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Strangers in a Strange Land: Japanese Indies at PAX East 2014

by Nayan Ramachandran on 06/24/14 03:07:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


It’s common sense that attending an event overseas is an expensive endeavor. Despite being the overseas marketing manager for Playism, I don’t get to attend a lot of overseas events because of budget constraints. We’re a small outfit, and we have to pick and choose where our limited budget goes.

That’s why when I was given the chance to arrange a booth at PAX East 2014, I jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity we couldn’t afford to miss.

In mid 2013, my co-worker Josh and I began researching overseas events to attend to bolster our western visibility. We already attended events like Tokyo Game Show and BitSummit in Kyoto, but as expected, our Japanese side benefitted more than our western side did, despite the access to foreign press. Flagging western interest in Tokyo Game Show did little to help.

“Why don’t we attend PAX?” Josh asked me. “I went to PAX East last year, and it was amazing.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that, but having never gone myself, I still wasn’t sure why everyone was saying that. The only response I could pull from others was that the community-driven aspect of the show made it a different beast.

It seemed like the perfect event for us. It would be our first booth at a western event. When we began applying for space at PAX East in late 2013, it was already a tooth-and-nail fight. Previous exhibitors were offered the chance to exhibit again making it impossible for us to get booth space. Looking back on it, it was for the best.

That was when we first got in contact with the Indie Megabooth. We were in regular contact with Kelly and Chris from the Megabooth, and tried our best to explain our position.

“We’re not really just a translation company,” I told Kelly over email. “We’re trying to get these Japanese developers into the Western scene.”

It wasn’t a hard sell once they understood what we were trying to do. More than anything, we were facilitators. We just wanted to give our Japanese developers every opportunity to put their games in front of western audiences. When we received our acceptance email, we’re surprised to find that they had accepted not one, not two, but three of the games we’d submitted. Astebreed by Edelweiss, Kero Blaster by Studio Pixel, and La-Mulana 2 by NIGORO.

“We’re so excited to have Japanese indie games at the Megabooth this year,” Kelly said during our first Skype meeting. “Are you bringing the developers with you?”

It was an idea we’d toyed with when we first started talking about doing a booth at an overseas event, but seeing how excited the Indie Megabooth was to have them there sealed the deal. We had to take the developers with us.

When we began talking to each of the developers about going to PAX with us, some were excited, while others were reticent. We explained that we could go in their stead and exhibit the games for them, but there was no replacement for having them present.

La-Mulana developers, NIGORO, are event mavens. They attend every event they can possibly attend and aggressively engage their fanbase. PAX was an easy sell for them. The others, however, were doubtful that their presence would make any difference at the event. Trusting our judgment, though, they prepared their paperwork, and came along with us to Boston.

What they would experience was unlike anything they could have expected.

In hindsight, I totally understand where they were coming from. Outside of comments on the internet in a language they didn’t know, they had no idea what to expect from the western audience. To them, they were just humble Japanese developers making the games they loved.

Day 1 on the PAX show floor: the booth was prepared, and leaning around the corner, we could see droves of gamers of all types waiting with bated breath to see what PAX had to offer.

As the gates finally opened, visitors began running, not walking, for various booths. Almost all of them ran right by us and lined up to play Evolve, League of Legends, or one of the other AAA titles on display.

Was this it? Was this why we spent all this time preparing for PAX? So people could ignore us? I took a look around the Indie Megabooth, filled with developers doing last minute prep work. Most of the booths were empty.

“Don’t worry,” Josh said, patting me on the shoulder. “They’ll come.”

Soon enough, visitors began trickling from the AAA area into the Indie Megabooth. At first, some had no idea what to make of us. What is Playism? Are you the developer? What are these games? Josh and I began running around the booth, passing out flyers and answering a flurry of questions. All of a sudden, a crowd began to gather. Some came to see the gorgeous particle effects of Astebreed, while others were drawn to the old school graphical style of La-Mulana 2. Others were simply dying to play the new game from Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya.

Nal-san from Edelweiss was absolutely floored by all the love for Astebreed. Western gamers of all ages were playing the game and absolutely loving it. He couldn’t help but crack a smile as he watched from outside the booth.

Though, despite the joy that came from watching others play their games, both Amaya-san and Nal-san had work to do. The English versions of both Astebreed and Kero Blaster were still not finished, and both took the opportunity to work on their respective games at the booth.

Once in a while we’d have a visitor come by the booth and ask “So, I heard Pixel is here? Do you know anything about that?” I would simply point to the man in the frog suit furiously typing away on his laptop and say “That’s him right there.”

Their eyes would widen, and Amaya-san would step out from behind the booth to greet them in his own humble way. He thanked each person that talked to him, and took art requests without a second thought. As gamers left jubilant over their encounter, Amaya-san would return to his laptop to continue composing the music for Kero Blaster.

The ever-gregarious Nakamura-san and Naramura-san from NIGORO were happy to talk with any person that had a question to ask, language barrier be damned. When someone mentioned that they had contributed to the recent La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter, both Naramura-san and Nakamura-san would shoot from their seats to shake their hand.

When Naramura-san grew bored, he began drawing on loose leaves of paper and pasting his art around the booth. Booth attendees were so friendly and welcoming that the developers began to let their guard down more and more, and interacted with booth guests, even when they were sure communication would be difficult.

It was at that point that I understood why PAX was such a fantastic experience. It was a true celebration of gaming, together with the fans, and the developers had gotten swept away in it. It was also then that the developers understood why it was so important that they come to Boston with us.

If there had been any question in their minds about how western gamers regarded Japanese indie games and its creators, then PAX provided the answer. The outpouring of love for all three games was simply fantastic, and all of the developers returned to Japan with renewed spirit.

There's something very special about being reassured that while you're doing something purely because it's what you want to do, others still love that you do it.

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