PixelPop brings local game development to the forefront


Dynamic Midwest Events & Promotions President Jeremy Johnson said finding any game development events in the Midwest is difficult.

That’s what the PixelPop Festival, which will be held at Webster University for the second year, aims to change.

“Our goal is to bring such an event to our central part of the country instead of requiring everyone go to the coast,” Johnson said.

The PixelPop Festival was created in 2014.  The two-day festival celebrates video games and game development in the Midwest.  It will take place at Webster University in the East Academic Building Sept. 12-13.

Happy Badger Studio, a small team of independent game developers located in St. Louis, created the idea.  This team approached Johnson with their idea, as they were close friends.

Johnson and his co-organizers at Happy Badger Studio are graduates of Webster University’s animation program.

Something Different

Johnson said his company wanted to run a new event, possibly one involving gaming.  Dynamic Midwest Events & Promotions is known for organizing the Anime St. Louis convention.

The Badger crew wanted to shift the focus away from just playing mainstream games and instead focus on indie developers and game creation.  Johnson and the Badger team found a setting at Webster’s East Academic Building.

“We know Webster’s School of Communications enjoys creative endeavors, and they are also looking to include gaming more in some of the curriculum,” Johnson said.

Last year, PixelPop received a majority of their funding from a Kickstarter campaign.  This year, the organizers focused on independently offering sponsorships and presales.

Marketing PixelPop

The organizers are looking to step up their marketing of the event, which was attended by about 200 people in its first year.

“That was great for our first year,” Carol Mertz, a Happy Badger Studio creator, said.  “We wanted to really reach more game creators and fans of games in order to build our community in a positive way.”

Johnson showcased PixelPop at a number of local game and pop culture conventions, as well as getting TV and radio ads to promote the event.  Mertz personally reached out to other game development communities around the Midwest to try to increase awareness among nearby developers.

Year One to Year Two

The PixelPop Festival features speakers, panels and workshops with industry professionals.  In addition, game demos from local developers will be on display for others to play.

One of the biggest elements the organizers are looking to improve is the way the event is structured, or as Johnson calls it, the “flow.”

“As everything is scattered through the building in separate classrooms, we want to make sure our exhibitors don’t feel excluded or too tucked away,” Johnson said.

Mertz said game creators last year felt the rooms were secluded or too small.

“What we’ve done this year is put all of the indie game demos into two rooms instead of separating them into five or six rooms,” Mertz said.

Another thing being cut this year is live music.  Mertz said the decision was made because people felt the live music was impacting with their ability to communicate with others.

“People felt it was too loud, too distracting and too disconnected,” Mertz said.  “Music wasn’t the point of PixelPop.”

However, PixelPop is not getting rid of music entirely.  The event has partnered with the St. Louis Symphony to offer discounted passes to concerts when ticket bundles are pre-ordered.

What to Expect

Mertz said the games demoed at PixelPop will represent a wide number of platforms, which includes mobile games, console games and even tabletop and board games.  The games will range across different genres.

Happy Badger Studio will demo their PlayStation 4 game, a quest-based hovercraft game called Smugglecraft.

Registration for the event will be at 9 a.m. on both days.  The event will begin at 10 a.m.

“Pretty much any platform you can think of, there’s going to be a game there that covers it,” Mertz said.

Johnson said PixelPop should leave gamers and game developers walking away with even more motivation for their passion. He said playing a variety of games and learning should help them learn what makes them fun and immersive. The event offers an opportunity to network and learn from various indie game developers.

“Those who are looking to break into the industry will be able to further refine their craft and keep moving towards their goals,” Johnson said.

Two-day passes are available $25 and one-day passes are available for $15.  Tickets and additional information about the demos being presented and the full schedule of events can be found at www.pixelpopfestival.com.

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