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October 19, 2019
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Four Years of the MADE: A Post Mortem

by Alex Handy on 09/24/15 03:11:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment is a 501c3 non-profit videogame museum located in downtown Oakland. We host playable exhibits of significant works along a theme, and free programming classes for kids and adults. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of game developers.

The MADE is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to move to a larger facility.

On September 27, 2011, the MADE opened its doors for the first time. All we really had was a bunch of old games, and one large collection donated from a friend of mine names Miah. Between my collection and Miah's, we maybe had 100 games and 20 consoles and computers. Maybe.

Today, the MADE has over 5,000 games and over 100 consoles and computers. Though we focus exclusively on console and computer games, we've also accrued a large number of board games, books, strategy guides, posters, and even two full upright arcade machines.

You can see in the above photos that we were not much more than a room with some stuff on tables at the start. The photo above is one of our first events: RJ Mical speaking about his career. At the time, we were horribly embarassed because we had empty seats. Today, the MADE regularly has standing room only events.

Thus, it's time for a post mortem, no? 

What went right:

Our first GDC exhibit: Procedurally generated content

Location: 

While it has been a bit of a double edged sword, we have to come down on the side of our current location being something that went right. You'll see that we also put this under what went wrong, but it's first under what went right because we feel the bad outweighed the good.

For a start, and I would recommend this for anyone starting any kind of business anywhere, our location was cheap. We got it for $1.07 a square foot. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for full service office space that includes power, this is an obscenely low price.

We were very lucky to get this price, and we got it because the realtor/owner of the building wanted to be nice to us to grow a longer term relationship. Since that time, the building has been sold, and is currently undergoing gentrification at a high rate of speed. We could never have gotten this space, this close to BART and city hall and bars and food today. It would have cost double. 

Primarily, this was a result of...

Timing:

When it comes to planning things out, timing is never on your plate. Sure, you build schedules, you set dates, but in terms of actual timing, as in the element of being in the right place at the right time; you can't plan for that.

And yet, we managed to get our space open right as the recession was beginning to recede. Today, Oakland and San Francisco are packed with $2.50 to $4 per square foot spaces. Heck, in SF, full service office space can go for as high as $30 per square foot!

And we're just sitting here in Oakland paying about $2,200 a month in rent. Not bad!

Our volunteers, circa 2012

Volunteers:

We've been very fortunate to have some of the best volunteers you could possibly ask for. Especially in recent years, our voluntees have been willing to go the extra mile and do all the horrible things that need to be done to run a business on a shoestring budget. They've stuffed envelopes for Kickstarter rewards, moved items in my car from as far away as Benicia, and have rarely complained or fussed.

Additionally, some of our volunteers have crazy good skills, like art design, programming, or even speaking Japanese. These have been exceptionally helpful to have on hand, particularly when the time came to deal with Fujitsu around our Habitat resurrection project.

Without our volunteers, we would have nothing and never be open. Because of their enthusiasm and hard work, we're still an all-volunteer run organization with no payroll. 

Of course, lack of a payroll is a bit of a challenge, and that's why volunteers appear twice in this post mortem.

Audio designers

Industry enthusiasm:

I have to say, everyone in the industry has been incredibly supportive and helpful when it comes to advice, ideas and stuff. We've gotten a ton of donations from folks in the industry, and they always bring us amazing things we couldn't have acquired otherwise. From E3 kiosks to help us show games off, to design documents, to boxed copies of games and figures, the industry has been very supportive when it comes to helping us along the way.

Specifically, the luminaries in this industry have come out of the woodwork to show their support. While this doesn't always mean a check, it almost always means a Tweet, a blog post, a phone call intro to someone important, or even just an email to say "hey keep up the good work!"

Without the support of industry veterans, we'd be lost. A big thank you to everyone out there who's helped us. 

Stuff:

The amount of items that have come in for donation is truly staggering. I could never have guessed we'd get as much as we have. From relics like the GamePro donation in November of 2011, to individual donations from closets and garages, to actual outright storage lockers being emptied into our facility, we're always seeing new donations.

And not just from the outside. We've been able to spend a little here and a little there on local outlets to buy up items they'd never sell in a million years. Just this past weekend, in fact, we spent $50 on strategy guides and old programming books at the SF Public Library book sale. That money helps the local libraries, and it's helped to add over 50 books to our collections, and a Z80 dev kit to boot!

We're humbled by the amazing items we've had donated. When we put out the call, the items show up. One particularly important person here at Gamasutra even entrusted his Nuon player to us. There's only, really, one more thing we need that we don't have: a CD-I. Considering we've been at this for four years, and our collection is around 75% complete when it comes to consoles, we're doing pretty well.

Some more things we need: Bally Astrocade, Amiga CD-32, a Phantom, and that darned CD-i!

 

What went wrong:

Location:

Yes, location was something that went right. Still, being on the second floor of an office building, and requiring people to be buzzed in downstairs is super duper less than ideal. Our buzzer doesn't work half the time, and often, the downstairs doors are broken in some way that either leaves them unlocked, or unopenable.

Our visitors have been mugged. Our cars have been ticketed. Occupy Oakland was broken apart by cops on the same night we were having an event. Other events saw no attendance because of riots/protests. Once, the dumpster behind the museum was lit on fire.

