Plastered across the opening moments of a huge amount of games, Devolver Digital has become a video game published of worldwide prominence. However, with only 20 employees at the company, it’s hard to imagine how this small Texan publisher is quite so prominent in the indie game sphere.
Let’s take a look at the history of Devolver Digital to understand exactly how they became the giants they are today.
Almost entering its teens, Devolver Digital was founded in 2009 by Mike Wilson, Harry Miller, and Rick Stults, who all had previous experience in the video game publishing business. However, due to the high costs of retail publishing, the founders saw their previous companies swallowed up by larger companies.
Looking for a new start, they decided to turn to a purely digital distribution model, and thus Devolver Digital was born.
Soon after their founding, they announced their first title: a high-definition remake of the 2001 game Serious Sam: The First Encounter.
Reviving the (not so) Serious Sam
Originally developed by Croteam in 2001, Serious Sam: The First Encounter took the DNA of Doom and morphed it into a whacky fight against extraterrestrial forces who seek to destroy humanity. While this may sound like a run-of-the-mill early 2000s 3D game, Devolver chose to release the HD remake of the game as their first game.
Not only this, but they loved the franchise so much that they decided to also release a remaster as their second release a year later. Followed by five more versions of the Serious Sam franchise, a number of which were commissioned specifically by Devolver as offshoots from the series.
Needless to say, going in on one franchise was a bold move, but it solidified the team’s bond with developer Croteam who later, in 2020, became a subsidiary of Devolver.
However, by 2012, Devolver still hadn’t managed to breakthrough.
The in: Hotline Miami
Today, Hotline Miami needs no introduction. It’s a cult classic game whose success catapulted Devolver to new heights.
Among their first few games outside of the Serious Sam franchise, Devolver struck gold with Hotline Miami, developed by Swedish duo Dennaton Games. Selling almost two million copies within six months of release, with the game appearing on countless “best of 2012” lists, Devolver had secured their place at the table of indie game publishing.
But, more than that, they had associated themselves with a strong, aesthetic work that would go on to characterize much of the publisher’s output since.
Perfecting the Formula
After the insane success of Hotline Miami, Devolver continued to output some further remakes and updates of classic games from the already features Serious Sam to Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior.
But throughout 2014, Devolver released a storm of games across a whole host of platforms. From the retro-inspired Broforce to the much-coveted puzzler The Talos Principle.
In the years that followed, beneath all these titles, Devolver’s iconic aesthetic was being solidified by games like Olli Olli, Downwell, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Enter the Gungeon, Ape Out, Katana Zero, and Carrion. All games which shared pixel-art styles featuring flat environments—either top-down or side-scrolling in nature.
This aesthetic, which pairs so well with Devolver’s own ident, is surely what the majority of players have come to expect when hearing the name Devolver Digital.
What’s more is many of these games also share a lot of mechanical DNA—featuring difficult, methodical combat, a quick death, and fast-paced restarts.
More Than Pixels
While Devolver’s iconic aesthetic is easy to spot, we shouldn’t cast aside all the other works which they have published.
From remaking plenty of classic games, diving into VR with both Serious Sam VR and The Talos Principle VR, supporting indie developers with unique ideas, such as in games like Absolver or Reigns: Her Majesty, and shining the light on small teams and so developers, it’s clear that Devolver have already had an absolutely phenomenal impact on the world of indie games.
What’s more, Devolver has gone on to welcome Good Shepherd Entertainment and Croteam as subsidiaries, strengthening their ties with the game publisher and developer respectively.
Beyond the games themselves, Devolver are also known for keeping things fresh and fun. Their “big fancy press conferences”, first held in 2017, have become a yearly staple of the company. These mock press conferences take the form of pre-recorded life shows brimming with gag-worthy fake announcements from phony micro transactional models where players can throw money at the screen to purchase items, to parodies on early access suggesting that players buy games that are yet to even begin production.
This light-hearted side of Devolver is likely what has seen them grow while staying true to a philosophy of supporting small developers who are making exciting games.
With them showing no signs of slowing down, having exclaimed keen ambitions to bring the company’s games to Chinese audiences, Devolver is sure to continue to be a staple of indie game publishing for years to come. And that’s something I couldn’t be happier about.
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