The Second Step

Today is a big day, both for MetaArcade, and for me personally.  While today’s news talks about What MetaArcade is doing, I think it’s equally important to share Why we’re doing it.

The First Step in getting something started is naturally making that internal commitment to just getting it done. The First Step toward realizing MetaArcade happened on February 9th, when I hit send on the legal papers that established us as a company. The First Step is undoubtedly the most important one.

But I’d argue The Second Step is the hardest:  putting your dream out there in front of people, and making a public commitment to seeing it through. That moment when you open yourself to criticism and begin to learn how the currents and zeitgeist around you will influence your path towards success.

Today is all about The Second Step, and as part of that step, I’m inspired to share with you what has stirred up the gumption and grit within me to take it.

I’ve had long and fun career in the AAA side of the games business, and I can honestly say I do not have a lot of regrets. I got to be a key part of what was the most successful console launch in history at the time with Xbox 360. The entire industry, and at some level the whole world, was filled with excitement and the promise of something new and what could be. A few years ago I would have told you without any reservation that there is nothing like launching the first console of a new generation of hardware, but something big has changed.

Today’s gamer isn’t just a content consumer. We are all content creators now—or at the very least, we have the power to be content creators.  This was not always the case, and for new gamers, that may be hard to remember.

For the bulk of our 40+ year history as an industry, the best a gamer could hope for was to experience the content created by the machines of big publishers: products they created with giant teams, and marketed with massive budgets.  Retail shelves were packed with premium products: games that cost a lot to make, market and buy. This ecosystem was wildly successful in turning what had been the niche world of hobbyists tinkering in garages into a mass market multibillion dollar global business, and that was a very good thing.

Today of course, this is no longer the only way to create your game and get it in front of an audience. The forces of digital distribution, online commerce, inexpensive development engines, distributed computing, remote workplaces, crowdfunding and more have turned the world into a place where almost anyone willing to put in the work can be a game developer.

*Almost* anyone. With rare exception, you still need to have at least some technical chops to develop and ship a game.

That’s not the case in other industries, where a surprisingly large number of people without any technical training have found the ability to leave what we all have been taught to believe are “real” jobs, and instead become self-sufficient as content creators. There’s a quiet revolution afoot, where many people are fiddling in their evenings and weekends, exploring their creative interests in off hours while paying the bills with real jobs. And for some people, the number of which is not insignificant, the traction and success they find in their creative endeavors allows them to leave the traditional workplace altogether, and make a living pursuing their creative passions.

Think about this: before Twitch, you could be a streamer, but it wasn’t easy.  You’d have to figure out how to hook up your rig, how to get your stream out there, and perhaps hardest of all, where to find an audience to watch you.  Twitch made it possible for anyone who had something to say and an embedded camera in their laptop to be a streamer with an audience—no technical skills required.  And now we live in a world where people are able to make a living as streamers.

I’d make the same argument for WordPress. It may not have seemed technically challenging to be a blogger before WordPress, but now, it’s just flat out simple for *anyone* to build a site and get their message out on the web for the whole world to see. Anyone can be a blogger now, and if you are good enough at it, you can turn that into how you make your living.

Watching, and taking part in, the evolution of our industry has been incredibly exciting for me, reminding me of the reasons behind my earliest career choices.  It is this spirit which has fanned the fires of MetaArcade’s creation.

I believe narrative is a crucial part of games, and I believe there is vastly more quality narrative to be created in the world than the games business today is capable of delivering to an audience.

I believe anyone can write a story—and I further believe anyone who can write a story should be empowered to create an interactive experience around that story.

I believe we can build a platform which can release that massive creative potential in all the aspiring writers and game developers in the world, giving them a free, fun, easy and shareable way to turn their stories into games.

And just like the Twitch streamers, WordPress bloggers, YouTube celebrities, eBay merchants, Amazon small press authors and more—I believe a significant number of these aspiring creators will be able turn their creative passions and talents into the keys that give them freedom from the workplace of yesterday.

I don’t think for a minute this will be easy, but I know it’s not impossible, and it’s not an endeavor which will take the tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of developer years I’ve seen poured into AAA games.

And as I’ve thought about this deeply over the past few months, I’ve realized I’m more fired up about my work than I have been in a very long time.

Time to take The Second Step.

I’ll have a lot more to say as this journey progresses, and this blog post is as much an invitation to you as it is a glimpse into my motivations behind creating MetaArcade in the first place.  But for now, I want to finish with a few words about my first partners: The Fellowship of the Troll.

To my mind, Tunnels & Trolls is the perfect game to inaugurate our platform with. It’s an incredibly important RPG in the history of games, and yet so many gamers have never had a chance to play it. It’s a game that emphasized narrative and storytelling over power gaming and mechanics long before its peers. Tunnels & Trolls gave birth to many amazing adventures, and served as the personal inspiration behind my own writing and game creation over the years. Most importantly, it boasts a rules system which is simple enough for anyone to learn while being flexible and scalable enough to accommodate any story a writer can imagine.

So I’ll close with a very sincere note to Ken St. Andre, Rick Loomis, Liz Danforth, Steve Crompton and Bear Peters: thank you for making this beloved game at the dawn of RPGs. Thank you for sticking together for over 40 years, and working with your community to bring Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls to life. Thank you for trusting me to shepherd your creation, which I now do as part of my own journey with a commitment of unwavering integrity and authenticity.