When Will Lewis founded the Portland Indie Game Squad in 2011, it was the first of its kind in the Northwest: a sprawling network of Portland-based game developers and enthusiasts. But he wasn’t even close to done. Next, he cofounded Pixel Arts Game Education, a camp that uses games to teach kids to code. Meanwhile, the business he founded last year, Rose City Game Consulting, supports studios both established and fledgling in every aspect of development, from marketing research to forging industry connections. This month, Lewis oversees the Cartoon Network Game Jam, a larger-scale version of the “jams” that bring local game creators together to experiment and compare notes. As many as 200 game developers, designers, and artists will gather in Portland to create themed video games in just 48 hours—the winning team could land a contract to develop a mobile game for Cartoon Network.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to make games but never had access. In terms of mentorship and communication, I didn’t know anybody who could help me with it.
I went to PSU for film studies, and was learning a lot about community organizing on my own. A lot of us wanted to do more production stuff than we were getting in school. So, with a couple of classmates, I founded the PDX Film Collective, basically a meet-up group for film. But when I graduated, I wanted to do more with video games and realized that was my true passion. So I thought, why not take these experiences organizing people and events and do it with games? I got a couple friends together, and we just said we’re going to meet once a month, no matter what. Now we’re doing at least three events a month, and between 50 and 90 people show up.
The community has grown so much, and a lot of people are really benefiting from it. It’s also a great time. We started doing this stuff at a really perfect time, where indie games were just up-and-coming. I feel like I have a responsibility around here to keep the community going.
Supporting the community, helping people find jobs, and supporting youth education is a lot of work, but it all feeds into itself and creates a really strong ecosystem that people can fall back on. It’s very difficult to make a game on your own, but I’m also a firm believer that people always need to be considering how they’ll share their work with each other. I guess I’d say that the collaborative and creative nature of making games is what most connects the medium to the mission.
PIGSquad will never stray from that commitment to access—we will provide game jams with people there to learn and get a big experience out of it, maybe work with a new tool, and nurture that expertise. The skill level of hobbyists has grown dramatically, along with anyone’s ability to fast-track themselves from hobbyist to professional.
What’s really exciting about the Cartoon Network Game Jam is that it’s the culmination for a lot of hobbyists who have been working really hard and making awesome stuff for a very long time. Now they’re ready to break through and do this professionally as a business. The difference between community-oriented game jams—I’ve done about 16 of those in the past—and the Cartoon Network Game Jam is that Cartoon Network is the real deal. People have an opportunity to get a full-time paid contract if their teams wins.
That’s kind of the next step, where a lot of these businesses can get larger contracting gigs and then, if they have some leftover money, start their own actual studios so that Portland sees more studios coming up. That’s what’s on the horizon.