ST. PAUL - Press start to continue.
Evva Kraikul was studying neuroscience to eventually become a doctor. Then she decided to hit reset. Now, as co-founder of the nonprofit Glitch, she helps people create video games.
“It started off with a super random thing,” Kraikul said. “I was watching YouTube StarCraft videos from the old pro league and thought, ‘How do I put my love for games back in my current coursework?’”
Headquartered on the University of Minnesota’s west bank, Glitch helps incipient game designers create, develop and publish games. The organization has helped designers throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.
Kraikul and co-founder Nic VanMeerten, were undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota when they founded Glitch in May 2010. Kraikul was completing her pre-med degree in neuroscience but missed the days when she programmed battle simulators for America Online chat rooms. “I come from a traditional Thai family,” Kraikul said. “But I’ve had a computer since age 3.”
Though it started as a collegiate group, Glitch has since broadened its reach. The group has helped implement game-related curricula at the U and the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Kraikul said.
“Glitch is a community of nerds who enjoy playing and making games,” she said. “And we build programs to help you do the same.”
Digital games have become more prevalent and culturally accepted, but Glitch and its nerds still face hurdles. “Though perspectives are changing, we’re still not at the widely accepted level,” Kraikul said. “Video games are still perceived as ‘for kids and not for me.’”
Yet the numbers say otherwise: 60 percent of Americans play video games and the majority of players are adults aged between 18 and 35, according to the Entertainment Software Association. As that generation ages, it’s love for games likely will grow with it.
And there’s certainly money to be made. Video games have become a $16.8 billion revenue industry in the U.S. and generated $79.7 billion worldwide last year, according to the International Trade Administration. U.S. revenues are projected to increase by another $3 billion by 2019.
Glitch offers weekly events and has larger educational programs throughout the year. Its two-week Immersion program, occurring in January, takes a group of 20 people and asks them to stay awhile and listen - a joke any gamer should instantly get - as professionals educate them on a game development topic from start to finish. A past program resulted in an augmented reality game for the Minnesota Historical Society called Play the Past.
Augmented reality, a technology recently brought to the masses through this past summer’s wildly popular Pokemon Go, is where computer imagery is superimposed on an image of an actual place - like a museum. In Play the Past, students are given a mobile device to explore and interact with quests embedded in the exhibit.
Gltich’s Incubator program offers two to five developers a nine-month apprenticeship where they are matched with an industry professional. As part of the apprenticeship, the developers make a commissioned game that debuts at the organization’s largest event called Glitchcon. This is a two-day event in April that features panelists, exhibits and play testing for games made by emerging game makers. Last year, the event drew 600 people.
Glitch’s other services include mobile application development, game analytics, web browser game development and virtual reality.
Though the U.S. video game industry is generally established in California, Minnesota makes notable contributions. Game Informer magazine, a monthly video game publication, is based in Minneapolis and has a circulation of 6.3 million, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
“Minnesota’s art community is insane,” Kraikul said. “Minnesota is in such a great position for an organization like ours in terms of finding dollars for arts and philanthropy.” Yet Kraikul explained that it’s sometimes difficult to receive grant money - because of the medium.
“Art communities don’t regard video games as art and venture capitalists don’t look at them unless it’s new hardware or software.”