For the people behind Louisville Makes Games, video games are all about bringing people together. Housed at their downtown Main Street offices in the aptly named Warp Zone, the non-profit collective operates on the principle that if you build it they will come. What they’re building is more than just a game though, but a community of DIY, like-minded people, to encourage and support one another in their art. This is a safe and nurturing spot for creativity, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Like all good collectives, there is no central leadership. Speaking with founding member Alex Bezuska, it became immediately clear that this is as much about the art of the game as it is a spot for friends to come together.
It all came together easy enough. Bezuska wanted to make video games on his own terms, and slowly discovered a community of people with the same goal, people like Eric Lathrop, Allen Brower and Barry Rowe.
What started online quickly spilled out into the real world. Bezuska noticed Lathrop programming in a coffee shop, and they struck it off. From there the coffee shop was used as an unofficial meeting space, which ultimately proved awkward and untenable in the long run.
Once Bezuska learned about Game Jams, a 48-hour challenge to game developers to create something new, it was game on. The LVL1 group in Louisville attracted some like-minded folks, and Bezuska and Lathrop joined, discovering others with that same passion for game development.
Bezuska says, “We’ve been doing that and hanging out every Sunday and meeting other developers and growing and getting bigger. Eventually I started reading about Game Dev spaces. I thought I’d mention it to the group.”
Eventually, the group elected to formalize their operation into the non-profit entity Louisville Makes Games, a collective of smaller game development teams that work independently, but as a community to engage and help one another. The space is funded by individual contributions.
“It was really scary when we were planning this,” Lathrop admits. “We didn’t know if we could afford anything. You have to sign a lease and most business leases are three to five years and signing up for this is a big risk. We had to look at all these real estate listings and businesses, and everything was terribly expensive. We had to ask everyone if they could pay $100 a month, but that’s not really a lot of money to pay for everything. But we all wanted this to happen. Some people won’t sign up until it already exists.”
Bezuska adds, “We started a little non-profit called Louisville Makes Games. We have a board of directors and a bank account. We wanted a place where we could invite people who wanted to talk and host the meet-up and host our game jams and stuff like that. It’s been doing pretty well so far.”
Don’t Call It An Incubator
Don’t call it an incubator. The people behind Louisville Makes Games are focused first and foremost on crafting a compelling gaming experience and enjoy the freedom that they get working outside industry constraints. Here is a space where ideas are the real currency, where trying to tackle an extraordinary concept is more valuable than generating the next first-person shooter or sports gaming franchise.
Member Allen Brower, an industry professional with experience in freelance game development, says, “a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds can kind of fall under the same background for these games. Storytellers and writers. Musicians. Genders. Ethnicities. We’re trying to make a place where people can find a team to work with, a home base for interesting and creative art in the city. Instead of just making the next mobile game that sells, everyone is working on weird projects that they’d always wanted to do. Everyone is working on their own things. They’re paying to be here.”
It’s more than just empowering their community for bigger and better, but building a foundation for a better tomorrow. Where once you had to move to a larger city to work in the entertainment–gaming or otherwise–industry, the Internet has rendered that increasingly unnecessary.
“A lot of people in the room are passionate about becoming game development,” Bezuska believes. “Right now it’s not like you can just go on and find game development in this city. So we’re going to make them.”
Kentucky Fried Pixels and Beyond
To the various members of the group, it’s easy to believe that the sky is the limit. Since starting in February, Louisville Makes Games has experienced steady growth and increasing recognition from the game development community. They have a number of projects on the horizon, including a program designed to educate the public on game development and a themed Game Jam.
“Kentucky Fried Pixels is the first Game Jam personalized for Kentucky. At the end of the month we’ll be doing the bundle,” says Bezuska.
He adds, “None of us have any expectations that we’re going to make a game and sell it to Microsoft for a billion dollars. We just want to make enough money to make games and pay our bills.”