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Is it really that hard to give away $20k to game developers?

The perils and pitfalls of giving money to game developers.

I'm in the middle of an interesting exercise right now.  We are/were running a competition for the Verizon Foundation to give away $20K to game developers willing to beta test their not-yet-released mobile apps in middle school classrooms ( - hey, please apply if you're eligible!).  A woman on our team left precipitously, and I volunteered to fill the breach.   Now you have to understand, I have a life history of living off of grants, and so the idea of being told I had to GIVE AWAY money seemed amazingly wonderful and left me light-headed and mildly drunk on power.  Plus I had a rolodex of game developer contacts I had accumulated back in the days when I worked a bit in games research, and I figured this was a no-brainer.  I'd just email everyone I knew, they'd apply, and we'd be done in a day.  After all, they were all starving developers pretty much, so the $20k should lure them like fish to a hooked worm.

But...not so fast... True, it is MUCH better to give away money than to have to beg for it.  But, I discovered several things.  First of all, virtually everyone I had known  6 years ago in the "serious games" industry had moved on to somewhere inaccessible.  They had changed companies, last names (multiple times if their love life didn't work out so well), email providers, and in one notable case, had fled to a different continent to avoid sentencing for tax evasion, having harbored an undeclared Swiss Bank account.  It's amazing what you can find out on Wikipedia when trying to track someone down.  OK, well, time to hit SHIFT, rewind, go back to the beginning.

The second tier of effort consisted of my making posts about the contest on various community sites.  I quickly found out that most game developers looking for money are not in the USA.  The competition, of course, required entrants to be American.  A lot of "alas!" and "PLEASE NOTE YOUR COUNTRY WHEN POSTING" ensued.  Ugh, yes, we Americans tend to assume we're the center of the universe without even thinking.  Did I tell you I grew up in Texas?   Most Texans believe Texas is the center of America, i.e., the center of the center of the universe.  Just in case you wondered.

And then, finally, I started reaching out to innovation accelerators and people-who-knew people.  The challenge there was that people-who-knew people tended to know successful entrepreneurs, while technically the contest required a non-profit entrant.  Well, I could pair for-profit developers with non-profits, and they could apply as a team, couldn't they?  Yes!  It turned out that would work! one in the for-profit world knew anyone in the non-profit world or vice versa.   Weirdly segregated, those two worlds turned out to be.  Like dog people and cat people.  Or online Sudoku people and Call of Duty people.  So now it's my job to  find some small (yes, the contest requires small) non-profits and do some Yentl-like matchmaking with the two (count 'em, two!) successful game developer entrepreneurs  I  managed to dig up.  Oy vey.

The contest ends on Halloween.  Very apt.  I plan on wearing a costume that has me plastered head to toe with $240k of hundred dollar bills (the 12 prizes @ $20k each, for which I right now have a grand total of two applicants).  Maybe if I go door-to-door with dollar bills literally shedding off my costume, some poor game developer will finally take pity on me and apply.  I'll even throw in a pumpkin bucket.


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