Part Two – Penny Arcade
I’ve discussed community a lot when talking about the MEGABOOTH. One of the things that makes me the most proud is being able to work with really incredible and dedicated development teams. We have such a diverse set of companies that reach out to us – our submission pool for PAX Prime really blew me away. The variety of games and teams we showcased at Prime was such an amazing representation of where games are going and the people that are making that happen.
This is due to many factors, but one of the strongest is the welcoming and positive atmosphere we’ve created. There have been times recently that this has been overshadowed by controversial and alienating statements and actions from Penny Arcade. When these come up, the MEGABOOTH has been one of the places people look to bring about change within PAX. We’re accessible, we’re outgrowing the need to exist inside the larger conference in some sense and we’re made up of many individual groups who share similar values. Mostly this manifests itself in calls to remove ourselves from PAX and either start our own conference or boycott entirely. I think all these ideas come from a good place, and I understand the desire to make things better through taking actions that can affect a positive change.
There are a lot of things going into this discussion so I’ll address them individually and walk you through my thoughts on it.
Why we aren’t separating into our own conference
One of the unique opportunities that the MEGABOOTH offers to indie developers is the chance to reach an audience not specifically interested in indie games. Indie focused events are a celebration of the indie scene and in some sense I liken it to an exhibit at a museum. It’s a specific, in depth look at a subject you are well versed in. For developers and fans of indie games this is a really fun and rejuvenating way to learn about the sub-section of the industry you love and meet with like-minded people. At large consumer facing events we have a captive audience who loves games but may have never even heard of indie games, or had no idea that small teams of people could make games. They come to a gaming convention to see the latest AAA blockbusters all their friends are talking about. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to fans at PAX who had either never played an indie game, thought they were all pretentious 8-bit platformers or who, after talking to developers in the booth, became inspired to make games themselves. This is an exciting situation to be in! You can, for a small fraction of the costs that a AAA company spends on conferences, reach the exact same audience and affect their opinion in an equally influential manner . This is skirting the traditional structure and creating an opportunity for yourself that other companies pay hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars for. That’s powerful.
For the MEGABOOTH to make its own event that could provide this same opportunity would be a serious undertaking to say the least. To create something with the size and diversity levels of something like PAX, gamescom or TGS would take years and require partnering with many large corporations and expanding into a conglomerate of teams and industries. It makes me exhausted even thinking of it. And frankly, uninterested. I want us to change the conversation. Not become the structure that created it in the first place.
Boycotting PAX and by proxy Penny Arcade is the second suggestion we get. This call tends to get focused onto individual development teams as well as a way to put pressure on the scene in general.
I’ve read a lot of interesting thoughts on this and talked to a variety of people on the subject. The two outlines of the discussion that most closely match my thinking are Max Temkin’s post after Prime and the Jeff and Casey podcast discussing the topic. Please read and listen to them both:
Max’s post hits on the frustration from an exhibitor perspective. Here is something you’ve worked months on, sunk piles of money into and were genuinely excited to participate in! You do the best you can, have an amazing showing, and then hours later it’s taken from you by something totally out of your control. It’s frustrating and crushing. I mean, in my personal situation I quit my job, drained my savings, worked insane hours for months on end, and pulled off something incredible that I am very proud of. I’ve never had a professional or personal highlight that compares. The next day our twitter feed is full of calls to pull out of PAX, anger at Penny Arcade, plans to create our own conference and developer infighting on the morality of supporting something that causes them pain. This was disheartening to say the least.
Emotional reactions to large social issues can be complicated and not always the best solution. As the Jeff and Casey podcast outlines, in this case the counter intuitive solution is actually the most effective way to bring about a positive change. The main point Casey makes is that if you look at the entire situation as a civil rights issue – ie women’s rights, LGBT rights – then historically there are two ways you can bring about social change. One is to boycott and the other is to sit-in.
Boycotting works when you are the majority of people participating in the thing you are boycotting, even if you are a minority in the population. The boycott is able to financially impact the system to bring about a change.
The sit-in scenario works best when you are a minority in the population and also a minority in the situation you want to affect. By increasing your presence rather than boycotting, you force the conversation to happen where it’s not.
The MEGABOOTH as a company will be taking the sit-in stance over the boycott stance. As mentioned above, we have a unique opportunity to directly communicate with the exact audience we are trying to affect. Both in raising awareness of the indie scene, but also of creating an inclusive and positive community within the larger gaming industry. Every person who shares our ideals that we remove from the conversation weakens our position. In an extreme case we run the risk of creating an echo chamber for those people who act as a proponent for exclusionary tactics and further isolating ourselves in the process.
The caveat to this is that it is then left to the individual. It certainly isn’t easy (or necessarily fair) to put yourself out there as an example of an underrepresented or oppressed section of the population. If you personally feel uncomfortable giving money to support a company whose ideals you disagree with, or even feel unwelcome or hurt to a degree that you can’t participate, that is totally valid. The Fullbright team is a great example of this. They, as a company decided that they were uncomfortable supporting PAX and Penny Arcade and would be boycotting them in the future. To be clear, they are not boycotting the MEGABOOTH and are happy to participate in events and initiatives we run outside of PAX, but this is a stance they decided was best for their team. Every developer deserves this freedom.
I’ve spoken with Penny Arcade and various developers/interested parties about where to go from here. PAX is in the process of reviewing their policies and working on ways to make the show better. In addition Max Temkin has been working on formalizing an additional exhibitor code of conduct that will outline expectations for staff, volunteers and guests in the areas designated as such. These are both efforts designed to ensure that we can hold ourselves to standards that we as a community feel are important. I’ll be staying in contact with both and working to implement these new policies into our space for PAX East.
We want the MEGABOOTH at PAX to be a welcoming space for everyone regardless of what side of the issue they fall or whatever noise is happening outside of our footprint. So long as you are in the MEGABOOTH, you will be treated with respect, acceptance, and friendliness – the sorts of things that bound us as a community in the first place. With this community, we can create a space where not only can you find interesting and unique games, but you can also find like-minded individuals and kindred spirits who share your passion in a safe space.
So whether you’re an exhibitor deciding if you should bring your game to the show or if you’re an attendee worried about betraying your values, please know that although we will remain within the larger PAX ecosystem, you can consider the MEGABOOTH a happy biodome of acceptance, friendliness, and – most importantly – games so awesome you couldn’t find them anywhere else.