Open Innovation, Indie Games and the Fantastic Arcade

The annual Fantastic Arcade (FA) is a hybrid event that challenges the conventions of what a game industry conference could be, and, instead, celebrates several values of the indie game culture such as freedom, improvisation, humor, weirdness, and creative competition, in an environment that is safe, positive, and carnivalesque. Across the different activities that took place last September at the FA, and in the months prior to the event, those values were embraced across a range of practices such as networking, collaboration, multitasking, fast-prototyping, performing, and open innovation. The latter, in particular, is embraced by indie game developers by actively participating in game jams and open calls for content where they creatively compete to design new games in a very short period of time and with strict thematic constraints. The Austin based indie game collective Juegos Rancheros successfully leaded the content crowdsourcin process and as able to gather high quality content in a distributed manner leveraging not only digital tools and networks, but also the cultural and social resources they have been cultivating during the last four years.

The Fantastic Arcade has become an engine of open innovation that is set in motion by the organizers and curators several months before the actual event happens. This engine has basically two major phases. The first one last for several months, from March to July, and involves an open call to developers around the world interested in showcasing their indie games at the FA old-school arcade cabinets. Anybody could submit their game to the FA during this period of time in order to be considered by the curatorial committee (Juegos Rancheros). Although only 8 indie games were selected to be installed in customized old-school arcade cabinets, more than other 30 games were also selected and installed in laptops provided by the Alienware sponsor. The designers of the selected games were invited to prepare free-form presentations for the FA. Moreover, some of the indie game designers of these games received awards during an informal ceremony at the Highball the last night of the FA.

The second phase of the FA innovation engine it is known as the Gamemaking Frenzy competition. Members of the Juegos Rancheros collective have helped to organize this creative competition (and crowdsourcing of content) during the last three FA years in the truly spirit of a game jam, with a very specific thematic challenge and a short period of time for prototyping a game (two weeks). For this year, the challenge consisted in designing two-player games about food, cooking, eating, and barfing, and also included a secret ingredient (a shrimp). Such grotesque and carnivalesque thematic was the result of a collaboration between Fantastic Arcade, Juegos and Thu Tran, a special guest well known by its creative and weird shows for the internet and tv channels about food, puppets, and psychedelic imagination. A total of 36 new games were submitted to the Gammeking Frenzy and made available for free at the platform. A selection of these games was loaded into a customized arcade cabinet and played during the Barfcade live show, a special event hosted by Thu Tran the last night of the Fantastic Arcade. During this event, two participants have to compete for points while Thu placed different grotesque challenges that involved eating butter bars, anchovy popsicles, bloody liquids, and even barfing.

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