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 side projects such as distribute() and gamedev.world.
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 Vlambeer's 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 worked closely with the Indie MEGABOOTH team to enable indie studios to showcase at the larger game conventions, runs the #1reasontobe panel at GDC, and helps as an advisor on events such as Devcom, Train Jam, PocketGamer, and NASSCOM GDC.
Rami has received several awards and recognitions for his work promoting game development around the world, including the IndieCade Game Changer award for the decennial jubileum of the festival.
RAMI ISMAIL IS THE DEVELOPER
& BUSINESS HUMAN AT VLAMBEER.
HE ALSO CREATED PRESSKIT() & TRAVELS AROUND THE WORLD TO SPEAK ABOUT GAME DEVELOPMENT AND CULTURE AT EVENTS, SCHOOLS AND IN EMERGING TERRITORIES.
RAMI IS CURRENTLY IN THE NETHERLANDS.
YOU CAN REACH HIM AT RAMI@VLAMBEER.COM, , , OR BY CALLING +31 (0) 621206363.
This was posted on 4 December 2017 & it'll be forever available at this link.
Can someone please tell people that use Mario, Zelda, or Uncharted as an example of "games not needing microtransactions" that the microtransactions in those games are called a "$400 console investment plus the margins on each game for the platform you buy for perpituity".
This morning, I made a tweet that I believed would make sense to everybody I ramble to about discussions being uninformed, but that is incredibly hard to follow if you’re not approaching the tweet from the developer-centric angle I’m talking from. As communication is a two-way street, I take full responsibility for any confusion, and for making my Twitter a hilarious mess of angry gamers. It remains absurd to me that I’m somehow thought to be shilling for exploitative microtransactions, especially since the tweet doesn’t actually contain any defence of microtransactions, and even more-so considering given Ridiculous Fishing staunch premium model, and my continued vocal opposition to exploitative microtransactions going as far back as 2011.
Regardless, the point I’m trying to make I feel is worth explaining, because while I am a vocal opponent of exploitative microtransactions, I am also a vocal opponent of incredibly uninformed but popular objections to exploitative microtransactions getting in the way of the industry figuring out real solutions regarding the topic.
The games I listed are ‘First Party Games’, ie. games made by studios owned by the same company that makes the hardware or platform. Nintendo is well-known for its focus on First Party – series like Zelda, Mario, Metroid, but similarly Microsoft has Gears of War and Forza, and PlayStation has Uncharted, Killzone, Horizon, and The Last Guardian. Steam, for example, has Half Life, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead, Portal, and DOTA.
Even though these games are often highly successful, the purpose of these first party titles is not necessarily to make a profit. The purpose is to sell the platform – the console – by showing the audience what these platforms are capable of. As soon as a user has bought a game for the platform, after all, the platform-holder could make a profit through sale of any related hardware or accessories, but it will certainly make a profit on every game bought by that user thereafter, as platform-holders usually take a 29 to 31 percent cut of sales of any game sold on that platform, no matter who the developer is.
Consider that Steam, for a long time, let developers freely create as many keys as they wanted to give along with Humble Bundles. They’re not making a profit from the sale there, but they’re paying for server costs for downloads. The reason they do that is simple: if all your games are on Steam, you’ll buy your new games on Steam too. You stay locked in, they take a cut from every game you buy. If you buy a game on Steam occasionally, you’re self-subsidising that free Steam code. And it should not be surprising that Apple, with its billions of dollars shifting through the App Store, still thinks of the App Store as a selling point to convince you to buy an iPhone or iPad, rather than as the major revenue stream.
Such is the power of holding a platform: you could literally develop a game against a loss, and still end up making a profit through all the revenue you’ll make from selling other developers’ games.
Third Party Games is any game made by a studio independent from the platform. They can be published studios, be part of Ubisoft, Activision, EA, etc., or they can be fully independent. Either way, they don’t have that luxury. If the game, merchandise, licensing, DLC, microtransactions (cosmetic or not), subscriptions, or whatever the revenue model is, doesn’t return the investment and enough to invest into new products, the studio is done for. In some cases, if the projections for a project dip under profitable or profitable enough, publishers take the relatively small hit of the already invested capital rather than invest more.
My point is that a First Party Game can never be compared with Third Party Games in terms of how they handle monetisation. A First Party Game can return on its investment through console sales, or through the cut the platform takes from games sales on that console. A Third Party title will have to make its money through the game and any sales related to it.
For games made in countries with lower labour costs or with strong subsidies for digital industry, like CD PROJEKT’s The Witcher series growing into a behemoth, the risk is smaller (not to mention they own GOG, an actual games platform of their own). For smaller budget titles like NieR: Automata, games funded by other games doing well, the risk is smaller. For the Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s of this world, it just takes a look at Bethesda’s relatively disappointing Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus sales to understand a lot of Third Party Studios feel forced to be experimenting with alternative revenue streams now.
But Mario? It already got a little “microtransaction” out of you. You’ve already paid some dollars when you bought the Switch, and you paid some extra dollars to Nintendo through their revenue cut when you bought Rocket League, and some more when you bought Stardew Valley, and some more for every other unrelated game you bought for the Switch, and it will take a cut for every game you will ever buy for the platform. So when people say ‘how comeZelda can do without microtransactions‘, what they’re saying is ‘I am completely unaware of the fact that Zelda earns Nintendo money through console sales and through any game sold on that console, too, and as such is far less dependent on other income‘.
Introducing: The Playground
This is an article posted on 15 August 2017 & it'll be forever available at this link.
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!
The uncomfortable lack of security at E3
This is an article posted on 16 June 2017 & it'll be forever available at this link.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, like every year, is a beacon, a celebration for games as an industry. The events’ three days in the Staples Center conference building in Los Angeles are technically the heart of the event, and attracted over 70,000 professionals in 2016.
Since the introduction of livestreaming, the soul of E3 lives in the spectacle and coverage of that spectacle surrounding the event. Large publishers and platforms throw large press conferences that attract millions of viewers worldwide, people that tune in to see what their favorite games company has for the upcoming year.
This left the showfloor in a precarious position: E3 used to be an industry-only event, but the value of the showfloor and exhibiting there dropped rapidly as companies could get more attention outside of the event. In effect, the showfloor had become a meeting space and a place for developer interviews.
So for 2017, E3 has radically changed what the show is: the expo now allows for the general public to register and visit the show. It’s an important step that is presumably necessary to ensure the continued survival of the event, and has brought back some value to exhibiting at the event. E3 graciously ensured that general audience badges were a neon yellow, and clearly distinct from the industry badges, and the enthusiasm and excitement of the general audience was a huge energy boost for the floor.
Regardless, for developers and press, it has made the event a lot more clunky. The influx of 15,000 new people, many of whom understandably approached the showfloor as if a consumer-show led to repeated chaos in the hall. Between a brawl, some instances of people being pushed over durning opening, enormous queues, and booths having to adjust for the audience mid-show, the chaos was palpable more than once.
Press can no longer quickly move between meetings due to the crowds moving with less of a purpose, a complaint that echoed frequently throughout the hall. Off-the-record conversations also had to be relocated due to the abundance of free-style vloggers documenting the showfloor with their mobile phones.
There were more structural issues related to the event clearly not being ready for public access, like a lack of volunteers or enforcers outside of the booth-provided ones, an unclear distinction between accessible and private areas, and poor funneling at key locations, and an almost non-existent clear-out policy of the E3 hall after closing time.
Now, these are all transitional pains, and I understand that E3 is in a transitional year. Many of these problems could easily be resolved by replicating other industry/consumer shows – gamescom in Cologne, Germany, for example, has a industry-only day and a seperate business area, so that everyone can get their work done while the audience checks into the latest our industry has to offer.
All of this would make for an acceptable event, if it wasn’t for one more thing: the unsettling lack of security. For every single day of the event, which was secured by private security contractors, I’ve tried to walk into the building from the street outside to the showfloor without wearing my badge. I succeeded every single time, over the period of three days, and every time I was carrying a backpack that was never checked for its contents. It would be trivial for someone to bring any sort of weapon to the event, and security would not be able to react fast enough in the hall to prevent anything from happening.
This is unacceptable. With the recent weapons threat at Phoenix Comicon, the general prevalence of weapons in the United States, and the amount of anger and vitriol thrown around online about games, this is not a safe state for such a critical industry event. All of the press conferences – even the Devolver Digital booth in a parking lot across the street – had better security – whether it was metal detectors, bag checks, or bomb-sniffing dogs. These are, and should be, minimum regulations for any showfloor that handles over 70,000 people.
Overall, it was clear that the ESA is trying to transition E3 to a new paradigm, and I welcome their efforts to experiment and understand that we can’t expect everything to be flawless. Despite the transitional pains, the event seems to have been extremely useful and fruitful for most attendees, and as such the ‘new E3’ can be considered a careful success for 2017. Security, however, is not a ‘you get to try again next year’ business. I trust that the ESA will take steps to ensure the industry and the general public attending in 2018 can enjoy the spectacle and business of E3 on a floor that can be reasonably expected to be safe and secure from weapons.
