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What indie game festivals do for the big publishers

More publishers need to take a chance on independents, says IndieCade chair Celia Pearce, who believes festivals like IGF and IndieCade can make for excellent market-testing. "Just find the line."
IndieCade chair Celia Pearce is quite proud of the festival's annual E3 showcase. Speaking with Gamasutra on the show floor at this year's conference not two weeks ago, Pearce spoke of booths like the showcase, and regular festivals like Independent Games Festival and her own IndieCade, as a necessary corrective to the dilemma of getting publishers in touch with small developers. "The strategic benefit [of indie game shows] to publishers is that independent developers come up with these games on their own, they don't have any constraints, and then they get market-tested at festivals," said Pearce. "You can go to IGF or IndieCade and see where people are lining up. You don't even have to look at the game. Just find the line and you'll know what people are into." On display at this year's IndieCade showcase was Sportsfriends, the recently-announced PlayStation 3 quartet of party titles. Sportsfriends was part of the Indie Eight shown off at Sony's June 10th press conference, but wasn't playable at Sony's massive PlayStation fortress in the LA Convention Center's West Hall. It could only be found here, in IndieCade's nook of South Hall. This is not to say Sportsfriends wasn't seeing plenty of attention, as the showcase space was crammed to the gills throughout the conference. With 37 titles on display, it topped out as the exhibitor with the most games at this year's E3 -- and not a single one went neglected. Crowds around some of the bigger draws like Hohokum (also advertised at Sony's press conference) and Space Team prove Pearce's point: the longer the wait to play, the clearer it is you have a potential hit on your hands. "A lot of times [publishers] will come and stumble in here," said Pearce. "We've had a few games published that way." Naturally, a lot of IndieCade's success stories draw upon the festival's close relationship with Sony, which in addition to funding and regular presence at its events hosted a game jam at the recent IndieCade East. This is not to say it's Sony's way or the highway if you want to get your game noticed at the IndieCade showcase, but it's one path several developers have followed. In general, Pearce said it's in any publisher's best interests to reach out to independents. "Indies are going to be the ones that push the medium forward... It doesn't make any sense to blow off the indie community, unless you're Disney and you have brands stockpiled," said Pearce. "But even Disney contracts a lot of their stuff out." If major publishers don't want to take a chance on independents, "It's their loss," said Pearce. "Eventually they’re going to realize that people are getting bored of the same old stuff... Once again, E3 is full of clones and sequels. It's sequelitis on parade. Everything else is just higher fidelity of the same old crap." "I like that we're offering something different." IndieCade is currently accepting late submissions for its October festival. Submissions are open until June 30th.

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