"Message in a PediaSure Bottle"
I don’t want to talk about our game today.
I want to talk about the way we treat each other. I want to talk about the ways in which we’re able to stamp others with labels so that we can dismiss them. I want to talk about bruises, and pride, and unforgiveness, and bitterness, and distrust, and the unfathomable abuse that occurs in this world to cause it. I want to talk about the unimaginable priceless value of a soul.
But I’m not sure if it’d do any good, unless I see everyone as valuable.
I’d love to talk about rumor weeds. The ones that feed on sub tweets, suspicion, speculation and very little first-hand information.
But I may grow one of my own in the process.
I’d like to talk about monolith organizations that eat people, print money and poop product.
But that’d be too easy a target.
I want to talk about easy targets. And why we eagerly rip them to shreds on the Internet.
I’d like to talk about OUYA. I’d like to talk about an industry full of souls with value. I’d like to talk about you and me.
This affects us too.
But first, I must disclose something. I’m a father of four who decided to make a game about our family’s journey fighting terminal cancer in my 4 year old son, and took corporate money from OUYA (In a direct deal with OUYA, and NOT through the Free the Games Fund) so that I, and my 3 other teammates with a total of 3 spouses and 5 more children could continue to work full-time, pouring in our love, passions, faith, and tears into something we believe in. Oh, and our fifth member, with a spouse and three children, he donates his time because he loves us.
I recognize this might make me a corporate puppet, maybe a sellout, maybe entitled, certainly desperate, hopefully adequately “indie.” I recognize that when I go to bat for the people of OUYA, that the conflict of interest is readily apparent. We jumped in the boat with OUYA, we want OUYA to succeed, we want developers to jump in the boat with us. There’s no hiding that.
Target practice with OUYA, GET SOME.
A popular target dummy in my circles on twitter over the past few months has been our friends over at @playouya. Unfortunately due to one poorly worded tweet, our game got to be the ammo:
What started as an exciting day for us, quickly devolved into mudslinging at our fine faceless corporate sponsors. I mean obviously, on the day we announce that we’ll be able to finish the game thanks to a healthy investment in a project that they found worthy of existing, the soulless money grubbing corporation that cared nothing for me or you or anyone else, tweeted poorly. See?! SEEEEEE! I told you they’d change once they were legally incorporated and got some money…
Unfortunately, reality didn’t matter. A person innocently tweeted GET SOME to promote us, in good faith. The Internet smelled blood, and pounced. It didn’t matter what we thought about it, or that the community manager didn’t mean it that way. It didn’t matter that the head of developer relations, who brought us to OUYA, immediately proved to us that our best interest was her first priority. It didn’t matter that a founder fought for our deal even when OUYA’s profitability wasn’t guaranteed, or that the head of OUYA thinks about charity and the value of developers before profit.
None of that mattered. What mattered is that we, the nameless mob GOT SOME.
Let he without sin, throw the first stone.
The truth is, criticism is important. In order for it to be helpful though, it should be done the right way. If we have an issue with each other, we live in a world where corporation or not, we can talk directly to people. We can ask them why, we can offer ideas on how, but when we don’t talk to each other directly, things can fall apart.
And frankly, there’s really no way around it, OUYA PR has been a field of exploded mines. But that usually happens when you’re the first one through the minefield. They’ve made mistakes, sometimes they haven’t fully owned up to them. Sometimes they believed that they could spin the explosion away from them.
- OUYA units didn’t go to backers before retail. Gigantic failure of confidence and trust. Did they give up, take the money and run? It seems to me they doubled down in effort to try and make it right and still aim to make it right.
- The commercial didn’t work, it was tasteless and out of touch with the intended target audience, acknowledged, removed,
apologized(poorly spun), back to the drawing board.
- Developers exploited fund loopholes to get extra funding for their football game. But they still would have had to deliver an actual product to get 75% of it. I say “would have” because they voluntarily took themselves out of the fund. Let’s see what they produce. Maybe it will be rad.
The difference between the folks at OUYA and most everybody else, is that they got to live through their failures in public, while we got to lob stones. Imagine for a moment, how that would feel. And suddenly you’re not lobbing rocks to knock out the funny-named faceless corporation, you’re lobbing rocks and hitting people.
You’re hitting Julie, and Bob, and Kellee and every person in that 30-odd member OUYA “cooperation” (See what I did there?) who wants to see a dream come true. Who wants to help the industry. Who wants to succeed. Who had the guts to step out on the field.
I hope that Julie’s latest display of deference, humility, and grace in revising the FTG fund again and soliciting feed back from the developer community (including reaching out to our team this last week) as a gesture to a community she loves will grant OUYA one day of reprieve and hopefully some trust can be earned back.
The game industry is a community that needs each other. We have families, We have bills, We have dreams, and skills that don’t yet match our taste. We’re trying and we’re doing. All of us; you and me; we’re making games and writing about games, and playing games and pouring everything we have into it because it’s a language we understand, it’s one that speaks to our heart.
Maybe that’s why we have a problem trusting. We’ve become an industry that will as quickly elevate someone for disrupting the status quo as we’ll fight over the scraps of what’s left of them when the mob is through. We’re an industry of individuals that are starting to speak with our own voices, and not those of the corporation. And so we’re exposed; and we’ve been abused; and we shouldn’t have to tolerate such unnecessary suffering, but we’re told it’s the price of admission; “get a thicker skin.” This is because the cost of the opposite, the cost of being fair, of seeing others as valuable, of trading in assumptions that make us feel safe, is in a currency of intimacy.
