We reached out for comment from Rami Ismail and Jupiter Hadley regarding their thoughts on the meditations project and how it’s been handled. Here are their thoughts.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the people interviewed. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the staff or contributors of this site, nor should they be taken as such.

Jupiter Hadley

Could you give us an overview of your involvement with the project as a contributor, your role, and what drew you to the project?

I have had a few different roles in the project. When Rami told me about Meditations back a year or so, I had thought he was explaining it just as a contributor. He also asked me if I was able to find developers and curate them, adding them to the project. After picking a date for my own game, I started gathering developers and being a middle person between quite a few of them and the project. I really liked the idea of a bunch of little experiences, each by different developers. There is something magical about this project and seeing so many tiny personal games.

We’ve been looking somewhat into social media engagement and general engagement with the meditations project as a whole, could you tell us what your personal impression of community engagement with the project has been, and any trends in engagement that you’ve noticed from the launch of the project in January to now?

At the launch of the project there was a lot of hype, and now we do have a few people who regularly cover each and every game, which is super cool. Comments tend to be on larger developer’s games or developer’s who share their game with their audience. Some of the social media engagement is bug reports – and has been for the duration of the project, as the project has been quite live in development, meaning that games are being put into the launcher still so it wasn’t too big of a download to begin with.

So, there was some controversy with regards to the crediting process for contributors to the project with several contributors apparently unaware of the fact that they wouldn’t be credited for their work until their meditation came up in the rotation.  What do you think precisely led to that situation?

Managing hundreds of game developers is always going to be a super tricky situation. There is a lot to convey and a lot of information that needed to be thought and decided upon. When people did raise concerns about crediting, Rami did a bunch of surveys, and it turned out the best course of action according to those involved, was to leave them as is.

Additionally, what are your thoughts on the meditations project as a whole, how it turned out vs the original intent for the project, and any thoughts you had on what you think could be done differently (if anything) for projects of this nature in the future?

I think a project of this scale is a massive undertaking. It’s just really a lot to do – there are of course so many changes that could have been made, like gathering more information from each developer who choose a date or obviously communicating better with those involved. I really love the meditations project as a whole, there are so many wonderful games, cute experiences, and the idea that so many developers came together to do this is simply wonderful. I can’t believe I got to be involved with such a massive undertaking and it came out this great.

How do you feel about the reception of the wider industry and the folks who are pretty established in the indie community?  Additionally, has it had any effect on your opinion of the possibility/feasibility of micro games in the industry as a whole?

I’ve always been a fan of micro games. Game jams make a lot of microgames and having this many all in one place has been a pretty cool experience. As for the wider industry reception, I’m not really sure. At the start, there was a lot of people super interested in the project suddenly, and still we are having people reach out, comment about it, and really enjoy the games – from various different sizes. I’ll always be happy with people seeing these creations.

What lessons did you learn from the experience with regards to running projects of this scale in the future, and is that something you think you’d be involved with again in the future?

For me, I was brought onto this project after it was already established. I’d love to be involved with something like this again in the future, but would happily be apart of it from the start, which would help my understanding of massive projects and planning be much better.

Were you happy with the data that was collected from the project, and was there any additional data you’d have liked to have collected on top of the data that the project did manage to capture?

I’m really not sure what this means.

Do you have any reflections on how the handling of the project could have harmed or otherwise been problematic for marginalized artists involved with the project?  And what do you believe the team’s weaknesses were in handling this?

I reached out to many, many different developers from all walks of life. I feel like taking opportunities, when I have had the time and energy, has really made a difference in my life and I wanted loads of other developers to get that opportunity. It’s up to them if they take it. So I am not really sure how to answer this question.

What do you think the outcome of including high profile artists in the project was?  Do you think it could have done more harm than good and led to the higher profile participants overshadowing the smaller contributors involved with the project?

I feel that having a mix of developers provides a big mix of points of views and moments within their lives. Having these larger developers sprinkled throughout the year was always the plan, to make sure the project still has eyes on it beyond the initial reception. I do not think this did more harm than good, though can understand that point of view. I feel that some people are always going to pick what developer’s moments they want to see, but are likely to grab a day after or a few more days that look interesting to them, at the least.

Are there any additional comments you’d like to make with regards to the project as a whole, or any comments you’d like to make to any developers who felt their voices may not have been heard/were hurt by the approaches to crediting early on in the project during its initial spike in media interest?

