James Mielke began working on BitSummit when he was a developer at Q-Games and realized that the indie scene in Japan lacked a sense of identity. Created to bring Japanese indie devs together in one space, the second annual BitSummit ran for three days earlier this month, and judging by the numbers, it was a big success.
Speaking at the Game Developers Conference, Mielke revealed that while 2013's BitSummit included 45 devs and under 200 attendees, 2014's event saw 5,000 attendees checking out games from 130 developers. That included one day of the event that was exclusive to media and two days that were open to the public.
Comparing the indie scenes in the West and in Japan, Mielke noted that Western independent developers are often known as individuals and create games that feel like the work of individuals. This goes against Japanese culture's "village mentality," which discourages individuality. Mielke created BitSummit partially as a means for these smaller Japanese developers to get their voices out there.
Tracing the roots of independent development in Japan, Mielke pointed to Daisuke Amaya, the creator of Cave Story. According to Mielke, Amaya not only single-handedly started the Japanese indie scene, but he also jumpstarted the Western indie movement.
Mielke admitted that part of the frustration that birthed BitSummit is related to the fact that there haven't been many significant Japanese indie games released since Cave Story. But he believes things are changing, and that the popularity of BitSummit is a sign of that. "This is where we'll find the next Miyamoto," Mielke said.
Mielke noted that in addition to putting developers in the spotlight, he wants BitSummit to connect developers with platforms and publishers for getting their games to an audience outside of Japan. In its first year, they invited Valve to the conference to meet with developers and discuss how they can get their games on Steam for global distribution. This year, Kickstarter attended along with special guest Keiji Inafune, whose crowdfunding campaign for Mighty No. 9 raised almost $4 million last year.
Mielke also revealed that BitSummit has been successful enough to attract some attention from the organizers behind the Tokyo Game Show. He says the BitSummit team met with TGS organizers who asked them questions about how they put together the event. However, instead of offering something similar, TGS tried to charge developers $200 a day for a table outside of the event's main hall. Mielke stressed that BitSummit is free for developers to attend and will remain so for as long as it's possible.
As Mielke continues looking for ways to expand BitSummit, he's looking to the West to gain more exposure for Japanese indie devs. Some developers from North America and Europe attended BitSummit this year, and Mielke says he's in talks with organizers at Western gaming events about potentially doing cross-branding with BitSummit. This could involve taking top entrants from the Japanese event and flying them to conferences in Europe and North America.
For more on James Mielke and the creation of BitSummit, check out Polygon's feature on it from last year.