"You can make a game everywhere, but that's about it," Ismail said. "We want to change that last point: No matter where you are, your economical situation, your legal status or what language you speak, we want there to be a games conference you can go to, learn from and contribute to."
The goal of Gamedev.world is to help diversify, not divide, the video-game industry. It's not a new mission for Ismail, who is one half of indie studio Vlambeer, and a creator of Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box and Nuclear Throne. The idea for a language-agnostic global games conference took off in 2015 with the first "gamedev.world" showcase at the Games For Change festival in New York City. Ismail and Sarah Elmaleh, best known as the voice of Katie in Gone Home, organized that initial showing, too.
It goes even further back than that for Ismail. He said he grew up between two cultures -- Dutch and Egyptian -- and he remembered falling in love with video games as a kid, regularly playing as an English-speaking man shooting aliens, monsters or distinctly Arab-looking enemies.
"Why was the Arabic in all the games set in the Arab world wrong?"
"It honestly didn't bother me too much back then -- I was a kid that got to play games -- but when I started making games it started to bother me," Ismail said. "Where were these other games? Wouldn't it make sense that there'd be games that were the other way around? And why was the Arabic in all the games set in the Arab world wrong?"
These questions pestered Ismail more and more as he found success as an indie developer. He quickly realized the enormous influence that games could have over a culture, because they could connect with anyone, anywhere, through the magic of play. Playful activities, like kicking a ball back and forth with someone, didn't require words, Ismail said. The video-game complex could have been an inclusive field where people from different backgrounds communicated through the basics of play, but as it turned out, industry standards excluded a lot of developers and perpetuated stereotypes in the process.
"The best way to fix that seems to be to fix whatever structural and accidental boundaries might be in the way of more diverse creators," Ismail said. "If game development is possible everywhere, what is stopping some territories and cultures from adding their voice to a language-less medium?"
"[It's] a production effort the size of a large multinational broadcast, not a small team of game developers."
Gamedev.world is an attempt to even out the playing field for aspiring developers anywhere on Earth. It's a complicated undertaking rife with unforeseen issues and unconscious biases, so Ismail and Elmaleh have tapped a handful of collaborators to serve as an advisory board for the show. These include Brazilian developer and Pro Indie Dev founder Gabriel Dal Santo, The Molasses Flood founder Gwen Fey from the US, and Tunisian Global Game Jam board member Houssem Ben Amor.
"The scale of Gamedev.world is far larger than the Gamedev.world team could have predicted," Ismail said. "Creating dependable, multilanguage closed captioning, live, is a production effort the size of a large multinational broadcast, not a small team of game developers."
Ismail and Elmaleh are moving ahead with Gamedev.world anyway. It'll be hard -- but so is game development, especially for folks outside of the major industry hubs.
"As I traveled the entire globe for the past decade, I've met game developers in the most incredible circumstances, in impossible contexts," Ismail said. "Knowing how much effort game development takes in a country as cozy, organized, consistent and safe as the Netherlands has given me so much respect for developers in places that might not have those privileges -- these developers love games with a passion or they'd find something easier and more welcoming to do."