Boston Indies Spotlights Us

by Kwasi Mensah

June 21st, 2011

Boston Indies Spotlight

The fine folks at Boston Indies ran two articles on us over the weekend. Boston Indies is a great community of independent and happy programmers in the Boston area. They’ve given really helpful advice to us as we’ve getting our feet weet.

The first post is a recap our presentation on Game Design and Accessibility which was a big hit at the monthly meeting. You can find the full presentation here

The second post talks about why I started Ananse Productions.  I’ve included the full text below but show Boston Indies some love and visit the site anyway.

What makes Ananse different?

It takes a special type of crazy to start a game company. You have to take the time requirements of making a game, which are notorious for being long and unpredictable, and combine them with the stresses of a startup. Then there’s the toppings of management, PR, book keeping and event planning which are all necessary but you’re probably not passionate about. The chances of fame are slim at best when competing against powerhouses like EA and Activsion. And of course there’s the sea people who are also crazy and are juggling as many hats as you are. Digital distribution helps but at the end of the day you’re still fighting the ultimate uphill battle. Why would I start Ananse Productions then? In this post I outline the special type of crazy that hopefully sets Ananse apart from everyone else.

I grew up with an amazing support system. My mother, Pastor and several other people in my parish made sure I kept my head on straight. I was always smart but without them I never would have had the opportunity to leave NYC for college. At the end of high school I realized I that had a responsibility to pay their kindness forward. I wanted to affect people lives in concrete and specific ways. Even though I ended up going to college to study Computer Science, teaching was always in the back of my head. However, I convinced myself that I should work hard at a career that I loved and that helping people will eventually fall in place.

A few months after graduating I went back to college for a recruitment fair. While covering my old company’s booth, I saw a friend who was still in school and was looking for a job. I tried to get him to our table so I could impress him with my recruitment spiel but then he said something that will always stick with me. “Oh, I want to work somewhere I can help people”. He immediately apologized for his off the cuff remark but that little quip started the wheels in my head, getting me to think about ways to prove him wrong.

A year and a half later, I was feeling antsy at my job. A co-worker had gotten me to start volunteering but I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. But then at Boston GameLoop a light went off in my head in the panels on Diversity in Gaming and on Women in Gaming. I was in a room full of people who were saying out loud what I’ve been thinking for years, “Why aren’t my favorite games doing more to include me?” That’s when the idea for Ananse started germinating in my head.

It took a couple of months to shake out the specifics in my head. Eventually “Games For the Rest of Us” became the lightning rod that centered the problems I wanted to solve. It’s easy for developers (or any type of creator for that matter) to make content for themselves. They can just turn to the person next them, agree its a character they’d both want to play, and get back to work. Making games for people that aren’t in the room is hard. That’s the problem I want Ananse to solve. But not through market analytics, focus testing or an over-reliance on playtesting. I want to make games that appeal to underrepresented gaming groups by genuinely learning about and gaining empathy for their life experiences. And ultimately I want to help increase the diversity of people who are in the room making decisions about the game in the first place.

There’s still a couple of other reasons that I started Ananse Productions. My inner entrepreneur wants to see if I can stand out on my own and I also love solving hard problems. But with Ananse I’m trying use that wiring for good. I’m trying to use games as a mechanism for teaching and promoting diversity. Even if staring my own company to explore these ideas is crazy, I think that’s the type of crazy we need more of in the games industry.

Special thanks to Alison Koegler and Ashley Birt for reading early copies of this and to Jonathon Myers for editing.

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