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Indie Ain't Just a Word
March 31, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Jared Rosen offers a postmortem of GAME_JAM, a failed reality show about game development produced by Maker Studios and sponsored by Pepsi. Contestants Adriel Wallick, Robin Arnott, and Zoe Quinn also offer their perspectives.
posted by gilrain (46 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The main antagonist is not well detailed in the main article, but this Hacker News comment may offer some details on who he is and how he's related to Pepsi.
posted by gilrain at 3:43 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


“Do you think you’re at an advantage because you have a pretty lady on your team?”
- Matti Leshem, referring to Adriel Wallick.


Adriel Wallick, the woman who has built satellites.
Mattii Leshem, the man who wears a trilby and smokes e-cigs.
posted by flatluigi at 3:45 PM on March 31 [20 favorites]


Adriel Wallick, the woman who has built satellites.
Mattii Leshem, the man who wears a trilby and smokes e-cigs.


I didn't expect to read a perfect, concise summary of 2014 this early in the year.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:55 PM on March 31 [38 favorites]


Brand Energy's twitter. Sample: "Cheers to our partners at @MakerStudios! MT: @Disney's acquisition of Maker shows how strong our #LATech ecosystem is. - @ericgarcetti"

Leshem's twitter is quiet, but his @mentions are roiling
posted by morganw at 3:59 PM on March 31


According to his Twitter Jared Rosen has been fired and then not-fired by Maker Studios so far today for this article.
posted by jess at 4:01 PM on March 31


He clarified that he was never fired. It was a miscommunication, apparently.
posted by gilrain at 4:02 PM on March 31


Even without this guy turning it into a total meltdown the whole thing seems like a disaster movie though. YouTube trying to emulate "real" TV and film has always been its biggest flaw, it never works and just produces cringe worthy turkey.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:13 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I was underneath a Mountain Dew sign, watching a team win their Mountain Dew lawn chairs where they could sip on their brand new Dew Pack of Mountain Dew.

Was Xtreem Blue not available?
posted by Space Coyote at 4:29 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Malkovich Dew Malkovich Dew
posted by symbioid at 4:39 PM on March 31 [4 favorites]


YouTube trying to emulate "real" TV and film has always been its biggest flaw, it never works and just produces cringe worthy turkey.

"Reality TV" is cringe worthy turkey 99% of the time, YouTube or no. This would have been a worse idea for actual tv, because there would be so much money invested they would have to replace the devs with people willing to go along with the story line they wanted.
posted by Gary at 4:51 PM on March 31


I was working on a post on this earlier. If it was any more cringeworthy it would be physically painful to read.

Zoe Quinn's commentary on the whole mess should be required reading before anyone is allowed to watch reality anything.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:47 PM on March 31


Man, I hate this whole game jam hackathon thing. Since when does working really hard for 24 hours and then quitting abruptly produce a quality product? I honestly can't think of a more surefire way to write shittier, sloppier, mediocre boilerplate-y code than to do it all at once super quickly, while tired, in a room with a bunch of other people.

Maybe it's just me.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:19 PM on March 31 [5 favorites]


I read these not knowing that they were real time this month. I thought this whole thing had to have happened two years ago. Because I thought that any production company, any studio, anyone footing the bill for any Tech Genre Reality Show would have studied Cross Assault, and the fallout thereof. Also, Matti is no stranger to hijacking concepts.
posted by persona at 6:25 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Since when does working really hard for 24 hours and then quitting abruptly produce a quality product?

They're not. They are meant to try out new design ideas or just have fun making something. There's a couple of 7 day roguelike games that were polished later to make fun mobile games (Hoplite, 868-Hack), and some fun time wasters came from Flappy Jam. Although both of those are remote participation game jams.

