ChottoSummit: Japanese indie devs reflect on the JP indie scene post-BitSummit MMXIV
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I haven't put up a post about BitSummit this year, even though BitSummit is such a huge thing for me. Or maybe, perhaps, because it is such a huge thing for me. It's hard to know what, exactly, to say. I look at BitSummit with two perspectives in mind. On a personal level, BitSummit has been a fulfilling and lucrative endeavor. On a more meta level, I feel like BitSummit has quickly become a great influence in the world of Japanese indie developers.
The latter perspective feels like one that I kinda have to crane my neck to see any of, though. I am part of the video game industry now as a member of the IndieGames staff, but that's a recent thing and a side job which is lower on my priority list than my full time job teaching English. I live in Japan, but I am only half an hour away from being in the absolute northernmost subprefecture of the northernmost prefecture in Japan. (I could get to Russia by train and ferry in about the same amount of time it takes me to get to Kyoto by train and airplane.) A lot of what I know outside of BitSummit itself is secondhand information, often from other westerners involved in the Japanese indie scene.
The things I've heard from those people and what I've seen online myself has given me the impression that the Japanese indie scene isn't cohesive in the way the western indie scene is. Japanese indie developers don't exchange information that often. They might come together to party together, but they don't really help each other. The Japanese indie developers are like a bunch of treasure hunters floating on a dark sea at night with no lighthouses to see by, talking amicably when they come together, but quickly scattering out to map the islands alone. Having been involved in both BitSummits thus far, I've seen and heard things that support this impression, but I've also seen signs that change is in the wind.
Recently, some of the Japanese indie game developers who attended BitSummit got together to eat, drink, and be merry at an event they called ChottoSummit. (The title is a clever bit of bilingual wordplay; chotto is Japanese for "a little bit".) They streamed from that party, the archive of which is now available on YouTube. Translating the entire 1.5 hours of footage would be a massive undertaking that I don't plan to do, but there are some things in there that I felt were worth pulling out and sharing with everyone. Some of these things support the impression I had that Japanese indie developers don't really come together to support each other, some support my belief that things are changing, and others are just interesting to note.
I watched this at the end of a long day, so although there may be some mistakes in my understanding of what the devs were talking about, I am mostly listing things I am sure of. If anyone sees any mistakes, please let me know so I can fix them.
- Developer Riki was surprised about public day customers admiring and being able and eager to discuss even the small details of games, such as the parallax backgrounds on his NES game Kira Kira Star Night.
- Kimura of Onion Games liked the fact that the venue was dark because the games stood out and drew people's attention in the darkness.
- One developer commented that people who think, "Oh I love this kind of game, I'll make something like it," don't come up with new things. Sometimes, he said, you look at a game and think, "Oh, this person really likes old games," and that kind of game is completely different from what someone who likes modern games will create.
- One developer was talking about how he hates creating his own IP and would rather base his stuff on someone else's; another developer asked what IP meant. He didn't know. The others had to explain it to him, and it came up that it's more than just the characters and stuff, but also has to do with the branding. Licensing also came up. (It sounds like this is connected to a distinction Japanese developers make among themselves between doujin developers, which are more closely related to doujin fan comics and call themselves "circles" in similar fashion, and indie developers who are all about coming up with their own things.)
- They discussed the difference between what is meant by "game design" when spoken by a Japanese speaker vs. an English speaker, but I couldn't figure out the difference. Too tired, it was a nuanced difference, and I'm not familiar enough with that part of the industry on either side of the planet.
- The developers commented on the fact that Japanese indie developers are totally okay with getting together, hanging out, becoming friends... but they don't talk about what they're working on because they see each other as rivals.
- Kimura mentioned the fact that if you go to the US, to things like GDC, they have weird indie games like Papers, Please held up against big AAA titles and that's normal. Kimura adds that BitSummit has some of the feel of those big shows.
- One example he gave of how BitSummit is like GDC, the IGF, etc. is that with those big shows, developers come together from all over the world, exchange ideas, and then go home with relationships with people from all over, people they keep talking to and exchanging ideas with afterwards. (It wasn't explicitly stated that ChottoSummit itself was part of the connection, but there they were, talking about the state of the Japanese indie scene and how it compares to the scenes in other countries.)
- Kimura put forth the suggestion that all that exchanging of ideas has been healthy for the overseas indie ecosystem and maybe Japanese indie developers should do the same thing.
- The devs have heard BitSummit referred to as a mini-TGS, and although that could be seen as praise coming from an outside perspective, they really don't want to see it turn into another TGS.
- With some exceptions (such as Goat Simulator), western indie games tend to be in development for longer than do Japanese indie games. Wonderment about how western indies survive such long development cycles ensued.
- There will be a second ChottoSummit next month, so maybe we'll get more insights from Japanese developers. (I, for one, am really looking forward to it.)