There haven't been any massive rallies. No public funding is pouring in. Without any celebrity endorsement, funded action groups, or major industry backing, a new sector is rising in San Antonio: video games.
As a part of grassroots effort bolstered by the arrival of the PAX South game convention, indie developers have been rallying together as each learns that they're not the only game in town – literally. Tapping into the passions of the art community and success of the entrepreneur scene, the indie game developers in town are organized, making national connections, and yes, releasing games.
As one of the key driving forces of this movement, I wanted to share a bit of the past, present, and future of the growth of independent game developers in San Antonio. To my fellow gamers: we may be mid-level now, but we've got a guild, we're comboing our abilities, and we're poised to raid for some legendary gear. (For the rest of you, sorry).
First and foremost, we make games. Yes, there are actual video games and game media coming out of San Antonio.
Angelus "Angel" Delacroix, an industry veteran, is poised to release RageBall from his local company Hebi Studios. RageBall injects Pong with hyperactive energy to create a fast-paced multiplayer arcade-style sports game. RageBall is slated to be distributed on Nintendo soon.
Speaking of industry veterans, former Bioware artist and current Geekdom member Jonathan Perry has been creating incredible cinematics for AAA companies (ever hear of Gearbox?) through his local company Ractive. He has some virtual reality (VR) projects coming up as well.
And of course I would be remiss to not mention my own company Heroic Games, and our role-playing game (RPG) Heroes Must Die. A tactical RPG with a comedic story, retro art, and unique combat, Heroes Must Die is available for free on our website now, and is set to release on the massively popular PC game distribution platform Steam July 15. Play it. Seriously, play it.
And this is not even to mention the VR scene, including developer Level2 VR, VR headset maker MergeVR, smaller companies working on their first game, impressive game development programs at local universities, board and card game developers, Twitch streamers, game stores, and more. You're out there – give yourself a shout-out in the comments.
Some of this talent is new to San Antonio, some has been here a while, but the key factor to the recent success is organization. An echoing refrain of "I thought I was the only one making games here," finally led to an official collaboration among us no-longer lonely game developers, or devs.
First, we formed the Greater Gaming Society of San Antonio. This group gives us a chance to share information, ask questions, look for collaborators, and more. After a few months we found an event structure that works well, and includes a social hour rotating through locally owned restaurants and breweries, and our monthly Excuse to Create, which gives busy devs at least one day a month on the calendar to focus on those creative projects they've been putting off. While mostly for game devs, allowing a chance to test games with peers, problem solve, or just work quietly, any creative is welcome to come and work on art, drawing, coding, or anything you don't spend the rest of your week on.
The startup/coworking scene has been invaluable, with many Geekdom members among the group providing the meeting space. The entrepreneurial spirit has helped the group, with the established community of small business owners and shared offices providing a core.
The biggest win has come recently with the founding of the newest chapter of the International Game Developers Association here. San Antonio's IGDA chapter is chaired by myself, Stormy Peroni, Angel Delacroix, and now connects San Antonio to the resources of the international indie community.
"The formation of anIGDA chapter in San Antonio helps in so many ways," Delacroix said. "IGDA is a recognized brand that is trusted throughout the video gaming community, and people and companies are more apt to trust and help a community that has an established chapter, for they know that starting a chapter and keeping it going, and growing is a task within itself. For me, I do this not to help my own company, but to help the community."
With 20 members already and the board growing, the local IGDA chapter, in conjunction with the more casual Game Society, ensures that indie game devs and gamers in San Antonio have the kind of structure and support needed to grow.
A Lasting PAX
None of this would have been possible without Penny Arcade – a massive geek company of webcomics, games, gamer TV, video game reviews, charity, and yes, the convention – who decided to drop their newest and last expansion of the popular Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in San Antonio.
By itself, PAX South is another huge win for the city, bringing an estimated 40-50,000 attendees from around the world, and some of the biggest names in games. PAX offered even more for the community, though, as it was a catalyst for much of our recent work developing the gaming community.
Isaac Gonzalez's PAX South panel on building game development in San Antonio – featuring MergeVR CEO Andrew Trickett, game teacher Victoria Sirtech, game writer Krissy Perez, and producer/designer/writer/community organizer Yours Truly – brought out well over 100 locals and galvanized the community. The Greater Gaming Society was soon born out of it, which helped paved the way for the IGDA.
I initiated a dialogue with PAX organizers and managed a sit-down with Penny Arcade president Robert Khoo. I joined leaders from art and tech communities to start discussions about the need for a greater connection with the convention. After some back and forth remotely, PAX has come through generously for the city – several free badges for students, a Texas panel track, and a special booth on the expo hall floor for San Antonio companies. Add to that official marketing materials for any business to host a PAX-related event and an offer to provide space to perform the Heroes Must Die live-action-video-game stage show, and San Antonio is poised to make a splash on the national stage.
Most of us game devs are up to our eyeballs in production work to get our current projects launched. But with regular meetings, anyone is welcome to pop in and see what we're about.
If you'd like to get involved in PAX South by hosting a panel, hosting an event, sponsoring our booth in or the show, contact me, Rick Stemm, directly – we will also have a website soon.
And, hey, play our games. You don't have to look to Silicon Valley or Austin for great games – they're made right here at home in San Antonio.
Top Image: A screenshot from Heroes Must Die, an RPG created by Heroic Games. Image courtesy of Rick Stemm.