That said, any sort of corporate sponsored hackathon (either the kind in the article, or some sort of "team building exercise") should be met with suspicion and/or hostility.
posted by Gary at 6:30 PM on March 31


I thought Jared Rosen's article was brilliant. Some people for god knows what reason have attacked him for the words he dedicated to backgrounding the story. Those critics and I use the term losely because they have to be either "children" or just young and inexperienced enough to have no idea what it must be like to write a post-mortem of 'something gone bad' that involves long term friends and established working relationships. I thought he did a great job as a writer and as a friend to the people involved. Games journalism just leveled up ... again!
posted by vicx at 6:42 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Is there a starter article that doesn't assume I'm familiar with Game Jam and summarizes what's going on? The articles seem to be either a million meandering pages long, or focused on details I have no framework for.
Longform is great for covering subjects I'm interested in, but I have yet to have any idea. :-/
posted by anonymisc at 6:48 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Nevermind, the Wallick blog entry looks likely to be the next best thing.
posted by anonymisc at 6:52 PM on March 31


Anonymisc, the "Postmortem" link that starts this post provides a suitable entry-point if you skip all the way down to the "Day Zero" or "The Stage" headers and start from there.

Vicx, I wouldn't characterize what I'm about to say as an "attack," but all that preamble is just far too much unless you already know at least the basic gist of the story/event. You really don't think the article would be better with at least a proper hook/entry-point/quick-summary to start the thing off before diving into the "I've never been a company man" bonafides? (Plus, as written, the reader isn't even told what "company" the writer is referring to until at least five paragraphs in -- a reader couldn't be blamed for assuming until that point that he's talking about the website he's writing for? -- and even then "Polaris" isn't mentioned with enough context to know what sort of company it is. This seems like a clear example of a writer being so enmeshed with his subject matter that he's pretty much of assuming the reader has a lot more contextual understanding than is likely the case, no?)

That said, it's a good read once it actually gets down to describing the events. What an awful shitstorm this whole thing was. I'm kind of surprised most of the participants didn't walk out sooner, but I'm pleased to see the stupid level of sexism was enough to push them all over the edge.

It does seem like there's key information that none of the people writing about their experiences so far were privy to: why did this youtube channel conglomerate agree to trade quite so much control away in exchange for the corporate sponsorship in the first place? (I'm assuming the worst of the bunch was brought on as part of the sponsorship arrangement, but even that isn't entirely clear.) It's one thing to want the extra money for the fancy sets, etc., but surely their (young?) audience would balk at quite the level of corporate shilling on evidence? (Or am I underestimating the density of single-minded product placement broadcast/cable reality shows stoop to these days?)
posted by nobody at 8:00 PM on March 31


A much less insidious and evil-tainted take on indie game jamming and reality TV (more like friendly documentary in this case) will soon be coming out from a pal of mine and his team, who do a thing called the Indie Van Game Jam. Basically they're making a serial documentary in 7 episodes, where in each episode the team visits a different indie game development studio. On the cross-country drive to the studio, in the van, they scramble together their game jam take on a game made in the style of whatever studio they're visiting, then they get feedback from the real developers, and finish their version of the game back in the van on the way home.

That explanation was extremely clunky but you can read more about their awesome project here.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 8:03 PM on March 31 [5 favorites]


Man, I hate this whole game jam hackathon thing. Since when does working really hard for 24 hours and then quitting abruptly produce a quality product? I honestly can't think of a more surefire way to write shittier, sloppier, mediocre boilerplate-y code than to do it all at once super quickly, while tired, in a room with a bunch of other people.

I guess you could think that if you haven't actually played any games that were the product of game jams, but they produce a lot of good ones. Most of them end up being kind of shitty, but there's a lot of really nice experiments and some full fledged games came out of them (Surgeon Simulator, for example).
posted by empath at 8:20 PM on March 31


The idea of the whole hackathon thing is that, yeah, since you only have 24 hours you're not going to produce a super polished triple-A title. Which frees you up to try someone's goofy idea, because, if at the end, it really sucks and no one wants it, you've only wasted 24 hours of goofing around with your friends trying to make a video game as fast as possible.