This article was posted at E3 showfloor close, to not spread information about security at the show during the show. I’ll have a post discussing my thoughts about E3 content and shows later this week.
The perfect apology
This is an article posted on 8 June 2017 & it'll be forever available at this link.
If you’re trying to apologize, start by identifying who is apologizing, and what you’re apologizing for.
“I want to apologise for the Facebook post that I put out on Saturday in the aftermath of the horrific London terrorist attack.”
Perfect! In a great apology, this is where you stop. You did something bad, and you apologize for it. No conditions, no shifting blame. At this point, you could opt to speak to solutions to avoid this problem in the future. Solutions speak louder than words.
Whatever you do, do not make the apology into an accusation by saying you were just misunderstood by other people, and they’re the ones really at fault for missing your point. You should never suggest that what you did in no way was offensive.
“I was trying to air my views on extremist Muslims and it seems my comments may have been misinterpreted by some people and caused offence.”
Yeah, exactly that. Don’t do that. Really the only way to make this more of a faux-apology is by saying you’re only apologize to those who were offended, instead of apologizing for your actions in general.
“I am so sorry to anyone who was offended by my words – I was trying to voice an opinion on the minority group of Muslims who use their religion as an excuse for terrorism.
It’s going to be hard to recover from this one, unless you use the word ‘sincerely’.
“It was a knee-jerk reaction and I sincerely apologise.”
Phew. I guess that’s it! That’s not great, but it’s also not goo- oh? There’s more? Oh dear.
“For the record, [My Company] is one of the most diverse companies in the industry and I have championed equal opportunities and equality for all since I started out in 1994.”
Copyright champion of equal opportunity 1994-2017. All rights reserved except if you’re Muslim, then please leave the country.
“Anyone who knows me personally will vouch that I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Bones aren’t racist. People are racist. Actions are racist. Your post was racist, because despite you saying ‘Muslims’, what you mean is ‘Arab muslims’ and ‘Asian muslims’. I’m sure your post didn’t mean that Cockney-accented white guy at the bus station in a hip t-shirt and short jeans that happens to go to mosque twice a year for the holidays and say ‘Salaam’ to their parents on the phone.
“When we see innocent people slaughtered like we have in Manchester, London and other places around the world during the last few weeks, it is hard not to get angry and lash out.”
I got angry and lashed out too, and for some reason my post wasn’t removed from social media for hate speech, and there’s also no news articles describing them. Maybe it was because I didn’t call for 1.6 billion people to not have access to a country. Maybe it was because I didn’t call for the removal of people that might have fled to the UK away from terrorism. Maybe because I didn’t attack the religion or identity of the people that suffer most at the hands of terrorists globally. Maybe it was because my anger didn’t focus on British-born citizens that have no connection to socio-political terrorism on the other side of the planet. Maybe it was because I blamed terrorism instead of religion. I’m sure the exact reason you got trouble and I did not will remain a mystery to you.
“But I realise we all have different views,…”
We all have different views: not everyone is a Islamophobe and thinks it’s a good idea to air those views on Facebook while also being in charge of a company and its hiring, that is true.
“…and I will certainly not be writing any of mine on my personal social media account in the future.”
This sentence here reveals that the apology isn’t so much an apology for what he did, but an apology for getting in trouble. If your solution to saying something bad is ‘I won’t say it in public‘, that reveals a lot about what regrets you actually have. I guess “I’ll be an Islamophobe behind closed doors” might seem a solution, in that case.
I understand that being thrust into the spotlight for a mistake, a momentary lapse of judgement, or an unfortunate phrasing is incredibly scary. At Vlambeer, we’ve been on the receiving end of tons of criticism, and it never stops being scary. It never gets easier. But apologizing for messing up isn’t a hard thing to do if you’re actually sorry.
If you ever find yourself writing an apology (and if you gain any visibility, you likely will have to, at some point), here are four basic things you should know:
Take some time away from the internet before writing an apology. There’s often a false sense of hurry instilled into you by the panic, but the honest truth is that a genuine apology takes time and clarity of mind. It requires you to truly understand what the complaint is, and it’s hard to do that when you’re in a defensive mode.
Try mentally re-contextualising your apology to stepping on someone’s toes. If the apology you wrote comes down to ‘If me stepping on your toes hurt you, I am sorry. There’s many toes in the world, and I don’t step on most of them. Your toes might’ve misunderstood that I stepped on them, I was trying to cover them from rain. Maybe your toes shouldn’t have been where I put my foot down.‘, you should probably reconsider what you’re writing.
A short and direct apology is the strongest apology you can make. Instead of focusing on your own defense, focus on what your future action are going to be, or what you have learned, and how you will avoid similar incidents in the future.
Posting an apology does not mean that anyone has to accept your apology, or that the criticism will fade. An apology is not written to make bad things happening to you because of bad things you did go away. An apology is not a defense. An apology is you taking responsibility for the bad thing you did, and showing that you genuinely understand why what you did was bad.
The Industry, the Union, and the Strike
This is an article posted on 3 November 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
“We spent 19 months trying to come to an agreement on this contract. That’s the longest negotiation in SAG-AFTRA’s history. We did not take going on strike lightly. We really tried to compromise and come up with an agreement that would be fair. But after 19 months of not being able to put safer working conditions in the contract and being unable to share in the prosperity of wildly successful games, we felt we had no choice but to strike.”
Crispin Freeman is a voice actor. He’s currently not allowed to work for a large range of AAA games studios because the union that represents him and most professional voice actors in the games industry, SAG-AFTRA, has called for a strike.
When I first meet Freeman, the strike is still a distant rumor, a hypothetical last resort. We’re in a little restaurant in Los Angeles during the 2016 IndieCade festival. The restaurant is closing in under an hour, but none of us really have the time to spend more than an hour chatting tonight anyway. Freeman has come to meet me to talk about my concerns regarding a contract for independent developers that I’ve read a draft of.
Sarah Elmaleh is the one who set up the meeting between Freeman and myself in response to some of my concerns. Elmaleh is a New York-born SAG-AFTRA voice actress that moved to Los Angeles recently to further her craft of voice acting in videogames. She is a common presence at independent games festival around the United States, and her unbridled love for independent games shows in her portfolio, which boasts games like Gone Home and Galak-Z. It also makes her a natural bridge between voice actors and independent game developers.
Months earlier, Elmaleh had introduced me to Jennifer Hale, one of the most prominent and prolific voice actresses in games. Hale is a central figure in SAG-AFTRA’s Interactive board, the board that deals with games and other interactive media, and she wanted to talk about the idea of introducing a contract specifically for independent game developers – a contract that would allow independent creators easier access to union talent.
But after 19 months of not being able to put safer working conditions in the contract and being unable to share in the prosperity of wildly successful games, we felt we had no choice but to strike.
The indie contract is supposed to exist as an amendment to the ‘main’ SAG-AFTRA Interactive contract that governs work between union actors and AAA games studios. The problem is that ‘main’ SAG-AFTRA Interactive contract doesn’t exist yet because SAG-AFTRA and the AAA games companies can’t reach an agreement on it.
When SAG-AFTRA first reached out to me to talk about the Low Budget Contract, it had been negotiating the ‘main’ contract for a year. It had been a few months since 96% of SAG-AFTRA members voted in a referendum to authorize the union’s board to call for a strike if necessary. The news of the authorization sent ripples through the games industry. The games industry is remarkable in that it has no unions of its own, and the idea of a union strike that could affect the games industry was something that sent many fans and developers reeling.
The response to the news that the SAG-AFTRA strike was actually starting in early October was far more vehement.
The discussion is particularly vehement for not just for the lack of unions in the games industry, but also because of the concept of profit sharing. A core disagreement in the negotiations is that voice actors have asked that if a game performs very well, their efforts get recognized through a monetary bonus. Only very few people in the industry have such a privilege, and many are upset that the voice actors would ask for such bonuses if programmers, artists and designers that work on games for many years do not receive them.
Thus, there are generally two separate issues with two sides in the discussion, and they’re intertwined in a way that makes the whole situation both morally complex and frustratingly political: you can be in favor of the demands of SAG-AFTRA, or you can be against the demands of SAG-AFTRA. Separately, you can find the idea of unions unfit for the games industry, or you can find the idea of unions a boon for the games industry.
As a developer, I felt it’s easy to find perspective on the games’ industry side of the discussion, but it’s a lot harder to find good perspective from the voice actors’ position. I decided to ask the people I met through my talks with SAG-AFTRA some questions about voice acting, and why the union had called for a strike.
I love pondering things like how ‘death by fire’ must involve more than just searing, spreading pain, but also emotions like horror, panic and outrage?
“The human voice is powerful”, starts Elmaleh when asked what voice acting does for a game. “We respond to it with instinctive empathy, and I reckon it’s that singular authenticity in these synthetic environments, the fact that it’s probably the one unsimulated piece in the mix that makes it an effective and efficient tool for developers.”
