The Devolver Digital parking lot has been the best part of E3 for half a decade, even though it's technically not associated with E3 at all.
A big white balloon marks the spot across the street from the Los Angeles Convention Center where a handful of bullet-like Airstream trailers huddle around tents offering free beer and hot sausages wrapped in tortillas.
A giant screen sits under the shade, pixels flashing as a group of people play the latest local multiplayer game under Devolver's publishing label. Some years, an arcade controller with neon dildos as joysticks sits on a low table in front of the screen, waiting for someone to load up Genital Jousting. High-profile indie developers float in and out of the parking lot, showing off their games in the trailers and indulging in the festivities.
This scene is about to change. E3 2018 may have been the final installment of the Devolver parking lot -- the building next door, which used to house a Hooters and the Fuego Lounge, has been sold and it's scheduled for demolition just two weeks after the convention. The landscape around E3 is changing, and it might take Devolver with it.
"Indie publishers, we're smart folks, despite how we look, and we can come up with some clever ways to be a part of E3 without paying exorbitant prices to be inside a convention center," Devolver co-founder Nigel Lowrie says.
"We can come up with some clever ways to be a part of E3."
Devolver prides itself on acting against convention -- and that translates literally to the E3 convention itself. It's had a years-long public beef with the Entertainment Software Association, which is responsible for E3, accusing the organization of working with the city to block its presence on Figueroa Street. (The ESA has long denied intentionally working against Devolver.)
The ESA doesn't make any money on the parking lot, a fact that Devolver founders have pointed to as motive for the organization's ire. One year, the ESA parked a row of semi-trucks between the Devolver parking lot and the LACC, blocking the trailers from view. The next year, Devolver showed up in the same spot with that giant white balloon, its name emblazoned in red high above the Airstreams.
Devolver isn't the only publisher to move its business outside of E3 proper: Electronic Arts ditched the show floor in 2016 and established the EA Play event, and Activision decided against paying for a booth the same year. Devolver has hosted anti-E3 press conferences poking fun at industry standards (while also showcasing its latest games, of course) for the past two years.
This year, Devolver revealed it was working with From Software on a re-release of Metal Wolf Chaos -- one of the biggest titles the publisher has ever snagged. At the same time, its shows have served as a lightning rod for online conversations about the ridiculousness of major media briefings and calls for a more relaxed, fan-focused event. Devolver knows how to play the E3 game, even if it doesn't actually attend E3.
For the developers inside of the Airstream trailers, the Devolver parking lot is more than a mini festival with free booze. It's a chance to get their games in front of hundreds of people, gather feedback and generate media buzz. It's an opportunity to be discussed in the same breath as billion-dollar franchises; it's a chance to be taken seriously as artists and creators. It's as good as actually attending E3.
"It's given me so much energy."
"I've been sitting at home working on this game for over three years now, and you're never really sure how people are gonna feel about it," My Friend Pedro creator Victor Agren says. "But coming here, being able to show it to tons and tons of people over multiple days and getting amazing feedback ... it's given me so much energy to go back and finish this stuff and make it as good as it needs to be."
It's unclear where Devolver will be at next year's E3. It depends on whether the team can find another location for the parking lot, and whether they think it'll be worthwhile. One thing Devolver excels at is adapting, flying by the seat of its pants, going with the flow. Or, more often than not, creating a brand new flow.
Just next door to the Devolver parking lot at E3 2018, Good Shepherd Entertainment hosted a new showcase called Indie Heaven, filled with art installments, interactive VR experiences and plenty of independent games. Good Shepherd is a new publishing house from Devolver co-founder Mike Wilson and it approaches the industry with a similar spontaneity and disregard for tradition.
Though the parking lot might disappear, Devolver is hardly the end of indie games at -- or just outside of -- E3.
Follow all the latest news from E3 2018 here!