There are several 3-5 year spans in my career where the stakes were the stakes were far higher, the stress far greater and in the end we had less to show for it than a mediocre video game.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:42 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite games I've ever made was made in 3 or 4 hours at the end of a game jam when I was sick for the first two days. Luckily there was no sponsorship or camera crew or awful producer to ruin everything.
posted by moonmilk at 8:50 PM on March 31


Another clause allowed for willful misrepresentation for the sake of drama,

That right there is why reality tv is such a fucking barrel o fuck under the drain pipe of sewage fukery.
posted by edgeways at 9:02 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


I think the strength of jams is that you can experiment with the understanding that if it's a failed experiment, you're only out 48 hours or a week or whatever the length of the jam is. Or you can try collaborating with someone and you know you're not marrying this person for an indeterminate period of time. There's no risk that the project development time will inadvertently drag out, longer and longer, as you think to yourself, "Oh, I just need to fix this one little thing, and also this, and this ... " and suddenly it's three years later and your game still isn't really complete.


And I can sort of see how this might seem to make sense for a reality show, since a game jam isn't just regular game development, it's game development with a ridiculous arbitrary restriction, and reality shows love ridiculous arbitrary restrictions.

But what reality shows dont't love is (as Adriel Wallick said) "a rational conversation about the nuances" of an important subject, or people settling their differences calmly and quietly, or apparently coffee if you're supposed to be drinking Mountain Dew. And so yeah, instead of just documenting what a game jam is like, someone keeps trying to stir shit and cover your tattoos and misrepresent what you're doing for the sake of drama.
posted by RobotHero at 9:05 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I guess you could think that if you haven't actually played any games that were the product of game jams, but they produce a lot of good ones. Most of them end up being kind of shitty, but there's a lot of really nice experiments and some full fledged games came out of them (Surgeon Simulator, for example).

At least in Surgeon Simulator's case, no it didn't. What came out of the jam was a no frills proof of concept thing on a website. Making the full fledged game took another few months of actual game development.

Which is kind of the point. The best thing you'll get out of the artificial environment of a jam is a workable concept that can, with significant follow-up, turn into a game. You don't get an actual game that's worth playing.
posted by kafziel at 10:09 PM on March 31


At least in Surgeon Simulator's case, no it didn't. What came out of the jam was a no frills proof of concept thing on a website. Making the full fledged game took another few months of actual game development.

They just expanded on it and polished it a bit. I played the game jam version and it pretty much survived into the final game intact.
posted by empath at 10:25 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Goat Simulator started as a game jam game and turned out pretty fun.
posted by NoraReed at 12:10 AM on April 1


I guess you could think that if you haven't actually played any games that were the product of game jams, but they produce a lot of good ones.

That's a good point. While I have played a few crappy game jam games, I haven't made the effort to dig around for gold. Digging for gold is something a person already needs to do with games created on a traditional production scale!
posted by oceanjesse at 2:15 AM on April 1


From the YouTuber side of things: "A bunch of us were in town for GameJam and found ourselves with a free weekend....so we went to Disneyland."

This video's by Dodger, who's on the Polaris network (and so maybe has a vested interest in showing Polaris people being chill), and shows Strippin, Markiplier, JonTron, Angry Joe, and other internet-famous people I'm sure I should recognize. If I read the article right, that's one Game_Jam host and three contestants, right after Game_Jam fell apart - and they're close enough at that point that they all decide to hang out together. Looking at this, it seems completely absurd that someone wanted to cram these people, who are clearly friendly if not already friends, into an "I'm not here to make friends" dramatic reality show format.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 3:31 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


More or less absurd than dismissing the software engineer from Lockheed Martin Space Systems as "a pretty lady"? I guess once you can get Sports Illustrated to cover Rock, Paper Scissors, believing the absurd becomes pretty easy.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:14 AM on April 1


From Adriel's take on this event:

“Do you think you’re at an advantage because you have a pretty girl on your team?”

