Women of gaming: the first indie developer

To celebrate international women's day, we're discussing the very first indie developer

James Troughton
8th March 2020
It's international women's day and to celebrate, I thought I'd discuss the story of indie gaming's beginnings which were not with a small studio or a lone male in their garage, but with the very first contractor, Joyce Weisbecker.

This lesser-known figure in the gaming industry began by working on titles for the RCA Studio II, which was the console designed by her father's company. She was arguably the very first contractor as she was not employed by her father or his company, but she did make games for them in her spare time.

You had the equivalent of two black-and-white 32-by-32 Windows icons, and that was your entire screen. You try doing it! You know? You try making an entire game that fits in two Windows icons.

Joyce Weisbecker

When you think of indie gaming, you likely conjure up images of Hollow Knight, The Binding of Isaac, Stardew Valley or something similar, which are all more modern examples, but the smaller niche scene dates all the way back to the 1970s.

However, indie gaming wasn't nearly as viable way-back-when, as there wasn't a quick way to sell your release without a big publisher, meaning that smaller developers only really shared their work with friends, magazines or by sending their programs through the mail one by one.

Joyce discussed this limitation and the difficulty of the scene in the 1970s: "You look around and you say, 'Okay, do I really want to live at home and spend every night duplicating cassettes, and going down to the post office and making photocopies of the instruction manual, and coming home and putting them in little plastic Ziploc bags and mailing them off to people?' That was the computer game industry at the time."

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Her work was never released in stores as her father's company ultimately failed, and she eventually stopped altogether to focus on her college work, but her status as gaming's first indie developer and contractor should not be forgotten.

Featured image credit: @Hagley_Library (Twitter)

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