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This Publisher Is Making Sure Games from Banned Countries Still Get Shown at GDC

Devolver Digital steps up for developers impacted by Trump's executive order.

Like millions of people, Austin-based video game publisher Devolver Digital recoiled at the idea of President Trump's recent executive order that suddenly banned travel to the US for those coming from seven predominantly Muslim countries. But rather than merely voicing opposition, they're taking direct action to assist those affected.

When the Game Developers Conference kicks off at San Francisco's Moscone Center at the end of this month, Devolver Digital will use part of its offsite GDC headquarters to showcase games from developers from the banned countries who were planning on attending but found themselves unexpectedly cut off by the order. It's a small space that's usually used for meetings and other social gatherings, but Devolver plans to stuff it with their own computer workstations loaded with demos from the banned developers, along with fact sheets and contact information. Any GDC attendees or press wanting to see the games can view them from February 27 through March 1 in the basement level of 44 Tehama Street. Through Devolver's efforts, the developers will again have a voice in the country that turned them away.


"Video games is not just a global business but, maybe more importantly, it is a global art form," Devolver Digital co-founder Mike Wilson told me in an email. "Our team is hugely opposed to anything that gets in the way of global collaboration and enjoyment due to cultural or political differences, and we felt this was something positive we could do as a company to help those that found themselves unexpectedly left out of GDC."

Devolver Digital is only planning on showing games from developers from the banned countries who'd originally planned to attend GDC on account of the lack of space, and to help find some of them, the company sought out Rami Ismail, a prominent independent game developer from the Netherlands. Last weekend, Ismail tweeted that he was "working with 5 talented devs that all were coming to GDC, but can't or don't dare to anymore," and thus seemed like a good contact to start with.

A view of the intended space from 2014's GDC. Image: Devolver Digital

"Devolver is the first major player to step up and take action in this concrete way," Ismail told me over direct messages on Twitter. He now knows of about a dozen developers affected by the ban who'd planned to attend GDC, and while he's not affected by the ban himself, he says he's worried about the current state of affairs in the US and what it means for anti-Muslim public opinion here. In an editorial for The Guardian earlier this week, Ismail wrote about how his mother messaged him to check on his safety because he was then in the US, much as she'd always done before when he was in "unstable" countries.


"I think it's awesome what Devolver is doing," he said. "While it can never replace the experience and network of being at GDC, and for those that already paid for flights it'll never refund the many months or years of saving up money, it does make a difference to know someone cares and will stand for you and your craft."

For a video game developer, missing out on GDC could mean a host of missed opportunities. Last year's show broke records going all the way back to 1988 with an attendance in excess of 27,000 professionals, up a thousand from the year before, and this for a conference with all-access tickets that cost more than $1,500. (Fortunately, GDC is issuing refunds for developers affected by the ban.) GDC also hosts overseas conventions in Germany and China, yet neither approaches the numbers the convention draws each year in San Francisco.

"GDC is a wonderful event that provides developers education, experience, and wealth of knowledge from other developers through formal talks, panels, and casual conversations over dinner," Wilson said. "There is a real sense of community there that isn't found at other tradeshows or conventions, which it makes it all the more disappointing that some folks are being prevented from attending and contributing to those conversations."

And should the ban continue or expand, Devolver is open to the idea of extending it to future conventions such as June's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. "If there is a need and demand for it, we hope to accommodate developers in situations like this as best we can," Wilson said.

As for Ismail, he encourages anyone else who wants to help to "speak up, help out, and raise funds." But if current trends keep up, he's not against advocating the wholesale move of such an important industry event to a different nation entirely. "For the center of our industry to be in a country locked off for part of the world is obviously unacceptable, but I'd much rather we fix that problem than move GDC," he says. "If the ban is extended, or gets worse, I'd be in favor of a new location. Canada sounds nice."