On Full Disclosure
Full disclosure: since a large part of what many voices that co-opted GamerGate are asking is full disclosure, so I’d…
Rami Ismail is the Business & Development Guy at Vlambeer, a Dutch independent game studio known best for Nuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box, LUFTRAUSERS, GUN GODZ, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter & Radical Fishing.
Through his work at Vlambeer, Rami has come to realize that the marketing & business facets of many independent game developers could use some help. As such, he created the free presskit-creation tool presskit() and is working on releasing its first add-on, release().
Believing sharing knowledge openly is the cornerstone of independent development, Rami has spoken on a variety of subjects at dozens of game events around the world, ranging from the Game Developers Conference to Fantastic Arcade & from University seminars to incubator mentorship.
He is a avid opponent of game cloning after Vlambeers Radical Fishing got cloned. He is also a proponent of searching for new, beautiful things in places no-one is looking for them and thus organized Fuck This Jam, a gamejam focused around making a game in a genre you hate. Rami also works closely with the Indie MEGABOOTH team to enable indie studios to showcase at the larger game conventions.
Rami exclusively drinks cane sugar Coca Cola.
Full disclosure: since a large part of what many voices that co-opted GamerGate are asking is full disclosure, so I’d…
I’m a bit upset at 10 million euro subsidy for game dev in the Netherlands and no mentions of a…
As Vlambeer, the studio I work at, has gotten bigger and our community has grown beyond our biggest fans, I’ve…
During the last few years, I’ve found myself focused on community development in emergent territories around the world. Territory is loosely defined here: it can be a city, a province, a state or an entire country. Game development communities tend to develop along very similar lines, and at some point I’ve started to mentally organize these community growth thresholds into a model. Note that this model is not scientific in any way, and is mostly used by me personally to figure out how I can help a certain territory when I visit. Many people I mention the model to asked me to write things down, and many developers in emerging territories found it interesting to talk about where they fall on the scale. As such, here’s my six stages of community development.
The model is separated into six major stages that communities go through. Certain communities can skip steps through governmental or cultural support, or in some cases even thanks to one or several well-intended individuals throughout the community. There are historical moments in which certain territories have fallen back one, or even multiple stages.
Stage 1 is one of the less common stages around the world. In this stage, developers do exist in a territory, but are spread thin and often unaware of each other’s existence. No events exist, or the events that exist are extremely local. The goals of a territory in this stage are very utilitarian: the dream is to make money. Developers are commonly amateur developers without access to knowledge that is prevalent throughout the industry, and the games they make will very often be limited both in execution and cultural value. As such, games very often (closely) resemble ideas already prevalent in established territories.
Stage 2 is the most common stage around the world. Developers in the territory have found each other, established communication hubs and organized internal events for the full territory. In most territories, thought leaders emerge from these meetups, creating informal community leaders. Exchange of knowledge rapidly becomes prevalent in the territory, and with that a voice emerges for a territory. Since knowledge shared is mostly based on assumptions made by unestablished developers, the growth of such a territory is usually limited. In this stage there commonly is a noticeable lack of understanding of basic concepts as ‘polish’, ‘game feel’ and ‘context’, because such concepts evolved as jargon in established territories.
In Stage 3 the focus moves to international knowledge exchange. Either the territories events or community leaders invite external thought leaders or experts, or developers from the territory visit events in established territories, creating informal ambassadors. Existing knowledge in the community is validated or invalidated through this collision with the established territories. To create more reach, a territory joins international organizations such as the IGDA, or establishes local organizations or groups that speak on its behalf. Companies rapidly grow to adapt to the structure of the international games industry, learning to reach out to press and media. In this stage, a territory defines an identity, but not a cultural flavor. Commonly, the goal for developers is still ‘to make it big’ in ‘the West’, and as such games still overwhelmingly resemble existing popular games, often with a minor twist.
