BitSummit - Japan’s New Indie Game Revolution
How do you sell indie games in a country that's traditionally wary of online sales and where the local word for "indie games" (doujin games) is more akin to "games just for us?" And how do you sell those games to the outside world and change the minds of critics with a Phil Fish ‘They Just Suck’ point of view? If you're James Mielke, you throw a party.
Mielke, the former editor-in-chief of Electronic Gaming Monthly and 1Up.com, launched BitSummit last year as an attempt to invigorate the Japanese indie scene. With a distinguished panel of speakers, live performances, and a large international press presence, BitSummit is every bit as much an exhibition as the Tokyo Game Show or E3. But where those events are large marketing venues for international corporations, BitSummit takes a different aim. Rather, following in the footsteps of the Game Developers Conference, Mielke's Kyoto event is a place for creativity and collaboration to flourish.
BitSummit; Year Two
A year ago, Mielke put together the first BitSummit, inviting indie developers such as Yohei Kataoka (director, Tokyo Jungle) and representatives from big players like Unity and Valve alike. It was such a success that this year the Kyoto government granted them US $30,000 for the event without any stipulations.
For the second annual BitSummit, the organizers invited speakers ranging from Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Lumines, Child of Eden, and more) to Brian Davis (Next Level Games, developers of the most recent Luigi’s Mansion game) to ZUN (behind the one-man Team Shanghai Alice). In addition to the speakers, the event saw musical performances from composers for games like Parappa the Rapper (Masaya Matsuura) and Mega Man (Manami Matsumae) as well as chiptunes artists including Professor Sakamoto and Chipzel.
What’s Japan’s Deal?
Mielke's attempt to establish an event like BitSummit might bewilder some. While the indie movement has taken off overseas, thanks in no small part to distribution services like Steam and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, in Japan the scene has yet to gain momentum despite its decades-long history.
Some put the blame with Japan's slow warming to online distribution or the hobbyist reputation of doujin developers. It could be that the global reach of developers such as Nintendo, Square Enix, and Capcom is a matter of national pride. Perhaps the slow growth could stem from the tendency of developers to behave like other Japanese in gravitating towards safe, well-established employers. You could probably spend all day linking the state of indie games in Japan with your favorite cocktail of Japan clichés and pronouncements from outside observers.
未来へ行こう！Toward the Future!
Or you could instead focus on the potential. You could see a market where Apple and Google have paved the way for games and apps developed by small studios and distributed electronically. You could see a game development tradition that started decades ago with small teams of passionate tinkerers. You could see a country where communities that pull together can achieve great things. You could take a look at all that and, like James Mielke, you could decide to throw a party.
Official BitSummit site.
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AkihabaNews contributor Greg Flynn is a Yokohama-based gaming, photography, and why-did-you-walk-so-far-across-Tokyo enthusiast. His interests range from chiptunes to chocolate chip cookies to inexpertly lobbing darts now and then. Look for his posts on gaming and life in Japan.