Why this game developer thinks Philly is ‘lucky to be an indie culture’

Julian Castillo wants more love shown for the local video game development community: "Don't count Philly out."

A scene from the 2019 Independent Games Festival.

(Photo courtesy of Julian Castillo)

This is a guest post by Julian Castillo, a digital media professional and member of Philly's indie game development community.

Editor’s note: Last week, published a Q&A with Philadelphia Game Lab founder Nathan Solomon, who opined that Philly couldn’t become a “hub” for game development because of its lack of other creative industries and relevant tax breaks, to name a few reasons. Reader response was swift and (mostly) negative — at least on Twitter. Even before I put out a call for responses, Julian Castillo sent a thoughtful email detailing his desire to highlight the good news coming from the community he’d been working in for the past two years. Below is an updated version of that note, republished with permission. -jz

I read the recently released article regarding Philadelphia Game Lab and the Philly game development community. I thought it was really interesting, but doesn’t entirely represent the truth of the growth that’s been happening there for the past few years current Philly game scene.

I’m recently integrated into the Philly game community. In January 2018 my roommate, Brian Palladino, and I brought a very small indie game to Philly — too small to mention by name. We met with Philly Game Mechanics (PGM), a vivacious group of misfit and professional game devs showing a strong will to create, learn and grow, and with little to no funding.

They helped build friendships that (fortunately) turned into full-time careers for me and Brian.

Within a year of being introduced to PGM, Brian signed on full-time at PHL Collective as a programmer. Most of what they do is under contract and can’t spoken about publicly, but they’re a moderately sized team taking on large contracts and following a successful path.

I worked for a year with Gossamer Games, a student team out of Drexel University that was named a finalist for “Best Student Game” at the Independent Games Festival (IGF) Awards 2019 for Sole. We went out to San Francisco’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March alongside fellow Philadelphian Jeremy Gable and his “Excellence in Narrative”-nominated project, Watch Me Jump. Another student team, SplitSide Games, had an honorable mention by IGF and was featured in the Indie MEGABooth at PAX East in Boston for Fling to the Finish. They’re likely to sign a publishing deal.


Thanks to Drexel and its Entrepreneurial Game Studio, there’s a better opportunity for student companies to transition into self-functioning LLCs in the years after college. Their most recent success is helping Pharaoh Hound Games bring Sons of Ra to this year’s E3 College Game Competition. At PAX East, Gossamer Games was on the showroom floor alongside One Step From Eden — a game by local dev Thomas Moon Kang that funded $70,000 on Kickstarter — and Red Essence Games’ Mask of Semblance.

While I found myself unexpectedly in San Francisco for our game efforts, I was constantly running into a Philadelphia community of about 20 to 30 people.

This included Jake O’Brien, the owner from Old City’s Flyclops, the team that made the PhillyTron; local community members working the GDC floor; and a handful of local student teams. I was lucky to be at events speaking with the major contributors for gave dev communities across the U.S. with Alex Gilbert from local Red Queen Gaming. Our team met with the director of marketing at XBox Game Pass, became friends with a lead organizer of Indie MEGABooth as she planned her move from Oakland to Philly (she texted me two days ago saying she’s settled in!), and chatted the teams behind Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man.

In the last quarter, I started a job with Screenwave Media, a team of about 20 in Bucks County’s Chalfont, publishing indie games and working as a self-funded multi-channel network. (Check out our next release, Eagle Island!)

I say all of this to simply note that there’s a local presence that’s larger than some might expect in Philly. We want to encourage game creation in Philadelphia and inform those looking to leave our city for work to reconsider. The local game dev community is hoping to grow and it’s sad to see it barely mentioned in the recent read. This industry is young and Philadelphia is the largest city without a AAA-game studio presence (basically, high production value and large budget productions).

We’re lucky to be an indie culture. Don’t count Philly out just yet.

Oh — and the Fusion arena is coming soon, so hopefully that further fuels the local community. Fingers crossed!

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