Why Day of the Devs Is Like a Mini Woodstock for Gamers

Why Day of the Devs Is Like a Mini Woodstock for Gamers

Double Fine Productions' Day of the Devs is a public celebration of indie gaming that takes place in San Francisco . Glixel / Getty / Edge Magazine

Low-key, fan-focused game gathering is the anti-E3 for indie game developers

Low-key, fan-focused game gathering is the anti-E3 for indie game developers

In 2012, game designer Tim Schafer – the man behind fan-favorites Psychonauts and Brütal Legend – decided that he wanted to create a different kind of gathering for video game fans. Inspired by the indie spirit, he wanted to build something that was the antithesis of the most high profile game show – the noisy, big-budget Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The gaming festival that he ultimately created, Day of the Devs, is now in its fourth year and will be holding its largest event yet this Saturday in San Francisco. It is completely free, open to anyone, and attendees will be able to check out more than 50 hotly anticipated indie games before their release.

Schafer attended the first of the annual E3 industry trade shows in May of 1995. At the time, he was a designer at Lucasarts – the game studio attached to Lucasfilm – in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he created quirky, hilarious graphic adventure titles like Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. His work topped the charts and developed an ardent cult following, but at E3, it was literally drowned out by the spectacle on the show floor in Los Angeles.

E3 is ground zero of the console wars, and publishers and platform holders compete to see who can build the most elaborate booth, and who can create the most deafening din. "There were lasers everywhere, and the sound was cranked to 11," Schafer says. "There were no limits on the sound a booth could pump out back then." (People working the booths nowadays carry decibel recorders so they can make sure that no one is violating legal limits on noise.)

Schafer recalls being so overwhelmed by the cacophony and the chaos of E3 that he literally had to flee the convention hall. "I was hiding behind the Port-A-Potties out back and just panting; I was so relieved to be out of that," he says.

Two decades later, Schafer doesn't really need E3 any more. He runs his own game studio, Double Fine, which bypasses retailers by selling its games online. It also bypasses big publishers by raising the money required to make games though crowdfunding and equity investment. They've had so much success that they've started to act as a sort of mini-publisher and incubator, helping other independent devs get their games to market and promote them, and even making office space available to them.

The Day of the Devs event seemed like a logical extension of this sort of outreach. "It's the end point of what we've been trying to do, putting the spotlight on creativity," says Schafer. "Day of the Devs is about celebrating these crazy people who make games, not the spectacle and the marketing drive of E3. It showcases the connection between the player and the creator. You can bring your kid and your spouse who maybe doesn't like games, and say, 'This is what it's all about.'"

Some of the games on display, like the co-op adventure Knights and Bikes, are being published by Double Fine. But most have no connection – the games on display range from the simple student-made action title Ape Out to Tacoma, an ambitious and hotly anticipated second release from the makers of the acclaimed Gone Home. Some titles were chosen because of the buzz they had already gained; others were discovered via an open call for submissions. Developers are coming from as far away as China and South America.

Many games will be playable for the first time, including Yooka-Laylee, a 3D platformer from the creators of the venerable N64 franchise Banjo-Kazooie. Day of the Devs has long served as a coming out party for indie hits. "The first year, we only had 10 games, but it was stuff like Hohokum and Transistor and Super Time Force," says Greg Rice, vice president of business development at Double Fine. "Last year was a big coming out for Secret Legend, and we also blasted people with Thumper for 15 minutes." The latter, a "rhythm violence" game from two people who used to work at Harmonix, was recently released to strong reviews and buzz and is one of the standout launch titles for Sony's PlayStation VR headset.

"Music is something that's always been a big part of the event," says Rice.This year, it will feature performances by musicians who created the memorable soundtracks for games like Oxenfree, Pixeljunk Eden and Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP. Phil Fish, the reclusive and mercurial creator of the 2012 indie platformer Fez, will be deejaying

The musical performances and the games, plus the game-related artwork and merchandise on display thanks to co-presenter of the event iAm8bit, make Day of the Devs feel more like a cultural happening than a conference. Call it the Woodstock of games, but with less nudity.

Schafer isn't so grandiose."Normally, you can't have anyone under 18 or any alcoholic beverages at these shows," Schafer says. "But ours has kids and alcohol! It's like a German biergarten with games!"