Making games is a daunting process. Releasing them even more so. Managing to survive both of those things, only to be met with indifference and silence, can be crushing.
This happens all the time in this industry, though. Games, large and small, are met with no fanfare when they release, finding small audiences and few players to take in the works they've created. It's difficult to get noticed, though, when hundreds of games release on so many different platforms daily. It's sad how many wonderful, personal, and beautiful games simply fade away, seen and played by few.
"A big goal with all of my work is to demonstrate just how many videogames slip through the cracks." says Steve Cook, creator of the 1000 Game Makers thread on Twitter. Started just shy of a year ago, this collection is Cook's personal journey to find one thousand individual game makers, curating them so the world could witness their work, helping developers find an audience that cares after putting in all that work and passion.
"Most of the games on the list have been featured on very few websites (in some cases none I suspect)," says Cook. "There are so many jams happening and other gamemakers releasing tiny experiments now that there isn't enough curators to cope with the influx of these types of videogames."
And, with a tool as simple as Twitter and a lot of hard work, Cook has helped so many get another chance at finding that audience. Through their work, they've shown that those who wish to help can take an involved, personal hand in helping developers overcome that challenge.
Cook has been interested in helping developers find an audience for some time, and has always been thinking creatively about how to get overlooked games to new audiences.
"Three or four years ago I did this thing called the Pirate Bay Bundle, which was a torrent containing one hundred weird little freeware games." says Cook.
Similar to the 101-in-1 cartridges many played years ago, the Pirate Bay bundle offered a hodgepodge of experiences, giving players all manner of different games to try out. For those with even a passing interest, the idea of one hundred varied, unexpected games was an entertaining prospect, one that offered many delightful surprises for those who took the plunge.
This emboldened Cook to keep going, but there were some issues. "It kinda exploded, and I always planned to do a much bigger sequel. A couple of years later, I started working on that sequel. The plan was to make it 10x bigger than the original. I got a lot of work done but I hit some road blocks, which demotivated me. Work slowed considerably and then eventually ground to a halt." says Cook.
Still, Cook's love of game makers and their work wouldn't let them just give up. They wanted to continue supporting developers in their own way, but what were they to do? "I knew this was a distinct possibility from the get go, but didn't want to give up because the idea is very personal and close to my heart."
From here came the idea for the Twitter thread. Each Tweet within it would showcase the work of a single game maker, slowly building up a collection of one thousand unique, interesting developers and the games that they'd made. It would meet Cook's goal of curating so many different works, and broaden the scope of the Pirate Bay Bundle, as they'd originally wanted to do.
What motivated Cook to curate this many games - to devote a year of their life to seek out the hidden and obscure games that have passed by? "I want to highlight everything that happens in the outer outer boundaries of videogames. The small, personal, expressive things and the bizarre little arcade-type things that hark back to yesteryear but put their own spin on it."
"I grew up in the '80s and '90s. Videogames were so very different, especially in the '80s. One of my absolute favorite things to do was going around to a friend's house and we would play random pirated Commodore 64 disks, chock full of games that we knew nothing about and almost none had tutorials." says Cook. "There was a sense of wonder & mystery about not knowing what I was going to be seeing after the loading screen."
Big games that get big press are hyped to death. Every facet of them is pored over in detail, sucking much of the mystery out of them. Some secrets still persist, to be sure, but not like the kind of games Cook was discovering. Cook's work would often lead them to games they would know nothing about, giving them a hint of mystery and a sense of the unknown. What would their next discovery be like? How would it play? This sense of unknown kept drawing Cook in.
"I think this is the feeling I constantly chase, that wonder & mystery. I search out & play old, obscure freeware games because I know I'm not going to have the faintest clue what I'm going to be seeing when I load up the game." says Cook.
How did Cook find the games they wished to curate? "I feel like I just let the tide take me in whatever direction it decided to take me on any given day. Sometimes, I would spot a retweet in someone's timeline and follow that and feature that person and then that person would lead me to another person. Other days, I would randomly stumble across someone on Game Jolt or Itch.io or just randomly while web surfing."
The delight of the mystery comes partially from being aimless - from allowing things to simply appear as they meander through it. Through daily wanderings through GameJolt, Itch.io, and Twitter, Cook could find many unique projects to curate with their work. Their own experience in earlier game curation projects would help them do that
"I've been doing this for over ten years. I started with a website called Planet Freeplay (it isn't online anymore) and now I run a tumblr blog called Oddities (which I put on hold while doing this). Over that time, I cut my teeth on knowing where to look and how to find interesting game makers. Itch.io, GameJolt, Ludum Dare, and Twitter are all gold mines for undiscovered games." says Cook.