This is by far the most important stage. This stage begins when a hero emerges, and international knowledge exchange has been established. A hero is defined as any individual or company that has reached economical and critical acclaim in the established territories. These heroes bring in valuable money, contacts and knowledge, and often act as a bridge between the international industry and the local industry. More importantly, the hero validates the idea that game development can be lucrative, and presents a measurable point of success for other developers to look up to. Ironically, this stage often includes a lot of developers making games based on similar ideas as the hero game, even though the hero game is frequently highly similar to a game from an established territory. Developers in this territory frequently refer to the hero when asked about their work.
Stage 5 is the most common stage for Western Europe and large parts of the United States. Commonly, the visibility of the hero has created a huge influx of new studios and developers, and with that a huge new influx of ideas. Local developers stop looking up to the hero, and start rebelling against the hero. In this stage, the goal for many developers is to be like the hero developer, but “not that”. In stage 5, multiple heroes emerge rapidly, diminishing the value of a single hero. During this phase, a territory evolves a more cultural perspective on games as the goal shifts from trying to prove game development is a feasible expense of time to making interesting content. As the community grows more comfortable, games become more personal and less utilitarian.
In stage 5+, a territory is seen as a thought leader in the international games industry. Very few territories ever reach this stage, and it is my belief that there is no possibility for very many Stage 5+ territories to exist at once. Note that the existence of large international events in a location does not automatically create a Stage 5+ territory, but that it should be seen as a fleeting and temporary status as a thought leader. Many Stage 5+ territories float between Stage 5 and Stage 5+ continuously.
Ways of assisting a territory
I want to emphasize once again that these are simply my thoughts on how to best help a community in a given stage. None of this is scientific, and a lot of this has developed through personal preference and experience over the past few years. I don’t take these considerations as ‘formal’ myself, and will usually figure out what I’ll do after getting my bearings in a territory. In general, they fall within or near the parameters I discuss below.
The wonder of emergent territories is how much a slightly different perspective on history, culture, art or play can bring to our medium. Some of my favorite conversations of 2014 took place in countries like Uruguay, Argentina, India or Taiwan – places that you wouldn’t immediately think of when you think about games, but are rapidly growing to be a big part of our industries cultural output in the future. At the Games for Change conference in New York City next week, I’ll be presenting a curation of games from around the world that I feel express their territories culture in an interesting way.
Let me know if you recognize your own territory in the model, and what stage you think your territory is in currently and why.
ICBM is a freeware title that is very clever, very propagandistic, very stylish and very well made. It makes no excuses for the experience it’s trying to convey. Highly recommended.
I will be writing many more words about gamedev.world in the future, but for now I want to take you back to where it was announced. One could say I’m a veteran speaker at the Game Developers Conference by now, but the weight of the announcement definitely had me a bit nervous. This year, I was lucky enough to have a talk as part of Richard Lemarchand’s Microtalks. Richard is an amazing inspiration to me, both in his work and in his tireless optimism, kindness and care for the medium and the people that contribute to it. The entire session is wonderful and full of powerful talks, some lovely talks, some clever, some unexpected but all of them thoughtful and engaging.
My talk is towards the end of the panel (it starts at 55:50), but I would urge you to watch all of them if you have the time.
During my main session in the Advocacy track, I used a novel way of getting my point across. It’s really hard communicating the severity of the language barrier to people that (overwhelmingly) understand only one language – which is sadly still a very common situation in the United States specifically – so I had to approach my talk a bit more carefully. In my microtalk, I decided to not use written English unless it was a single word or used as illustration. For the main talk, I would teach the entire audience Arabic.
All of my talks are available on the GDC Vault, which is a veritable treasure trove of wonderful talks -of which many have been made available for free- by the Game Developers Conference.
Most of my metaphors about game design mention trees. I didn’t think much of it at first – after all, why would my choice of words matter that much – but then again, I gave a talk on the importance of language at GDC just the other day.
Whenever I teach a guest college to game students, I do an exercise inspired by Interaction Designer Norbert van Geijn. He used to teach class at my university before I started Vlambeer with Jan Willem Nijman, and one day he did an exercise about the fallibility of words. He asked each student to write down whatever word came to mind when he said the word ‘sun’. After a few seconds, he asked a person in the class to read out what they wrote down. Someone wrote down ‘light’, and someone else wrote down ‘yellow’. ‘Holiday’, ‘Warmth’, ‘Summer’ – I had picked ‘Egypt’. In a class of sixty, the frequency at which two or more people picked the same associative word was less than ten percent.