I did not have anything to do with the crediting process and cannot comment on it. I am very proud of the project as a whole and am happy with all of the contributors who have taken part.

Rami Ismail

We’ve been looking somewhat into social media engagement and general engagement with the meditations project as a whole, could you tell us what your personal impression of community engagement with the project has been, and any trends in engagement that you’ve noticed from the launch of the project in January to now?

I think the community engagement is somewhat muted – I’ve heard from several people that they don’t feel like tweeting every day, even though they might be playing most days. We’re definitely seeing spikes when community conversation increases, but it’s such an experimental project that knowing which ones will and won’t spike is hard to say. From data logs, it seems between 7.5 and 10 thousand people download the launcher file each start of month. All I know is that some of those are students being told to play the games by game design teachers for analysis practice.

Second, we know there was some controversy with regards to the crediting process for contributors to the project which you’ve previously attributed to an issue of miscommunication, would you care to elaborate on what, specifically, you think caused the breakdown of communication from your perspective?

Most of the communication failure was me assuming something was clear – the idea that this was a ‘performance’ with credits at the end – while for others the assumption was different, and they were blindsided when things weren’t the way they hoped. There’s many ways it could’ve been avoided, I could’ve been more clear, I could’ve asked, they could’ve asked, they could’ve stated their expectation – but in the end it is a project I created, and I have a visible position in games, so I should’ve gotten it right.

Additionally, what are your thoughts on the meditations project as a whole, how it turned out vs how you originally envisioned it, and any thoughts you had on what you would do differently (if anything) if you ran a project of this nature again in the future?

I’m super impressed by the project. It was and remains a lot of work, with developers sending in their games last-minute if they hadn’t yet, or games breaking on the day of, or ‘customer support’ in general – but it is very worth it. The thankful messages from the developers and players alike are plenty, and while I think Meditations is a singular piece that I will not ‘do’ again, it’ll start looping at the end of year for as long as I can upkeep that server.

(We also reached out to Rami with a series of follow-up questions, however at time of publication he is yet to respond with comment)

We also reached out to 2 Mello (@MelloMakes on twitter), a musician who helped to signal boost the concerns of game developers involved with the meditations project, for his thoughts on the matter as someone who had extensive contact with developers who had concerns regarding the project.

Game Composer 2 Mello

First, I know there was some controversy surrounding the credit process for contributors to the project, could you tell me your impression of how this happened?

The crediting process took both people in the games community and many people contributing to the project by surprise. At first, the only credits were for the small team that designed the project itself and the actual developers of the games were listed as “350+ fine folks”. The full list of developers would be released at the end of the year-long project, and each developer would be credited on the day on which their game appeared, with this credit disappearing at the end of each day.

As an artist myself, I know the placement and timing of credits are absolutely critical to an artist’s recognition, and withholding credits until the project was over destroyed any chance of each developer being able to be attached to the project. The only person truly attached to the project at the beginning and the only person getting interviewed about it and being lauded for creating it was Rami Ismail. I think the problem was extremely visible as soon as the project launched.

What’s your impression of the project as a whole, how it had been handled, and the failings therein?

The project as a whole would have been an ingenious widespread effort to push devs to create a small game and get recognition on a huge platform within games. Besides the crediting issue, there was also the issue of people not getting paid even a small token amount to contribute (350+ devs large and small being asked to work for free is horrifying in the current state of the industry) and the potential issue that creators would spend too long making their Meditations games and end up crunching for the due date or overspending in order to make a standout game and impress during their chance to be seen.

The organizers recommended people make a game that would only take a few hours of their time, but saying harder work is optional does not keep it from happening. Besides remembering to click the launcher every day, the impetus to share each day’s game has been put upon players and no organized effort that I can see is being made by the organizers to boost each game and its developer(s). So on top of the crediting and labor issues, it’s not really clear if anyone is promoting, talking about or playing these games.

I know that multiple developers reached out to you with regards to the project, what was your impression of the general feeling of those developers with how the project was being handled?  Are there any specific comments that particularly struck you in the response to the project?

The developers who contacted me mostly felt upset about the way the project was organized–one more prominent developer said they had understood what the project was going to be ahead of time and consented to it, but many didn’t and one developer gave me a copy of an agreement they all signed that said nothing about the crediting process. They had assumed it would be standard and not that all credits would be revealed together at the end of the year as part of the art.

