Interview – Sam Roberts: Festival Director of IndieCade


On the last day of this year’s E3 Expo I met with Sam Roberts at the unassuming Indiecade booth for an interview in which we talked about the festival and the games it aims to support. I expected to see a lineup of interesting titles and hear a spiel about independent games’ superiority to their mainstream counterparts.

Instead, I saw a lineup of outrageous, nearly mind blowing titles and had a fascinating discussion with Sam about the role independent games serve in the relation to the overall games industry.

GS: Can you introduce yourself and explain what your relation is to IndieCade?

SR: I’m Sam Roberts and I’m the Festival Director for IndieCade. What that means is I help oversee the program with Celia Pearce who’s the Festival Chair. We curate the E3 showcase and we run the judging and jurying process.

GS: Can you explain what IndieCade is? What’s your mission statement?

SR: IndieCade is the international festival of independent games and basically we believe very deeply in independent games and the independent games scene. We think games are a wonderful medium and we like to see innovation and artistry in that medium. We exist to help expose and show people the breadth of independent games. We don’t specifically do digital games; we also show street games, board games, and digital games- games of all kinds. And, unlike other independent games festivals, we don’t happen in a specific closed audience where only a certain subset of people are gonna be able to see the games that we show. This allows us to show more games and also allows us to show them to the public at large which we think is important because we think a lot of these games are appealing to the public at large and they don’t really have a way to find out about them.

GS: I saw in the handout you guys had that you want to be the Sundance of independent games, right?

SR: The LA Times gave us that quote last year and it’s very helpful, but yes, actually. The great thing about what the film industry has done during its growth over the past century is find ways to still be an effective business medium while still allowing ways to discover new ideas, artists, and innovation. The film industry has all of these wonderful independent film festivals that happen all over the world and because of that–and because so many people are interested in film–there are probably 100,000 films, if not more, that are made every year all over the world. Small budget, independent films that are made by new creators that are about new ideas and new ways of thinking about films and all of this can be done because they cost much, much less. Two-hundred-thousand to two million unlike twenty to twenty-five million dollars. If you spend twenty-five million dollars you can’t give it to somebody who’s never made a movie before, you can’t try something that no one has tried before. It’s not a safe investment. But you also can’t look at hundreds of thousands of movies that are made for two million dollars so there’s a festival system that looks at hundreds of thousands of movies that are made for two million dollars or less and picks the ones that they think are best. It’s not an infallible system, but they select a cream of the crop which is displayed at festivals which the industry attends and decides what they are interested in acquiring and which artists they want to pursue for their next project.

GS: Would you say, then, that the goal of IndieCade is to filter out good indie games so that the creators could then broker out a deal with a bigger publisher?

SR: Not specifically that. What we wanna do is give them enough exposure to do what it is they want to do. A lot of our creators here are not interested necessarily in a deal with a publisher or going on to work on a AAA game. They may already be selling the game they’re showing here on their website and just wanna make money that way. They might have just made it as an art project on the side of their main job. We’re showing a game, Smart Kobold, and the guy who made it does high-end 3D graphics art but just likes to make rogue-like games in his spare time, usually to express an idea or something. So, depending on what the creator’s goal is with the game, we’re hoping to help them achieve it by giving them the exposure and sharing that game with the public and with the industry and by helping connect them with other independent game creators.

GS: So it’s largely about exposure and sharing so that the creator can keep doing whatever it is they wanna do with their games?

SR: Yeah. That and community.

GS: Can you list some of the more notable games that have gone through IndieCade and went on to become hits with bigger publishers?

SR: Yeah. We showed the Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom two years ago and the creators went on to get a deal with 2K and released the game on Xbox Live Arcade. There’s a game called And Yet It Moves which we showed at the festival two years ago which is going to be released very soon on WiiWare.

We’ve also shown things that haven’t gone the publisher route. We showed Machinarium which was a huge success. I love that game.

GS: I noticed last year there were some games that had really interesting interfaces. I recall a game that had real puppets that you had to pet so I see what you mean when you say indies tend to be really creative. (the game I was thinking off is called Pluff)

SR: Yeah, a lot of it for us is about innovation. This is what I mean when I talk about breadth. There’s a tons of different kinds of indie work being done for lots of different reasons. We look for things that innovate in interesting and unique ways. It could be anything. We’re showing a game this year that, like you were talking about, is an interface innovation. It uses a brain-computer interface with a gestural controller to move through the environment. There’s also the small things, though. We’re showing a physics puzzle game that is particle physics based which hasn’t never been done before, but it’s really rare and the physics are really well implemented. The graphics are beautiful too, and the puzzles are simple and approachable. We think that is a nice, neat example of a smart, well executed idea. That’s what we’re looking at.

*At this point, it very unfortunately seems that my microphone decided to stop recording the last seven or so minutes of the interview. I went on to ask Sam about the benefits for the people who want to organize this sort of festival (not much aside from sharing their great love for indie games and seeing great new creations) and what their criteria is for deciding if a title is independent (he mentioned a desire to have an open definition of independent and that basically anything not sponsored by a large publisher would be acceptable).

Festival’s like IndieCade seem to be a great boon for the gaming industry where there’s always somebody who somewhat accurately decries the utter lack of originality in the products released by the mainstream publishers. It really is a shame that I waited until the last day of E3 to visit the IndieCade booth because it is there that I saw some of the most interesting titles anywhere on the show floor. (You can find a list of the developers featured at E3 here)

IndieCade 2010 runs from October 8-10th in Culver City, California.

And because sharing is caring, here’s a trailer for one of those “mind-blowing” games I saw at the IndieCade booth during E3. It’s called Hazard: The Journey Of Life by Alexander Bruce.

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