The organizers of the Tokyo Game Show seem to be struggling to figure out how best to fit indie games into a show that has traditionally been a venue for big publishers. This is the third year that TGS has had a dedicated indie game area, and it's been handled differently each year.
I asked eighteen developers for their opinions on how the indie area was handled this year. Lack of attention on the business days of the show seems to have concerned many of them, but the crowds on the public days left most of the developers satisfied, and some were even glad that the indie game area was not in the main halls.
First, a brief history of Tokyo Game Show's indie area
The first time TGS hosted an indie area, developers had to pay for their booth space. Those who opted to only be there on public days had to set up in a separate building that was also home to cosplayers and family games.
" I thought people would go straight for the merchandise booths and ignore us, but we've reached a point where people gather to see the indie games."
Last year, the indie game area was in the main hall for all four days of the show, and was sponsored by Sony. Sixty-eight developers were chosen, and the indie game area was surrounded by industry giants such as Sony, Sega, and SquarevEnix.
This year, the indie game area was in the separate building for the entire show--public days as well as business days. Sony again sponsored the indie game area, making the booths free for ninety-three selected exhibitors. The indie game area shared space with cosplayers, merchandise, food stalls, and the stages where eSports competitions were held.
My personal sense of how things went: The indie game area felt very empty on the first two days. But on the morning of the third day, all of the major gaming publications in Japan went around slapping stickers on the booths of their indie prize nominees. Any booth with three or four of those stickers seemed to have a constant stream of attendees willing to wait in line to play the game's demo.
First-time indie exhibitors give their take on TGS
Of the eighteen developers I interviewed about the indie game area at TGS, twelve were first-time exhibitors, and a few had never exhibited at any game show before. Some of the developers were unhappy about not being in the main area, especially since the business days saw few members of the press coming to the indie game area. To Klaus Pedersen of Bedtime Digital Games, "The first two days felt like some people didn't know that [the indie game area] existed at all."
"I'm a bit disappointed, to be honest," said undef, maker of Quadrant. "If you go to the main hall, you see everything's really buzzing and then you come here and it's like, 'Oh, we have this spare hall. Let's put indie games in there.' It doesn't really feel like they really value indie games as much as other festivals."
Everyone seemed happy with the public day crowds, though. "It's far from the major titles,but since the food court and merchandise are nearby, we've had more people than I expected," said Takuya Aizu of Inti Creates.
Marc Flury of Drool, showing innovative rhythm game Thumper, found the dedication of Japanese gamers surprising. "I've shown this game probably fifteen times and I've never seen this level hardcore gaming going on before," he says. "There's a line of people waiting. All of them are playing to the end of my demo and they're all psyched to do it."
A couple of people felt that being in the south hall was actually better than being in the main area would have been. Akihiko Koseki of Dice Creative surprised me with his enthusiastic response. "It's better than being in the main hall would be." he says. "I went over there yesterday, and there were booths from overseas surrounded by Japanese booths with lots of activity. They felt a little lonely."
Opinions of second- and third-time Tokyo Game Show exhibitors
Five of the developers I spoke to were showing in the indie game area of TGS for the second time. Quad Arrow's Masahiro Onoguchi felt that being stuck on the sidelines felt like the natural order of things. "We're indies, after all," he said.
"To be honest, it's probably quite good," says Alex Rose. "People who come here are not being distracted by AAA.... People here are actually interested in what they're seeing."
To Yuichiro Kitao of Gemdrops, the crowds felt just right. "Last time, there were too many people just passing through," he said. "This time, it seems like most people are actually playing the games."
Igor Noronha of Amazu Media found a silver lining amidst the lack of customers on the business days. "Last year, especially for the business days, there were many more people; I went home with a pile of cards," he says. "This time not many people came for the business days and it was very empty. But I feel I can connect more with the other developers."
The only developer I talked to who had exhibited their game all three years at Tokyo Game Show's indie area was Nigoro's Takumi Naramura, and he had an optimistic take "For the public days, I thought that many people would go straight for the merchandise booths and ignore us," he says. "However, there have been way more people ignoring the merchandise and coming straight over here than last year. We've reached a point where people gather to see the indie games."
[Image courtesy of Brandon Sheffield]