All love to my teammates as they declined to engage. But, after pushing more – he got a rise out of me. He got me to, with an embarrassed and flushed red face launch into a statement about how his question is indicative of everything that is wrong in our industry in terms of sexism. That no, we weren’t at an advantage because we had a woman on our team – we were at an advantage because I’m a damn fine programmer and game developer. We were at an advantage because my skills allowed us to be at an advantage – not my “pretty face”.

He had the audacity to approach me later and explain that it wasn’t personal. This wasn’t a personal attack on me – he knew this was a sensitive topic in the industry and wanted to address it.

Well, you know what? It was personal. You sat there and overtly questioned my skills, my intelligence, my life. It was so personal, that I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that someone could even pretend to believe that it wasn’t a personal attack.

And, on top of that, it was a completely inexcusable way to address the issue of sexism in games. You address this by having a rational conversation about the nuances of how it feels to be an underrepresented part of an industry that you love. You address it by making a marginalized subset feel safe. You address it by allowing the minority to feel like they have a voice – a voice that is being listened to. You don’t address it by shoving cameras in a woman’s face and insinuating that the only reason she was brought onto a skill-based competition was because she was nice to look at."

Well said.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:27 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


A true villain. A scrappy, diverse group of heroes. $400,000 macguffin. Clueless corporate sponsor, and well-meaning but impotent creatives.

Best reality show, ever!

Thanks for posting!
posted by valkane at 7:12 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


I'm also wondering, there are these shows like American Idol which all try to play up how this is going to be their big break and did the Pepsi guy fail to appreciate that these contestants had already accomplished on their own more than this reality show can award them, (note Rosen's comments about one prize being a free pass into the Xbox One indie developer program) so they were not going to put up with his shit.

So like, if this show had a bunch of complete unknowns, starry-eyed and thinking that game development is about saying "Tighten up the graphics on level 3" maybe he would have got away with his behaviour. Maybe.
posted by RobotHero at 9:13 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


I've been waiting many years for this- The moment in which I become useful to MeFi!

So, I was on the show. We were the "USC team" mentioned in the article and we chose to keep a lower profile because a lot of the hijinks weren't directed at us. That said, it was clear from the first hour that something was wrong.

The show had been pitched to us as a small, documentary style affair where we'd be paired with a YouTube personality and make a game over the course of 3 days. We loved this idea- Every one of us had a moment where someone took us under their wing and demystified game making enough that we were able to convince ourselves to give it a try. The idea that we could leverage YouTube to bring that experience to many, many other people was incredible.

As soon as we got on set, it was clear that this was less Top Chef and more Double Dare. Our team was, I think, the most willing to jump the hoops and suffer the hijinks in return for exposure. But the environment quickly went from "haha mountain dew game jam" to "oh god we're locked in here with a toxic asshole".

After everyone walked, numerous people from the production came over to us and said "oh, I worked with Matti and he's so terrible" which bore out the question: WHY DID YOU ALLOW HIM HERE. It says so much about the culture of reality TV and of victimization that someone said, "Oh, I know a total sociopath we can hire to make everyone miserable!" and dozens and dozens of people said, "Yes, let's bring him on board!".

Anyway- All was not lost. It was fantastic to see our community rally together and say "This is not acceptable". The YouTube people- who were as in the dark as we were- were all amazing and kind. Many of the Maker Studios people were apologetic, I think the production just got away from them. There are plans for all the teams to reconvene in a few months and make the jam what it should have been, so keep your ears open?
posted by GilloD at 10:24 AM on April 1 [34 favorites]


It does seem like there's key information that none of the people writing about their experiences so far were privy to: why did this youtube channel conglomerate agree to trade quite so much control away in exchange for the corporate sponsorship in the first place? (I'm assuming the worst of the bunch was brought on as part of the sponsorship arrangement, but even that isn't entirely clear.) It's one thing to want the extra money for the fancy sets, etc., but surely their (young?) audience would balk at quite the level of corporate shilling on evidence? (Or am I underestimating the density of single-minded product placement broadcast/cable reality shows stoop to these days?)

