A MAZE isn’t for all gamers, is it?

6 min read
5

Amaze joburg

Last week and over the weekend, the local South African indie scene had quite an event. The A MAZE festival showcased a bunch of talent, featured informative workshops and panels and was generally just a really wonderful event. But you probably didn’t care or attend, and I’m not sure you were meant to.

As a regular attendee of the monthly Make Games SA meet ups in Joburg, I love seeing our good friends in the local indie scene getting the chance to show off their games. Seeing as I usually only see what the Joburgers have, it was particularly nice for me to see some of the incredible offerings from the Cape Town indies. However, A MAZE is supposed to be a showcase of local indies, a way for gamers to get excited about the South African game industry. It doesn’t do that, and until it fixes some fundamental problems, it can’t.

Johannesburg braamfontein

The curse of self-importance

Of those of you based in Gauteng, when was the last time you ventured in Braamfontein? Yes, there are a lot of cool things happening in downtown Joburg towards gentrifying the neighborhood. However, it is still seen as (and possibly is) a rather dangerous and unsavory part of town. With fears about safe parking and a woman’s (or man’s) ability to be there after dark, it is not where many people are willing to venture.

A MAZE was held at 41 Juta street – a dark, quiet street just before the Nelson Mandela Bridge, not the trendy, vibey Juta street on the other side of the road near neighborgoods market. Sure, I was safe there – car guards watched my vehicle and I had a Wookiee who found me at the door and ensured that I was okay. However, it’s not a place that most of us would choose to go to. If I wasn’t chairing a panel, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. While it’s great for the grassroots artist experience, the location already impedes mainstream exposure.

Therein lies the greatest problem. While some people may be willing to venture into unusual neighbourhoods for the prospect of an interesting, unusual or unique experience, AMAZE simply doesn’t have the clout or exposure to take it to that level. Sure, there were some cool things to see, and the location is due to the connection with WITS, but it simply doesn’t help the festival’s exposure.

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Tumbleweed

I’ll show you if you show me

One of the main purposes of the exhibition was to exhibit the cool games local developers had made. Unfortunately, the exhibition ran during the same times as the workshops and talks. This means that the developers were most likely listening to the excellent speakers throughout the day, leaving their games on display but completely unmanned. When I arrived, some games didn’t work or needed to be reset while others had controllers that refused to link to the specific game. It was all resolved after the workshop and I had a ton of fun playing some random games, but it was only possible in between the “real” events, making the exhibition feel like a waste of space.

While some of the developers were interested in talking to me while I played their game – seeking feedback to better understand what works or doesn’t in the game – many of them completely ignored any attention their game got. It seemed that developers present were more interested in the networking opportunities, particularly with big name indies who were also giving feedback, than the opportunity to hear what everyday gamers had to say. This isn’t really a problem in itself, it just means that A MAZE should choose between offering an arcade and exhibition or panels and talks; it just doesn’t work to do both at the same time. Add to that the fact that during panels or talks those few people who were playing games could be heard loudly and cause distraction, and the whole thing just ended up feeling chaotic.

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Constructive criticism

Much like the feedback given to the game developers present, this criticism isn’t meant to say that all of A MAZE was fruitless. It is an excellent project, but it just has an identity crisis. From what I’ve heard from previous attendees, every year has been an improvement. Here’s hoping that in the future it will be designed in such a way to appeal to a broader crowd, or as a purely closed doors indie gaming idea exchange. Each has its merit, and I’m still very glad that I attended the parts of the festival that I did. However, unless things are changed for next year, I wouldn’t necessarily tell you all that you had to be there.

Last Updated: September 15, 2014

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let’s get on with it!

  • Admiral Chief Assassin

    Pah, what about Snor City?

  • Valshen

    ALSO MAKE THE BAR STAY OPEN FOR LONGER PLEASE

    • Ben Myres

      The bar was open until past midnight on every night except one night where it moved to another location for the other party :).

  • nickhallsa

    I’m not sure A MAZE is for players/consumers at all. I’ve always seen it as a festival for developers, an opportunity for the local community to interact, meet and network with other developers (and I’m pretty sure that’s what most of the local developers see it as as well). rAge is there for us to interact with the consumer market. If you went expecting a consumer facing show I can understand why you’d be disappointed. Agreed that the time table was not optimal and panels/talks over ran (and in general some things could be better organised). Was it adverstised as being for the broader public?

  • Ben Myres

    For the sake of clarity, here is the A MAZE (http://www.amaze-johannesburg.co.za/) ‘About’ section copied and pasted:

    “For the third year A MAZE. is welcoming african and
    international game developers, digital artists, forward thinkers,
    entrepreneurs, and digital activists in Johannesburg to exchange tools, skills
    and ideas in the fields of independent games and playful media. Since we are
    the first festival of that kind in Africa we have the responsibility to create
    a platform that grows from inside to secure the longterm goals like a national
    funding systems, more and effective international collaborations between universities,
    institutions, cultural agencies, studios and creatives. A MAZE. / Johannesburg
    is an annual evolving platform for African and International playful media
    artists. A playground for everyone who wants to experience the
    Human-Human-Machine interaction. A MAZE. provides an intensive program with
    lectures, panels, screenings, games, interactive installations, street games,
    workshops, concerts, performances and party.”

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