In the middle of October I had the pleasure of attending Playcrafting’s Fall Expo. Dozens of video and board game developers were getting together in Microsoft’s Times Square location in order to show off their projects.
I first heard about Playcrafting via TechRaptor’s news editor Don Parsons, who informs me about any interesting gaming events happening in the general area. Playcrafting is, at is core, an organization dedicated to helping people learn how to become good game developers and business people. They have panels on everything ranging from game development to marketing to legal situations.
Independent game developers (usually referred to as “indies”) are typically single people or small groups that need to have a “do a little bit of everything” mentality to be able to make their games. When you can’t make music you hire a guy. When you need to write a contract you pay a lawyer. Learning these individual skills to some degree—even if they ultimately bring in outside help—are essential to their success. It seems to me that these topics are only now being properly emphasized relative to their importance in the industry.
When I started writing for TechRaptor, I did some cursory searching for game meetups, conventions, and conferences. I had a rather difficult time finding anything. It baffled me that New York City wasn’t filled with developer-centric events and expos.
It turns out that New York City does indeed have a growing game development scene. It’s just really difficult to track down all of the various meetups, groups, guilds, and organizations. The few hours I spent at Playcrafting’s Fall Expo opened up a world that I didn’t know existed. Many of the developers I interviewed and spoke with told me about gaming groups both formal and informal. They would meet up on a regular basis to bounce ideas off of one another, playtest, and network.
These gaming groups tend to propagate through word of mouth and personal networking. And that makes sense—you wouldn’t get a huge return on running ads about a group meetup for a bunch of people getting together to discuss the finer points of designing video games and board games over coffee. It’s definitely an enthusiast thing that doesn’t appeal to most people.
Playcrafting itself is an interesting organization. According to Playcrafting’s CEO Dan Butchko, it’s all about “lowering the barrier to entry.” If you can pay their reasonable fee, you can get in the door with literally zero knowledge about games development. And indeed, there have been a few people roughly in that situation. Glenn Orzepowski (developer of the upcoming title It Happened In Outer Space) did just that and wrote about it on Playcrafting’s website. He struggled with online tutorials and eventually managed to find his way after getting some hands-on instruction.
And if there’s anything I’ve learned about Playcrafting as a company, it’s all about Dan Butchko’s philosophy of lowering barriers. I’ve tinkered with game development myself. It absolutely should be this easy. It’s never been easier to pick an engine and learn how to use it. There’s never been a more vibrant and diverse independent games community. But as far as I can tell, Playcrafting is the first organization that’s making learning how to create video games about as easy as taking a cooking class.
The event was very open and very free-for-all. You could walk up to any developer and talk to them or try their game. Developers and regular attendees alike mingled around the kitchen area where a literal freight elevator’s worth of Domino’s pizza was available for all.
There was a wide range of presentations. Most developers had a playable version of at least one of their games. Mobile developers had multiple devices sitting around their table for passers-by to pick up and get hands-on with their title. Some developers had a computer at a table, and some devs went as far as to get gigantic displays set up to represent their company. Pixelmetal went as far as to set up a projector to show off their multiplayer title Sombrero.
Some of the developers seemed barely out of high school, and some had gray in their hair. Some were full-time game developers, and some were doing the indie thing as a side gig. I managed to meet a whole bunch of really cool developers both during and after the event. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview roughly a dozen of them in person.
Playcrafting has every intention of expanding. They’re already set up in New York City and Boston, and their CEO has stated that they are working on expanding out to the West coast as well. This is one of the many indications of the success of their bite-size style of teaching game development. Ten years from now, there will be a Playcrafting branch (or a similar organization) in most major cities worldwide simply because the demand exists.
The wonderful people I’ve met at Playcrafting have shown me that there are still plenty of indie developers out there with a real passion for making games of all sorts. If only someone out there would give them a little bit of time in the limelight. In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing my part to show off the people making the great video and board games that you rarely get to hear about.
Who’s the coolest game developer you’ve met? Have you been to a game jam or game developer meetup? Let us know in the comments below!