“You’re asked to give weight and humanity to some highly abstract and granular prompts: ‘die by fire’ is the classic and probably most vocally stressful in one go. I love pondering things like how ‘death by fire’ must involve more than just searing, spreading pain, but also emotions like horror, panic and outrage? Character lives in all these exclamations as well as traditional dialogue, and it’s such a special joy to discover and refine it there. Then there’s ‘drop from 30 feet up, losing 2/3 of your health – no, just the landing part, it has to be isolated because the entire jump is going to be pieced together in the engine.”. Sensing my amusement, she added, “There’s also ‘get sniped in the head’, which doesn’t make an actual sound in life.”
The producers have said that it’s impossible for them to share with us the name of the game they are asking us to work on, even if we sign non-disclosure agreements before we come to work.
“Voice acting is actually one of the most challenging types of acting I know of.”, Freeman says, “As a voice actor, you are regularly asked to walk into an isolation booth, you are handed a script you’ve never seen before, you are given the most rudimentary description of your character and the story you’re working on, and then you’re expected to deliver nuanced, believable performances with almost no context and no physical cues around you like a set or costumes to help you understand the nature of the project.”
It quickly becomes clear that the games industry is notorious for its secrecy. The industry keeps asking performers to come in entirely blind, and create characters, personalities, accents, inflections and voices on the fly with no information about the game.
“You rarely get scripts in advance, plus a lot of project information can be obscured, so you’re essentially hired to cold-read. I’ve shown up having no idea what I’m reading before, and it turns out I have to make up a handful of completely different-sounding characters on the spot and/or whip out an accent. And it’s 100% you on the spot, giving this output for several hours due to scheduling and cost efficiency, so it takes stamina and focus”, says Elmaleh.
“Your imagination has to be working over time to fill in all of those gaps. On top of that, you only have your voice to work with so all of your acting ability has to be channelled through that one avenue. In addition, voice actors are often expected to play multiple characters. This means that you not only have to pull all these rabbits out of your hat for one character, but you have to have the flexibility to understand the psychology of hundreds of different types of characters and be able to modify your voice in order to sound like them as well.”
“Our members are frustrated with that lack of transparency.”, explains Jennifer Hale, a prominent voice actress known for the voice of the female protagonist in the popular games trilogy Mass Effect. “We had four main topics that needed addressing, and transparency is one of them.”
“We are often asked as actors to work on projects when we have no idea what we are working on or what the name of the project is. The producers have said that it’s impossible for them to share with us the name of the game they are asking us to work on, even if we sign non-disclosure agreements before we come to work.” adds Freeman. “I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable going to work on something and not knowing what they’re working on.”
After screaming “Grenade!” at the top of our lungs for 4 hours, some of our members have bled from the throat, passed out, even vomited in the booth.
“The second of the four main negotiation topics is that our members are worried about their vocal health”, says Hale. Asked about vocal stress, Freeman elaborates: “Video game voice acting is far and away the most aggressive and damaging type of voice over work that we are called upon to do. The standard length for a voice over session in games is 4 hours. After screaming “Grenade!” at the top of our lungs for 4 hours, some of our members have bled from the throat, passed out, even vomited in the booth. Not all video game voice acting requires those kind of extreme vocalizations, but we asked that when a game calls for that kind of vocally stressful work that we limit those sessions to 2 hours”. The two hour limit for vocally stressful sessions does prominently feature in the SAG-AFTRA communication of why the union is striking. “We were told that was unacceptable.”
Voice actors are increasingly asked to perform motion capture or performance capture too. Hale explains: “Mocap is when performers provide movement for characters in a game. Sometimes, they perform to prerecorded dialogue, and, other times, they create movement cycles for non-player characters. Performance capture is when I show up to a stage and get dressed up in a MoCap suit, plus headgear that has a camera attached to it— like in the movie Avatar. For ‘PCap’, I memorize my lines, perform with other actors, and everything about my performance is digitized”. She adds that there are serious concerns amongst union members regarding how the industry ensures their safety during these capture sessions. “The third main topic in these negotiations is that a lot of our members worried about their safety on the capture stage.“
“Unfortunately, the game producers don’t always hire a stunt coordinator for motion capture sessions in order to make sure that performers are safe.”, Freeman says, “We don’t want normal actors to be called upon to do the kind of stressful or dangerous activities on the mocap stage that would qualify as stunts and that should be done by professional stunt performers. We’ve had actors who’ve had no stunt training swinging from the rafters in unsafe conditions. And yet, the producers are saying they can’t accept our stunt coordinator proposal in the contract and that we should just ‘trust them’. Unfortunately, we have too many actors who have gotten hurt.”
The producers are saying they can’t accept our stunt coordinator proposal in the contract and that we should just ‘trust them’. Unfortunately, we have too many actors who have gotten hurt.
“The fourth concern is that our members are upset that the games contract does not offer any secondary payment structures. This contract is the only one of the SAG-AFTRA contracts with this shortcoming. Every other contract we work under as actors pays us each time our performance is used. It’s a standard practice and one that actors who came before us fought for.”
Hale explains that despite it being a standard practice, the union is not asking for residuals from game developers “Residuals pay an actor each and every time her performance is used. The idea is that my performance is my IP. If you use my IP to make any money for your company, it’s fair that you should share some of that money with me”. She continues, “Our proposed secondary payment structure for AAA video game titles is different. It only triggers if your game is a blockbuster.”
Freeman elaborated: “If a game sold over 2 million copies, the performers would get a small payment. Last year, it would only have applied to 3 games: Grand Theft Auto, Star Wars: Battlefront and Call of Duty. These are the blockbuster games in the industry that gross hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“It also only covers the first four sessions that an actor works.”, Hale added. “It’s based on a shared prosperity model and allows for a small payment -25% of a session fee- for games that sell 2 million units. It triggers again at 4, 6 and 8 million units, then it stops. It also only covers the first four sessions that an actor works.”
Asked how much 25% of a session fee might look in practice, Freeman explained: “So the most an actor would be paid after 2 million unit sales, no matter how many sessions they worked on the game, is one more session fee. An actor who worked only one session on a game would get an additional payment of only $206 if the game sold more than 2 million copies. If they worked 4 or more sessions on that same game, the most they would ever receive is one more session fee which is a total of $3300 after 8 million units sold.”
It seemed absurd to me that these negotiations were stuck over what is effectively payments of $825.50 per 2 million units sold, so I asked for confirmation on those numbers. Hale answers: “Currently scale is $825.50 for four hours of vocal recording in the booth or eight hours of performance on a performance capture stage”.
“Scale refers to the minimum payment an actor will make working on any given project, whether that’s in video games, animation, on-camera, or any other medium. It exists to help new actors avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous labor practices. A-list on camera celebrities almost always negotiate their own contracts with producers that are different from union contract minimums, but the vast majority of voice actors tend to work for scale in the world of video games.”, Freeman adds.
That unwillingness to compromise with us on this issue is the main reason we are striking against them.
“The producers gave us many reasons why they could not accommodate this shared prosperity structure. We were told that the game companies do not work like entertainment companies, but instead function more like silicon valley companies. In their opinion, silicon valley doesn’t share their prosperity so they shouldn’t either.”, Freeman continues, “Or that the accounting would be too complicated. Instead they offered an upfront payment structure where they would pay small bonuses in the amount of $50 or $100 every time an actor would come into work. Their system seemed strange to us since it was going to cost them more money and wasn’t tied to the success of a game.”
“We understand that some companies may want to be free of the extra HR hassle”, Hale adds. “We were okay with that as long as the option exists for developers to choose backend payments, if they wish.”
Freeman collaborates the story: “We were willing to accept their upfront payment structure as an option, as long as the producers were willing to allow our option to exist in the contract as well as an alternative. We knew there would be producers who would rather not pay more up front, but instead only share their prosperity once a game was wildly successful. We told the producers we were negotiating with that if they used their upfront payment scheme on a game, that they would never be responsible for any backend payments. They categorically refused to allow our shared prosperity clause even to exist as an option in the contract, even though it was an option they would never have to invoke.”
“That unwillingness to compromise with us on this issue is the main reason we are striking against them. We offered a win-win and they just wanted to win.”, Hale adds. Crispin agrees: “When they took away our ability to give producers choices about how to compensate their actors, they made it impossible for us to come to an agreement.”
I think that’s probably what scares the game publishers the most, that if they give they treat the actors fairly, they’ll have to treat everyone fairly.
Asked about the controversy in the industry surrounding the strike, all three voice actors are clearly distraught by the framing of the ‘actors-versus-the-industry’ narrative that has been prevalent. Hale: “This isn’t a battle between developers and actors. The truth is that we need to work together not only to create fair and equitable working conditions for all of us, but, most importantly, to create the best games on the planet.”
“Developers deserve far better treatment than they often get in the current climate of the industry”, Freeman adds, “I’m aware of the perpetual crunch and the punishing schedules developers work under with no overtime compensation. We are all collaborators in this fantastic medium. We all deserve safe working conditions, more respect for our contributions and to share in the prosperity of these games. We love working with our developer colleagues and we think developers should share in the prosperity of games. It’s common practice for people working at a company to get a bonus if the company does particularly well. The problem is that developers don’t yet have a union to help them in their negotiations with employers. Actors do.”
