Tomorrow, Blind Sparrow Interactive’s first project will be announced. But, as the founder of the studio, I thought it would be helpful to give some context to the news and share a bit of the journey.
I’ve worked in AAA and indie games on the business development side for more than 12 years. Throughout this time I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful in the games industry, but outside of a few small charity projects and some larger creative projects, I’ve never felt like I’d found what I was looking for. I’ve also had a real heart for blind gamers, ever since I watched the interactive fiction documentary Get Lamp and was incredibly impressed by the blind players of text adventures describing their experiences of playing games and the different perspectives they had on them.
Last year, I came to a crossroads in my working life. While I had been fortunate to have an amazing array of experiences and see all kinds of games come together, I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed to pursue my heart. I won’t go into all the personal details here, but it was a big decision for my family, but we really felt God’s blessing on it.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster. I know. I personally would have advised anyone who came to me with the same scenario against going ahead; and probably would still caution against it. But, somehow, I knew that I would do it, even if I didn’t immediately know how. In these times I’m fuelled by the Bible verse that says, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but one of love, power and self-control’. I also had the benefit of 12 years of watching others do it, seeing what they did right and, more importantly, what they did wrong.
Changing a culture from the inside is hard. Go and work for a company that doesn’t have a good work culture and you can easily find yourself aligning to bad habits. When I started Blind Sparrow Interactive I was adamant that I would create a positive culture for the studio. People who worked for the company as contractors would get paid well and quickly. I would never let “crunch culture” (the idea that people must work longer and harder than what is reasonable to get their work done) take a foothold; mental and physical health would always come first. Accessibility wasn’t going to be just a word; it was to permeate every element of what we do and how we speak and behave - from the first inklings of a game design, right through to the marketing and even, perhaps especially, who the company contracted work to. Originally, we had a lofty goal of employing blind and low vision developers to make up around half of our contracted team. We thought it might take a few projects to reach that. But I’m pleased to say that at this moment, we’ve already hit that goal on project one, and we couldn’t be prouder of the work those devs have contributed.
Our company vision is to create exceptional, life-changing game experiences for low vision and blind gamers that can be shared with players of all sight ability. But we knew from the outset that one of the biggest mistakes any new studio can make is aiming too high too quickly. Some studios want to make the ultimate game, the game they’ve been dreaming of all their lives. And they want it to be their first project, even if they don’t yet have experience with scoping, “feature creep”, QA, enjoyable game loops, and so on. They dream of the game awards and the accolades and the praise. But so often they’re left with disappointment and despair, and a huge financial hole they need to climb back out of.
We decided we needed to work on something small, but practical. Something that could be completed within four months, allowing for the huge amount of time that would be spent setting up the studio and the company, pulling together a team of contractors, getting a working website together, learning how to code in C sharp, learning how to use Unity, understanding the particulars of blind accessibility and still be able to go through an entire dev cycle without compromising anything.
Given that the studio is founded by someone who is sighted, we also knew we needed help, particularly when it came to understanding a blind gamer’s perspective and experience. We will always say that our first best decision - one we made even before we had officially started the company - was to employ a blind accessibility consultant, namely Brandon Cole. (You can find him on Twitter at @superblindman.) He helped set the path we would need to take.
Tomorrow, as we near the completion of our final QA round, that small, but practical something will be announced.
Our first project is not a game; those will come. It’s an iOS app, a utility that relates to an area of gaming that allows blind and sighted people to come together socially. We know that what we’ve created is not revolutionary, but we’re proud of it: it’s fast to use and it’s been completely designed from the ground up for blind and low vision players, with a particular attention to detail.
This is our first step as Blind Sparrow Interactive. No matter what happens with the app, it won’t be our last step. Even with no support, our commitment is to a full year of development. By that point we should be starting on our third project.
You may notice that I’ve used “we” a lot when I’m talking about Blind Sparrow Interactive. I do that to remind myself that this is not my studio. In my mind, this studio stands to represent everyone who works on any one of our projects and, hopefully, the community that it was created to love and serve.
You are that community.
Through all your advice, your support, your willingness to accept us and guide us when we make mistakes, I want to say a personal thank you for helping us take this first step.