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Ubisoft Indie Series winner shares their journey from TMU to the gaming industry

By Jake MacAndrew

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) journalism alumnus Funké Joseph worked a series of odd writing jobs throughout their undergraduate studies. 

They wrote video game news and culture features for publications like IGN, Vice and even worked as an online editor at The Eyeopener. Although they initially pursued a career in journalism, industry hardships and a calling to video games gave them a start in game development—leading to a big industry win at Ubisoft last month.

Before graduating in 2021, Joseph ran a small zine—Play Underground—with some friends that focused on games, music and culture. Branching out from writing into podcasting and general creative content, the zine was an incubator for the team’s talent while in school.

“We were literally trying everything in the industry by ourselves, just to be like, ‘hey, what do we like and how do we do this?’” Joseph said. “Bigger companies are doing it, so why can’t we just do it? And that was cool.”

Joseph continued to pursue their passion for journalism as a staff writer at Fanbyte following their graduation—only to get laid off a year and a half later. 

“I kind of knew that layoffs were a thing [in the journalism industry], so I saved up a little bit,” Joseph said. “I found a job as a creative producer [and] marketing editor, where I could translate a lot of my skills from journalism with and just like working in games. With this job, I’ve seen a lot of the back-end of games from conception to production to post-launch.”

In this role, Joseph realized their true love for journalism was in storytelling. Writing narrative storylines, Joseph plugged them into engines such as open-source online storyteller Twine—proving the structure for a game storyline. They got some game-enthused friends together and started making games in each other’s free time. 

“We just met up for an hour or two each week and started writing down ideas,” Joseph said. “From this, I formed Play Underground Games…It’s a new thing, but like from the ashes of Play Underground, the zine.”

Stacked with a team of their friends from the original Play Underground team, the games division has been working on an interactive music game for the past year.

Although not much information can be shared on the upcoming project, Joseph said “It’s a game about how scary it is to make something and share that with the pressure of art and making stuff in a capitalist world.”

Whatever the game may be, it piqued the interest of French video game publisher Ubisoft. Play Underground Games won the grand prize—$50,000—at Ubisoft’s 2024 Indie Series in Ontario—an annual competition for independent game development studios to help their games reach new heights.

“We’re trying to bring our multimedia passions and experience into a genre that traditionally does not support that,” Joseph said.

Their studio has been taking strides as they receive funding from Ubisoft for their game’s development. Helping the team continue to get paid as they work on their passion. 

“We have more of an idea of our game because the application process was like, ‘What’s your pitch? What’s your budget like?’ So answering those questions helped us just straight up off the bat to figure out the scope of our game and our vision.”

No release date has been set for the game but Joseph said more information is coming “very soon.” In the meantime, Play Underground Games continues to seek support for their blossoming independent game studio.

“We started making a game in September and we’ve won the Ubisoft Indie Series competition in a few months. So, I think it’s really possible for anyone who has an idea and the ability to stick with it,” Joseph said. 

They believe self-publishing games is the most powerful thing a creative person can do with something like their own video game. Although tougher to do than working with a larger publisher, “I want a space where indies can do their own big without having to rely on like everyone else.”

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