Freeman theorizes, “If the actors are able to get some kind of secondary payment on successful games, then that sets a precedent for other game employees to get the same. I think that’s probably what scares the game publishers the most, that if they give they treat the actors fairly, they’ll have to treat everyone fairly.”
Elmaleh shares that suspicion: “Developers are as much my chosen family as actors, and I would wholeheartedly support them in advocating for themselves. It’s all a struggle to assert industry-wide best practices for the sake of our health and livelihood, so we can keep being part of creating games as sustainably as possible. Successful collective action that achieves these things could create some powerful precedent for all who make games.”
A quote given to the Financial Times by Howard Fabrick, a lawyer that negotiated on behalf of the game companies opposing SAG-AFTRA’s demands in negotiations for the previous version of the 2005 contract, confirms that this is definitely part of the reason the secondary payments won’t even be allowed as an option in the contract. ““That would set a precedent for hundreds of other people who created a game to say, ‘What about us?’” Fabrick said.
Hale surmises that this is exactly why unions like SAG-AFTRA exist in the first place. “Once upon a time, actors were controlled by the studios they worked for: they worked 15 hour days, seven days a week for wages that were just barely enough to live on. Meanwhile, the studio heads were getting filthy rich off of the new technology of moving pictures. Sound familiar?”
Indeed, reports by the games industry largest representative, the Independent Game Developer Associations, show that the games industry in 2016 does cope with high levels of burnout and turnover, unpaid overtime, expectations of crunch and low job security. Stories of large numbers of employees major companies being laid off for ‘restructuring’ frequently follow highly successful game releases.
“Eventually, some actors decided to stick their necks out and organize for better working conditions and, many years later, for a participation in the enormous profits that the studios were making. SAG-AFTRA provides qualified and talented performers to the entertainment industry, makes sure they are paid fairly and have quality healthcare and retirement benefits.“, Hale concludes.
Asked if there’s anything he would like to tell people reading this article, Freeman is clear, “Most of this debate will be litigated in social media and other media outlets. Give critics the facts. Don’t allow people to speculate or spread false information. Forward them links to websites like SAG-AFTRA’s where there are detailed explanations of which companies are being struck and which are not. Send them to http://www.gameactorsforall.com where they can listen to Steve Blum, the voice actor who holds the world record for being in the most games, talk about the dangerous and unfair situations he’s found himself in while trying to help games be as successful as possible.”
“The original union contract for games was developed in the mid 1990’s when games that used actors were few in number and experimental in nature. After 20 years, games have grown into an entertainment juggernaut. It’s time the publishers grew up and started treating the people working on interactive entertainment fairly.”
The Low Budget Contract I worked on with all three of the voice actors in the article is available now for your review. As long as the industry and SAG-AFTRA can’t come to an agreement, the contract the Low Budget Contract is an amendment to doesn’t exist. That said, you can already get in touch with SAG-AFTRA if you have any questions, and potentially negotiate a deal using an older SAG-AFTRA contract as base for the amendments. I will post about the Low Budget Contract is a ‘full package deal’.
A pitching masterclass through No Man’s Sky
This was posted on 14 August 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
Over the past few days, my constant No Man’s Sky ramblings on Twitter have led to a number of interviews from domestic and international press about the game. One thing that really caught me off-guard was just how hard it is to pitch No Man’s Sky. I decided to spend some time today looking at Hello Games’ pitch for No Man’s Sky, and came away rather impressed at the care and effort that must’ve gone into iterating the high-level concept pitch. This isn’t specifically about the expectation management, or the details or minutae of the game, but how the core of No Man’s Sky was communicated – the cumulative exploration of a procedural universe.
So here are the things you would probably try, that I’ve found to be ineffective:
Mentioning space exploration as a thematic, or referring to other space exploration themed media doesn’t work.
Explaining that the game is practically infinite, and allows for infinite exploration doesn’t work.
Comparing it to other media, say a movie, or a performer or musician, doesn’t work.
Explaining the disproportionate amount of content for its download size doesn’t work.
Explaining that thanks to the procedural generation, everything you see or encounter is unique to your game experience doesn’t work.
The main objections you should consider for each of these is ‘is there a context’ and ‘does anyone care?’. So one by one:
Mentioning a genre is not a powerful pitch, nor does it emphasize the strengths of the game. Comparing it to other media doesn’t work, because the general audience tends to assume games can be photorealistic, infinite, and capable of simulating reality rather well.
The general audience does not care that the universe is infinite, because many assume all games are infinite. I’ve mentioned this before, but most non-gaming people don’t directly assume Grand Theft Auto isn’t an infinite world beyond the city borders, and don’t realize a Call of Duty game takes place in a map rather than a country. The question of game world size doesn’t occur, because that’s an abstract idea that requires an understanding of game boundaries, and a context of game worlds.
To most people, games are not movies, music or any other such form of art. Comparing a digital piece of software to something where they see people perform will never work. A board-game or other physical game is the closest metaphor people would accept and understand – and those are woefully inappropriate to explain No Man’s Sky’s experience.
Apple famously stopped using Gb/Tb to discuss their storage space, and now uses a made-up statistic of ‘how many photos, songs or movies will fit on this device’. The average person does not understand data storage, data requirements and data limits. They just know when a device is full, and then generally assume it’s the devices fault.
Procedural generation is not something you can explain easily to someone without a basic understanding of deterministic mathematical models, or without an existing context for what it leads to, like seeding in other games.
So what remains? Well, it turns out Hello Games figured out a pretty impressive way of communicating the game’s core.
They properly identified that communicating the astronomical size of the game in terms of our own universe works. No Man’s Sky is a game in which there are 18 quintillion planets (wow, a number that sounds bigger than a trillion!). Even if a planet was discovered every second by a player, our own actual sun -not the one in the game!- would die before every player in the world combined would have seen them all (wow science). Not that they specifically avoided the term infinite, because infinite sounds videogame-y and doesn’t actually sound all that special. 18 quintillion sounds specific, and scientific.
They properly identified that emphasizing that even the developers of the game are shocked to see what can exist in the universe is evocative. In fact, they’ll mention, the developers haven’t seen all that’s available in the game – and they’re commonly excited to land on a planet to see something new (if even the creators are, it must be true). The developers didn’t create the planets, or the creatures on it, they instead programmed the laws of evolution and physics into the computer and let it simulate a universe (impressive!).
They properly identified that a top-down approach works really well in words, but bottom up works really well in visual. Their pitch starts with talking about the universe, and then goes down through planets and creatures, down to the elements (so much detail!). Their videos tend to start with the periodic makeup of a place, then a creature, then a planet, eventually zooming out to the universe. A universe isn’t a scale or mental model most people can grasp, but it is a thing that’s easy and impressive to show (so much scale!).
Note if you shuffle this around into three recognizable focus points, you also start seeing how these communicated back at the normal gaming demographic.
The ‘science’ in ‘science fiction’ and making it sound as scientific as possible: the game has its own periodic table, there are specifically 18 quintillion planets. Science fiction is clearly something the Hello Games’ crew is naturally excited about, and thus a great primary talking point. Also note the appeal to traditional gaming demographics’ geekdom here.
Scale in relation to our own universe, explained using the Apple method: it is statistically improbable for two people to reach the same planet, if a planet was discovered every second our own sun would die before we’d have seen them all. Note the ‘completion time’ wink at the normal game demographics here.
Uniqueness of the experience: even the developers themselves are surprised at what they find on new planets, and it is statistically improbable for two people to find the same planet. Note the implicit challenge to traditional gaming demographics here.
Looking at the challenges they faced in communicating the game to this many people of varying understanding, Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky core pitch is a little masterclass in explaining an abstract concept to the largest possible audience.
I also promise that there’s only one more No Man’s Sky post in my queue for now.
Patch The Process
This was posted on 7 August 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
No Man’s Sky didn’t send out review builds because the game wasn’t done. No Man’s Sky gets leaked by resellers breaking street date. Polygon, Kotaku, and numerous streamers obtain a copy before release date and play it. No Man’s Sky developer and the platform holder both say the game isn’t final. No Man’s Sky developers shows changelist for the Day 1 patch to stop this nonsensical discussion about a build that wasn’t meant for the public. News hits No Man’s Sky is getting a ‘huge’ Day 1 patch that’s going to fix many of the issues.
I want to talk about Day 1 patches, but I don’t want to talk about No Man’s Sky. Since this is ‘controversial’ at the moment, I want to emphasize that I am not affiliated with No Man’s Sky. I’m not attacking nor defending No Man’s Sky. I’m not speaking on their behalf, nor do I have any insight into their process. This post isn’t even about No Man’s Sky. I’m just going to use No Man’s Sky as an hypothetical example, but this could apply to pretty much every single game that’s available today, whether it’s digital or physical. You also need to realize a lot of what I’m about to discuss cannot be discussed by a developer during the development process for various reasons, including legal contracts we have to sign to be allowed to release a game. This is also the reason I have to be vague about the details, and each of my statements is not about any specific console manufacturer or platform holder but sort of about all of them and none of them at once. Most of these things have been mentioned before in public discourse in some form or another, and I have to emphasize the examples aren’t from any one specific console manufacturer either, and might be hypothetical, modified or altered to avoid mentioning things too specifically. This is pretty much the most transparent I can be while staying without breaking NDA’s I’ve signed to be allowed to publish on all major console platforms.
