Bari Silvestre made me think “What’s my excuse?”
I was called a lot of things when I was younger. Frustrated game developer was perhaps one of those. I wanted to be one, but could never find the time for it. There were many things to do and be mindful of, like studies, financial responsibilities, and social obligations and expectations. Even if I could program or draw, there was just not enough time and not enough opportunities. So moving on from that dream was my only option. That is why I am often drawn stories about game developers and their road to being one. Bari Silvestre’s story of being an ”underground” game developer is one of those.
Bari Silvestre is a game developer, and the brains behind Philippine company Keybol Games. His game Pretentious won the Director’s Choice Award, and was also nominated for Best Storytelling Award at San Francisco’s Casual Connect in August 2013.
Silvestre is doing good for himself. He has given talks in Japan and Singapore, and is currently listed as one of the top ten developers in FGL.com, a site for game developers, publishers, and sponsors. But what’s even more interesting is how he got to where he is today.
Before game development
I first heard of Bari Silvestre during the Philippine Game Development Festival (PGDF), when Alvin Juban, president of the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP) started talking about him. During a presentation, Juban related a conversation he had with Silvestre. “So what were you doing before [game development]?” he asked, to which the latter replied with, “I was working in South Korea.”
Now anyone who follows the game industry —be it as a player or as a developer—knows that South Korea is one of the best places to be when it comes to games. It is the home of eSports and of many popular MMORPGs. What else would a game developer do there but work in a gaming company?
Well, at least that was what I thought. So did Juban. Until I learned what Silvestre said when he was asked what exactly he did: “Factory worker, sir.” That certainly raised an eyebrow. Then Juban mentioned the next thread of his conversation with Silvestre. The GDAP President thought that perhaps Silvestre could have been a graduate of a game development course. Silvestre’s answer – “accounting, sir” – raised both my eyebrows.
At that point, Silvestre’s story had 120% of my attention. I wanted to speak with this man myself. I had to hear his story from his own lips. It was imperative.
Learning about Bari Silvestre
When he was young, Silvestre loved drawing. He would always be sketching his myriad of ideas. He talked about making his fighting game-inspired characters move by drawing them frame-by-frame on paper, about illustrating game concepts with leaping frogs. In spite of his own ambitions, Silvestre took up accounting to fulfill his parents’ wishes; after graduation he was able to land a steady job, but this did not make him happy.
Silvestre tried switching careers to being a graphic artist, but the pay wasn’t good enough for him to get married and start a family. So he decided to search for greener pastures in South Korea. There, Silvestre landed a job as a factory worker. In his spare time, he started learning about game development. He would research and scour the internet for tutorials, articles, examples, codes, and helpful sites.
After two years in Korea, Silvestre decided to fly home to the Philippines and work locally. Once again, he applied as a graphic artist, but to no avail. Everyone was looking for a senior graphic artist with a lot of experience. Silvestre was starting from the bottom.
Undaunted, he decided to make use of what he had then. He developed a simple browser game to generate income with Google AdSense, but of course that wasn’t enough. Searching for alternative options and learning more about game development in the process, Silvestre found out about FGL.com, a site that connects game developers with sponsors and publishers. He signed up.
Competition was tough. There were already a lot of other developers on there, but Silvestre continued to make his games. As time went by, he began making a name for himself – not just as a developer with a huge library of games, but also as one who could push out games within short timespans.
By and by, publishers and sponsors started noticing his work and eventually bought some of his games. But it was only when Pretentious started winning awards that Silvestre’s reputation soared.
Taking a look at Keybol Games
Today, Silvestre has 24 games available on his site, Keybol Games. Each of these games employ similar concepts, instructions and mechanics, but are coupled with a creative theme and an engaging story.
Keybol Games are thus able to produce multiple games based on the same concepts, but with a variety of form and structures, which cater to players with different preferences. So Silvestre isn’t just a hard worker – he’s also a smart one.
What’s our excuse?
As I mentioned earlier, I was a frustrated game developer who was not able to fulfill that dream due to time constraints and responsibilities. I also know of others who share the same story; other game developer wannabes who never got the chance, who have given up because “it’s too late now”.
I told this to Bari Silvestre and without batting an eye, he said, “There is no such thing as too late.”