Imagine yourself sitting back in an auditorium chair. As you look around the gathering space you see 200 people, bantering and pointing wildly at their laptop and smartphone screens. There’s a palpable sense of excitement, an air of the impossible made possible, and as you breathe it in it mixes with the smell of too many humans in one place for too long.
This is a St. Louis Game Jam. It’s a weekend event where game developers, from the professional to the complete newbie, put aside 48 hours, grab a theme, and make a game. There are no cash prizes, no winners, no competition. It’s a spirited community event that undergirds the entire structure of the rapidly growing St. Louis game development industry. And it’s growing at an unbelievable rate.
We’ve held three game jams per year since the Summer of 2010. What started as a four person event grew to 50x that by January of 2014 when St. Louis had the 4th largest Global Game Jam site in the country, and the 16th largest in the world. To date, the local game jams have produced 140 games.
The games industry in St. Louis is at a tipping point. There are a handful of established studios – the likes of Simutronics, Graphite Lab, PixelPress, and the industry titan Riot. And then there’s the indies, a group of passionate developers dedicated to growing an independent games movement here, in the heart of the country. From board games to mobile, PC and console, these established studios and up-and-comers have banded together to create one of the most thriving game development communities in the world.
The Game Developer’s Meetup is now host to some 600+ people and the local chapter of the IGDA, formed in January of 2013, now boasts 50+ professional developers on its roster. There are at least three events per month within the community, from talks on Technical Art to 1-hour jams (not a typo) and even a monthly drinking night at the local game dev haunt, Orbit Pinball Lounge, where you’ll frequently see prototypes for video and board games alike. The Science Center has set aside tables during their monthly First Fridays for local devs to demo games to passersby. The 8-Bit Dev Pipe, a community event and empowerment exercise, has entered its second season, and there’s even plans in the works for a St. Louis based game development festival in September, PixelPop.
Perhaps the wildest thing about this growth is that it is entirely community driven. If this is the first time you’re hearing about us, it’s because we’ve been busy – defining our culture, supporting one another, crowdfunding, and making games. In all that activity we’ve bonded with local universities, created a pipeline to get newcomers from dreaming of games to producing them, and created one of the most robust and culturally unique gamedev scenes in the country.
There’s no longer a question of if, or when, the games industry is going to sprout in St. Louis.
It’s already here.
<Sam Coster is one half of indie studio Butterscotch Shenanigans and is partially responsible for bringing Quadropus Rampage into the world last June. He is a co-organizer for the St. Louis Game Jam this October, as well as an integral member of the St. Louis IGDA and frequent speaker at Meetup events. If you’re interested in a chat, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking to get involved? Come to the next meetup at Riot’s offices or the Game Dev Drinkup on August 14th, 8pm at Orbit Pinball Lounge and meet the community.