The online video, gaming, and branded entertainment industries’ latest cautionary tale comes from games journalist Jared Rosen. PolarisMaker Studios‘ gaming hub, has been forced to re-tool a large-scale branded campaign based around a “game jam” thanks to a conflict between a consultant and the project’s participating developers.

On March 31st, Rosen–who writes for Indie Statik and also creates videos for Polaris–shared the story of Game_Jam, which started as a collaboration between Polaris and the indie gaming community before blossoming into something much larger. “[The] natal idea,” explained Rosen, “was the production and filming of a game jam for a televised audience (or at least a YouTube audience) with the intent to document the ups and downs of actually developing a game – hopefully sharing that experience with a viewership likely ranging into the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions.”

By the time filming began, Game_Jam had changed into a reality competition of sorts, in which developers were to team up with YouTubers like Captain Sparklez and Markiplier and create games together. The teams that won specific challenges would receive prizes from Game_Jam‘s branded sponsor, Mountain Dew.

According to Rosen, most of the problems can be traced to Matti Leshem, a consultant brought on by Mountain Dew parent company PepsiCo (with which Maker Studios has an overall year-long deal to produce a lot of branded programming). Leshem, whose background includes reality television credits, asked prying questions to the Game_Jam participants, ostensibly attempting to squeeze out any dramatic narratives he could find. He also strictly enforced Mountain Dew’s branding, preventing the developers from drinking it in the ‘wrong’ way and barring every other non-water beverage from the set.

The breaking point, according to Rosen, came after Leshem asked the teams whether the two women would prove disadvantageous to their teams. This struck a nerve with the developers, especially Adriel Wallick and Zoe Quinn, the two women in question.

By the time Polaris banished Leshem from the set, the damage was done. Production on Game_Jam was halted after a single day. Polaris and the developers have agreed to retool the concept in a way that makes it more about developing games and less about manufactured reality TV intensity.

The initial filming fiasco stands as a cautionary tale for all involved, reminding production teams and indie creators to be careful when teaming up with individuals whose priorities might not play well with other participants. Rosen put it best:

“Indie is small. It is small companies and individuals, fighting for relevance in a sea of uncertainty, and those processes and creative energies should be explored – YouTube, television or otherwise.  But if and when that happens, we need to be careful to approach those people who give it life, who make it such a vibrant and special place, with the respect and the space they need to build things we as critics and fans want to play. This was a disaster.

Maker, Polaris and the developers know that. Every side was pulling for what they wanted, and in the end, the side that mattered most got burned. We can’t have that. And I’m humbled and profoundly moved by the way these men and women banded together to reject what was a violation of their principles.”

Gamers can and should still get excited about Polaris’ upcoming collaboration with the indie community. If Leshem was truly the main cause of friction, the retooled campaign will be well worth watching.

Photo credit: Jared Rosen

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