"You look at consoles now and they're just overrun by indie games," Double Fine Productions VP of business Greg Rice told GamesIndustry.biz last month. "It seems like the indie apocalypse is real, and now the vast majority of games are indie games rather than AAA games these days."
"Wait, the indie apocalypse is real, but there's a bunch of games?" Double Fine founder Tim Schafer interrupted.
"I guess in terms of the indies are taking over," Rice explained.
"Oh, not the death of all indies," Schafer responded with a chuckle. "The taking over of the world by indies. That's a good point."
If Rice and Schafer share the angst of some others about the proliferation of indie games on the market and the impact that might have on viability, they don't show it. Regardless, they are doing something to address it, in their own way. Next week, Double Fine will be co-hosting (along with iam8bit) the fifth annual Day of the Devs at The Midway in San Francisco.
"We wanted to show off games as art, by the artists that made them, to the people who play them"
The event began in 2013 as a way for Double Fine to show off Broken Age at an event where everyone was welcome to come and play, an idea that paired well with the crowdfunded game's focus on open development. They knew they wanted to have as many people as possible try it out, but figured they'd need a lot more to draw the crowds than one game. So they reached out to other indie developers and put together a slate of a dozen other unreleased titles that would also be featured at the event, including Transistor, Hohokum, and Super Time Force.
"We'd been to shows like PAX and things like that," Rice explained. "It was in the early days of our self-publishing, where we were starting to take our games around to these kind of shows. And we were really taken with the feeling you get being in a room like that, surrounded by fans of your stuff and the kind of atmosphere that comes along with that is really infectious and engaging. It kind of stuck with us, so we wanted to replicate that in a way... The vibe of the whole thing was intended to be that we're huge fans of the industry and of games as an art form, and we wanted to show off games as art, by the artists that made them, to the people who play them."
More than 1,000 people came to check out the games, and they knew that if they wanted to do it again it would need to be bigger, both in terms of venue size and games lineup. Sure enough, Day of the Devs was bigger the next year, and has continued growing each year since. Last year's event topped 5,000 people, and Double Fine is hoping more show up this year. The lineup of games has also expanded; this year's show will feature 70 unreleased games. And beginning with last year's show, Double Fine has opened up the selection process to public submissions for what turned out to be between five and ten spots in the lineup. This year they received more than 300 applications from developers who wanted their games in the show.
In some ways, Day of the Devs' explosive growth has mimicked that of the indie gaming scene, and Double Fine now finds itself--however unintentionally--in the role of a gatekeeper, deciding which titles will benefit from the spotlight of the event. Rice said having more games to pick from has made the job of selecting participants easier, but he's mindful there will always be choices made that tilt the playing field one way or the other.
"We try to make sure we put an equal light on all the games," Rice said. "We actually handle all the set up and signage ourselves to make sure they're uniformly arranged, and all given their own space."
Schafer added, "It's not so much that you can't see it all in one day. It's not like a giant stadium show where you only see a small fraction. You can easily walk through each room and see every game during the day."
That said, the event has still grown to the point that the Double Fine team is actually meeting developers at the show. For example, Schafer said he met the developers behind Ooblets for the first time at Day of the Devs last year, and soon thereafter went on to sign the game to Double Fine's publishing label, Double Fine Presents. (Ooblets is at this year's show again, as are three other Double Fine Presents titles.)
"Once you've gone through the process of digging through 300 games and trying to pick 70, it shows you how important it is to stand out from the crowd"
Like Day of the Devs, Double Fine Presents has been growing year-over-year. Rice said it's "becoming more and more of a real business entity within Double Fine," and the studio now employs multiple people who focus specifically on the publishing side of the business. Additionally, they've started to fund projects directly through the publishing label, which widens the pool of projects they can bring on board.
Rice and Schafer have understood the developer's perspective on events and publishing for some time, but the growth of Day of the Devs and Double Fine Presents has given them a new appreciation for what it's like on the other side of those businesses that they can take back to the rest of their work.
"I don't think anyone fully knows the ins and outs of how to promote a game," Rice said. "But I think the biggest thing I've learned about it is how to present our stuff, just from how people are presenting their stuff to us. Just lessons about how to make sure you're presenting yourself clearly, quickly, and succinctly more than anything.
"But I've also found once you've gone through the process of digging through 300 games and trying to pick 70, it shows you how important it is to stand out from the crowd by being unique and different. The things that seem derivative or look like another game that's been submitted already are the things that usually fall off the list, where if something jumps out and looks unlike anything else on the list, that's usually a good sign."
Schafer is arguably a little less practical with his takeaway from the Day of the Devs experience.
"Games are actually great, and game players are great," Schafer said. "It's almost like the antidote for the internet. You can look at the internet and get all kinds of crazy ideas that people are angry and fighting about stuff, and the games industry is in trouble because everything is so repetitive and imitative. Then you see the trailer for all the games that will be at Day of the Devs, you're like, 'Oh my god, games are amazing. People are doing amazing things in games. Everyone is so different.' It's a really inspiring, rejuvenating event."