everyone just enjoying themselves and having fun!
What sort of feedback have you gotten from the western developers you brought to BitSummit about the event?
It was all really positive! As much as it was exciting to the Japanese developers to meet the teams from overseas, it was equally exciting from the western developer’s perspective as well. For a lot of the teams coming to Japan to show their game was something they’ve always wanted to do and just never really had an opportunity to. Some of the games have a fan base in Japan already so connecting with them and meeting developers who follow their work was particularly rewarding!
What do you think are BitSummit’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I think a lot of the weaknesses come from getting our footing in regards to structure and logistics of running a full on event. We recently held our post mortem, and many of the things that came up were issues we were all already aware of (mostly related to scheduling and other organizational tweaks). So it was more a matter of “how do we fix this for next time?” rather than discovering that there were some huge glaring issue that no one knew about.
The greatest strength is the community and the work that has been put into it over the last 2 years from all the people involved in the conference itself and the greater Japanese development scene. BitSummit was formed at a time when it was starting to fill a need almost before people were aware there was a need! This means that a lot of relationship building and groundwork was able to be laid down prior to this year’s event. All this previous work has given rise to local meetups, conversations around what the Japanese game development community is and could be in the future and built a foundation of support that all started to come together for this year’s event.
Will Indie MEGABOOTH be involved in the next BitSummit?
I hope so! It’s been a few weeks now, so of course that means it’s time to start deciding what will happen for next year already. No rest for the wicked!
Do you have any other thoughts on BitSummit and/or Indie MEGABOOTH’s involvement in it that you’d like to share with our readers?
I’d just like to say thanks to all the people who worked like crazy over past months to make this all come together! It’s definitely a labor of love and there were a lot of people behind the scenes pulling long hours outside of their day jobs to make this happen. I hope it was inspiring to the developers and enjoyable for all the fans! I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Japanese indies!