There’s two things that are relevant here:
Consoles are platforms and devices that come with an expectation of quality, and as such have systems in place to ensure that quality.
Developers are creatives working on a commercial schedule, leading to the ancient and never-broken rule that a developer will always be two weeks late for their deadline – no matter how big or small the deadline is.
When you make a game for console – no matter which one – you have to realize the systems developers and platform holders are dealing with weren’t built for 2016. These systems are legacy systems, built upon legacy systems, built upon legacy systems. It’s like the system you are or were forced to use at your day job, if you’ve ever worked in retail, stock or booking systems, or at any checkout. Many of these systems interface closely with bureaucracy and console technology, and instead of radically changing how systems work between generations and breaking everything at a console launch, console platforms tend to try and not break things that work. As such, many of these systems are unwieldy, complicated, intricate and really built for teams that can afford to hire more people to read the manual and figure out the systems. These systems come from an age before indie, and some of the manual pages still refer to mailing copies by postal mail. Despite that, the console creators and their teams all work super hard to ensure developers have a smooth process, improving their systems where possible without touching the legacy foundation, and ensuring players get a functional game.
The most egregious example of this is called ‘certification’. On computer platforms, stores like Steam, Humble, GOG and itch.io have decided that developers just have to deal with the fallout of releasing a broken product themselves, and thus allow you to push a product or patch at any point whatsoever (they often do a pre-release check of your store page, though!). Consoles on the other hand, come from the ‘Seal of Quality’ mindset. To ensure that quality, they use a system called ‘certification’, or FQA, or TRC, or TCR, or some other random acronym that refers to something technical and a checklist. Devs like to call this quality assurance process ‘cert’, and no matter what developer you ask, you’ll find most developers understand why it exists, and we all really appreciate all the people working super hard to ensure our games are working right, but we tend to all hate ‘cert’. What you have to imagine when it comes to cert, is a giant book of checkboxes. There’s an absurd amount of them, and they could be different not only per platform, but per territory (for example, a European build has different certification rules than a US one, requiring differences between the two), and sometimes even between a patch, a DLC, and a release version.
Some of these make a lot of sense (don’t crash), and some of these are reasonable (if you leave the main menu open for 24 hours, is the game still smooth?), and some of them sound obscene (if you rapidly plug and unplug the controller, does the game know what to do?). Some of these are enlightening (your game needs to figure out what controller the player is assigned to, thus requiring the ‘Press [button] to start’ screen only console games still have), and some of them are just headaches (don’t put UI in the outer 10% of the screen, unless you use one of those ‘how big is your screen’ interfaces). Some are legal (is any form of parental control activated or is the profile under the allowed age for gameplay? if so, did you disable the required functionality?), and some can make you desperate (the console can not have had firmware updates between your release build and the patch). Did you know consoles don’t necessarily pause your game for you when players switch to other interfaces? You have to do that yourself.
Anyway, certification is a big thing. The process for it is also a big thing. In most cases, you have to fill out a weirdly complex form for your submission, and then ‘book a slot’ of sorts, or wait until you get an OK to submit your game. Since the people testing games aren’t infinite, you need to let people know when you’re submitting your build. So you check which dates are available, and usually there’s a free slot a few days from today. If your build isn’t in a certain amount of time ahead of that, your slot can be lost, and you’ll have to ‘book’ a new one. When the slot starts, and your game goes into certification, there’s a variety of reasons your submission can be rejected, in which case your slot can be lost too. Then, the teams start testing, and they report certification violations to you. In many cases, your violations are graded along a scale from ‘Must Fix’ or ‘Fix This’ to ‘Suggestion’ or ‘Whatever really’. If any of them exceed a certain level, your submission fails, and you have to start from square one and fill out the form, find a free day to book a slot or wait until certification starts, and submit a new build.
Some of the certification problems are impossible to avoid. Developers can’t control when consoles update their firmware, and when engines shift their support for firmware. In those cases, developers can request an exception to a rule. This is a bureaucratic process, and it can require negotiating, a formal request, and formal permission. It takes time. Then, when you get an exception, for most platforms you often need to fill out on the submission form how, where, and from who you got that exception when you submit again.
Did I mention all of this is poorly documented? One console has a field that says ‘assets file’. It doesn’t mention what the assets file is, nor what it does, or what these assets are. If you don’t add the file, it can’t process your submission. If you add it, but it isn’t ‘right’, your build can fail. You lose a week. If there’s a checkbox somewhere in the hundreds or thousands of obscure rules that you missed, you lose a week. If there’s something that’s subtly different between Europe and America, you lose a week. What I’m trying to say is that certification could take a week, and in the worst cases, it could take months. From personal experiences, I can say that it can make developers cry. It could delay your game. At the end, though, the game that launches checks every checkbox. You’ve got your proverbial “Seal of Quality”. Your game is allowed to launch.
Now, I’m not saying No Man’s Sky did this, but in most cases, developers with a launch date need to make sure they can hit that launch date. We start submitting certification builds somewhat early, in the hopes that one of them gets the check mark that says ‘you’re good to negotiate a launch day’. Certification is technical – it doesn’t bother with what the game is, it just concerns itself with whether it works technically. It checks whether the boxes are checked. You can market a dark gritty murder game titled Dark Horses, and submit a pony farm tycoon game, and as long as the name on the form matches the name of the game, they would not object.
So – since development is messy and unpredictable – if you’ve got a build that’s ‘pretty much done’ and it works, and you can get it through certification, that’s a good sign for your final build. So you submit it, it goes through cert, and you stage it for download and launch. For disc games, the game needs to go through certification in time to be printed, boxed and distributed. At that point, developers are usually still one to three months from release, which tends to mean you need one and a half to three and a half months to get the game done, and then you still need to keep in mind that unpredictable amount of time you’ll spend in certification. A day 1 patch is technically still submitted at least one week from launch, but until it actually goes through certification, it can’t be made available to the public.
Knowing that, it should be easy to see why Day 1 patches are often “huge”. For a game that goes on disc, the ‘gold’ build that went through certification is one to three months old by the time the game launches. That gives developers half a month to two and a half a month to do a month and a half to three and a half months’ worth of work to make the game ‘perfect’ while still hitting the release date with the patch. If your studio is huge, you probably have an internal QA department that (for good reason) slows things down internally, but if your studio is nimble and small, you can change enormous portions of the game in that span of time.
So in the hypothetical example of No Man’s Sky, when No Man’s Sky launches, for most people, it’ll launch into the intended experience thanks to the Day 1 Patch. That build is as close to what the developers envisioned as they worked, learned and improved upon that vision. That’s No Man’s Sky. The version that is on the disc, however, is months old. The only way to avoid that kind of thing is to not launch on disc.
One could argue that developers then, should make certain that a game is perfect when they submit it to disc, which is not an invalid stance. It’s just an impractical stance. If you’ve got months to improve upon a game that went through cert, do you think you would leave those months? Do you think audiences would appreciate a developer just kind of doing nothing for three months? Can you imagine the Kickstarter outrage if a developer, three months from launch, posted ‘we’re done, it’s good, we’re not touching it again until you get to play in three months’? Anybody arguing that a game should be done when it goes ‘gold’ is living in the 90s.
Developers care about the games they make, and we’re trying to make the best game we can for our players. We’ll take every opportunity we can get for that. If consoles operated like Steam did, No Man’s Sky wouldn’t have a Day 1 Patch, because the build you’d download and play when it comes out would’ve been submitted comfortably a few days before launch. Day 1 Patches aren’t necessarily a failure on the developers or the platforms side, they the result of people that care about what they make, trying to deliver the game the audience expects by the date they expect it, while everybody involved is struggling with outdated systems on cutting-edge technology. Everyone is trying their hardest. Nobody is doing anything wrong. The developer isn’t lazy. The platforms aren’t malicious. Day 1 patches are simply a patch to a submission system that’s old and convoluted.
This was posted on 3 August 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
Last week, I visited Tel Aviv to speak at GameIS, an independent games event run by a group of indies and volunteers from the Israeli games industry. It was a phenomenal event, filled with inspiring, aspiring and creative individuals. The event felt vibrant, and was full of interesting projects.
Since my visit to Israel, I’ve had a few disappointed people from around the world reach out to me regarding the visit. People have pointed out that I should’ve taken note of the BDS Movement, an international movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israeli businesses and end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and to pressure Israel to comply with International Law.
Global politics are inherently intricate and complicated, and while I am against Israel’s economical and frequently violent oppression of the Palestinian people and state, I am not against Israel or the Israelis per se. I am against the politics of Israel, just as I am against many of the global politics of the United States, but also those of many other countries.
So to those questioning my visit to Tel Aviv, I just want to emphasize that in a pursuit to make the world more just and fair, I refuse to dismiss or limit my support to creative individuals with no or little say in these matters. In my visit to Tel Aviv, I found many of the developers to be progressive and open-minded, and frustrated by the political situation.
