Humble Games has selected the 2021 recipients of its $1 million Black Game Developer Fund. This will be the Fund’s second year running, and Humble shows no signs of slowing down.
But what is it all about? We sat down with Humble Games employees and BGDF advisers to find out, but first, let’s go over a bit of Humble’s background and why the Fund was set up in the first place.
Humble Bundle's publishing arm was created in 2017 to support indie developers and officially rebranded to Humble Games in May 2020. Led by its guiding principle of effecting social change, Humble Bundle has since worked to ensure it remains a force for good, continuing to elevate diverse voices through its Humble Bundles, Humble Games, and the Black Game Developer Fund.
Humble Bundle, founded in 2010, is an online store that sells software, games, and other digital content. When you purchase a Humble Bundle, a portion of your money goes to a charity. So far, Humble has raised almost $200 million.
Black Game Developer Fund
The Black Game Developer Fund was created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which, although not borne from these tragic events, grew worldwide momentum following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. These events shook Humble, as it did the rest of the world, and prompted a wider discussion on the underrepresentation of people of color within various industries.
“It was pretty amazing that Humble was uniquely and genuinely interested in helping with this cause,” says Justin Woodward, BGDF adviser and co-creator of the MIX and Black Voices in Gaming. “I've talked to Google, I talked to Xbox … I've talked to all these people, and a number of them were really, really supportive. Then some of them weren't that supportive. It was very gratifying to talk to Eduardo [Aparicio, Director at Humble Games] and John [Polson, Portfolio Director of Publishing at Humble Games], who were like, yes, we are gonna do this … in the best way possible.”
Where many games companies and organizations have not lived up to the pledges they made last year, Humble are among those that have. And what better way to be inclusive of different communities than to include members of those communities? Having advisers like Justin and Sithe Ncube - a games industry pro based in Africa - does just that.
Humble Bundle VP of Social Impact and Internal Communications Kamini Tiwari says, “At Humble, we've always believed in empowering and uniting communities through gaming and for good causes. And, launching the fund – that's part of our efforts to help achieve racial equity everywhere.”
The million-dollar fund supports Black indie developers by providing production, support with marketing, publishing and, of course, money to fund their work. The fund is unique in that it encompasses the Black diaspora, and so Black people from all over the world – Africa, the Caribbean, not just Europe and the US – are eligible to apply for the fund.
“I come from Zambia,” says Sithe, “although I currently live in South Africa. But back in 2013, I started a game development community there. Ever since then, I've been involved in the African games development scene. People [here] don't have access to money for development, or support, you know, in terms of publishing, and also the expertise. There's only one country that has schools for game development. Even [for] the people who have the resources, it's hard to get a team together and actually put something out that's high quality.”
Some unique problems faced by African developers include regular access to electricity. One BGDF recipient used the funding to buy a generator.
“They had a lot of power cuts,” says Sithe, “and they couldn't run their studio efficiently. The challenges are even down to just having electricity to sustain a studio. One thing I really super appreciated is Humble opening the fund up globally.”
“We just signed an Afro-Brazilian team,” says Justin, “and they're helping in Rio de Janeiro and the favelas. It was pretty interesting to hear how they're getting other Black game developers from Brazil, who struggle with kind of the same issues as folks in Africa or the Philippines.”
Justin is no stranger to some of the struggles faced by Black developers in the US, as he’s experienced it first-hand. He co-created the Media Indie Exchange (The MIX), an organization that showcases indie developer’s projects to “top journalists and key folks in the industry”, and has also created games, including Jay and Silent Bob Mall Brawl through his own studio Interabang Entertainment.
“I've been in the industry for around 13 years now,” he says. “I started out in AAA and then moved to independent game development in 2009, and it was a really hard road. I had to hustle for every penny that I've got to develop the game and to help pay for my team. And luckily, I stuck with it. It was working, sleeping on the floor, and sacrificing, figuring out how all of us can get different part-time jobs, just to fulfil this goal of development.”
Both Justin and Sithe urge all Black developers to not be discouraged. Check out the BGDF web page, they say, and apply – but don’t limit yourself to just Humble Games.
“For specifically the Black Game Developer Fund,” says Sithe, "there's a template for applying to the fund. So I would highly, highly, highly recommend that anyone applying to the fund look at the template pitch on the Black Game Developer portal. Look at the questions there and read the little dots at the bottom: they're really, really helpful for when you're applying. You can use that template exactly, or you can add your own information. Whatever you're presenting, answer the questions in the template.
“And, also, you can use that template to apply to someone else as well. It's not just for Humble.”
“Developers who are applying should apply to as many funds as possible,” says Justin. “Especially if they're novice developers or haven't been in the industry for a long time. Personally, I got started filling out tons of applications, doing Kickstarters and that type of thing. It's important to use these applications as ways of getting experience and feedback. Our information is available: I'm not saying that people should spam us, but at the same time we try to communicate with folks as much as possible as well.”
On the kinds of games that would be considered for the fund, John says, “It's been pretty wide in terms of scope, genre and art style, story and theme. I think all of those elements are things we're looking at when determining who gets the funding.”
The Next Black Game Developer’s Partnered Studios 2021
So, now that we’ve given you the lowdown on Humble and the BGDF, and the amazing team making the wheels turn, let's meet the 2021 BGDF recipients.