That's not to say that there wasn't a lot of work involved. For some of Cook's discoveries, it was only the beginnings of a complicated chase. "Sometimes I came across game makers who had their bodies of work scattered across the web, and I had to use Google to do some research."
"Some games had broken download links (those are the ones that most fascinate me) and on various occasions, I entered broken links into the Wayback Machine to see if I could retrieve a missing game. Sometimes I asked the authors. Both methods gave me mixed results. Browsers have become absolutely terrible for playing browser games. I recently resorted to downloading an old version of Firefox to play some Unity games." says Cook.
It would be a great deal of work in some cases, but for Cook, it was worth it. Being able to dredge up these mysterious games, like long-lost artifacts, and play experiences few had seen, drummed up a sense of wonder from Cook, keeping them striving forward to help curate these games for more to see, even if they had been buried.
Cook had many reasons for wanting to help developers with this thread. "I originally started the 1,000 Game Makers Thread to prove to myself that I could search out and find 1,000 individual game makers."
It also was part of a journey to build on what they'd already done with the Pirate Bay Bundle, highlighting some issues they saw within their own work. "As the thread evolved and garnered support, it got the wheels in my brain turning about what I could accomplish with it. One of the things that continued to nag at me about the original Pirate Bay Bundle was there were almost no women featured (and I have no doubt there were other shortfalls), so showcasing diversity immediately became a big goal. While I am proud of the vast array of people that I featured, I think a list as large as this is bound to magnify the problems within the industry."
This was about more than just broadening their own work, though. Cook wanted to help developers find an audience when they may not have already, or bring a new audience to a game that may have been forgotten or overlooked.
Not only that, but Cook wanted to inspire the next generation of developers with the broad scope of what video games were capable of. "Another thing I wanted it to accomplish was to show that anyone from anywhere can throw a videogame together if that's what they want to do. I wanted it to break down that wall of intimidation that so many people feel in regards to their decision to make the first leap." says Cook.
Games are challenging to make, and no developer will argue otherwise. That challenge is not insurmountable, though, and through showing what so many have done, Cook hoped to make budding developers feel more comfortable taking the tiny first steps to making their own games.
There was still one more thing Cook hoped to do with the thread, though. "To inspire more curators to come forward and pick up the mantle. There are a lot of curators doing great work, Tim & Chris from Warpdoor, Sebastian & Noah from Game Jam Curator, Weird Fucking Videogames, Sergio Cornaga from FREEINDIEGA.ME, Pip Turner from Itching for More, and others that elude me for the time being. This probably sounds like a lot of people, but it doesn't even come close covering all the beautiful little videogames that are made and released on a daily basis." says Cook.
Why would Cook work with Twitter and some Google searches when they already had their own site and Tumblr to do it through? To show potential curators that they can do it all on their own, with their own tools. Like the developers Cook was promoting, they hoped to inspire new curators to help devs be seen - to let the next generation of curators see that they had the tools to help right in their hands.
Cook wanted you to see that your own love of games, however it exists within you, can help the creators of those experiences with just what you have on hand. No matter what you have, you can work with it.
Cook has seen a great deal of good come from their work. "Some people have told me that it has encouraged them to keep doing what they're doing, which I think is always a positive thing. We lose so many because all that they get in return for their hard work is little feedback or complete silence."
The positive feedback is not just from the developers who've been showcased, either. "Some curators have told me that they find it to be an inspiring thread, which gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, it might inspire even one new curator to come forward." says Cook.
Still, like the developers they hope to help, sometimes Cook is met with that same eerie, indifferent silence that can fill anyone with self-doubt. "I really hope that it has introduced some new people to the outer edges of videogames but no-one has said anything to me so I have no idea."
But they have tried. Cook has tried to do some good for developers and the people who've crafted the experiences that have made them have fun, have moved them, or have helped them see the world from a new vantage point. And if even a little bit of good comes of it, Cook is happy with what they've done. They've at least tried to help the creators they love.
"I'd love to say that I thought this was going to have a poetic and profound effect on attitudes towards smaller videogames, but honestly, I don't think it has. But you know what? If, and when, I ever give up this passion, I can leave knowing that I really tried hard to make some positive change."
But for now, there's nearly one thousand developers in that thread that would like your attention. "I can only encourage people to browse the thread because there are so many beautiful, talented gamemakers hidden in there. It makes my heart want to burst"