I was born a third culture kid, too Dutch to be Egyptian, and too Egyptian to be Dutch, and the games industry is the first ‘country’ I’ve felt I belong to. I believe in the power of creativity and games to bring people together, and just like no one can help being born in Palestine, nobody can help being born in Israel.
If anything, I hope to visit Palestine and the independent creators making beautiful games there sometime soon. I hope to continue supporting game development in all forms in the Middle East, and the rest of the Arab world, the Muslim world, and everywhere else. In the meanwhile, I will continue to voice my discontent with the political situation of Israel regarding Palestine, but I will not stop supporting the Israeli individuals and studios dedicating their lives to making beautiful games.
Fire Emblem: Fates & Localisation
This was posted on 19 February 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
One of the most interesting conversations happening in games right now is the controversy surrounding Fire Emblem: Fates, a Nintendo game in the popular Fire Emblem series. While the game originally launched in Japanese markets in June 2015, the US version of the game came out today (as of this writing, there is no mention of a EU release date), and it’s already one of the most controversial launches in quite a while. The controversy is focused on the localisation of the game.
The goal of localization is to create an enjoyable, non-confusing play experience for the end user by paying heed to their specific cultural context. The suspension of disbelief is of utmost importance to the process; if a player feels as though the product was not meant for them, or if the localization creates confusion or difficulty in comprehension, this may break immersion and disrupt the player’s ability to continue the game.
In Fire Emblem Fates, a number of changes have been made to accomodate US audiences. To reflect the PEGI-12 rating and US culture, some dialogue has been changed to avoid reference to drugging a character and gay conversion, a mini-game in which your character – the leader of a warrior force traveling the lands – could pet other characters has been cut, some character personalities have been made to fit Western story archetypes and obviously, the game and audio have been translated.
These changes have particular parts of the internet up in arms about the purity of the game as art being lost. As they see it, the game is art, and as such should not be modified from how it was created originally, regardless of anything. Others argue that localization and game development are both expensive, and that as such an entertainment product should be optimized to be as profitable as possible – to ensure future games can be made.
What I do know is that Fire Emblem: Fates would’ve not existed without Nintendo funding it, that developer Intelligent Systems worked with Nintendo on creating and localizing the game through localisation studio Nintendo Treehouse, and that there is no reason to believe the developers feel their intention has been modified or thwarted.
This comes back to a larger issue: audiences believe they know the developers of their games – while very commonly, they have no idea. Somehow, it seems completely reasonable to people on the internet to claim ‘the purity of the games’ intent’ has been modified’, while the only people that can really say so are the developers and the publisher. Seeing the publisher made the choice to localise the game and signed off on it, I think the ‘purity’ argument doesn’t hold. If the average user doesn’t notice that the localisation changed things from the Japanese version, it seems like the localisation was a success. Those who want to play the game ‘pure’ can import the original Japanese version.
Only Nintendo has a good idea of how the controversy affects their bottom line, and what the majority audience of Fire Emblem: Fates is. I’m looking forward to seeing how it handles these issues in the future.
This was posted on 10 February 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
If you’re working on a creative project with multiple people, think about your essence statement. An essence statement is a single sentence that explain the core value and purpose of your product. It is not used for external communication like a product pitch is, but is mostly for internal communication in the team. It doesn’t describe the mechanics or aesthetics as much as it discusses what the goal of the project is as a creative product.
Nuclear Throne is a top-down shooter that’ll stay fun to play for us as creators. LUFTRAUSERS is a game about being the best fighter pilot in the world.
Ridiculous Fishing is a game with an infinite and positive feedback loop.
Super Crate Box is a game against camping.
Every game is different, and the thesis for each game is different. Being able to communicate why you’re making your game, or what feeling you’re trying to effect in the player, will help a lot with figuring out what your goals are. Is your essence statement more of a feeling – like we did in LUFTRAUSERS – you’re probably going to want to focus on things that create that feeling. What makes a fighter pilot feel like the best? Skimming over the water, avoiding ridiculous amounts of bullets, taking out overwhelming odds, airobatics and stunts. In Ridiculous Fishing, our focus was elsewhere entirely – we tried to create a multi-stage feedback loop that was rewarding and positive regardless of level of play.
Communication is hard enough without a clear direction, and I find essence statements help me lock on to what we’re creating.
Time & Money
This was posted on 6 February 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
For work on the PlayStation build of Nuclear Throne, I need access to a PlayStation 4 devkit, a physical device much like a modified PlayStation. There’s one set up at our office, and I’ve ensured I can access it from anywhere through the internet via a VPN connection, which (simplified) makes a computer from anywhere in the world pretend it’s connected to the PlayStation devkit directly. Sadly, my VPN connection from Los Angeles to Hilversum, the Netherlands was slow. While it was definitely functional, it wasn’t great and only refreshed the output from the PlayStation once every 4-6 seconds. That meant that a lot of bugs would be hard to spot on the first try. Assume a Nuclear Throne build takes about 2 to 4 minutes, sending the executable over the internet adds about a minute, and I might have to restart the process a few times to ensure I didn’t miss anything.
I did some quick math with how much time it would cost me, took Vlambeer’s hourly income, and basically figured it’d be a sound choice to fly home to work on the actual devkit. Time is worth money too, and the amount and stress that’d come from running the VPN connection isn’t worth it. So, I’m flying 11,000 miles – 5,500 both ways – this week because my VPN is slow.
This was posted on 5 February 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
I spent some time today guest lecturing at USC, and one of the most common pitching errors I come across is the idea that you have to primarily pitch mechanics. Sure, you can pitch what the player does in the game, but that is far less important than what that makes the player feel or achieve. Think about that when writing your pitch, and avoid the usual hyperbole, quantifiers, numbers, subjective words and common positive words or qualifiers without meaning.
This was posted on 4 February 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned the Dunning-Kruger curve before, the psychological effect of illusionary superiority by relatively unskilled people. I usually discuss the effect in terms of imposter syndrome, but that’s just one of the many implications of this simple law. Another implication of the curve is that if you place a lot of relatively unskilled people together, you create an environment in which a lot of information is exchanged as being true, regardless of its veracity.
This is something I’ve seen to painful effect in many environments: I’ve seen it at many universities, but also in game development forums, or extremely popular Facebook groups. When all opinions are equal in a creative process, you don’t necessarily get the best result: you get the safest result. If the majority of participants are either uninvolved, unaffected or unskilled, you get way worse than that. If they’re all of those, it’d be a miracle to get something awful regardless of intent or effort.
The best way to avoid bad information is through reckless collision with reality, or smaller and more specialized communities. While these communities definitely create a sense of security, and a sense of others getting it, the reality of game development is often far harsher. Reach out to game developers you look up to, or experiment with social media. In the end, it’s hard to make bad choices, but really easy to make uninformed ones. Check your information by seeing if you can find the opposite position argued, check your assumptions by rigorous playtesting with the intended audience, and check who is giving you what advice and what their credentials are.
Having no information and having to figure it out yourself is a much better spot to be in than being bombarded with and following bad info.
The chairs at PAX
This was posted on 30 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
We were a bit late with preparation for the PAX South booth again, so the night before the event mostly involved racing around the San Antonio periphery visiting Best Buy and Target. Things went really well, and I quickly found a bunch of cheap televisions and computers, table cloth and power strips – but one thing I couldn’t find was chairs. Target’s entirely chair isle consisted of chairs as expensive as the televisions, and I was about to give up when I spotted four bungee chairs – not what I was looking for, and probably not super comfortable, but they’d suffice.
So Adriel drove me and all the stuff I’d bought back to the showfloor, and we set up one of the bungee chairs, sat down in it and they were amazing. We set up all four, one for each playable station, and got ready for the show. The laptops were set up within twenty minutes, and we loaded a playable build onto them. Together with the usual Vlambeer booth crew, we were done with setup in under two hours.
The first day was a massive success, and nothing exceptional happened. On the second day, a group of four friends walked past our booth, one of them pointing at the Nuclear Throne banner and excitedly exclaiming “this is that game!”. The friends stopped, came over and picked one of the station. One of them sat down, looked up to their friends and nodded.
“Oh wow, you’re right, these are amazing!”
The four friends left again without even looking at the game.
This was posted on 28 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
IndieBox made a Nuclear Throne box. It’s an amazing little box, and we actually waived our part of the box profit so the box could be even cooler than their normal efforts – which are already magnificent. The reason we did that is because we love physical stuff. It’s exciting to see merchandise become such a common thing in independent games, and to see the idea of physical editions come back. I still buy most of my games on disc, and I’m infinitely frustrated I still need discs to play the games after installing them. Buying them digitally would be infinitely more convenient, but then I’d miss out on the box. I don’t want to miss out on the box. I already hate that my Kindle means my book cabinet isn’t growing as fast as it used to.
The other day I bought a Polaroid Snap. It’s a Polaroid camera that not only saves photos to a microSD card, but also prints the photo onto a new type of printable material called Zinc paper. It’s an awkward camera with an amazing retro look, and I’ve wasted several prints by accidentally pressing the button or messing up the aim or light. Regardless, I cherish the camera. A digital camera is infinitely more convenient, but then I’d miss out on the little 2×3” print. Even if it’s not perfect, I long for physical memories and products.
