Gamelab was a company I created in 2000 with Peter Lee, a company that he and I ran together until its doors closed more than nine years later in 2009. Gamelab was a way for us to create innovative and experimental games. It helped define the independent game studio of the 21st Century many years before “indie games” became a buzzword.
We made dozens of games over the years, growing to about 30 staff. Fiercely independent, the mission of Gamelab was always to “invent new ways to play.” And we did – finding new audiences for gaming as we helped create “casual games” with hits like Diner Dash; experimenting with funding models as we pioneered film-style project-based financing or partnerships with nonprofits, funding games through grants. Mostly, however, we innovated through our games themsleves, exploring new kinds of subject matter, new aesthetic styles, and new forms of gameplay.
Our games ranged from Arcadia, a bizarre experiment where the player had to play four Atari-style games at once that split the screen into quarters to Ayiti: The Cost of Life, a game about poverty in Haiti created with Global Kids and a class of high school students. We made eight massively multiplayer conference game experiments for the Game Developers Conference, and designed a real-world dueling game for LEGO where players constructed their game pieces brick by brick.
Although I am very proud of our games, the best part of Gamelab was the culture of design research and the rigorous creative processes that defined the daily experience of the company. Every person at Gamelab was empowered to come up with ideas and critique projects in development, and I have been told many times by former staff that Gamelab represented the creative highlight of their professional lives.
We had a strong impact on independent game culture, especially in New York City. We spun off two companies, the nonprofit Institute of Play, and the game-building site Gamestar Mechanic. NYC organizations like Gigantic Mechanic, Playmatics, and Come Out and Play were all founded by Gamelab alums.
Gamelab is no more, but I have no regrets. In all of us that touched the company, Gamelab lives on.