Bit Bash is a free independent games festival being held in Chicago on September 6. It's the pet project of Jamie Sanchez, a creative professional who lives in the city, as well as other indie game developers and other members of of the Indie City Collective, a game development association and co-working space on Chicago's North Side.
Sanchez says that the Chicago indie game scene is in need of better local as well as international promotion. With Bit Bash, she hopes to light a fire in the city and help promote the work of the growing enclave of developers there.
"I had been hearing rumblings in Chicago for the need for more community gatherings," Sanchez told Polygon. "The need to get people, the public, interested. Involved. Educated on some level about indie games.
"But we also needed something to help other developers converge on."
"There's a need in Chicago to get the public interested. Involved. Educated on some level about indie games."
The team that Sanchez came together around her includes Ryan Wiemeyer (The Men Who Wear Many Hats, Organ Trail), Rob Lach (Pop: Methodology Experiment One), Brice Puls, Andy Saia, Tom Eastman (Trinket Studios), Rob Lockhart (Codemancer), David Laskey (The Amiable, Tetrapulse), Lena Masek, John Murphy (The Young Horses, Octodad) and Kyle Bailey (Phosphor Games). Together they've made the decision to make a personal investment, both of their time and of their own money, to make sure the festival comes together.
"If we have a problem meeting our financial needs through sponsorships and donations," Sanchez said, "the Indie City Collective is willing to put money behind this because ... we want to see this happen. We want to see this succeed, from a personal angle, in hopes that the community will be more than willing to support this project going forward."
One of the event's early sponsors is Threadless. The T-shirt company is donating their parking lot as well as a large indoor space to the event, which will be open to the public.
"If it's a nice day," Sanchez says, "We're hoping to have some games set up in the parking lot, like Johann Sebastian Joust. I'm hoping to get that running as long as possible in that space.
"Inside we're looking at approximately six to seven projector setups; a number of stations with just computers where someone could sit down and take on a single player experience; a few arcade games and a couple of lounge spaces.
"People can walk around this space, discover these games at their own pace. If they're more of the social type, they can go ahead and check out the projector games, local co-op games."
One of the goals is to have volunteers on hand by each game station to help walk new players, young and old, through these games. These game interpreters will be available for simple instruction and troubleshooting, but also to inform the public about the people behind the games.
Sanchez says that the team was inspired by similar events, like those held by The Wild Rumpus, that brought games to people who might not have been exposed to them in a public space before. But a big focus of Bit Bash is the promotion of the local game dev scene.
"Hopefully at each station we can get a good chunk of information about the game itself and why it's important to the community," Sanchez says. From 2 p.m. - 7 p.m. the event will be all ages, and after seven kids will be kicked out. That's when a DJ will set up shop for a more adult party until around midnight.
Chicago has long been called "the Second City," playing the historical second fiddle to the entertainment hub that is New York. But when it comes to game development, it's been a bit of a wasteland since Midway Games went out of business. The most recent Gamasutra salary survey says that game developers in the midwest region of the United States make, on average, $19,000 less per year than their counterparts in the West. Just by living there, the numbers say that game devs make 20 percent less than their peers.
It's a trend that Sanchez hopes to turn around by holding the Bit Bash festival.
"We hope that Bit Bash will be an opportunity to entice [indie developers] to stay in Chicago," Sanchez says. "There may be those who thought, ‘Gee, I'm never going to be able to support myself and my family off of the community here." There may be those who think they're entirely isolated, that they're the singular developer in Chicago that isn't working for a larger sized studio.
"They shouldn't have to move to California. We have resources right here and we invite them to be part of this community."
"I love Chicago. I hope to never leave. Ryan [Wiemeyer] and I, we've been together for a number of years ... Both of our livelihoods are here. Both of our families are here. We know that fear [of having to relocate] and we want to make this a more amicable place for developers to stay."
You can get your free ticket online, but organizers suggest you make a $10 donation. A portion of the proceeds from Bit Bash will go to benefit Chicago Loot Drop, a non-profit organization that supports University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital.
Edit: Changes have been made to reflect that the leadership for the event rests with the Indie City Collective as a whole, and not solely on Jamie Sanchez.