I’m going to make a photobook full of photos that printed right there and then, and it’ll be one f the nicest things I own.
This was posted on 27 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
The notion of player entitlement is a common one in the industry, and rather often an applicable one. The industry has often failed to inform the audience of the effort a lot of things take, and presented itself as flawless and perfect. That created unreasonable expectations, and aggressiveness was considered part of the culture – all of that inevitably led to disproportionately aggressive responses to balance changes, and other forms of player entitlement.
There was a lot of discussion today about the use of guides for the gorgeous The Witness, and whether that’s appropriate or not, or whether it’s the right way of playing the game. Obviously it’s not the intended way of playing, but I guess there’s also such a thing as design entitlement. Games nudge players in a certain direction and evoke a certain intent – creators like to think of our work as something with an intent and purpose, and (hopefully?) often end up getting personally attached to our work. Since often that intent is clear, we think a game has a right way to be played, and the honest reality is that no one can make that call but the player. I’d encourage you to embrace or even encourage more wrong ways of playing in your design and conversation. After all, that attitude did bring us anything from tower defense to speedruns, Twitch Plays to beautiful game photography and many more.
There’s no wrong way to play, and the value of your game might come from unexpected places.
This was posted on 25 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
One of the things that hurt me most throughout my career in games was my complete inability to rest when I needed it. It’s a discussion that came up a bit when Witness developer Jonathan Blow posted a rather curious joke tweet, seemingly implying that he’d been working so hard he never had opportunity to leave his desk. Whether it’s truth, or an unfortunate joke isn’t extremely relevant – but what is important is to recognize that this by all means should’ve never been a joke to begin with. Jonathan Blow spent seven years of his life making The Witness. It’s a game he cares about a lot, and a game many people (including myself) are looking forward to.
No game is worth hurting yourself, your health, your rest or your social life over. It just isn’t. I’ve released a dozen games since I started in games, and the romantic idea of the starving indie, working from early day till late night on just pizza and Coca Cola? It’s not romantic. I’ve seen it in hundreds of developers and students. It’s exciting until you burn out, and then you lose it all. It’s a bad way to start a company, already relying on overtime to make your income. It’s miserable, but you don’t know it yet.
If you’re crunching on your own game right now, please don’t. Do something that relaxes you for today. I’m stressed, and I’m under a lot of perssure, but I’m watching the clouds pass under the airplane on my flight to Dallas, and it’s calming me down. I need to finish my work on Nuclear Throne, but I’m sure people that like the game want me to be healthy enough to continue working on it and to work future games. I’ll get the work done, but for now there’s clouds.
Feeling a fraud
This was posted on 23 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
Polygon wrote an article on what I feel is one of the most common and underdiscussed topic in creative work: imposter syndrome. I’ve talked about my own extensively, and discussed how I believe it fits into the Donning-Kruger curve. While there is no right or wrong way to feel when it comes to making creative work, it can be helpful to understand some very common feelings aren’t discussed out of fear of not fitting in anymore. Imposter syndrome is one of them, and as such, I decided to ask Twitter about imposter syndrome.
OK: let's try this.
Who here creates 'stuff' (games, video, writing, w/e) and feels like a fraud just waiting to be found out sometimes?
As expected, I got hundreds of responses from developers, press, content creators and anything in between. While an overwhelming majority confirmed they felt that way, some people pointed out they don’t. That’s all perfectly fine. If you want to see just how common struggling with your self-worth in any capacity is, just scroll through this list.
This was posted on 22 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
As of this writing, Steamspy reports the lovely OXENFREE has sold about 6,500 units in it’s first week or so. That’s a solid start, considering that recently most games made within what I’d estimate to be the $100K-$250K budget range have launched at around 2,000 units. 2,000 units isn’t bad, considering these games tend to sell between $8 and $20 – which is a revenue of about $25K. It’s not a break-even by a long shot, but it’s definitely a good start on the way there. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of talk about game launches becoming less relevant – and while it’s definitely true that livestreaming and discounts have made the long tail more important, I’d argue the launch is still relevant.
I’d like to think of it as community momentum, and the idea is best illustrated with Kickstarter. Kickstarters that hit 30% of their intended funding goal in their first week seem statistically likely to reach 90% by their last week, and get funded as people on the fence about pledging get pulled over by the Kickstarter being so close. While there’s no data beyond the Kickstarter finishing (and as such, there’s nothing to be said about long-term effects), the basic effect seems to mirror in indie games as well.
Community momentum isn’t as much about making money, though – it isn’t about virality either. It’s simply about sustained conversation about the game. Conversation about a game tends to have a gravity, something that pulls back towards the game. Like gravity in real life, the only way to get rid of that gravity is to gain enough momentum. Very few games truly break free, but for most games the obvious truth holds: the higher the community momentum, the less gravity pulls conversation back into a niche. The higher you go, the more people can see you from down on the surface. The more people that see your game, or conversation about it, the more likely they’ll start adding to your momentum. It’s an obvious and simple effect, but it’s worth considering when you’re working on figuring out the best approach to market or launch your game.
It sure would be a shame if something happened to your dreams of becoming a game dev.
This is an article posted on 20 January 2016 & it'll be forever available at this link.
As a frequent public speaker in the games industry, I recently had the honor of presenting at the lovely XOXO Festival in Portland. As a game developer that cares a great deal about the economical and technological democratizing game development, I tend to speak about the practicalities of the creative process and the commercial aspects of game development. XOXO’s venue challenged me to speak about something more personal, so while I normally focus my talks on empowering anyone to express themselves creatively through games development, I decided to discuss a part of me that I normally avoid in public speaking.
I might be one of the most visible half-Arab and Muslim game developers in the world. I say that with pride and with sadness, because it is a situation I would love to remedy as quickly as possible. A large part of my activities, outside of running an Forbes 30-under-30 award-winning independent games studio, are focused on supporting developer communities and game creators in emergent territories by visiting them – almost always without receiving speaking fee and frequently at personal expense. I strongly believe in the medium of games, but I also believe that diversity is central to it reaching its full potential.
One of the many remaining invisible barriers to the actual and full democratisation of the games industry is cultural democratisation. As you might have noticed during the tumultuous last few years in gaming, gender diversity is currently the main focus of that discussion. Rightfully so, considering 52% of all people playing games are female, versus only 22% of creators. The struggle for racial diversity has thankfully slowly been gaining more mainstream visibility, as slow but hopeful progress is being made regarding gender diversity.
The America- and Eurocentrism of Game Development
The notion that the games industry is entrenched in Western culture is often overlooked. When we discuss diversity, it (unintentionally) almost always discusses the Western notion of diversity. This is, as many of these issues are, exacerbated by the cultural entrenchment and history of computing and the technology sector in general.At the core of these concerns one tends to find the issue of the language barrier. For example, as Aditya Mukerjee remarks in a fantastic piece on the issue, “you can text a pile of poo”, while most languages still do not enjoy full support in modern computers even in 2016. Conceptual artist Ramsey Nasser created a conceptual art piece called ‘Qlb’, a programming language in Arabic –that sadly remains a conceptual art piece to this day – simply because the technical hurdles of implenting it on devices that were meant to process English are staggering.
This means that creatives in non-Western countries have to deal with a ridiculous plethora of additional obstacles on their journey to game development: most if not all game creation tools are provided in English only, programming languages only support primarily English, their language might not properly display on computer devices, information and documentation on game development primarily exists in English, the mainstream games press is almost exclusively English, and in many cases they face a political and geographical distance from trade events, conferences and games press. If you dare to ask a (support) question in any gaming forum in any language but English, you’ll get reminded that this is an English-speaking forum, and then probably made fun off for making a typo.
If any person outside of the Western world is creating games, I can’t but conclude that they’re exceptionally determined to be making games.
Did Rami Get Random Checked?
After the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001, the United States have implemented increasingly draconian security measures in all sorts of parts in life. Getting access to the United States can be a troublesome chore for many around the world, and sometimes requires intervention from ‘Western’ friends or embassies to broker at all. Every time a major Islamic terrorist attack happens, every muslim is held accountable. After the Paris terrorist attacks, anti-muslim sentiment and violence in the West surged.
Not that that’s particularly new: I’m used to the United States overreaching on their security. My advocacy for diversity takes me around the world, and I often fly up to ten times a month. In 2013, I noticed that I got additional checks for an extremely high percentage of my 70+ flights that year. These checks are presented as ‘randomly assigned additional checks’, usually simple procedures that sometimes include interrogation rooms or other delays. As I started talking about these checks with fellow game developers, the notion that they were actually ‘randomly assigned’ quickly became less and less probable.
A fellow Arab pointed out to me that the checks weren’t random after all. My boarding passes had a mark on them that I hadn’t noticed before as being out of the ordinary, since it showed up on quite a lot of my boarding passes.