White Guardian Studios
First up is the husband and wife duo behind White Guardian Studios Whitney and Tyrell White. If you tuned into the Black Voices in Gaming showcase you would have seen them discuss their title, the Celestial Tear: Demon’s Revenge. Well, their newest title Lost World: Celestial Tear is getting the Humble backing, giving them the tools they need to get this exciting JRPG style game into your hands.
While hunting down an interstellar rogue agent, you fall into another universe. Build and defend your camp from the monsters therein, in this delightful nostalgic-feeling pixel art genre mashup.
Playtra Games is working on its action RPG title Grid Force – Mask of the Goddess. The title from London-based developer Dan Bernardo features an all-female cast and a “real-time grid-based” combat system.
Donna, the main character, was only born yesterday and, well, appears to now carry the fate of the world on her shoulders, but with the help of other female warriors, it should be a doddle, right? Well, you can find out soon enough, but in the meantime, how about adding Grid Force Mask of the Goddess to your Steam wishlist?
Based in Vermont and founded by Trinidadian-American developer Ryan Huggins, Weathered Sweater, is working on its newest title, Castleboat. Comprised of seven people, the studio not only has a great game in development, but comics, short stories and novellas based on its characters, Boatventure.
Castleboat is a card-based tower defense game, which in and of itself sounds intriguing. Wanna learn more about Castleboat and the studio behind it? Then check out the website, where you can also check out its previous titles.
Strange Scaffold Games
If you love classic Max Payne and neo-noir games in general, then this is the one for you. Created by award-winning director, narrative designer and writer Xalavier Nelson Jr, El Paso, Elsewhere is a third-person shooter set in a godforsaken motel, through which you must blast your way through werewolves, vampires and all manner of creatures to take down your ex-lover. There’s an original hip-hop soundtrack and the noir-style story is fully voiced.
Sue the Real
Based in Brazil, Sue the Real studios was created by Marcos Silva and Raquel Motta.
They are currently developing One Beat Min, a colorful rhythm game centered on music, diversity and urban culture. The studio focuses on the Afro-Brazilian experience, tailoring the narrative of its games around Afro-Brazilian culture, history and Black resistance.
They want their games to be socially impactful and stir emotion. One Beat Min is all about beatboxing and hip-hop culture: create beats, take on your own your opponent and win the battle.
Flying Carpet Games
Founded in 2012, Flying Carpet Games is a studio based in Montreal, Quebec, and founded by Salim Larochelle. Their latest game, single-player horror survival Hiboka is set in the mid 20th Century and based on folklore from Madagascar.
You follow Ramala and Alexandre on the hunt to find out the truth behind a cursed mansion. But choose wisely: the “real-time decisions” you make can affect the story progression of both characters.
While you’re waiting for Hiboka’s release, you can check out the studio’s other title, The Girl and the Robot, on Steam.
Tony Barnes, the brains behind RetroNinja, is a true gaming veteran, with over 30 years in the industry, having worked on titles including Medal of Honor, New World and Killer Instinct.
Barnes, who formed RetroNinja in 2020, is currently working on his first-person precision platformer Run Die Run Again. In this speedrunner with well over 80 courses, prepare to run die and subsequently run again. Available now to add to your wishlist on Steam.
Allen has 13 years of games marketing and development under his belt and worked with Rockstar for five years. The studio is working on two new unannounced titles, so keep your eyes peeled for more info.
While you wait to hear more, how about checking out Treachery in Beatdown City on Steam?
Klan of the Kings (KOK)
Klan of the Kings KOK is a Ugandan studio created by Ronald Kayima. Its first title, Sunjata – Trumpet of the Last Day, is a jaw-dropping single-player third-person hack and slash set in Sunjata, a fantasy world based on African mythology.
In Sunjata, you’ll explore a world whose technology is powered by cattle, learn African words to cast spells from magic called Chigbe, and experience a combat system based on Senegalese wrestling and African martial arts.
Sunjata, so far, is truly something to behold, and one of the most exciting titles from the amazing studios on the BGDF.
Independent – Dalton Freeland
Dalton Freeland is an independent animator and developer, and the talent behind OmegaMech Animations.
He is currently working on Project Kamen, a game, “revolving around swords, bikes and breakdancing”, and inspired by Japanese Tokusatsu (special effects shows/movies, like Godzilla and Kamen Rider). Project Kamen is still in its early stages of development but already looks pretty amazing in the pre-alpha gameplay.
If you want to find out more and support the game and Freeland’s other impressive work, check out his Patreon.
Independent – Marc Morisseau
Marc Morisseau already had a pretty impressive reputation before setting his sights on making his first game and creating a studio. Known for his outstanding work in motion capture and visual effects, Morisseau has worked on blockbuster titles as a motion editor on Avatar 2 and Warcraft: The Beginning. He’s also done mocap on games such as; Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Dark Souls 2.
Based on all of that alone, it’s probably safe to say he knows his stuff! Morisseau is now independently working on his title Cold Fortune, tipped to be a narrative-driven third-person survival game.
If that doesn’t excite you enough, we don’t know what will. Diverse voices bring diverse perspectives, fresh ideas and new styles. Every studio listed here has brought something unique to the table. Uplifting them and all people of different cultures, races, and experiences can only enrich the gaming community. We can’t wait to see what the Fund brings us next year.
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Rosario Blue is a writer, playwright, and freelance journalist.
She is a Global Goodwill Ambassador for Postcards for Peace.