Micah Jackson has been working in the games industry for 15 years. He began his career as a senior web designer at Infogrames which would later be rebranded as Atari. From there, he was recruited to manage the Games portals for AOL’s kids and teens channels (KOL and RED) where he began to produce Flash online games. After several years at AOL, Micah went on to become the senior content producer at Yahoo! Games, where he focused on video games editorial and was later recruited to be an online game producer for Disney Interactive. At Disney, Micah was responsible for the concept and execution of dozens of online games, and in 2012, he collaborated with Walt Disney Feature Animation on the creation of the Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade machine, which was used to promote the film Wreck It Ralph. He is currently working as a consultant for Canadian digital studio Bkom and is releasing his first independent game, Bugchinko, under his own AVCV studio label.
Everyone likes to be entertained
Everyone enjoys some form of entertainment. No matter what your age, gender, socioeconomic background, religion or color is, we all enjoy some form of entertainment. I feel like we’ve seen the evolution of music, movies and fine art throughout the generations and each medium has benefited from a wide range of influences and creators. Not so much in gaming though. Of course gaming has evolved greatly over time, but we’re only now starting to see games come from people and places they traditionally didn’t. With the proliferation of smartphones and the growth of online and social games across the world, we now see that the audience for games is much more diverse than was the case 10 years ago.
People are intrigued by familiar yet unfamiliar experiences
When I think about some of my favorite games, they all have one thing in common — they’re all similar to some other game I’ve played in some way. That aspect of familiarity is important because it offers players easy entry into a new game mechanic or an idea that may become abstract or be wildly different later on. In other words, the familiarity can set the player up for a whole new experience.
Every game I ever pitched or produced was similar in some aspect to a game or mechanic that previously existed. The thing that made the new game concept unique was my interpretation of the existing mechanic. My goal as a game maker is to provide players with some new element of delight, even if the game mechanic may be an old, tried-and-true formula. Adding a twist or new way of interacting with that mechanic typically results in a new and interesting product.
In Bugchinko, my inspiration is the classic game of Pachinko; however I wanted to mix that with pinball and arcade game elements. I grew up in the age of coin-op arcade machines, and the style of gameplay they offered has always shaped my view of gaming. What I hope to accomplish is something that makes sense initially, but doesn’t become monotonous after playing it for a few levels. Hopefully, it will keep players interested!
Intriguing art from unlikely places
My wife and I recently enjoyed a trip to Italy. As a self-proclaimed car nut, a lifelong dream of mine was to visit the Ferrari factory in Maranello. Everyone knows what the name Ferrari represents today: speed, beauty and craftsmanship are a few adjectives that come to mind. As our tour van made its way toward the Ferrari campus, the thing I was most fascinated by was our surroundings. Gazing out the window I noticed we were surrounded by acres of Italian farmland, and I wondered: How did this iconic factory and its beautiful automobiles come out of this rural, little Italian town?
Many of the wonderful art forms we enjoy today came from places and people that you would least expect. Jazz, graffiti art, Impressionism, breakdancing, house music, hip-hop, the slam dunk and hot rods are all in some way the product of outsiders or “minorities” taking the status quo and adding their own unique twist. In many cases, the twist came about as a result of the lack of resources or because their process was rejected by the established norm. I feel that gaming is enjoying some of these benefits with the rise of indie game developers; however we’ve really only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to true diversity.
Bugchinko is set in a realistic, nature-inspired world with the main characters being bugs, trees and spiders. The inspiration for all this was my home landscape and the creatures found therein. I have a huge 30-foot tree on my front lawn that ignited the concept of the game. I imagined what it must be like for a tiny bug like Monty, the ball in Bugchinko, to crawl along one of the top branches. That idea of something so small and vulnerable making its way around something so huge and potentially dangerous captivated my imagination.
Now, one would probably think my house is situated on a few wooded acres, somewhere in Portland. However, my home happens to be located in the center of Los Angeles, which illustrates my point. A game that celebrates the beauty of the natural world around us was made by a black guy in the center of Los Angeles.
Given the tools, which included Unity 3D Pro and a Mac Mini, I was able to bring my unique vision of Pachinko to life.
People of color need to see other people of color making cool things
It’s important that young people of color see someone like them making games. This sentiment may seem trivial to some or simplistic to others, but it’s the truth. Throughout my career when I would tell kids that I made games, they would look at me in astonishment and ask, “How?” This wasn’t just the typical kid’s fascination as to how games are literally made, but rather it was, “How did YOU, of all people, get a job making games?” I would chuckle and begin to share the steps of my career path, but deep inside it troubled me. What troubled me is that African-American kids see plenty of star athletes, entertainers, teachers, military officers and fortunately a president that looks like them. However, few of them will ever see an engineer, architect, chemist, zookeeper, corporate executive or game producer that looks like them. When I started my company, it was important to me that kids of color see that the guy who made the games looked like them.
My hope is that I will find success not just for personal gain, but rather to show the next generation of game designers, programmers and producers that their dreams are possible. I want African-American kids to see that someone like them, who grew up in the same neighborhood with all the same challenges, was able to make something that many people could enjoy. I hope to also grow my company AVCV Games so that I can one day hire and recruit talented people of color.
Increasing diversity in game development ultimately benefits the players. As people from various backgrounds and cultures work together on new projects, players are treated to new and interesting experiences that spur the advancement of the medium.