BitSummit, held in Kyoto’s Miyako Messe, had its biggest showcase yet in July, featuring over 100 game titles alongside their developers, publishers and associated businesses who came together to promote the magic of independently made video games.
“We wanted to do something that was different from the big shows like PAX,” says John Davis, co-founder of BitSummit. “It all started in 2012 as an intimate gathering to promote Japanese indies. People in the industry weren’t really talking to each other and we wanted to raise the profile of the indie industry in Japan as a whole.”
BitSummit took up the entire first floor of Miyako Messe, with several smaller breakout rooms below as private meeting spaces and resting areas. Continuing with the successful format of 2022, Friday remained a business day for industry-related individuals to meet and try out each other’s video games. At the weekend, domestic and international gamers gathered.
A Global Gathering
Independent developers from around the world were on the show floor with recently published games as well as sneak previews of upcoming titles. One new entrant to the show was the team from Imissmyfriends. studio, a two-person game studio from Goa in India. The studio was here showingcasing Fishbowl, a pixel art-style visual novel that weaves a depth personal story through exploratory elements and mini-games. Another first-timer was Infinite Whys from London with its online co-op murder mystery game, Whispers in the West. Set in the wild west, up to four players can take on a variety of roles to solve gruesome crimes.
“A lot of foreign developers have a soft spot for Japanese gamers,” said Davis, when asked about the global interest in BitSummit. “Many of us grew up with games from Japanese companies, played on Japanese consoles like Nintendo and PlayStation. There’s a point of pride in being part of game shows in Japan and being covered by Japanese media like Famitsu.”
Another key benefit of BitSummit that many participants mentioned throughout the weekend was the smaller scale of the event, relative to global showcases like GDC held in the United States or Gamescom in Germany. Developers and publishers are not only able to network among themselves more easily, but there’s also a level of closeness between them and their fans who’ve come to try out the games.
The Appeals of Kyoto
On top of all that, BitSummit is held in Kyoto, which sells itself. “A few people in the industry have actually said they want to come to do business in Japan but they don’t want to go to Tokyo. They get excited at the thought of Kyoto though, and see it as a business trip destination, so it’s easy for court people to come out,” says Davis.
For local Japanese developers and publishers, it’s a prime opportunity to connect with overseas developers on their home turf and tap into non-Japanese media who may be in attendance. It was a common sight to see game booths providing their demos in both English and Japanese to cater to the very international crowd.
Xearz by ABC Games is one such locally-made game, which features side-scrolling action interspersed alongside a storyline with themes of science fiction and philosophy. Inspired by classic Japanese titles such as the Castlevania series and Fatal Furyit explores the concept of self and whether there’s a difference between AI and human consciousness. At the other end of the spectrum is Stray Cat Doors 3 by Pulsmo, an adorable adventure game with puzzle elements and a storybook-esque art style.
A Team Effort
With thanks to JIGA (Japanese Independent Games Aggregate), Q-Games, Pygmy Studio, Skeleton Crew and BlackSheep, BitSummit continues to thrive as an event that is not only fun but also inclusive for all. The core team that runs it is a lean one, while much of the event is made possible thanks to the help of volunteer coordinators, support staff and interpreters.
The BitSummit team is keen to take the event from strength to strength, with many plans for the future.
“We’d like to do two floors [in Miyako Messe] next year, although this is still undecided,” reveals Davis. “The plan is that we want to include more analog types of games such as tabletop games and also have a doujin scene. This would be like artist alleys at events like Comic Con. The more space we have, the more we’re able to do.”