What he was getting at was that words exist in the context of our own knowledge only, and that our choice of words is never coincidental. That class, many years ago, was what made me realize that my metaphors aren’t about how games relate to trees, but how the process of making games relates to trees.
Games are not just mere calculation. Sure, a lot of games are the product of calculated design, writing code, adding assets and wrapping things up. The games that are really impactful tend to be a result of growth, of something almost organic. They start as mere seeds – a singular point of inspiration. Then, the seeds grow into saplings with a direction – a three-dimensional vector, something one can pursue. Eventually, these vectors grow into a tree, growing into a shape rather than an abstract arrow.
We can plant a tree, we can nourish it, but ultimately we have to accept that the tree is its own living thing.
Very often, when we have game ideas, they are oddly defined. There are arbitrary specifics, like a boss fight at the end of the third chapter, that float in the periphery of our mind. They’re nonsensical, and frequently they end up being scrapped halfway through the project anyway. But they’re seeds.
We find a spot where we want our tree to grow, a spot right beneath where we intend the tree to grow. The seed, our inspiration, grows into thin saplings. We work on our game with blind enthusiasm, those first wonderful weeks of developing something with potential.
And then suddenly we’re off track. The sapling doesn’t grow straight up. It bends one way or another.
Over the years, I’ve seen the reflex many designers have when that happens. I’ve seen it in myself, I’ve seen it in students and in experienced designers alike. It’s the urge to get back on track. The need to straighten the vector back to what it was supposed to be. Straight up, a beautifully straight tree from the seed of inspiration to that boss fight at the end of chapter three.
As soon as you start traveling down the path of the vector from the seed, from the origin, the only points that really count are the points where you’ve been. Every decisions, big or small, is informed by and will inform every future decision. Like a sapling growing slightly in an odd direction, it doesn’t really matter where you intended it to go. You can’t just bend it back onto the original path at the top, you’ll have to bend it from the ground up. If you don’t, you get something that wants to be a straight line, but really is a line that has the strangest odd bend in it halfway to the the top.
You can’t bend a sapling that has grown sideways back onto its original course. If you want to do that, you have to remove everything down to the point where it first started bending.
At the bottom, a small amount of bending takes a lot of effort, and has relatively large repercussions for the rest of the sapling above that point. If you damage it there, the tree might just die as a whole. At the thinner parts, higher up, a sapling will only take that much bending before it snaps off completely.
It takes confidence to just let it grow. An obsession with making a tree that grows straight up to where we expected it to go creates a really boring cultivated forest.
Creativity isn’t going from point A to point B. It’s departing from a known point to an unknown. It’s having confidence that, whether the trip leads to something beautiful or not, at least we chose a path and followed it. If we knew where the journey would take us, it wouldn’t be an exploration – it’d be a commute.
We know where we plant the tree, and what type of tree we want it to be, and the general direction it’ll grow – but anything beyond that is something we can’t fully control. Or maybe, it’s something that we can control, but shouldn’t.
Games live while we make them. We just plant them, care for them, and eventually – with hard work, loving care, talking to it and tremendous patience – we can nourish a game into a beautiful tree.
gamedev.world is a collaborative effort to limit the effect of the language barrier on the growth of games development in countries with large non-English speaking populations.
gamedev.world is a curated repository of content foundational to creating the discourse and conversation about game design, all aspects of development, and game theory and culture. Every piece of content will then be translated into a number of languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Simplified Chinese and, as the intiative expands, more languages around the world.
The goal of gamedev.world is to elevate the discussion about games worldwide to an equal level, and allowing non-travelers and non-English speaking countries to explore perspectives that are currently unavailable to them due to cultural, economical, linguistic or geographical limitations.
As we progress on the initiative, we’ll keep you up to date on http://gamedev.world/
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