Introducing: The Playground
Years ago, I was involved in the early days of the Indie MEGABOOTH. I am extremely proud to see what it has grown into since I left the initiative to work on other projects, but some of the early ideals of the initiative stuck with me ever since. The idea was – and to this day remains – that creators that stand together stand stronger. This same mantra made Humble Bundle to what it is, and that mentality is what supports networks like Fig, itch.io, Indie Fund, Patreon, and many others.
Over the past few years, game development has become increasingly competitive. As a response to the race-to-the-top in terms of social reach, PR, and marketing efforts often required to launch a successful game, boutique publishers have popped up around the industry. They do phenomenal work – we’ve worked with Devolver Digital, and I’ve advised, scouted for, am friends with, or keep good contact with teams like Raw Fury, Team 17, tinyBuild, Paradox, and many others. Like MEGABOOTH, most of these indie publishers offer a valuable service, and they’re a net gain for our industry.
Regardless, the truth remains that every good thing has a downside. Anything that accelerates or otherwise increases the chances of success, unless it is limitless, free, and readily available, will eventually leave the playing field less equal.
Between the rise of indie publishers and these enormous ‘combined booths’, showcasing at major trade shows has become increasingly difficult for mid-size creators that sit in the awkward spot between “don’t want to take a valuable spot at Indie MEGABOOTH that another, smaller, creator could use much more than we do” and “not quite big enough to financially be able to go up against indie publishers in terms of booth size and content”. Some developers don’t feel like they quite fit or want to be ‘indie’ anymore, some developers would rather not have their expo schedule be dependent on secondary selection processes, and some did not or would rather not work with a publisher for a project.
For Vlambeer, we noticed that it was getting really hard to get any attention on larger show floors. Don’t get me wrong – as long as we can afford a booth, we will always be there with a booth to hang out with our fans and supporters – they always manage to find us somewhere in the myriad hallways. But the reality remains that part of the reason we’re capable of investing in a show like PAX is that it introduces new people to our work – and the effectiveness of shows like PAX for mid-sized developers has rapidly been dropping against the more funded, more spectacular, and more sizeable offerings of larger publishers and combined booths.
That’s why Vlambeer will not be showcasing at PAX West by ourselves this year. We’ve reached out to a group of our close friends in this industry with the idea to collaborate at showcase events, and together, we’re launching a new initiative called The Playground.
The Playground is a pilot – a way for us, four crews of friends that run mid-sized games studios, to work together and do bigger, more interesting things at shows than we could possibly hope to achieve apart. Vlambeer, combined with the whimsical and personal and lovely tones of Finji, the clever and challenging experiences of Dan Adelman’s collection of games, and the high-quality merchandise services of IndieBox, hopes that we can create a location at PAX and other showcases that is not tied to anything but the friendship of a group of creators that admires each others’ work.
We’re not sure where it’s going to end up, or how it’s going to evolve, but we do know we look forward to seeing what we can achieve together. If things pan out, we’ll be bringing The Playground to future shows – growing it, and hopefully figuring out ways to combine our strengths as creators into unique and fun experiences at the shows we bring it to. If you’re visiting PAX West, do come visit us at booth #6111, and come say hi!
As a Muslim video-game developer, I no longer feel the US is open for business
When I was a kid dreaming of being a game developer, I hoped that in the future I’d be joining a large studio and working on a blockbuster title. Things didn’t quite pan out that way. After leaving university with a fellow student, I am now the co-founder of my own company, Vlambeer, renowned for successful game releases such as Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing.
I was born in the Netherlands, the son of an Egyptian immigrant and a Dutch mother, and was raised as a proud Muslim. For the past years, much of my travel to the United States has led to secondary selection, investigation, or interrogation. For all 100 flights I took in 2014, I jokingly created a website that kept track of whether my boarding passes were marked for “random checks” before even reaching airport security. For many of the 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, whether they’re born in the western world or not, this is a recognisable issue with air travel. Many of my Muslim friends calculate an extra 30 minute delay for boarding and transfers.
The video game industry is one of the world’s most important creative sectors, generating $90bn a year in revenue, more than either movies and music – and it is strongly US-centric. While large game development pockets exist in the UK, north-western Europe and Asia, most of the largest companies, industry events, and industry press are centred around the coasts of the United States. For most developers around the world, their shot at success lays at the yearly Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, by far the largest gathering of industry professionals and knowledge in the world.
My studio has diverted significant resources towards helping fellow and aspiring game developers in emergent territories around the world. I often travel to speak to students, help coordinate communities, and guide opportunities for developers with potential. I spent a few days in 2015 researching what the relative costs to visit the Game Developers Conference would be. The results were shocking – for an Iranian game developer, going to GDC was the equivalent of £4,000. For someone from the Central African Republic with an average salary, the costs were the Western equivalent a staggering £120,000. For many enthusiasts around the world, visiting the Game Developers Conference is something they can afford maybe once or twice in their life – if at all.
When Donald Trump signed the executive order effectively banning Muslims from seven countries without any prior warning, the scene at many US airports was one of chaos and confusion. Muslims who boarded their plane in their country of departure with a valid visa and no reason to be turned back landed in violation of an order that didn’t exist when they boarded. Many Muslims were unnecessarily and illegally detained, or coerced to sign away their green cards. Muslims from countries not even on the list were turned away.
As one of the few visible Muslims in the games industry, I frequently talk about my experiences on the road with fellow Muslim developers who are flying to the US for the first time. In the wake of the executive order, many that spent years of their savings on the trip to San Francisco have learned that they won’t be allowed into the country any more. Even if they’d be allowed into the US, many are afraid of anti-Muslim sentiment from a population that can elect a president like Donald Trump, especially in the country with the highest homicide rate with guns in the Western world.
Many other Muslim game developers that live in the US – or even non-Muslims who only hold dual citizenship with a majority-Muslim country they’ve rarely if ever visited – are now stuck in the United States with no way to visit family or friends abroad. With many highly talented engineers coming from Middle Eastern countries, this not only limits the available talent pool, but also effectively prohibits travel for many workers in the US games industry.
Some game companies have started to speak up, with smaller studios taking the lead over the weekend. Mobile games company Dots placed a message at the start of its popular Dots games that allows players to donate to the ACLU for their opposition of the Muslim Ban. Other independent developers, including my own studio, donated parts or all of their revenue to the ACLU for a specific amount of time, raising tens of thousands of dollars in the process. Just today, larger studios and game developers have started to release statements criticising the executive order, reminding gamers around the world (and there are 1.2 billion of them) that the games that they love are made by people of all races, religions, and nationalities – including Libyans, Somalians, Yemenites, Iraqi’s, Iranians, Sudanese, and Syrians.
When I started travelling on my own back in 2010, my mother would frequently check in to see whether I was safe. After many years of travel, she stopped doing that unless I visited countries the Dutch government had a negative travel advisory for, often countries that are unstable, at war, or at risk of terrorist attacks. For the first time in years, she messaged me last week to check in whether I was safe, because I was in the US.
+ 393 days =
$11,231 / 393 ≈ $29 per day for charity since the first tweet that would eventually lead to Squarebowl 2016.
Throw your ideas out there early. See whether you can get people on board. If your idea is any good, you’re an important element to the execution. Execute on the ideas that feel good.