Recently, Pepsi sponsored a 4 day event for independent game developers to have fun, compete, and win prizes. The even was to be filmed for youtube, but it wasn't ever supposed to be "reality TV". It was going to be a Game Jam, where viewer could watch the spirit of collaboration and fun that goes into making an indie game. But of course, nothing can ever be so simple.
In a rundown of the events leading up to the Game Jam, Jared Rosen says that the shit-show that ended the event after only one day can be pinned on one employee, Matti Leshem, the CEO of Pepsi's primary branding agency.
As the idea of filming the Game Jam got bigger and bigger, more sponsors came in, and pushed what was supposed to be a fun, collaborative event, into what Gavia Baker-Whitelaw calls in her summary "a top chef-esque gameshow". The developers were asked to sign standard reality show contracts, which included clauses allowing producers to edit footage in order to intentionally misrepresent what was actually said. I'm sure that everyone knows at this point that this is standard for reality TV, but this event was never meant to be a reality TV show. The developers pushed back and got this, as well as some other unfavorable clauses, removed or amended from their contracts. But this was all just an early warning sign of how the introduction of big name sponsors had drastically changed the original intent of the Game Jam, and what ultimately led to its failure.
Enter Matti Leshem. From the moment he walked on set, he was attempting to stir up some real, reality TV style drama. And the developers, who came in the spirit of collaboration, were not pleased with the turnaround. The tipping point was when Matti began asking the judges, on camera, "Two of the teams have women on them. Do you think they're at a disadvantage?"
To Mark Essen, one of the judges, credit, he replied diplomatically. And, seeing that he wasn't going to get anything that would get him more inflammatory page clicks, Matti moved on from Essen, but continued asking similar questions. Whether the teams were upset they had women on them, if specific women were off their game. And then he got to the team containing Adriel Wallick. This is a women, who in addition to being a well established game developer, also helps to put satellites into space. If you're the type of person who thinks that women really need to prove themselves, then she has done so, many times over. The insightful question that Matti asked about her? If they thought having a pretty girl on the team was going to be an advantage for them. Not "do you think having a programmer who helped put mother-fucking satellites into space will be an advantage?" Not "are you intimidated to be in the presence of such an obviously bad-ass woman?" But a question about her looks.
It was the final tipping point. Adriel responded, angrily, and then left. Matti was immediately fired, but other developers, already dissatisfied with the mega-corporate sponsorship reality tv mess that the whole thing had turned into, decided that working with people who would hire Matti in the first place was the final straw, and left too. The whole thing was a massive loss for Pepsi. And you know what, it was a loss for the game industry too.
With more and more major companies developing games that feature the same rugged, gravel voiced, white male protagonist, people, women and POC especially, look to indie games to find representation. This could have been an event that introduced people to new games that they'd never heard of, introduced them to an indie game market that they didn't even know existed, and introduced them to some bad-ass developers from all walks of life. It could have encourage people who didn't think that they'd be able to do game development to try it, if it's what they wanted to do. But, in pushing for a flashy, controversial "story", they managed to ruin a really great opportunity, and alienate a lot of people.