The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 9, 2008

Good Luck Explaining to the Mayor That You Spent Your Budget on Video Games

Filed under: Games, Redmond — Brian Lutz @ 1:31 am

Over the last couple of decades, the Seattle area has become a popular spot for video game developers, and the City of Redmond is at the forefront of this trend.  In addition to being home to Nintendo of America and Microsoft, Redmond is also home to DigiPen, a small accredited university with degree programs in real-time interactive simulation (which is really just a fancy way of saying they teach people how to make video games) and a number of other smaller game studios.  Elsewhere in the Seattle Metro area, big-name game studios such as Bungie, Valve, Gas Powered Games and PopCap Games make their home here.  Just a couple of weeks from now, the fifth annual Penny Arcade Expo will be taking place in Seattle (and yes, I will be attending.)  Back in their heyday, Sierra On-Line made their home in Bellevue, and EA also had offices in Bellevue at one point.  Even though it’s no secret that the area’s economy is driven to a large degree by high tech, most people don’t realize just how much video game development  goes on in this area.  And oddly enough, it seems like even the City of Redmond wants to get into the game.

Over at the Redmond Neighborhood Blog, it was reported that the newly created Redmond Digital Arts Festival will be taking place in October, funded partially with city and county public arts funding and partially by a number of sponsors.  Although details on some items have not yet been finalized, it appears that there will be a number of workshops and presentations (including a presentation by Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games) as well as a number of other activities.  From the looks of things, the vast majority of the content at this show is going to be highly technical, and may not be of too much interest to a general audience.  In fact, it almost seems like they’re trying to put together a (very) miniature version of the annual Game Developers Conference right here in Redmond.

While I’m sure this might be something that would be interesting to people who develop video games (as well as some people who don’t,) this strikes me as an odd thing for a city government to be getting itself involved with.  Without diving too deep into politics here, my support of funding for public art doesn’t extend much beyond the stuff that goes on the wanted posters on the post office wall, but since there are state and county mandates for public art funding around here that are unlikely to go away anytime soon, it looks like they’re going to have to spend the money on something.  Although I suspect most people out there are content to just play their video games without giving a single thought to the process that went into creating them, but it is clear that people would be interested in game development around here, so it will be interesting to see how something like this might work out.  Besides, if they weren’t doing this, they’d probably be using the money to install another hunk of unrecognizable metal in front of city hall anyway…


  1. I enjoyed reading your post on Redmond’s Dig. Arts. Festival coming in October. I’ve added you blog to my Blog List and thank you for reciprocating. It appears you live on the Eastside? Redmond?

    Thanks for your intrigueing opinion. I sent your posting to the Arts commissioners and mayor’s secretary.


    Comment by Bob Yoder — August 10, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  2. Yes, I do live in Redmond, although I tend to write about stuff all over the Seattle area, with a particular focus on the Eastside. I’m not sure if you’re the one I met at the Redmond Historical Society meeting, but I met someone who writes over there a few months back.

    Comment by Brian Lutz — August 10, 2008 @ 11:18 am

  3. Even though these type of monetary incentives may be dolled out by a city arts offices they are typically considered support for employment and local businesses rather than support for the arts. City and state governments offer these kind of economic incentives to attract businesses and business people in industries that are not as slowed down by the current economic state as most. Because video games have not been hit nearly as hard as other entertainment mediums in the last few years many jurisdictions are attempting to attract more game developers the same way they had courted film productions in the past. Also, conference guests are captive consumers of local goods and services so they provide a more immediate stimulus to nearby businesses. All the more reason to support your local game convention and support the local businesses while you’re there.

    Comment by Brian — August 15, 2008 @ 6:07 am

  4. I am not sure if I should flame, troll or QFTW…

    What’s the beef? A municipality shelling out money for a conference? Really? That, on its face is pretty silly and the author needs to take a step back and ask himself, “Why is it different for a city to give money and breaks to…some industry that doesn’t have “game” in the title (eye-roll)…but when it is a game developer’s conference…”

    I am so lost as to what you are even bugged about. “an odd thing for a city government to be getting itself involved with” is that the beef? Cities do music festivals, art festivals, hell, pot festivals, and they are all at least somehow compensated by the municipality, whether it is an outright investment, a tax/cost/fee break, providing police for security…

    Yah, you will have to tell us: precisely which confernces…or is it that they called it a “festival”? Hell, my very own ChiTown shuts down half the city once a year so that people can hang out in Grant Park and stuff themselves to near-coma. Which conferences and festivals is it ok for a municipality to invest in and which is it not? Yah, your “wanted poster” was *really* witty (let’s throw another eye-roll out there while we are at it) and just a big ol’ knee slapper, but perhaps you could instead provide a coherrent and meaningful argument? Hmm?

