by Isaac Smith
As a lifelong Sacramento resident, I’ve had this strange mix of pride and frustration when I look at the city’s creative people and the work they do. I’m proud because I see world-class artists in every medium from music to literature, visual art, dance, film, and (of course) game development. I’m frustrated because I see the lack of world-class material that’s being produced by the city’s creatives, and its place on the world stage.
Apparently I’m not alone!
Nate Allshouse, along with several other Sacramento indie heavy hitters, has spent the last year developing and implementing the business plan for a creative collective known as Square One Clubs. On May 20th, 2017 (one year exactly after Nate registered the company name to an LLC), the doors opened and I got to be a part of an exciting new endeavor. Square One hopes to galvanize Sacramento’s myriad creative talents into a cohesive, collaborative force that will produce content so significant that the world at large will be forced to take notice.
Square One’s Vision
The idea for the company is pretty simple: provide developers and creators with tools and spaces to make their work happen. The offices are decently sized, sporting a break room, a conference room, a meeting area and a couple of studios. Ideally, these would be used by a large number of creative groups to collaborate and get work done. There’s also a digital side to things, of course. Nate, who has a long history of IT work, has crafted a model that will give small studios affordable online storage, since if they need more things to store they could get a self storage unit near by, a forum to communicate, and the ability to search for other talented individuals who could contribute to the ongoing project.
Another issue that Square One hopes to tackle is the business side of things. Being blunt here, the number of talented artists who suck at marketing themselves is staggering. As a professional musician and amateur game developer I see daily people whose content would be well-liked, if only anyone knew about it. By fostering relationships with marketing companies, Square One could be an outlet for small studios to reach larger audiences.
Finally, they’re investing in education for those in creative professions. Learning new tools, getting expert help, and acquiring skills are all things that help us thrive and move forward. Part of Square One’s mission statement is to help facilitate this and bring its members into contact with people who can make them better (at whatever the heck it is they do)!
A Couple of Caveats
It’s important to note that this is all what Square One hopes to do. It’s got a lot of lofty goals, and Nate has put in the time and effort to make sure the business plan works. As I remain cautiously optimistic, I know there are still a lot of challenges in making this a reality yet to be faced. I’m excited about the prospect, but I don’t want this to sound like I’m writing their promotional material for them. The scope of what they’ll actually be able to accomplish remains to be seen!
The other caveat is that this is not a space just for game developers. LTG is a gaming blog (it’s in the title!), and certainly our local powerhouse indie scene contributed heavily to the existence of this new space. However, Square One is open to any creative team, regardless of medium.There is a film studio with a green screen, lighting and cameras in one room. Nate is in talks with a new recording studio in the area which might provide space for musicians to bang out an EP (or record a soundtrack). Although the emphasis is certainly on digital content, the form of that content is largely up to the people creating it. While part of me wishes that it could just be for gamedevs, I can’t help but see the inclusiveness in a positive light. After all, if you’ve got filmmakers, you’ve also got writers, voice actors, effects techs and a whole bunch of other folks who could assist in making a game. The reverse is also true from devs to film. The more creative people a studio has at their fingertips, the more likely it is they’ll find the right person for the job.
The Grand Opening
I was invited to attend the grand opening as a rep of LTG (which was cool in and of itself). The headquarters is located at 9342 Tech Center Drive Suite #600, just off of Folsom past Watt. It’s super close to a lightrail station, so it’s accessible enough! The studio has quite a bit of artwork on the walls already, but it definitely still looks like a new office. I hope the character of it fills out a little more as the creative folks come in and infuse it with their own personalities. The break room has Mario block magnets on it, so you can design your own level while you procrastinate on the project you should be finishing. The rooms are decently-sized, but ultimately too few in number. Currently, only one office is available to be rented out by an independent studio. Although it seems that most of the business is going to be online or in the shared meeting spaces, I was hoping they’d have had more spaces for individual studios to carve out.
For the most part, it seemed well-planned, with a mix of introductions, Q&A, and breakout sessions. In typical free-form gamedev style, however, people wandered in and out of each session, chatted in hallways or rooms, and gave the place an authentic buzz of excitement. The administrators showed off the facility and demoed projects underway. One session was a crash course in Unity (and an opportunity to see the kind of educational opportunities one might have at Square One in the future).
It felt like a champagne bottle smashing against a new ship. Everyone was excited, optimistic and enthusiastic. The idea isn’t new (with Maker Spaces and HackerLabs all over the country), but in Sacramento it has the potential to fill a glaring hole in the independent scene. For that goal, people came for miles!
Something about it also felt uncannily… real. A lot of gamers do what they do to escape reality. Devs are the same way, only they’ve decided to create their own reality instead of embracing someone else’s. It was profoundly weird to be in a room full of these people, where nobody’s playing or demoing games. The message was subtle but ever-present: “This is a business.” In the end, I think creative people are often most successful when they’re somewhere they can forget that fact. I think also that feeling will be dissipated somewhat once the goofy, idealistic filmmakers, gamedevs, and artists populate the place. Like the art on the walls, the personality of the place depends on its denizens. Business plans aside, the success of Square One Clubs depends largely on drawing in passionate, hardworking, visionary people who want to come together and create something greater than themselves.
But hey, this is Sacramento. We’ve got those people by the dozen!