It’s difficult to count the number of barriers that game developers from outside North America, Western Europe, and Japan face when trying to make a successful indie. Whether it be Argentina or Romania, the infrastructure isn’t there for a lot of countries.
Regardless of the game development situation in these countries, people still play games. Their experiences playing with the Sega Mega Drive and other systems led creators from Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Paraguay, Chile, and South Sudan in their mission to become developers. This was the #1ReasonToBe GDC panel where developers from all over the world shared their story of how they broke into the games industry.
“Games are a language that anyone can listen to,” said panel host and developer Rami Ismail, who also announced that this would be the last year he hosted the panel. “It is critical to building a fair and inclusive industry that we consider who is allowed to speak that language. Diversity is a simple goal, but an incredibly difficult effort.”
The panel featured Khata Ahmed of Pakistan, Ehsan Ebrahimzadeh of Iran, Nourhan ElSherief (whose visa was rejected so the other panelist presented in their place) of Egypt, Juan de Urraza of Paraguay, Camila Gormaz of Chile, and Lual Mayen of South Sudan.
They all shared stories of the incredible obstacles they had to overcome in the small game industries in their home countries. Despite those barriers, each panelist had an inspiring story of how they made their first game.
“I dreamed of making games as a kid, but it was a tough dream to have in a place like Iran, there wasn’t much game development happening there,” said Ebrahimzadeh. “I had the dream until college, where we founded Pejvak Game Studio in the basement of my apartment in college, it was a first-person shooter set south of Iran during World War 1.”
“There were no game development careers in Chile, very few game studios. I couldn’t afford to leave my country so I gave up. I started working in web development and marketing,” said Gormaz. “I got an email from a European developer who had seen my illustrations one day, he wanted me to make art for his game. I worked on other titles after that and eventually saved up enough to make my own game ‘Long Gone Days’.”
“I had to flee to Uganda during the war, living in a refugee camp after being displaced was not easy,” said Mayen, who was also a Global Gaming Citizen featured at the Game Awards. “But even then I knew peace would never be out of reach. I created the Salaam Game to help players become peacemakers in their communities.”
Developers shared challenges they overcame (and are still overcoming) as well. Ahmed talked about fighting the perception that Pakistan was country with no game development community, de Urraza talked about the effects of a dictatorship before and after gaining independence, and ElSherief talked about getting to the global game jam in Cairo.
No matter where they were from, each developer tackled tremendous obstacles in their path to becoming game developers, they wanted to encourage others to do the same all while trying to make the industry a more welcoming place. Their reasons to make games were different on paper: some wanted to spread peace, others wanted to spark change, and some do it for their unabashed love of the craft.
They all shared a common thread of passion. They worked tirelessly to live out a dream that their families, friends, country, and most of the world thought impossible. They succeeded and set new goals to help the industry grow.
The panel also announced that GDC will be looking for a new host of the #1ReasontoBe panel and that this new person would help refocus the panels original goal of sharing the stories of women in the industry.