I’m choosing to trade in intimacy. Not the kind that exploits, not the kind that takes advantage of, not the kind that abuses, but the kind that invites you to share in my suffering, and share in my comfort. The kind that gives life.
And so I’m asking you, before you sling another arrow over the twitter wall after hearing that OUYA is exploiting a poor dying child, ask his father why a picture of he and his son sits next to a box of tissues on the show floor of a booth we decided to create, paid for with the funds we control, that came from OUYA. And you might hear that I actually placed it there and you would hear how much I adore him, and that we didn’t start with tissues, they were given to us, because people needed them. And if you still take issue with what I’m doing, then you can tell me so and we can talk about it.
Like Lana, who despite picking up a stone, dropped it and listened and apologized for spreading something that wasn’t true. I really admire what she did. Because what started out as well meaning outrage directed at someone she thought took advantage of us, may have turned into respect for someone who was supporting us.
If we’ll pause, and talk to each other, we’ll find beauty in each one of us. And a soul that’s worth treasuring.
We have some big news to share with you. We are launching That Dragon, Cancer on the game console OUYA in 2014. Additionally, OUYA has chosen to invest in the game to assist with development costs and ensure our game gets made.
If you haven’t heard of the OUYA (pronounced “ooh-ya”) yet, here’s the pitch: OUYA is an open, indie-loving, Android-based, affordable ($100 US) micro game-console that hooks up to your television.
Why the Living Room first?
If you’ve read about our game at all, it may come as a surprise to you that we’d choose to bring That Dragon, Cancer to the living room first. The living room is typically a gathering place. It is likely not the first place you’d choose to play a dramatic adventure game dealing with the subject of childhood cancer… and perhaps for many, this game may be too personal an experience in the presence of others.
Our hope, however, is that while this may be a personal experience, that it will be a shared experience.
We’ve taken our demo to very large conventions like the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, a business mixer at a cigar bar, a salon at the “Unwinnable mansion,” the Sensory Overload that is E3 in Los Angeles, Games for Health in Boston, and the indie-sponsored Gamescape in Baltimore. My sister represented us in the UK at the Eurogamer and RockPaperShotgun sponsored Rezzed in Birmingham, and the awesome team at Second Impact Games stood in our place at the Develop conference in Brighton.
As I’m sure they all can attest, the neatest part about showing the game in public is the conversation afterwards. We’re finding that when you share your heart with people, they want to share their heart with you, even in the middle of a loud convention-center floor. That’s what we want to do. We want to create a safe space for people to talk about hard things.
We can’t think of a safer place to share in meaningful conversation, food, laughter, and yes, even video games than your living room.
Why the OUYA?
If you’ve followed the often turbulent launch of the OUYA, you may be wondering why we’re partnering with such an outspoken upstart. Well, the short answer is, they have the guts to make something they believe in, in an industry that is stacked against their success. They aren’t complaining about what the industry should be, instead, they’re making it in their image.
Making games is a tough business. It’s expensive, and competitive, and it’s often brutal and unforgiving. The television game console has been a platform that few indies have had success in. It is prohibitively expensive for most indie studios to publish and high development costs prevent most publishers from taking the risk with a “game” that, say, explores the trials, joys, and tears of fighting childhood cancer.
We needed a partner willing to take a chance on us, and who was able to see the interactive medium for what it is capable of and not just for its current market trends.
At this point, you might think we’re stacking the deck against ourselves by launching on a console in its infancy. Perhaps. The road has been rocky so far for OUYA.
But we believe in what they’re trying to do, and we believe in the people doing it. Dealing with hard things, and building new things is not easy. Especially when the world is expecting failure but holding their breath for success.
We believe there is a space for game experiences like ours alongside the space marine shooter and the next candy sorting game. The OUYA presents us with an opportunity to shape that space by bringing our game to a round table that equally values the scrappy upstart with the established publisher. We believe when other developers do the same and when gamers and non-gamers in a family living room can experience what we’re creating, the conversation about what games are and what they can be will expand.
The OUYA team put their hearts and their money and their reputations and the contributions of 63,416 people who believed in what they’re doing at stake to create something special.
We want to build it with them.
Whom shall I fear?
Joel on truck.
More of the faceted low-poly look we’re adapting for the hospital.
Working on art style for the hospital scenes…
If you’ve arrived here from reading Jenn Frank’s piece on our game on Unwinnable or Kotaku, welcome! If you haven’t had a chance to read her incredibly personal and touching review of our game, you can find it here:
What was not entirely clear in the review was that we gave Jenn an early demo of the game. The scene she played was one of the hardest nights I personally experienced in this entire journey fighting the cancer in Joel.
My family has been in the palliative stages of treatment with Joel for over 2 years. This means that our doctors do not believe they can cure him, but he does still receive treatment, intended to ease his landing when the time comes. The thing is, the time hasn’t come yet. And Joel is still alive, over 2 years past our reasoned expectations.
We’re still fighting with Joel, and even though we’re on our 8th tumor, we’ve had a beautiful 3 years in the midst of such trials. That Dragon, Cancer will have moments of despair, but I will never leave the player there. Our journey has been characterized by hope and many small miracles, a community of faith and a set of amazing physicians. And even in the event we lose him, our desire is that our hope remains.
Of course, we’re just in the middle of it. We don’t know the ending and so we don’t come claiming to have all the answers. Just moments, that we hope to share with you of sadness, joy, hope and overcoming the fear of death in the shadow of that great dragon.
Joel and Daddy - April 2013
First draft of foliage set for Tal’El