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What's in a Name: Shadegrown Games

Justin McElroy

It's time for another origin story of an industry presence. Today, it's Matthew Burns who isn't quite sure if choosing Shadegrown Games makes him a hippie or a yuppie:

I worked on big-budget titles in the game industry for about 10 years. I was a producer on the Halo series at Bungie, and before that I worked at Activision on Call of Duty. When you work on that games that big, the business really comes down to economies of scale: you have to sell millions of copies to recoup the millions of dollars you spent on making the thing. So people get pretty risk-adverse... there's hundreds of employees and millions on the line, so everyone retreats to tried-and-true themes, proven gameplay mechanics, and so on.

When I left to start my own company, I wanted to be weird and make games that people hadn't seen before– explore some of the ideas I had about game design, interactive music and other aspects of development. I had a few dozen words and phrases I wrote down to express these kinds of concepts, but none of them were really sticking.

One day I was trying to explain the difference between what I was doing before to what I was doing now to someone who knew nothing about the industry. Somehow, I came up with this long-winded metaphor about how you can go to the farmer's market and buy locally grown produce from the same people who sow and harvest it. This as compared to the way it's done at the agribusiness scale, with lots of plants crowded together and coated with fertilizer and pesticide. Plowing everything over results in big returns for a few years, but it also depletes the soil in the long run and results in poisonous runoff. You can probably think of a couple franchises that are run this way...

Anyway, after that, I kept thinking about this idea of "organically grown" games. Games that sort of take on their own life and go wherever they want to. Games that are better on the health of the people who both make and play them. Games that aren't built on the backs of two hundred hundred hapless employees worked to the bone and fed through a meat grinder. I finally hit on the term I would use when I saw a package of "shade-grown coffee," which is a kind of coffee that's grown inside a complete ecosystem, under the the tree canopy. Apparently it's better for the environment and results in a happier plant.

You could say that's all a bit hippie, or yuppie, but hey, we're based in Seattle– coffee snobbery is par for the course here! Plus it's always overcast, so I can point out that our games are also quite literally grown in the shade.

Shadegrown Games is currently creating a music game called Planck. Like this feature? Be sure to check out the What's In A Name Archives.