How Day of the Devs Grew From A Launch Party to The Game Awards' Indie Showcase
‘We try to make sure this is a space where everyone can feel welcome.’
A giant cop watching a suspect from stories above, a telephone hotline for domestic cryptids, the horror of having a bad landlord who’s also a witch — those are just a few unexpected things on display at this year’s Day of the Devs: The Game Awards Edition stream. For more than a decade, Day of the Devs has been the go-to showcase for the best in-development indie games you won’t see anywhere else.
Originally conceived as a launch party for Double Fine’s Broken Age, Day of the Devs has grown from a single party to a worldwide event with an in-person festival and multiple showcase streams. For the first time, Day of the Devs partnered with The Game Awards this year, bringing it to even more people.
Before moving to his current role as head of PlayStation Creators at Sony, Greg Rice helped start Day of the Devs during his time at Double Fine. He recently spoke to Inverse about the origins of the show and how it keeps setting itself apart after all these years.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
When Day of the Devs started as the Broken Age launch party, did you intend to keep it going this long?
We were just trying to have a cool party, show off some games, and see if people showed up. We had over 80,000 backers, so we knew we would need a lot of space and something to help fill it. We had a really great lineup for the first year. It was like 12 games, but about 1,000 people showed up.
Early seeds of Gamergate-type stuff were cropping up around then, and there were issues regarding safe spaces at gaming industry events. We wanted to tackle that challenge with an event that would be more welcoming to everybody. It grew and took on a life of its own, and now it has multiple showcases and digital streams. It's been nice to see it live off of this independent spirit it was founded with.
You mentioned wanting to make Day of the Devs a safe space. How do you make an event like this feel more inclusive?
One of the bonuses was starting from the Double Fine fan base, which has a very welcoming audience based in San Francisco, which itself is a very welcoming city. So we were lucky a cool crowd showed up, but we realized we needed to put together a policy around how we wanted to represent the show.
We try to make sure this is a space where everyone can feel welcome. We have developer lounges for people who need to get away from the loud noise and have volunteers on staff, so if someone needs to step away, they can watch the games for them. I think good communities breed good behavior, and we’ve been pretty lucky with the audience we've gained.
How do you search for diverse voices and foster them?
I'm lucky that, at PlayStation, I get to travel a lot, see the world, and meet developers from all over. One part of having that diversity represented is making sure we're getting people from various countries and backgrounds. We have questions on our submissions form asking people where they're from and if they're from an underrepresented group, and we take that into account.
But we make sure we have diverse content, too. I want to showcase games with a variety of art styles and game mechanics so there's nothing that necessarily looks like the other games in the show. I want it to feel like there are a lot of ideas and everything comes from a personal place from the moment the show begins.
The curation committee that looks at games all year helps. When I didn't have the curation committee, I'd get the first 80 percent really easily, but then choosing those final five and where to draw the line and say no was always a real challenge.
Compared to some other showcases, Day of the Devs has a small number of games. How do you boil down all the submissions to what ends up being a very small group? What makes you go, oh, that that's got to be in here?
When I started, it was all invites. It was just me reaching out to games that I thought were standout titles. But over time, we started opening up submission portals, and now we have the curation committee involved.
We really want to spotlight the indie games that we think are best in class, that are going to be on best indie game of the year lists. We want to see stuff that feels like it stands out of the crowd, both visually and mechanically. I'm always trying to find something new. Since we see so many games, the kind of stuff I’ve never seen before jumps out.
The other thing that I'm always looking for is something that feels really personal. If the dev can get across who they are, where they're from, what their perspective is, and that's reflected in the content, that's usually when I get the most excited. It feels like, oh, this is something only that person can make, and it wouldn't exist without them as the artist.
You’ve partnered with Summer Games Fest for a few years, and The Game Awards starting this year. How did those partnerships get started?
We've been friends with host Geoff Keighley forever. We've had a ton of games from Double Fine in his showcases, whether it's the Game Awards or E3 Coliseum. But ultimately, the connective tissue there is iam8bit. Iam8bit and Double Fine are the original two partners who came together for Day of the Devs. Iam8bit also runs Summer Game Fest’s live in-person component, so they were able to carve out some space for us to be on the floor with some indies. That's grown over the last two years, and it opened the door to do something alongside The Game Awards.
The in-person event always seems to have a few games, like How (Not) To Get Hit By A Self-Driving Car this year, that make everyone who didn’t get to go jealous. How do you find similar games that can only be played in person?
We've had Alt Ctrl games in the past. The first didn't have too many, but then it quickly spun up and we've always had one or two. My thinking is that if you're going to get people to leave their houses and brave a crowd, they should have experiences they wouldn't be able to have at home.
Another good example of this is when we had Multibowl from Bennett Foddy, which is a game that will never be released. It takes old ROMs and pits you against somebody in a random game. I still have that build because I don't know if there will ever be a way to play it other than at a show like this.
It's cool to just think about spotlighting game mechanics as an art form. I do want to be careful about it. I think there is a danger of going full art house or into a place where these things will never be commercial or could never be played at home.
Where do you want Day of the Devs to go from here? Are there any ideas you have for shows you haven’t been able to do yet?
I think it's always good to evolve and not be complacent. We have a lot of ideas about things we could fit into the greater mission of supporting game developers. For now, the big thing is just expanding the number of shows we're doing. We have a footprint in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and this year, we also went to Bit Summit and had an eight-game showcase on the floor at Bit Summit in Japan.
There's a lot we could do, and as long as the vision is always about spotlighting developers and creating a space for them to connect with their community, I think it's in our wheelhouse. Hopefully, you will see more from us.