It feels like there was a rush to get the project running in 2019–allegedly, days were still unassigned to any devs as Meditations was announced, and Jupiter Hadley had been recruited to find more developers in the months before 2019. I’ve been told that the fact that Hadley, a notable indie game champion, was the one contacting devs made them think it was her project, and that understandably inspired some devs’ decision to sign up. Some people participating in the project were struggling financially at the time and could have used any amount of payment to help.

One dev told me that they pointed some students toward applying to the project, thinking that it would be a good opportunity. Others just wanted to talk about that sour feeling you get in your stomach when you’ve signed up to be part of something that suddenly takes on controversy and becomes a weight on you. You want to promote if you made something for Meditations, but when so much of the talk around it looks negative, you also don’t want to be associated.

Do you have any comments on how you think it could have been handled better?

The solution reached by the organizers after concern was expressed was to poll each involved developer on whether they’d like to appear on a partial list of credits. In my opinion, if they had to save the full list of credits for the end of the year, they should have floated the idea of this opt-in partial list to all devs at first contact when agreements were being made. To mitigate the issue of Rami Ismail being the individual most credited for the project as a whole, his name was removed from every part of the website.

Unfortunately, getting to the actual partial list of devs on the website still takes at least two clicks, and every bit of press coverage about Meditations occurred at the beginning of the year and centers around how Ismail launched the project. As thorough of a list as possible of the 350+ workers should have been provided as part of the press release, and the one shot at recognition any of the others involved had has now passed.

It’s also extremely disappointing that there is no official social media presence to announce each game, just an unofficial bot announcing the day, the game and the devs. It would have been great to have a screenshot or video of each game, the devs’ names and links every day from an official Meditations account. The project also has two hashtags: #meditationgames and #meditationsgames, so visibility is split in half and you have to check both. The project is called Meditations, but the official hashtag is #meditationgames, no S–you can see why people would create the other one.

Also, the Meditations website mentions the games can be played again on their designated day each year–does this mean the games are locked into the project, never able to be played or released any other way?

And finally, do you have any other comments you’d like to make with regards to the project?

I hope that someone learns from the mistakes and failures of Meditations and goes on to execute the idea on a more manageable and responsible scale, with better communication and crediting for devs involved. It is a cool idea, but if a GDC talk is held about it, I hope as many of the developers as possible are invited to talk about their games and get the spotlight. Meditations deserves to be more than a vanity project.

The experiences of those involved, directly or otherwise, with the project are certainly diverse, running the gamut of overwhelmingly positive to utterly negative, experiences which are all valid, but have been largely overlooked in the discussion surrounding the meditations project.

There is, however, a recurrent theme of miscommunication and mismatched expectations. Engaging in any project as large and ambitious as this is all but guaranteed to be fraught with potential pitfalls that can understandably slip past one’s guard at the best of times, but is that a justification for a misstep as significant as not adequately communicating a credits process to all contributors involved with a project?

We live in an online culture of all too frequent disregard for authorship and respect for creatives; an issue that has risen to the surface in recent discussions around the crediting standards of outlets like XSEED and Rockstar, and one need look no further than twitter account For Exposure to see the issues surrounding normalization of free labor in creative industries.

What, then, can be learned from this? First is the importance of ensuring that the terms of a project are clear from the outset for all parties, whether that be rate of pay, term of contract, or, as in this case, the implementation of the crediting process.

As journalists, reporters, and commentators in a game industry currently undergoing complex and important conversations around workers rights, unionization, and labour organization, we have an obligation to ensure that the voices of all creatives involved with a project are adequately heard. To avoid reverting to lazy auteur focused approaches, centering only the most famous or front-facing members of a development team, we need to make sure that in discussions around disputes or controversies in the industry, we center not only the voices of those that are the center of these controversies, but also those creatives who themselves have valid grievances to air.

Join us in Part 7 for a list of the wonderful and diverse developers involved with the meditations project along with their current and future projects.

Mx. Medea is a writer, artist, and editor who spends most of their time drawing things with squares and buried under a small pile of endless paper copy. When not working they can be found playing everything from interesting indie fare to oldschool games. You can find them, their art, and their opinions @Mx_Medea on Twitter.