Devolve or die

There were so many announcements during PlayStation’s E3 2014 media briefing that it’s hard to remember them all.

One that was unexpected – but perhaps not entirely unsurprising – was a sizzle reel trailer for a number of indie games by publisher Devolver Digital.

Sony has been very active within the indie sphere, and it was a big deal for Devolver to appear on its stage at such a high profile event.But at that particular point in time, the team at Devolver was not in the room. Instead, they were in a car park across the road of the E3 showfloor.

We were across the street in the parking lot when it happened,” Devolver’s code enforcement officer Graeme Struthers tells MCV. That’s what we could afford. We can’t afford to be inside at E3; it’s too expensive.

I had so many friends in the UK tweeting me, not even necessarily people who are involved in games, who just couldn’t believe it happened. We were still a little bit stunned it actually did happen. It just took things to another level. There was a massive hype balloon around E3 and we were lucky enough to get some of the helium.

Devolver is certainly a brand on the rise. The company is only five years old and is staffed by a mere six people, but it has already been behind multiple blockbuster indie hits, such as Hotline Miami and Luftrausers. And until recently, Struthers and the other UK-based employee Andrew Parsons held second jobs to pay the rent.

We had our fifth birthday in June, but the first three years we were all doing other things,” Struthers says. We weren’t earning any money from Devolver. We were trying to get off the ground. Last year myself and Andrew were earning enough to effectively go full time.”

Naturally, Struthers places this success firmly on the video games that Devolver has produced – and the firm’s considered approach.

All of our games have helped us grow,” he says. We have to be absolutely certain that when we sign a project that we actually have the money to commit to it, and everything that comes with funding a game, such as taking them to shows and QA and localisation.

We had to be certain that that money is available. We were super cautious making sure we didn’t overdo our overheads, didn’t incur costs and then hope that we were going to be successful. We needed to be absolutely certain, so we were very, very conservative.

Obviously Devolver has benefitted from the recent indie boom – and Struthers says there’s more to come.

If you imagine in the future with PS4, there might only be hundreds of games,” he states. There are fewer and fewer active publishers; your Activisions, EAs and Ubisofts aren’t releasing dozens of games – they are doing fewer, better, bigger and more immersive games. I wonder if perhaps the indie movement is a reaction to that.

Those platforms want to see more games being released, so that’s important. Small nimble teams making indie games fit that opportunity really well.

It’s great that both Sony and Microsoft have embraced that. That’s to their credit. They’ve made it easier for indie games to get out there.

Video games aren’t all that Devolver handles. It opened a film division, Devolver Digital Films, which has been producing and publishing movies from the indie scene. Will we eventually see a Hotline Miami film?

Films and games are entirely different,” says Struthers. What we do have in common are small, under-funded groups of people.Six people can’t make these films. We’re good at what we are doing, and I don’t think we’ll be deviating from that.”

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