    Comment by A Developer, but not a dirty stinking worthless "game" developer — August 15, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  5. I read your entry on the Digital Arts Festival again. Many of your points were proven this weekend at the festival. I just wrote a report on it on my blog. The government processes information – they don’t market! In fact most “marketing pieces” are designed to keep the public away! Just take a look at any land use and many “community meeting” paper or email notices. I think the Festival would be much more successful if driven by the industry than city government. In the least it should be a joint marketing effort by the city & industry.

    Attendance was scant! A real shame (and waste of tax dollars) considering the quality of the offering. I disagree with you on audiance appeal. Redmond is a tech-based city and this event, with half baked marketing could capture a number these residents.

    I like your blog!

    The Redmond Neighborhood Blog

    Comment by Bob Yoder — October 7, 2008 @ 8:47 am

  6. Bob:

    Thanks for your comments. I read the post on this over at your own Blog as well. I was too busy with other things this weekend, so I didn’t have a chance to attend this. I think one of the problems here is that (at least from the descriptions on the festival website) a lot of the sessions seemed to be of a highly technical nature, which limits the audience to a large extent. As someone who works in software development and dabbles in digital artwork on occasion (nothing particularly serious though) some of the sessions sounded interesting (in particular, I would have liked to see Chris Taylor’s presentation,) but for your average gamer who is content to play the games without giving more than an occasional passing thought to how they’re made, there wasn’t much of interest there. For those people, there’s PAX (I’ve been to all five of them now, and have watched it grow from a couple thousand people in Meydenbauer Center up to the nearly 60,000 people that attended this year’s show in Seattle.) Based on the post you wrote, It sounds like even for people on the programming side of the equation, there wasn’t really much going on there. For those people, there’s the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and a smaller one in Austin.

    I do think an event like this could be made to work out in Redmond, but it would have to be handled differently. This could be done in two different ways. The first would be to make it less technical, and create something that would be more accessible to the public. The other way would be to go all the way to the technical side, and create something that would attract developers from a wider area than just Redmond and the Eastside. The former I could see as a possible direction for this, but the latter just goes way beyond the scope of what a city government would (or should) be involved in, and would be best left to the professionals. Either way, it sounds like it was an interesting event, although the appeal of such an event is limited by its very nature.

    Comment by Brian Lutz — October 7, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  7. Hey Brian,
    The sessions weren’t really technical at all. You would know this had you attended. All the talks were designed to appeal to both novices and professionals alike. You’d think this would dilute the event, but it actually made it a richer experience. The presenters pulled this off by focusing their talks around concepts, stories and process. So while the subject matter was cutting edge, the language used to convey these ideas was simple and easy for everyone to understand (plus the fact that these people are all artists and used imagery to convey their ideas was helpful). It was quite fascinating to be in the auditorium and see 15 year old kids and 40 year old professionals in the same room asking questions to the same presenters that were entirely relevant to the discussion. It was clear that all age groups and experience levels were getting something out of the presentation. We also saw many parents attending with their kids which was very rewarding to see. It was especially fun watching these families playing games together in the game lounge.

    We don’t really intend for the event to become another PAX or GDC. The focus of the event is “art” first and foremost. We want it to become a celebration of what artists and creative people are doing in the digital arena; hoping it creates a platform for people to become educated and inspired. Some think the event is all about games, but in reality there was really only one presentation about games and that was Chris Taylor’s presentation (which was totally great btw). The event is about art… digital art. Unfortunately there are so many preconceptions people have about this industry that it’ll simply take some time before people see how broad of a spectrum the words “digital art” truly reflect.

    But I won’t bore you with the details. You can read more about what went on here:


    Comment by Kamal — November 13, 2008 @ 1:52 am

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