Us and the Game Industry – a necessary catalyst

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Last Thursday I had the good fortune to attend one of the first screenings of the video game documentary, Us and the Game Industry, organised by Make Games SA (MGSA) and the Labia Theatre. I was blown away by the number of indie followers, supporters and actual developers that attended – the atmosphere was positively festival-like!

The local support for indie games was clearly shown with a packed cinema – loud cheers for local devs Broforce (Free Lives), Snailboy (Thoopid) and Desktop Dungeons (QCFDesign) rang out as their trailers were shown on the big screen.

Indie trailer

Like many things indie these days, the film (from New Zealand film director/producer Stephanie Beth) owes its life to a successful $20,000 Kickstarter campaign. This seemed fitting as many of the games featured in the documentary owe their existence to this ‘kind benefactor’ culture too. Us and the Game Industry explores the trials and tribulations developers encounter as they strive to see their creations realized in a world where mass production and renewal of old IPs has become the norm. Beth also delves into the nature of creativity in this modern day medium and examines the potential demise of the so-called AAA games as indie developers increase and the general market starts to crave fresh new experiences.

Focusing on the team behind the award-winning Playstation 3 game Journey as its core success story, Beth charts their progress and pitfalls alongside other developers such as Jenova Chen at team thatgamecompany, Jason Rohrer, Douglas Wilson (Die Gute Fabrik), Alexander Bruce, and Zach Gage. As Beth states on her production blog:

I wanted to make a chronicle of a busy varied time in the game development world and I have. The digital record will be great for many decades to come.

Beth draws experiences from developers living in Santa Monica, Davis, Melbourne and New York for a 95 minute film that took four years to complete.

Labia hehe

One of the reasons Peter Cardwell-Gardner – a member of MGSA who helped organise the event – did so was to shed light on the rapidly growing local scene in an effort to get much needed attention. I got in contact with Nick Hall, Chairperson of MGSA who informed me that MGSA are in the process of registering with the DTI to be recognised as an Industry Association. He went on to say that when this is completed, MGSA can apply for funding under the DTI SASS (Department of Trade and Industries Sector Specific Assistance Scheme). This would allow funding for up to 20 developers to attend the 2014 Gaming Development Conference to be held in San Francisco.

So what do screenings of American gaming documentaries have to do with indie developers within the borders of our lands you ask? Hall explains:

Events like the movie screening are useful for two reasons, it gives us an opportunity to engage with the wider public and let them know that we exist. I think it is also a valuable tool for building up the community of our members and giving them access to resources that they possibly wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

People in the movies

Hall raises a good point here. Those over in America have a far better footing when it comes to indie development. Not only is their technology cheaper and more readily accessible but the gaming culture has evolved for a lot longer. This is one of the reasons why I think screening movie documentaries is essential for our development. We need catalysts like last year’s Indie Game: The Movie and this year’s Us and the Games Industry to bring together our community. It is only though community support that we will grow into a mature and well recognised independent gaming industry.

Anyone inspired to jump into game development should definitely join the forums over at Make Games SA or attend one of their monthly community meetings in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Image Credit: Candice Mazzolini.

Last Updated: November 21, 2013

Nick Reay

I have been an avid fan of movies ever since I discovered Santa Clause wasn't real, a day marked in my memory by my first viewing of It's a Wonderful Life, which wasn't so wonderful that day. Since then I've watched thousands of movies and even fooled my parents into putting me through uni to get a degree in the subject. I first started writing as a journalist for The South African Newspaper before moving onto communications for an NGO trying to save the planet. Unfortunately my recommendations to the CEO that we should all don rings imbued with the powers of earth, fire, wind, water and HEART went unheard. Now I pretend the end isn't nigh by hiding in movies.

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