People Who Either Fix or Push Bugs

By Sam Machkovech November 20, 2009

"I see the games industry as a bunch of icebergs," a grey-haired programmer said to a longer-haired 20-something. This conversation was one of a half-dozen at the International Game Developers Association's Seattle chapter happy hour—a meet-up meant largely for game makers in the indie scene. Though the iceberg metaphor fizzled, it touched on the programmer's disdain for "massive, conservative franchises" (Halo, Call of Duty) in favor of "flukes that break through the noise."

Roughly two dozen folks gathered on Thursday to talk shop. The people on hand ranged from full-time business programmers to the unemployed, but they shared a common language beyond C++. Artistic, esoteric game ideas filled each conversation, most of which were unfit for Best Buy's shelves, and better-known indie designer names were name dropped the way coffee shop mavens might mention playwrights or poets.

Yet these thoughtful designers admitted this was only the second local meetup organized by the IGDA in recent memory. The reason became apparent quickly; for all the (disparate) game design activity around Seattle, the gatherers here had little interest in rallying around a common cause a la Mr. Iceberg, let alone framing their conversations around their city.

The Microsoft employee who showed up seemed completely estranged from the gathering, admitting his curiosity about talking to "this side" of game development. The shaved head sitting at the appetizer table lived in a different place altogether, showing off an art portfolio of otherworldly dwarves and warriors to any designer who showed interest. And the tall, heavyset guy in a hoodie established residency in his iPhone.

"Watch me push this bug!" he exclaimed, almost in mock excitement, as he pulled out his iPhone to push animated ladybugs around the touchscreen. But he wasn't being sarcastic. This designer once invested over two years on a web browser game with no reward, and he wasn't so eager to pish-posh his new, odd, and easy-to-make app.

"Now, I can literally design a game in two days, get it up on the Apple store, and sell 1,000 copies at $1 a pop," he said. Other designers from the old-school game school furrowed their brows when I described his suite of iPhone apps.

But that dichotomy didn't disrupt the proceedings. It looked like date night on the other side of this dimly lit bar, but romance bloomed strongest around the appetizer table, where every conversation involved two people, intense eye contact, and the serendipity of a programmer meeting a like-minded artist. All around that table, little, isolated icebergs floated.

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