I am fortunate enough to avoid most of that in my daily life, living in the generally progressive Netherlands. But I’m reminded that I’m “undesirable” every now and then. In 2014, I flew approximately one hundred flights. For the entire year, I publicly kept track of how often I was random checked and where I was random checked. Where most fellow game developers – even those that travel frequently – mentioned having been checked once or twice in their life, I got random checked on one out of five flights. The majority of the checks I received were on flights to the United States, under their Secondary Security Screening Selection program.
So sure, I’m reminded that everybody thinks I might be a terrorist twice a week during a pat-down or interrogation, but that’s “just an inconvenience” to anyone who doesn’t have to deal with that kind of thing. I am scared of checking at what time I can eat during the fasting month of Ramadan aboard an airplane, because doing that often looks like this on a laptop screen.
When I was younger, I learned to avoid mentioning I’m partially Arab or Muslim, even when it was relevant. Then I unlearned it again. My name is Rami Ismail, and I’m half-Dutch, half-Egyptian and raised as a muslim. I am also a game developer.
Let’s look at what Muslims, people from the Arab world, and people from the Middle East look like in games.
I’ve gotten so used to people pushing back on the idea that there are barely any ‘good Arabs protagonists’ in games that I’ve developed a metric I call ‘time to Prince’, the amount of time in seconds between asking the question about ‘good Arabs in games’ and someone mentioning the 1989 classic game ‘Prince of Persia’. The prince is Persian, not Arabic. There’s a hint in the name somewhere.
The few Arabic playable characters that do exist have either been thinly veiled terrorist metaphors such as ‘the opposing force’, or whitewashed to the point of not being recognized as such, or are made to seem as non-threatening as possible. The one example I can think of is 2007 Ubisoft title Assassin’s Creed, which placed you in the shoes of a flawlessly English-speaking Christian and potential Syrian.
Named ‘Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad’, the ‘Ibn La’Ahad’ meaning ‘son of no-one’ and referring to Altaïr being orphaned at a young age. His father was later said to be named ‘Umar’, which would’ve meant Altaïr’s name would’ve been ‘Altaïr Ibn-Umar”. His father’s full name is later revealed to be ‘Umar Ibn La’Ahad’, meaning either his father was also orphanaged at a young age and only passed on the name ‘Ibn La’Ahad’ by sheer ironic accident, or it’s some sort of horrible joke the entire family is playing on everybody they know.
While a lot of the Arabic in the game is spot-on, the voice acting tend to have some rather cringeworthy accent to it. That’s still far better than most games, in which Arabs and Arabic are seemingly considered barely relevant beyond making sure they ‘look like terrorists’ – which, as we’ve all learned from TV Series Homeland, just means you’ve got to play into the bearded men in a desert street stereotype. The budget is going to explosion effects for abandoned cars and IED’s and ragdolls for dead terrorists, so that they fly away properly when shot.
It seems that Western media has agreed that adding some of that “Arabic singing in the background” makes something Arabic. It sounds Eastern to me. And maybe some rituals. I saw Morgan Freeman doing something that looks Muslim to me somewhere in a movie.
Come to think of it, I’ve rarely heard proper Arabic in Western movies or on TV, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an flawless authentic Muslim prayer in any mainstream production, ever. It’s a pretty solid reminder we’re the “others”, and it sure seems to suggest that the games industry tends to think of us primarily as ragdolls.
My name is Khan
In spite of a culture in which their culture continuously being ridiculed and antagonized, the games industry is a dream for many Arabs, Muslim or not, and for many Muslims, Arab or not. In 2015, the Global Game Jam, a simultaneous game making competition around the world, had one of its best attended locations in Cairo, Egypt. To become part of the games industry, they have to face antagonism towards and ridicule of their culture and politics, stereotyping, a language barrier, geographic distance, reduced access to resources and marketing, and yet they’re here.
I’ve met many aspiring developers like them around the world, and in many places people face similar problems. Whereever I go, access to funding, tools, documentation, marketing, trade events and language support are mentioned too. Russian developers lamented the one-sided and poor representation of their country, history and language in “historic” games. South American developers discussed the “South American threat” trope in modern shooters with me. They don’t feel taken seriously in the medium, and they want to make a difference. They want to make games. So they decide to download one of the most popular game development tools in the world.
The screenshot, posted by Zakir Khan, shows up when registering an account for the Epic Games website. While they were signing up for access to the Paragon beta, the Epic Games website does not only include games but also one of the most well-known and powerful game creation tools on the planet. Apparently the combination of one of the, if not themost popular first name in the world, and one of the most common last names in Asia, prohibits you from downloading the development tool at all. An imposing message notified Muhammed Khan, who was born with two of the most common names worldwide and literally has a movie named after this same type of confusion, that they’re blocked from creating an account because their first and last name is blocked by the United States of America’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, because they’re a Specially Designated National.
It sure would be a shame if something happened to your dreams of becoming a game develope
After some digging, it quickly became clear what happened: the US maintains a sanctions list called the OFAC SDN. The purpose of the SDN is to help US businesses identify people they’re prohibited from dealing with due to terrorism, narcotics, or economical sanctions. People included can be part of dozens of ‘sublists’, including Denied Entry lists, US PATRIOT Act lists and Sanctions list. The entire list is 1008 pages long.
So if your name happens to be in this 1008 page list, the USA suggests you maybe forget about your game dev dreams. https://t.co/N8taNcCnL9
US businesses are to avoid doing business with any person or entity on the list, risking criminal penalties for willful violations including fines ranging up to $20 million and imprisonment of up to 30 years. Some civil violations can be fined over a million US dollars for each violation.
Proper implementation of the OFAC SDN list is as follows: if a probable match occurs, US entities are requested to take steps to ensure it is not an exact match, first by checking against the rest of the available information. Further steps often require manual intervention. To ensure no rules are broken, companies are encouraged to “freeze” any assets or transactions under “duediligence“, whether it’s service- or money-based, until further checks have been completed.
We need more diverse diversity
Two hours after the issue was reported, Epics’ Tim Sweeney offered this competent and genuine apology
@Muzzakh@imraansiddiqi Understood and sorry. This is bad filtering code. It checks a Federal export restriction list based solely on name!
With that, many would consider the issue resolved; but obviously I disagree. While the response itself was great and worthy of praise, I disagree that their handling is to be applauded, as in the meanwhile, the actual issue remains. Thesymptom was rapidly and perfectly dealt with, but one can’t help but wonder how many Arabic, Persian and Muslim developers without a visible social media account ran into this issue & gave up on UDK, or worse, discouraged from game development entirely. The issue is that nobody with proper understanding of the impact of this system was requested to look at it, or nobody with that knowledge was available at Epic.
Because how is it possible that engineers for a major coorporation in a global medium didn’t once think, ‘maybe implementing this list by names only is a bad idea’? Any person even remotely aware of the Middle East, the Arab world, or Islam, would’ve been able to tell you filtering by Muhammed would be a bad idea. Or someone simply didn’t give it any thought, despite literally withholding access to their product and service at the most basic level.
And if the only person touching this filtering system was an engineer, that’d be bad, because not only is it a bad implementation by the standards offered by the OFAC, it also involves a diversity problem that should be dealt with by someone versed in those issues. If a designer touched this filtering system, it’d be bad, because they clearly lacked the understanding that would’ve helped them realize that almost 2 billion people on the planet are at a relatively high risk to be negatively impacted by this.
Even though Epic Games seems to have not implemented it, it seems many implementations of the OFAC SDN list use fuzzy string search<, or approximate checks, to further reduce liability. And while it sure is a great way of reducing liability, using fuzzy string search for this is a bad idea. I’ve entered the names of every prominent Arab or Muslim developer I could think of into the official SDN Search Tool, and at 90% accuracy it return the majority of them as a positive. At 85% accuracy, it returned all but one developer. I was included as a positive in that list. The only developer that didn’t return a match is literally royalty.
The world is a big, complicated place, and we all make mistakes. One part of dealing with mistakes is acknowledging them, taking responsibility, and fixing them – as Tim Sweeney so eloquently did in less than 140 characters. Another part of dealing with mistakes is ensuring there’s a structure in place to ensure similar mistakes are less likely to occur again.
Part of improving, and diversifying the games industry is gaining an understanding of the challenges that exist in emergent territories, and understanding the challenges that exist simply because of the West’s primary position in the games industry.
We need to understand that, while our progress regarding visible diversity issues is extremely important, diversity cannot be limited to those things that are already visible as problems in our industry. Part of diversifying a medium is understanding that the invisible voices are those we need to be listening to most. Part of diversity efforts should be an understanding that diversity is a powerful word, and that any diversity effort itself will always fail to represent all that it means.
Muhammed Khan, whoever they may be, wanted to make an account on a website that contains games and game development tools. That website, and through it our industry, no matter our intent or goals or reasons, told them that they weren’t welcome.
We need to do much better than that.
THAT'S ALL FOR NOW.
IF THERE'S ANYTHING I CAN HELP WITH OR IF THE CONTENT OF THIS BLOG LEAVES YOU WITH UNANSWERED QUESTIONS, FEEL FREE TO SEND ME AN E-MAIL AT RAMI@VLAMBEER.COM OR AT ME.