Diving In: An Interview with Devolver Digital
Devolver Digital is something of the video game industry’s crazy, cool uncle. Charismatic, eccentric and dynamic, Devolver Digital has managed to carve a wild and exciting niche in the video game world, daring to stand out from big-name publishers thanks to a robust roster of games and a dedicated approach to fostering talent. Since the company’s founding in 2011, Devolver Digital has been a continuous champion of the independent game movement, publishing and working on some of the biggest little games ever made.
Last week, Devolver Digital’s Graeme Struthers took the time out of his schedule to speak with us, sharing insight into the philosophy of gaming’s most interesting publisher.
RP: For those that would rather hear it straight out of the horse’s mouth, would you mind sharing the origin of Devolver Digital?
GS: We had all worked together, in some cases several times before, prior to founding Devolver Digital. Mike, Rick and Harry were founding members of The Gathering of Developers back in the late 90’s, so the core idea of Devolver had been established many years before.
The opportunity to put together a new company was something we all wanted to do, as it seemed to us that the potential of digital content allied to all of our experiences meant we had a real chance of building something based on the ‘artist first’ approach that GOD games has championed. Also [we] figured that no one was ever going to hire any of us anyways, so Devolver was really an imperative.
There’s little denying that Devolver Digital is one of the gaming world’s most exciting – and unique – publishers, thanks largely to the diverse portfolio of games you work on. Is there a method to the Devolver madness when it comes to finding new projects?
Thanks for that! I guess the most obvious thing to say is that the projects we have worked on and are working on now, are all games we want to play ourselves. It really is as simple as that. I guess we have managed to create all of our own “perfect jobs” following that basic premise.
Also, when you avoid having rules as much as we do, it does give you a really open mind as to what you could do.
It is also worth repeating that what has made us interesting has been the artists behind the games and their validation of how we work has been crucial. Often the next project for us has come from a personal recommendation and introduction from the teams we have been working with.
2014 was a standout year for Devolver, with Hatoful Boyfriend, Always Sometimes Monsters and The Talos Principle earning major critical praise. What’s 2015 looking like for Devolver Digital so far?
We did have a great 2014 and as far as 2015 is concerned, we could not be happier with what we are involved with. We have more Bros and pigeons to unleash. I don’t want to just throw out our release schedule here, as that feels lame, but it’s no secret that Dennaton are about release their next game, we have Roll7 in the final stretch of theirs, Acid Nerve are also reaching the finishing line, so already the first few months of 2015 feel great and as we move further into the year we have so many amazing games coming, I get a bit giddy just thinking about what is coming…
Crossing Souls seems to be heavily inspired by classic 80s movies and TV shows, what’s your favorite film from that era?
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Anyone who takes a stand against “isms” should be an icon for our times
As an indie publisher, are there any specific hurdles that Devolver Digital faces in comparison to some of the larger forces in the industry?
Our combined lack of skills with PowerPoint has proven to be a major issue time and again. That said, other than money, health care and stock options, I don’t feel that we lack anything in terms of being able to bring projects to gamers. Steam have been pivotal in this as we all know. All hail Steam basically.
One of my favorite characteristics of Devolver Digital, and arguably one of the company’s greatest strengths, is in your willingness to be accessible through Twitter and other means. Do you find that being open and interactive with fans and consumers is beneficial to building a dedicated following?
Without fans supporting games we would be gone in a heartbeat, so it has always been important to us that we get out to as many shows with the artists to put gamers in direct contact with the creators and for ourselves to be as open as we can be in how we “talk” to fans.
It seems so obvious to all of us that people who support Devolver are our greatest allies. They help amplify everything we do and we are truly appreciative of them.
Speaking of Twitter, Fork Parker recently reached out to Sega in regards to obtaining the Seaman license. Do you think that a Devolver Digital published Seaman game could ever come to fruition?
— Fork Parker (@ForkParker) December 30, 2014
Well if anyone can pull it off, Fork can. When he gets something under his skin he is pretty focused on making it happen.
We would love to be able to do it and already have way too many ideas for just one game!
What is the one thing a developer can do to make themselves stand out to you as a publisher?
I have tried to figure out a good answer here, thinking back to all the different ways we have had so far of meeting the teams we are working with.
I don’t know if we have an answer, it goes back to the game being something we want to play, but even on that point, if you had asked me 12 months ago if we would have been involved in Hatoful Boyfriend, I seriously doubt that I would have thought so, but once the guys at Mediatonc brought it up and I started playing it, it just seemed like the best idea.
I guess one thing all the teams have in common is that they have all known absolutely what they wanted to create and how they saw their game – no uncertainty, very clear principles and as strange as this sounds, no game we have been involved in has had a sales number bolted onto it. We recognize as much as anyone else does, you cannot create sales forecasts for pigeon simulators – so why would we pretend otherwise?
As a company that specializes in working with and publishing indie games, do you think that the recent explosion of the indie development has helped the video game industry evolve? How so?
Maybe the perfect storm of digital, of cool companies making technology available at really cool levels (Gamemaker, Unity, RPG Maker to name but a few) and a generation of gamers deciding to try and make games they themselves want to play, means we have had the perfect confluence of events to make this blow up.
Whatever all the ingredients are, the diverse nature of games that are being made, released and succeeding tells us that a huge number of gamers are totally open minded. That’s great and worth saying out loud, as at times we can get sidetracked by negativity when we are involved with one of the most exciting periods in gaming.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”