Copyright Sebastian St. Schulz

Berlin's games industry is vibrant, innovative, and diverse, much like the city itself

Jörg Friedrich and Sebastian Schulz, Co-Founders Paintbucket Games

Founded in 2018, Paintbucket Games' mission is to develop video games that leave a lasting impact and focus on strong narratives. Their award-winning games focus lies on political, historical, and commemorative content. With the co-founders Jörg Friedrich and Sebastian Schulz, we talked about their recent win at DCP 2023, the core beliefs of the studio and the difference between their own productions and work-for-hire.

Congratulations to your wins at Deutscher Computerspielpreis for Best Serious Game (Beholder 3) and Studio of the Year. What does this kind of recognition mean to you personally and as an indie studio?

This recognition is deeply meaningful to us on multiple levels. On a personal level, it validates the countless hours and the passion we've put into creating our games. We've always believed in the power of gaming as a medium to explore important issues and generate thoughtful discussions. These awards affirm that we're on the right track. For us as an indie studio, it's not just about validation but also about visibility. These awards help us reach a larger audience, giving our messages a wider platform. They also provide a significant morale boost to our team and reinforce our commitment to making games that stand for something more.

Why was Berlin the right place to found Paintbucket Games?

Berlin is a vibrant, diverse city with a rich history and a strong sense of community. Its open-mindedness and acceptance of a variety of viewpoints perfectly aligns with our studio's ethos. Furthermore, Berlin has a thriving indie game scene which is full of creative individuals and studios pushing the boundaries of what games can be. The spirit of innovation and collaboration in this city is infectious, making it the perfect place to set up Paintbucket Games.

You are part of “Saftladen”, a collective of award-winning game development studios. What advantages does that bring?

Being part of the Saftladen collective is immensely beneficial. It provides a supportive, collaborative environment where we can share ideas, give and receive feedback, and draw on a wealth of diverse experiences. It's a space where creativity thrives, and it offers resources and a network that can be invaluable for indie developers. Beyond the practical advantages, it fosters a sense of community that can be incredibly motivating.

Speaking of community, what’s your take on Berlin’s games industry in general?

Berlin's games industry is vibrant, innovative, and diverse, much like the city itself. The fact that it spans everything from AAA studios to solo indie developers allows for a rich variety of games. The community is supportive, providing a nurturing environment for developers of all sizes and levels of experience. We appreciate the sense of camaraderie and the willingness to push boundaries and explore new ideas. Berlin's games industry is a testament to the power of diversity and creativity, and we're proud to be part of it.

Your focus lies on political, historical, and commemorative content. Why are games as a medium so well suited to adapt these topics?

Games, as an interactive medium, have a unique power to generate empathy and understanding by allowing players to "walk in someone else's shoes". They offer an immersive, active experience, which is distinct from the passive consumption of content in other forms. When dealing with political, historical, and commemorative topics, games enable us to explore complex issues from multiple perspectives. They can simulate experiences and consequences in a safe environment, making them an ideal tool for promoting critical thinking and emotional connection to these subjects.

You want to set a statement against racism, anti-Semitism, and any other form of group-based hostility towards people with your games. How do you incorporate these beliefs into your game design?

We incorporate our beliefs into our game design by ensuring that our narratives and mechanics align with our stance against bigotry. Our games don't glorify or trivialize racism, anti-Semitism, or any form of group-based misanthropy. Instead, they highlight the harmful impacts of such behavior and often give players choices that enable them to challenge and stand against such ideologies. We aim to create experiences that provoke thought and facilitate dialogue about these issues.

What kind and how much research goes into your games?

A significant amount of research goes into our games. We consult historical records, speak with subject matter experts, and thoroughly investigate the cultural, social, and political contexts of the periods and places we depict. We feel a deep responsibility to portray these accurately and respectfully. This commitment to authenticity helps us create meaningful and impactful narratives.

You also do work-for-hire for museums, educational institutions, and memorial sites. What are the differences when working for hire as supposed to working on your own games?

Working for hire brings different challenges and rewards compared to working on our own games. When developing our own games, we have complete creative control, which allows us to delve into topics we're passionate about. However, it also means taking on all the financial risk. When we work for hire, the client has a specific vision that we must respect and adhere to. It might restrict our creative input to some extent, but it can also introduce us to new perspectives and help us grow as developers. Plus, it provides a steady source of income, allowing us to sustain the studio and continue making the games we love.