Bit Summit Gaiden: A Look Back

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BitSummit 2019 photo courtesy of BitSummit.org

BitSummit for many of us developers here in Japan, is the premiere event of the year. Sure, Tokyo Game Show is big, but Indie and AA have never quite felt at home with the larger, more corporate studios, where vying for floor space and spectacle is more important than the games themselves. Being held in the heart of Kyoto and only a stone’s throw away from the Q-Games office was an added bonus too!

With BitSummit, developers and industry professionals could come together — not just from within Japan but abroad too — in a far more friendly, welcoming and intimate environment. Booths and developers of all kinds, and games of all genres could be counted together and enjoyed by fellow developers and the public, while industry professionals and publishers could walk the floor and make lasting connections.

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Koji Igarashi of Castlevania fame, checking out the various indie titles

2020 was to be BitSummit’s eighth outing, and with all successful events, it was going to outshine the previous year in leaps and bounds.

And then COVID-19 happened.

International travel closed down, businesses shuttered and one after another, all of the world’s major videogame industry events cancelled, refunds paid out. Many of us had our fingers tightly crossed at the time, as BitSummit 8 was in the summer and perhaps that might have given things a chance to settle down. But as we all watched on, the event looked less and less likely. This outbreak became a full-blown pandemic and the Bit Summit organizers had to make a decision.
Would it skip a year? Would they try again months later?

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Through meetings behind closed doors, it didn’t take long to find an answer. BitSummit 8 would be reimagined as BitSummit Gaiden, a fully online event centered around Discord chat spaces, live-streamed games, Q&As — and with the support of Utomik a Netherlands based gaming platform — over 1,000 gaming titles could be played for free, including the selected titles on show at this virtual event.

Nobody knew how successful it would be, if at all. But with rallied support and a deep passion for the event, BitSummit Gaiden provided a chance for indie developers to show off their games, where there would have otherwise been none. Though the exact numbers have yet to be revealed, through the use of YouTube and Twitch live-streaming, local participation may have been down, but the event had far greater online and international reach than before.

Through the combined efforts of publications such as IGN Japan, GameSpark and many other outlets and developer operated streams, there was always something to check out during the two day event. And with the aid of modern technology, including Twitch, Discord and social media, developers had a direct link to interested parties, supporters and fans.
Digital giveaways were held periodically, with game codes as well as merchandise such as t-shirts and plush toys all up for grabs.

While BitSummit might not be a perfect recreation of the physical event, everyone came together to make Gaiden an exemplary example of how industries, events and businesses can continue to operate effectively during a crisis.
The unconventional and complex situation that is a global pandemic couldn’t beat out the strong indie spirit, which allowed BitSummit to retain the same heart and welcoming appeal of past iterations.

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