If we had to do it all over again, we might not have chosen this spot. But then, if we had to do it all over again, we probably wouldn't have had any other choice. From the time we closed our first Kickstarter for $20,000, we'd spend another 6 months looking for the right spot.

Frankly, it didn't sink us. The fact that we can pack 60 kids in for a Smash tournament, despite having no first floor presence whatsoever.

Volunteers:

Our volunteers rule, there's no doubt about that. I just wish I could pay some of them. It's been very difficult to run a museum with no paid staff. It means a lot of people have to give up their weekends to make the place work, and that's not fair to anyone.

Volunteers, also, cannot be cajoled into doing things that they don't really want to do in the first place. It's easy to find people to staff the museum for a normal weekend, but it's basically impossible to do so on a holiday weekend, as everyone wants the time off. And that's fine: we're closed on holiday weekends because of it.

Given a paid staff, however, we could be doing so much more with our museum. It's really been a major source of stress, as there is no safety net, and every time we ask volunteers to do something awful, it hurts. They shouldn't have to do awful things, only the fun stuff. We should be able to pay someone to do the awful things, like taking out the garbage, or hauling TVs to the recycling center, and leave the volunteers to teach and show people games.

Sadly, unless a miracle happens, we simply don't have the funds to change this.

Our signed etymology of game companies poster, on display in our space, now.

Industry support:

I don't want to sounds like I am bitching here: I'll have to walk a very tight line on this one. Individually, we've had great support from members of the games industry: People like Trip Hawkins, David Scott, Will Wright and others have all been hugely generous. Videogame companies, however, are almost completely nonexistent in our budget. This is unconscionable.

Our biggest sponsors are as follows: Google, Dolby, Perforce, Sony, and Jon Peddie Research. We've had donations from Kixeye and Rackspace along the way, but other than these companies, not a single other game company has stepped up to help us out financially.

This is not to say we have not tried to get them on board. We would never have gotten Sony without trying. And this is also not to say that we need giant checks from these organizations: Rackspace has only ever given us $500. We're not greedy. We simply want the industry's approval and help. Our work is important, and their support would validate that fact. Archiving the history of this industry can not be done by one person inside each company. It's a collective work we all need to share.

So I sit here and ask you directly, industry: why are your tools and services vendors paying for a museum about your industry? The fact that Google is our biggest corporate sponsor is just ridiculous when there are so many large, profitable game companies out there. This is something akin to having a car museum, and having it all be paid for by TurtleWax and MacDonalds instead of Ford or Mercedes.

We're doing all of this work to preserve your digital heritage, and to preserve the history of this industry as a whole. There is absolutely no reason it should be this hard for us to pull dollars out of the larger firms in the games business. We understood when we started this would be tough, but the responses we got then were always "Go out and do some things, then come back and show us what you've done."

Well, industry, we're back, we've done a hell of a lot. It's time to get on board. I see no reason why companies like Activision, EA, Microsoft, and Nintendo can't start supporting our work, too. Their employees and even their founders are already supporting us, after all, and I think we've proven, at this point, that we will not be wasting anyone's money.

As far as preservation goes, the MADE is your single biggest bang for the buck out there in game preservation, with Archive.org running a close second. We're nowhere near Archive's size, but we're a heck of a lot cheaper to run: 60k a year covers all our expenses. If every company I just called out contributed $10k per year, we would not have to worry about paying the rent in our new space, ever, and could focus down on more preservation work and more classes.

An average weekend at the MADE today

Organization:

You have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to organize a collection that grows by 5% per week. For the first 2 years it was easy: we just filled out the space and bought furniture to store it in.

Today, however, we're bursting at the seams. We've managed to keep the games in alphabetical order, but the hardware is just out of control. Bankers boxes are all too often not the right size for storing something like an Atari 5200 or even a Playstation 3, and we're constantly having to do rounds of reorganization.

Add to that the fact that we also have a huge catalog of PC games that are tough to display. Putting them on a shelf implies that people can play them, but as we all know, PC games don't just come off the shelf and get played: you have to install them on a PC of the proper era. We hope to solve this problem some day, but for now we only show single, PC games at a time in our themed exhibits.

Additionally, because we're volunteer run, and because organizing is boring, it's often difficult to get volunteers to help with this task. Add to that the fact that we're often quite busy when open, and you've got a recipe for a collection in dire need of someone with OCD.

We do the best that ew can, but I really hope to fix this in the new space with some better shelving so we can just display everything we have in storage on visible shelves.

An early HTML 5 class

Building integrity:

You may have heard this one already. The reason we're moving isn't entirely about being too full. Sure, we've got too much stuff, and our events are overflowing, but the real reason we need to move is that the ceiling collapsed in our classroom in March, day one of GDC 2015.

No one was hurt, but the building was constructed in 1912, and thus, the ceiling was made of iron. It crushed our computers and equipment, and would have killed anyone in there when it fell. Thankfully, we were closed that morning when it fell.

Our new space will have two classrooms, and the ceilings won't fall in on either. We'll be able to reboot our classes again, and continue the educational work we've done thus far. We've taught over 400 students, over 200 of which were kids. It's time to get back to work. With your help, we can continue to change lives and inspire the next generation of game developers.


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