It’s one of the most notably different companies in video games but what is it actually like to work with Devolver Digital? Even though it seems like Devolver Digital’s game catalog and unique press conferences make it seem as though it is on being a different publisher, some of its methods may still surprise you. We were lucky to chat to Dave Crooks, the game designer at Dodge Roll, the team behind the indie hit Enter the Gungeon at PAX Australia. He talked at length about just what it’s like to be an indie developer lucky enough to work with Devolver Digital, one of the more outlandish publishers in games.
GameRevolution: With Enter the Gungeon being one of the most successful games to come out of Devolver Digital do you feel like Dodge Roll gets special treatment when they work with Devolver Digital?
Dave Crooks: If I’m being honest I would probably just have to say yes. I wouldn’t describe it as like “special treatment” though maybe it boils down to that. It’s more like because the overall revenue coming out of Steam and of Devolver to us is relatively still high. I can build things back and forth easier but also I’ve been working with them for so long that we’ve become very close friends.
Part of the reason that he [Graeme Struthers, Devolver Digital co-founder] came to me first is that we have that relationship because we’ve worked for so long together. And with Gungeon doing well possibly [and] just me being here will drum up a little bit more interview interest than maybe some other teams. I hate even saying that.
I’m also really good friends with all the other Devolver developers but I’ve been to more shows than most of them because of the relationship we’ve built. And I do think, in part, because of the money that we’ve driven through Devolver.
GR: The idea of being friends with a publisher almost sounds taboo in this day and age. Did this make it easier when pitching your next game?
DC: We just said we want to make another one. And they were all like, “We’ll publish it if you want and if you don’t want, that’s [also] fine” and we wanted it, so yeah. We didn’t really have to pitch, we just said, “We’re going to do something else, do you want in?” and they were like, “Yes.”
That is true for almost all of Devolver’s developers. Like if the relationship is good even if the game didn’t do that well. They’re really concerned about investing in people. So if they think the people worked hard and are fun to hang out with then they’re happy to try again. So I actually think that’s the least special thing, in a way. Almost every developer who works with Devolver ends up working with them again. It’s usually because the relationships are really strong and they’re just happy to work with them again.
GR: So what does being able to work with Devolver Digital do for you as a publisher?
DC: For us, we’re really business not savvy. We really just like making video games and we don’t really like talking to the press. I mean, it’s like I want to make games. So we got into the relationship outside of marketing dollars, building us a booth, lining up PR, and all that stuff. They’re a resource to answer questions. “Do you think this is a good idea? How should we approach a relationship with Sony? How do we navigate these deals?”
So it’s like the guys at Devolver collectively have a shit ton of industry experience and they know everyone. Like everyone thinks that Devolver is a new company but it’s actually the third company from them and they’ve been around forever. And that knowledge resource and those connections just continue to pay off. Like we’re in talks now with deals that I absolutely—I can’t even say—but there’s no way we would have been able to navigate them without Devolver. So really it’s just a business liaison outside of getting us to shows and setting up press releases and such.
I think that I always make this joke but basically, the first thing you need to do is decide whether or not you want a publisher, and then if the answer is yes, try to get with Devolver. I have talked to a lot of indie developers who’ve worked with other publishers and I’ll put it straight: they’re jealous. They come to a Devolver dinner and they see what the community at Devolver is building with their developers and really caring about them on a personal level. You always feel so taken care of and it never gets weird.
The money is. Devolver paid for my car to be fixed when we were still developing Gungeon. I was like, “My brakes are broken. Can I please have some money to fix it?” and they were just like, “How much do you need? We’ll just send you triple, yeah that’s fine.” They just want to make sure the developers are in a nice, soft cushion so they can do what they want best. So yes, if you’re an indie developer, try to get in with Devolver.
I will say they are very competitive. Especially now partially because they only want to take on a certain number of projects a year, and because everyone who works with them wants to work with them again, all those slots are getting taken up by people who are like me, basically.
GR: If there’s not too much pressure from Devolver for your next game to be a hit, what about pressure from yourselves?
DC: Absolutely. We talk about the sophomore slump all the time. You may think that it’s a better game than your first game. I can already think that I probably will think so because of the cool ideas we’re having. I don’t know what players will think. We never thought Gungeon was going to be as popular as it is. I’s legitimately sold 20 times more than our top estimate. So we have so many more fans than we ever thought we would.
We didn’t know people wanted bullet hell roguelike but we thought it was a cool idea. So now it’s like with the next game we’re going to do something that we want to do. I think the next game is going to be a little bit more risky. As I said before, we didn’t set out to make a roguelike. And now we’re setting out to make something we really want to make and we’ll see how that goes.
I think that at worst, a decent number of people will like it because I think we somewhat know what we’re doing. The pressure to replicate Gungeon is there, we talk about it all the time. I’m honestly not very helpful that it will be as successful but if it’s even half as successful, it’ll be… [Crooks nodded without finishing his final thought]