IndieHangover is overjoyed to publish this examination of the Indie Game scene in the Midwestern United States by Curtis Reisinger. Straight out of Cincinnati, Curtis is taking his love for video games and Midwestern pride to the written word in hopes of bringing notoriety and health to the Midwestern independent videogame development culture.
The Midwestern part of the United States is well known for many things such as agriculture, strange colloquialisms, and unforgiving weather; but what it is not known for is the development of video games and video game technology.
Since the early 2000’s, independent video game development started to become more and more prominent in the industry thanks to online and crowdfunding platforms that allowed the average game developer to embark on their hopes and dreams of releasing a video game without the necessity of large financial backers to cover the physical production costs and marketing. But, even then the independent video game movement was still mostly prominent on the eastern and western coasts of the United States. But, since the late 2000’s, there have been communities, conventions, developers, and movement leaders pop up all around the Midwest that have been inspiring and driving the independent video game development movement in the Midwest.
In the Midwest, there are many video game development groups and clubs around the United States that provide support and construction to independent game developers, companies, and communities to help improve the craft of video game development. The Midwest has more than a handful of these groups and they are relentlessly trying to put independent game studios on the map in the Midwestern region.
John Meister, President and co-founder of the non-profit organization RunJumpDev has been developing games for as long as he can remember. He started out by building levels in the map builder mode of the game Half-Life. When his career in application development became mundane and boring for him, he turned to the one thing that he knew he loved, video game development. Starting out, he didn’t know what to expect so he did his best to try and build a support chain that would help not only him but everyone he came across that wanted to develop video games. Thus, RunJumpDev was born, a non-profit organization that has been recognized by the Kentucky commerce and art affiliates in Lexington Kentucky, that has allowed them to make events such as Vector and Lexplay possible.
Run Jump Dev honestly just started as a group of people getting together with some pizza to share and bounce their work off of each other. Eventually, it started to turn into small art-like exhibits and at the local library and it slowly developed into our organization, RunJumpDev. – John Meister.
In 2017, RunJumpDev held one of their biggest indie exhibitions, Lexplay, in Lexington, Kentucky. Independent developers from all over the region came to the event to promote their indie games, and the gamers of all backgrounds came to see what it was all about. With it being a success, it was still hard to make it a contender for events like it in the industry. RunJumpDev had to give Lexplay a year off for 2018 to reassess their strategies and widen the accessibility for game developers to make it to the event.
Lexplay is such a great thing, I was able to just wake up and go show off my game. While there were other events that I could go to, like PAX or GDC, Lexplay was the most convenient in a matter of cost and planning.- Drew VanCamp of Cosmic Misfit Studios.
Drew VanCamp has been working on his game under the working title REVO: Project Revolution for a couple years and has claimed that RunJumpDev has been somewhat of an integral part of his game development journey.
While RunJumpDev is a popular and successful organization and support chain, it is only one of many in the Midwest. In Columbus, Ohio, there is a developer called Multivarious. The name is quite fitting as they are directly responsible for the Central Ohio Gamedev Group, one of the biggest video game conventions in the Midwest, GDEX, all while actually developing video games.
For a proactively updated list of Midwestern independent game developer and organizations, see here.
It is hard for video game enthusiasts and video game developers that live in the Midwest to take part in the video game culture as the video game industry is prominently present on the Western and Eastern coasts of the United States. Conventions and conferences like PAX, E3, and GDC are annual events for people who are in the industry, but they are primarily located in California or New York. Since 2013, the Midwestern convention GDEX has served as the region’s most prolific and iconic video game convention. Independent game developers and video game enthusiasts from all around the Midwest travel to Columbus, Ohio to attend workshops, enter their games into exhibits, connect, and play each other’s games.
GDEX however, is not only for game developers, but it also involves a lot of nerd culture, such as cosplay contests, video game tournaments, and booths for local artists and businesses, anyone is welcome to the event. The GDEX convention is the flagship for the Midwestern video game development culture, and its mission is to connect as many developers in hopes that they can cultivate an industry of independent game development in the Midwest. In 2017, there were over 2000 attendees present for the expo, and a large percentage of them were attending GDEX as their very first convention.
The Midwestern video game development is underground, but it is there and it is roaring to make itself heard. The leaders that are pushing the movement upward and breaking ground with it, show promise that the video game industry will not be tethered to the western and eastern coasts forever. The communities that are following the leaders and helping with the support show that they believe that it is possible and are encouraged by these leaders to develop games against the odds of being in the Midwest. It will only be a matter of time before the industry bleeds and establishes itself properly in the Midwestern region of the United States.