Devolver has done work to bring international attention to the bustling small team development scene in fun and unique ways, but Devolver has also become a publisher that developers want to partner with. What makes Devolver so attractive to developers looking to launch a game is the reputation the publisher brings with it.
"They'd successfully published Hotline Miami and Luftrausers, among other really cool games," Broforce developer Free Lives' Evan Greenwood told Joystiq. "We liked their brand image. When we chatted to them, we clicked. The deciding factor for us was that yes, there were other publishers out there, but Devolver was the one we could see ourselves having the most fun with."
Stephanie Schopp, who manages Devolver's public relations, attributes this approach to the way Devolver operates within the indie space. "It's a really small team working with small teams, so things adjust on the fly and everyone wears a lot of different hats. It's a formula that has worked incredibly well though," she said. "There's also less layers involved in making ideas happen, which gives us a lot of room to try new things and see what works and what doesn't. Devolver lets us fail sometimes, but they also trust us to know when we can take risks and when we can't."
By bringing its fearlessly unique approach to the industry, Devolver has risen to become one of the driving forces of the development community. While each developer we spoke to gave a different answer when asked what Devolver's main contribution to the scene was, each dev agreed Devolver had brought more positive attention to developers and their games. Jordi de Paco of Gods Will Be Watching
developer, Destructeam, even took it a step further by saying "the simple fact that knowing that not all the publishers are evil adds a little hope to this industry."
Despite the praise showered on the publisher from its development partners, Devolver's founding team never set out to revolutionize the independent games space. "The plan was to have fun and make a living working on games we loved with people we could call our friends," Devolver's Nigel Lowrie told Joystiq. "Everyone had been beaten down by investors, executives, and things like legal departments in the past, so all we were looking for was the freedom to do what we want however we wanted to do it. If we liked something we should do it, if we didn't we could move on."
In fact, for its first three years, Devolver was known for publishing the run-and-gun Serious Sam series. Lowrie asserts that this not only made sense for Devolver at the time, but was also essential for how the company evolved into the publisher it is today. "When Devolver Digital started, it was partially because our friends at Croteam wanted a partner for Serious Sam 3 and had a great deal of trust and respect for our team," Lowrie said. "During the build up to Serious Sam 3, we wanted to reestablish that independent vibe of Croteam and Serious Sam so we created the Serious Sam Indie Series project where the IP was given to three indie developers we admired to create whatever Serious Sam game they wanted. The result was amazing and we were hooked on working with small teams that had no creative restrictions or prohibitive fear of failure."
The small team structure of Devolver is something Lowrie believes has given the publisher an extra shot of rapport with developers. "The people you pitch your game to are the same people that will playtest your game, setup your booth at PAX, champion your game to press and partners, and the same people you can text at 2:00am to complain when something goes wrong," he said. "There isn't a developer we've worked with that we wouldn't call a friend and that is what makes this all fun."
In 2012, Devolver experienced its first major hit with Dennaton Games' Hotline Miami
, which gave the publisher something invaluable: widespread credibility. "The success of Hotline Miami
certainly legitimized Devolver Digital with gamers, press, and other developers because they saw that a brilliant, somewhat underground developer like Dennaton Games could thrive with a partner on their first commercial game and still maintain full creative control over their vision," Lowrie said. "Hotline Miami became our first public case study for doing a lot with a little and not losing the beauty of the art at the end."
Devolver has also become known as a publisher not afraid to take risks on games that might not have a previously established audience. Lowrie insists this is a necessary part of what makes Devolver special. "Risks need to be taken to stand out from all the noise and we have to offer gamers experiences that aren't available anywhere else," he said. "The risk or gamble on a project is also in the eye of the beholder - we're not producing games that need to sell 500,000 or 2 million copies to be profitable and make everyone happy. If Hatoful Boyfriend or Gods Will Be Watching sell 100,000 copies then everyone is pretty thrilled and can make more games together. When you operate as a lean publisher and work with smaller developers, it really gives you flexibility to try something different and not fear what larger, bloated companies avoid at all costs."
The biggest measure of success to this point in Devolver's existence came in mid-2014, as the publisher celebrated its five-year anniversary by not only reaching the 5 million download mark, but also announcing a partnership with PlayStation at E3.
"I think it means more to the industry as a whole than it does to Devolver Digital in particular," Lowrie asserted. "It does mean that the playing field is leveling out and that there is an audience and an appreciation for more types of games than there has ever been before. I think that makes it easier for everyone – including Devolver Digital and the developers we support – to take that risk knowing that there is an audience out there for something unapologetically different and access to that audience is mostly unencumbered by the old guard."
Perhaps the best description for Devolver came from Schopp, as she shared a story from the Serious Sam 3: BFE campaign. "There was the one time I asked Devolver if a review guide would be coming with Serious Sam 3: BFE, to which the response was 'Review guide? You just run backward and shoot a lot and try not to die,'" she said. "So I wrote that down and turned it into a PDF and sent that out as 'The extensive guide to playing Serious Sam 3: BFE.' It just said 'Run backward and shoot things.' [...] I think that's a really good metaphor for Devolver in general: Don't make shit overly complicated."
Brian Shea is the Editor-in-Chief of VideoGameWriters.com, as well as a freelance writer for several online and print publications.