We all asked ourselves (And Maker) that after things blew up. The answer seemed to be that no one handling the production truly understood how drastically out of their control things had become and they believed that they could shield us from the worst of it. The road to hell etc etc.
posted by GilloD at 10:27 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


From the reading, I got the impression that there was also another culture clash going on - in the tv/movie production biz, the industry is structured very much that once cameras start rolling, no force on earth will stop the production finishing and creating a product. Something. Anything.

The games biz is the opposite - pretty much everyone has worked on projects that got the plug pulled mid-production.

So the potential for just walking away from the whole thing mid-production and ending up with nothing to show for it - that concept didn't even seem graspable to many of the production people, while in contrast it was never even off the table for the games people - right from day one.
posted by anonymisc at 3:33 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


an "I'm not here to make friends" dramatic reality show format

Which, I'm waiting for some trickster demon to start up a reality show called Friendmakers as a way of collapsing the whole genre in on itself once and for all.
posted by cortex at 5:41 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]


At some point which remains unclear, the show wholly dipped into a scripted reality slant and became less about making a game, and more about creating drama for sake of the audience, less than one day out of the four blocked off for shooting available to sit down and jam. The rest of the program, as it turned out, was filled with arts and crafts, physical challenges and competitive gaming – once again, totally unrelated to game development.

So Matti is the clear antagonist here that pushed everyone over the edge, but - holy shit, what a clusterfuck even without him. It's just completely antithetical to the spirit of the indie game developers present. You have the creator of Depression Quest - a game that had me nearly in tears, I was so overcome with emotions - going through physical challenges like a contestant on a Nickelodeon game show, smiling dead-eyed at the camera holding a can of Mountain Dew? The fuck?
posted by naju at 5:59 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


I don't know if "proud" is the appropriate word for how I feel about what happened since I'm completely not involved, but I am loving that when the reality-TV formula attempted to co-opt game industry professionals, and the drama-manufacturing ugly side of reality-TV formula and machinations crashed and thrashed and wailed and gnashed against their professionalism, the professionals remained professional and it was reality-TV that broke against that wall.

Well done everyone. Well done GilloD.
posted by anonymisc at 6:43 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


To follow up on what has been already said about this reality-tv-culture-clash angle, I can't help but guess that this won't have just a temporary impact on people involved and others who follow this story in the developer community. I'm sure many people have already not had a very high opinion of various vaguely unsavory parts of both brand marketing an reality tv as well as related such fields, but Leshem here has now raised a particularly personal disdain, in a large crowd of smart people, for this broken culture. Congratulations: your profession has now become a problem, to be solved.
posted by Anything at 7:11 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Here's an interesting additional account from someone who helped some of the participants look at the contracts.
posted by Anything at 9:07 PM on April 1


This story makes it even easier to appreciate the quality efforts of cultural insiders like 2 Player Productions. I don't remember if their Double Fine Adventure documentary series is still backers-only, but I know their work for Double Fine on Amnesia Fortnight, a sort of internal game jam Double Fine uses to sift through potential projects, is public and a great example of the polar opposite of this disaster.
posted by gilrain at 4:58 AM on April 2


First article was a good read, but also felt like spin for Maker and Polaris. Far as I can tell, they built the "terrifyingly enormous spectacle" of the set, organized the branding, decided on the format, completely misunderstood their contestants...

I have trouble believing that one guy, a "creative consultant" who's not even full time, was the unstoppable torpedo here.
posted by postcommunism at 8:46 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Okay, reading the Hacker News link I see he's got more clout than that. But still.
posted by postcommunism at 8:51 AM on April 2


I have trouble believing that one guy, a "creative consultant" who's not even full time, was the unstoppable torpedo here.

Thats true, but in talking to the Maker/Polaris folks, they had a sense that things had gotten out of control, but they didn't really understand how drastically until filming started. Which is a production failure, but also explains that they were as in the dark as we were. A lot of decisions were being made above the heads of the people who were on the ground.
posted by GilloD at 2:32 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Hunh. Thanks for the clarification. It sounds like it was a surreal experience.
posted by postcommunism at 10:18 AM on April 3


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