Prologue: Why Form Philadelphia Game Lab? [PGL Post-Mortem]

It may be useful for me to describe why I started PGL.

I had been working on a virtual currency startup, called superfluid, that I’d co-founded with a brilliant and funny Serbian physicist in Philadelphia, and the “futurist” Douglas Rushkoff in New York. It was built on concepts of community currency leveraging productive efforts toward greater value for participants, as well as insights from game industry experience of in-game economies and collaboration. -Diametrically opposed to something like Bitcoins. A lot of our thinking came from prior work like LETS and Ithaca Hours. Economists and accountants loved it, but humans felt it a bit alienating, despite our best efforts. We realized that to make it right we’d need to move to NYC and dive in full bore to make or break it. We ended up not wanting to make that leap, and it was at around the time that I was actually starting to like Philadelphia. -A city I’d been born in, but never really cared for until the repopulation of this millennium.

So, here I was,with senior level game industry experience in a city with no real industry presence, in a family situation that made moving non-trivial, and of an age that made joining an extant startup socially unlikely. I put some thought to how I might possibly be best useful here: I have experience with getting things done, and game industry relationships that could be useful. I have been funded and helped people get funding for business in the past, although I am in no way a person to have the funds to write the check myself, and I obsessively tell people that I am not and have never been in a position where I can tell someone to write a check expecting that they will.

At the same time that those are my own strengths, I very much saw the city’s strengths in the growing creative class that was so active and impressive in forming new initiatives in everything from food and beer to street events.

With this as background, I decided that I would work to form an entity intended to help connect local technology and creative humans and companies with game industry opportunities, in the belief that this was the best way for me to be of use here, and hopefully form an environment for a productive future. At the moment I was doing this, there was a heavy interest from investors in workspaces, largely driven by the success of Brad Hargreaves and his collaborators in General Assembly in NYC. This likely inclined my thinking toward this sort of model, and Philadelphia Game Lab was created as a 501c3 with a mission of housing and encouraging such activities. The housing was never the important part, but it did seem like the part that people could hold onto and understand better. We also began to hold the Grassroots Game Conference in support of the concept.


Philadelphia Game Lab History Postings

I wrote this post last year, but never went back and tweaked or published it. In the time since, I’ve really accepted that PGL was ending as I and others moved on to new initiatives. Maybe that completion actually makes posting this and followups more relevant, I don’t know:

For some time, I’ve promised myself and others that I would write down the bizarre and often wonderful story that has been Philadelphia Game Lab (PGL) to date. Thus far for me, it has included pivots, cancer, divorce, friendships, an amazing new relationship, some great work and satisfaction, joy and a fair amount of pain.

I want to get the pieces of this story into text for several reasons, and it may be worthwhile for me to list them as a starting point:

1. I strongly believed when setting out on this journey that this city had reached a positive and exciting turning point, and that part of getting to next levels was the participation of everyone who could be of use. I hope that laying out what has and has not worked will be of use to others who are similarly motivated here.

2. To refine what we’re doing now at PGL and related entities, those involved (and I as well) should benefit from a comprehensive review of past successes and failures. I have been involved in every piece of this effort, as no-one else has yet, even those who have given great time, energy and skills toward its successes. Everyone deserves a more comprehensive perspective.

3. Some were able to succeed in their projects with us and achieve next stages of careers in coordination with us. For others things didn’t work out as well, sometimes because what they wanted to do didn’t align with what they wanted or they weren’t able to do the work that was needed. Overwhelmingly, the people that have worked with PGL have been exceptional humans, and the environment has been one of highly talented and motivated individuals generously helping each other to advance. We have employed more than eighty developers; in areas including technical, art, and diverse other fields, such as linguistics.

4. Beyond our use to Philadelphia, our function as a skunkworks likely has useful lessons to others who could emulate our successes and avoid our failures. As I’ll describe in other posts, a core mission of the organization has been to raise the visibility and credibility of the region in development of sophisticated creative technology. It would be in keeping with this goal if people elsewhere find our experience useful to their own.

5. Lastly, there’s an element of our story that I want to think through and understand better than I do currently. I’ll describe it in brief here, but obviously dig deeper later. It has seemed to be very consistently true that the projects that had fewer resources produced more benefit more competently than those projects that were fully supported and staffed. The psychology of project execution becomes much more complicated and significant when people feel they have what they need. This isn’t a matter of focusing on “Minimal Viable Product” (a strategy with which I generally agree), but of humans who have to grasp and scramble for resources becoming focused on what is most vital to their core essence, while those who have what they need become more outward focused for approval and direction. I would identify the person who likes to “grasp and scramble” and will tend to take this role even when they have a choice, as an “Engineer”-type.


I suppose that’s an Introduction. Next, “Conception.”