Meet the Minnesota nonprofit helping bring local video games to a screen near you

Attendees of the Minnecade event 2018 play Newt One, a game by DevNari // Photo by Matt Mead

Attendees of the Minnecade event 2018 play Newt One, a game by DevNari // Photo by Matt Mead

We’re home to the offbeat, the debut, and the experimental.”

That’s how the creative director of GLITCH, a Minneapolis nonprofit that supports emerging video game creators through education and mentorship programs, sums up the organization.

Evva Kraikul co-founded GLITCH with fellow University of Minnesota student Nicolaas VanMeerten in late 2009, bringing together like-minded people on campus to talk and learn about game creation, host speakers, and organize workshops. Within six months, they’d received their first grant, for $46,000. In 2014, they made GLITCH their full-time job.

Joining the team and helping them make the transition was Katie Simning, who was hired as director of operations. In the ensuing four-plus years, the trio has built up an array of resources, mentorship, and educational opportunities for fledgling game developers, as well as put together a full calendar of free events at which the public can try virtual reality or playtest a local creator’s work-in-progress. Additionally, GLITCH hosts Gamecraft, a local site for the Global Game Jam, in which teams create a video game from start to finish in 48 hours.

GLITCH officially has three areas of focus: arts and education programs, an experimental development studio, and, as of August 2018, a publishing platform that aids independent developers in publishing their work.

“We always started off on the development side—we wanted to be able to share how to actually make some of the games, how to do some of these things,” Kraikul explains. “But slowly and surely, our communities have been really vocal […]: ‘How do we make sure that the games actually get out and are successful?’”

They’re starting small, testing the waters to see what works and what direction they want to go in—the number of games they’ll publish in a year, and the genres of said games, is still an open question. As Kraikul puts it: “Right now we’re still in that experimental phase.”

In the meantime, they’re working with local developers and keeping with their mission of supporting emerging creators. Their first offering is a puzzle game called “Optica.” It was created by Minneapolis studio Graveck Interactive as a follow-up to its successful previous release, “Strata,” and released on mobile. In addition to handling the actual game publishing process for Graveck, GLITCH embedded a member of its fellowship program, Farzan Fatemi, in the three-person Graveck team to be a level designer—specifically, to address a problem with the lack of intermediate difficulty involved with “Optica.”

Minnecade attendees testing and playing a variety of locally developed games // Photo by Matt Mead

Minnecade attendees testing and playing a variety of locally developed games // Photo by Matt Mead

“We found out that the levels that were already designed […] were all either incredibly hard or very easy, and nothing in between,” Kraikul explains. “So Farzan was brought on as a fellow to actually create, basically, between levels 20 to 50.” The arrangement was a win-win: Fatemi got mentoring and real-world experience as part of his fellowship, and his contributions meant “Optica” could be finished a lot faster than it would have been otherwise.

One of the big challenges small game publishers face is copycats: unscrupulous entrepreneurs who can analyze a game and put out a clone in a matter of weeks. To combat this issue, GLITCH implemented a marketing campaign two weeks prior to the release of “Optica” designed to drive preorder sales and establish a foothold before cloners had a chance to make their move. Kraikul says the strategy definitely helped, and sales have been good.

The next game for GLITCH will be “HyperDot,” an arcade-style game where the player is a dot that has to constantly dodge enemies of all shapes and sizes. It will be available in 2019 on mobile, PC, and consoles, and is the work of a one-person team: Charles McGregor. Kraikul anticipates it will be a hit. “Anytime we do an arcade anywhere, people just gravitate towards it. Anyone and everyone can pick it up and have fun and play it,” she says. “There’s something really special about that.”

GLITCH was also part of the team behind “Riddle Mia This,” a new augmented-reality app that turns the Minneapolis Institute of Art into one giant puzzle room. They were approached by Colin McFadden and Samantha Porter of the University of Minnesota, who wanted to pitch the concept for the app to receive a 3M Art and Technology Award but needed help developing it. GLITCH came onboard, they received the award, and the app launched in September.

Although Minnesota has a long history of game development—“Oregon Trail” was born here and, on the analog side, a number of prominent board game companies are based in the Twin Cities—it’s far from being the hub of development that places like Austin and Los Angeles are. Kraikul compares the Minneapolis–St. Paul scene to what’s happening in Portland and St. Louis, noting that the growth over the near decade that GLITCH has existed has been noticeable in terms of both how many games are coming out of our area and how active and visible the local community is.

“People are more connected than ever in terms of our communities, because there are more regular events where people can actually talk to each other and see each other, more playtesting conversations, more opportunities to actually collaborate,” she says. “And I think that’s really awesome.”

Another advantage of Minnesota is its thriving and well-supported arts scene—something with which GLITCH hopes to connect the gaming scene in the minds of the general public and the people and corporations actually providing that support. Living at the intersection of technology and art, video games can be overlooked when it comes to grants and other funding. “We are number two in the nation for arts funding, and [only] a fraction of that goes to games—and we’re working to change that,” Kraikul says. “You have a lot of folks who don’t necessarily see games as art. But slowly and surely, that group of people are starting to change. They’re seeing things a little bit differently, or it might be that a lot of folks who grew up with games are starting to take roles and positions in which they have influence over where the funding goes. I think that’s changing the landscape a little bit.”

If there’s one thing GLITCH doesn’t plan on doing, it’s leaving for potential greener pastures. “We love the scene here.”