October 28, 2018

PAX Australia 2018 - A Chat with Graeme Struthers of Devolver Digital

PAX Australia has new companies showing up each year and for 2018 one of those was Devolver Digital and along with a very broad collection of games, Graeme Struthers was on hand, to talk about the company and was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule, to sit down and have a chat with me about a variety of topics.

Graeme and I left the loudness of the show floor and found a nice quiet space outside and had a nice chat about Devolver and where the company has been and where it is going. Something that I was not aware of, was that Devolver is the third attempt at this style of company, the first was started up in 1997 and was eventually acquired by Take Two, the second time the original team found a backer, but then the financial crisis hit and the backer vanished, but it was the third attempt that stuck and that is thanks in part to how the industry was changing.

Steam is a platform where, if you go browsing, you can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content, Graeme described it as a massive shift for the industry. No longer where they making a game, building up the physical assets, discs and more, only to have to wait up to four months to get money back, now they could get things within a month and because the games were digital, they were keeping their costs down. For the console side, it was still a challenge to get dev kits into developers hands, thanks to their pricey nature, but as the previous generation evolved, it began to change.

It seems that how Devolver get the games they are interested in, is simply by word of mouth form those that work there, someone will hear about a game and learn more about it and if they like it, they will show it too the team and then the conversations begin. But while Devolver are releasing a lot of games, they will only deal with the more business side for a developer, leaving the game creation up to the team or individual behind it. When it comes to the support they offer, Graeme likened it to ordering off a menu, if you need translation assistance, that is one part, ratings classification support, that’s another, you only need to worry about the parts you can’t do yourself, which is perfect for the teams they are working with.

When I asked if there was a genre that they gravitated to a lot, or not, Graeme was adamant that they did not go looking for anything specific but were adamant that gameplay was key. The games that Devolver release, all feature something in common, the gameplay is something you can learn and understand in minutes and then enjoy the game. Spending hours learning how a game plays is something that some players enjoy, but if you can understand something in a small timeframe, you will start enjoying things a lot more. As Devolver have covered everything genre wise, I asked if there was anyone genre that they have not really done and it turns out it’s the traditional platformer, as that was a hard one to crack.

As single person games are becoming more common these days, I wanted to know how Graeme saw things changing, thanks to new tools and models. Years ago, if you wanted to get into game development, you had to fork out a heap of cash on not only a development system, but also the tools, like Epic’s Unreal and that was before you could even begin, today though things have changed. GameMaker and Unity are now available for makers and they have launched with a new model, free to start, which gives new developers an easy way in, this model triggered such a change in thinking that Epic followed along. These changes, along with console makers becoming more open to smaller teams, is what Graeme believes is helping this increase in indie games and I for one think he is right.

Wrapping up our chat, I wanted to know a few final things, first, when might we expect the Devolver Digital kart racer, something Graeme mentioned they did think about a few years ago, not too seriously, but enough that they listed potential titles that they could use in it. My final question revolved around what Graeme thought of PAX Australia, though given it was only 30 minutes into the first day at this point, he did not have a lot of experience with the show, he stated that he loved it and how big the indie developer scene was in Melbourne.

My thanks to Graeme for taking the time to speak with me and I for one, can’t wait to see what comes next from the company that is Devolver Digital.

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