African-American game developers are finally gaining ground after being on the fringes of the gaming industry for far too long. In some cases, they are leveraging the internet and social media platforms to showcase their talent and tell nuanced stories with diverse, multifaceted characters. These major tools of the 21st century are letting consumers know that talented black game creators really do exist.
In this new series from UrbanGeekz, we want to further amplify these voices.
Brian Ollison and Kym Pressley are putting their time, talents, and money behind their very own gaming company, Brikym Game Studio. When the two met they soon discovered they have complementary skills in software development and UX design that together could create something impactful.
Working out of The Farm Accelerator’s innovation hub, the cofounders facilitate Brikym Training Workshops that combine the best in quality, expertise, and convenience to increase game development knowledge. They are both working full-time jobs to bootstrap the business and remain privately owned.
But they also have their own creation, Kingdom of Kuru. Parents along with their kids can enjoy this mobile multiplayer platform which is now available as a beta on iOS. The official launch of Kuru is slated for early 2020 as they iterate through beta testing. The founders say they want their work to prepare the next generation to be successful in entrepreneurship and STEM. In this interview, they shared more on their journey, how they’re building their product, and that bigger mission.
UrbanGeekz: Why should more diverse communities, like the Black community, be informed about the actual game creation process?
Kym: I was reading an article in IGN’s black history month issue where it’s only like 2.5 percent of all game developers are black. But we think that’s more of not many people know this is a lucrative and very beneficial track. If more people knew, then diversity would increase.
RELATED CONTENT: BLACKS PLAY MORE VIDEO GAMES, BUT LITTLE DIVERSITY BEHIND THE SCENES
Brian: And we think it’s beneficial because you can use the game development skills that you learn towards different paths. It’s interesting when you develop a game it has to be really good. Because if you mess up, then people delete it off their phone or they just don’t play it at all. Whereas, if you were to go into some other kind of design, like banking design… People need to know their banking balance. So there are situations where maybe the bill paying experience is not that great, but they’re going to keep that app on their phone. So I feel like if you can make a really good game and then move into a different industry like mobile banking or designing some other product that people actually have to have on their phones or use every day then you’re set to do so. I definitely use this skill is way more industries than I thought I would.
Kingdom of Kuru
UG: What has the process been like in starting your company Brikym?
Kym: Prior to participating in the It Take A Village Pre-accelerator, we had already formed the business and filed the LLC. We just learned that much from prior experience, family members who had been entrepreneurs, and basically googling. But it grew organically. And we’ve had several mentors who have helped build this up. So it’s been a community effort.
Brian: I think something else that’s been a big help for us is we’ve had a lot of corporate experience. And I know one thing for sure that I like is that we’re privately funded, we’re funding this ourselves. That’s something that we want to keep doing. Unlike a lot of other startups, I know a go-to thing is getting that funding from investors. But we’ve been pretty careful about not wanting to have investors and lose some of that decision-making power. I think our intent is to remain private. We’re hoping that we can fully fund this project ourselves and through other things that we do. I think it makes us a lot different from other startups that we talk to.
UG: What’s happening with the company right now?
Brian: What we really want to do with the beta is to build a small community that we can rely on to give us constant feedback. One of our main things is ‘listen hard and change fast.’ So we’ll throw out a big concept, we’ll ask for feedback and we’ll do a big survey. Right now we’re not heavily putting the game out there because we don’t want to give people bad experiences. We want them to understand that this is still a work in progress. There’s a lot of things that we plan to do that we have in the pipeline to get done. Once we are done with the beta, with that expectation being the beginning of 2020, we’ll relaunch the final game and then that’s the point at which we’ll market to the masses.
UG: As I understand, there’s another aspect to Brikym’s mission besides the actual production and release of games?
Kym: Yes, currently we have a two-pronged approach. One is the game development, we’re currently developing Kingdom of Kuru and the Great Race. That’s going to be more of a franchise, with sequels and products around that. At the same time through our company Brikym, we’re doing workshops and educational experiences to teach those youth, ‘Hey game development, game design is a good opportunity. It’s very lucrative and these are things that you can get into it.’ Since we’re only at 2.5 percent there’s a lot of room for growth.
BLACK GIRLS CODE: TEACHING GIRLS TO BE DIGITAL CREATORS, NOT JUST CONSUMERS
Brian: For 2019, we’ve made a major community outreach effort. We’ve gone to a lot of outdoor events, some indoor events. We went to Code Ninja and met some of the kids there.
UG: So the ultimate goal is getting black and brown children to know that skills acquired through this activity can take them really far?
Kym: Yes, we just want them to know that there’s this opportunity out there, it’s a great way to make money and to do something that they love. And also we want to actually host workshops where we’re teaching them these skills and showing them through project-based courses, ‘this is how you do it, this is how you can get there.’
UG: Finally, can you give us more insight on working together as designer and developer? Brian: I’m the game designer And Kym does all the coding and developing. It started out with us doing an initial character. I designed Kuros. I think Kym stayed up one night to see what he could do with that. He made it start running, walk, jump and all those different movements. I designed all the frames for how that would look, but he’s the one that made it actually work within the system. We were using something called Construct, a quick way to jump off with game development. Over time we realized that it wasn’t the best thing to use for multiplayer or more complex, so we had to move over to something called Unity. Now in this space, I’m doing some of the more front-end, I’m putting together the levels and Kym is doing some of the harder work such as multiplayer setup.
Kym: We learned how to communicate better because artists and programmers, we often speak a very different language. At first, it was a little bit difficult to understand what he needed from me versus what I needed from him and sometimes where to start in that process. But as we’ve been going along and developing, we’ve learned to communicate better and basically streamlined our process to where we can throw ideas and then quickly brainstorm how to put them together.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity