A Brief Guide to BitSummit, Japan's Indie Expo

A Brief Guide to BitSummit, Japan's Indie Expo

We're in Kyoto to cover BitSummit! But what is BitSummit? Here's what you should know.

Welcome to our coverage of BitSummit 2016, which is once again coming to you from Japan's ancient capital, Kyoto.

BitSummit is a bit off the beaten path as far as game conferences go, but we like to try and attend as much as possible because it offers a window into Japanese game development that is tough to get anywhere else. It also has a much more intimate vibe than other game conferences, giving us considerably more access than we might otherwise get.

But what is BitSummit, exactly? If you didn't catch my coverage from last year, here's a brief guide for you.

What is BitSummit?

BitSummit is an exposition dedicated to promoting the Japanese independent development scene. Now in its fourth year, BitSummit was the brainchild of James Mielke, Q Games founder Dylan Cuthbert, and a handful of others. BitSummit is open to the public and features talks by industry luminaries, live musical performances, and demos from both Japanese and western indie game developers. To get a better idea of what BitSummit is all about, check out my blogs from last year's show.

Why does it matter?

Japan's independent game development scene is still relatively new. It has picked up momentum in recent years, but the combination of the doujinshi (hobbyist) tradition, lack of penetration by digital platforms, and the tendency to stay with one large studio has kept indie development from exploding in Japan as it has in other countries. BitSummit offers support to indie developers who otherwise might not have an opportunity to share their wares. It also offers a window into the scene for the Japanese public, giving them an opportunity to go hands-on with everything from Downwell to Shovel Knight to Videoball and see what these games are all about. Finally, BitSummit is a place for Japanese and western developers to meet up, make contacts, and do their share to promote the Japanese game development scene.

But what does it mean for American gamers?

Japanese indie development obviously lags well behind the American indie scene, but hobbyists in the west still have a vested interest in its success. The indie scene allows Japanese developers on their strengths, particularly 2D and retro game development. It also offers a refuge for veterans of legendary games like Chrono Trigger who might otherwise be buried in mobile game development or exit the industry altogether. In many respects, indie development is an opportunity for Japanese game creation to get back to its roots and rediscover what made it so successful in the first place; and for Americans, that means more high-quality games. BitSummit is a place for these developers to gather and get the support they need to succeed.

Why is it in Kyoto and not Tokyo?

Both Kanto and Kansai have indie meetups, but you could say that Kyoto is the spiritual home of Japanese indie game development. It is home to Q Games, 17-bit, and Vitei Backroom, which you might call Japan's indie development triangle. As Cuthbert pointed out to be me, "There’s a big non-Japanese game developer community here in Kyoto. Arguably, bigger than Tokyo even. In terms of actual production and developers, especially." Aside from that, Kyoto isn't as overwhelmingly huge as Tokyo, which allows BitSummit to stand out a bit more than it would otherwise.

Hironobu Sakaguchi drew a crowd for his talk at this year's BitSummit.

What can we expect this year?

Nintendo will be at this year's show, which is something of a coup given that they don't even attend Tokyo Game Show. Wonder Boy, which aims to rekindle the classic series with a complete remake, will also be appearing for the first time. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Platinum producer Atsushi Inaba, Grasshopper Manufacture founder Goichi Suda, and Chrono Trigger developer Kenichi Nishi will all be speaking at the event, and we plan to interview as many of them as humanly possible.

I'll be blogging at BitSummit throughout the weekend, culminating in a round-up and some final thoughts. You can also expect a few more blogs about my journey though Japan in general as I soak up the game scene, visit as many shops and arcades as possible, and try to get a feel for how things have changed over the past couple years. Until then, I'll see you on the showfloor.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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