In this interview, we talk to Joris Schnabel, CEO of Berlin-based indie studio Dexai Arts and Co-Founder of the event series Beat' em Hub. He talks about his team that consists solely of family members, their first game "A Tongue like a Sword" and the Berlin community that continues to inspire him. With Beat' em Hub, what started as a casual gaming event, has become a space for the creative industries to collaborate and grow together
How did five career changers manage to get double government funding and find a publisher in their first year?
It was (and still is) a crazy time for us. When we started the project, we were still 5 career changers, with no connection to the local gaming scene or experience in games development and funding. I believe the reason for our success so far is our team and backstory. We are all related (brothers, cousins, brothers-in-law) and grew up together for most of our childhood, so over the years we have learned to laugh, be creative, and argue constructively together. That being said, each and every one of us brings many years of experience and expertise in our respective field of the creative industry. From well-educated and established professionals in fine arts, sound design and information technology, combined with award-winning writers to successful producers in software development, we have everything on board.
You almost all live in Berlin. How important is it for you to collaborate with the local creative scene and what do you contribute to the network?
It is an essential factor for both companies. As mentioned, when Dexai Arts started the development of the first game title, we had to start at zero. So it was very important for us to connect and network in the local gaming community. Since we founded the company during the start of the pandemic, this was very challenging for us, as there were no networking events happening anymore for several months at least. Coincidentally, that is how the idea of BEH was born. Besides this, it is very important to Dexai Arts supporting and working with local talents and artists. For example, all songs and pixel graphics in our game were contributed by local musicians and artists. The result of this is on one hand an authentic, distinctive art style and sound design, and on the other hand the support of the local creative scene. We think this is very important and want to keep this up for the future.
Also, BEH would not exist without the local Berlin creative scene: the core of the BEH concept as a whole is based on the aim to support it and to take an active part in it. Our team members are all involved in various and often interconnecting sides of the local creative scene, in particular gaming, arts and events. Our idea is to bring together educational institutions, students, musicians, artists, developers, gamers and non-gamers with the simple goal of fostering creativity and connection. We intend to provide safe inclusive spaces where communities can join and play, merge, share ideas and resources, promote personal development, networking, and digital media awareness in an organic environment that is free from the classic business driven dynamics and pressure.
What has the network done for you?
As BEH keeps growing and evolving, we have experienced an incredible amount of inspiration, motivation and support coming from the network itself. In the way we see it, the community IS what makes BEH. The consistent positive feedback and collaborations have allowed our humble rocket ship to reach new heights as the project grows with and within the community. A good example of creating opportunities within the network is what happened with Dexai Arts: through BEH we have connected with many talented and passionate professionals, from artists to developers, which contributed immensely to the development of our game.
Why did you see the necessity to found Beat' em Hub?
We started with organizing casual and fun gaming events with the idea of building a small community. After some time, once we started to carry out surveys and interviews with our guests, we noticed a lack of accessibility, a common struggle to find a path leading into the gaming industry. Another topic we have often faced and discussed is the general misinformation towards gaming culture shown by people who are not involved in it, and in particular the huge gap observed between different generations. These reflections inevitably expanded our original goal and scope. BEH started as a casual gaming event provider and, while this keeps being an important part of the concept, it naturally evolved into a multifaceted project with different pillars, each with its own main focus: accessibility-focused B2B events and conferences, educational workshops towards cross-generational digital media awareness, support towards the creative scene, involvement in electronic music festivals and cultural events, pushing career paths within the gaming industry through different mediums (there are some exciting news we will share soon on this topic). Our main goal is to offer a space for creative individuals and groups, in and out of the gaming industry, so they can connect through gaming and find new opportunities in the scene. There are so many talented artists and creators that want and could use their skills in the gaming industry, and we want to offer them the spaces, resources and connections necessary to create career paths within it. We want to support students and indie developers with their projects, giving them a space to share them while also having the opportunity to get constructive criticism, coming from professionals and consumers alike, allowing them to grow and improve through the direct input of the community.
Have you reached this goal?
We have only just begun, and there is always room for growth and further evolution. What we can say is that during our journey until now we have already had incredibly positive experiences, witnessed inspiring collaborations and met passionate talents, and for that we can only feel grateful and motivated. The warmth, creativity and participation shown by the community is the biggest inspiration we could hope for.
Please tell us more about your game ATLAS.
In our game, project name "A Tongue Like a Sword (ATLAS)", players take on the role of a bouncer who works night after night at the door of a techno club in the style of Berlin's iconic clubs, letting guests into the club or turning them away.
The goal is to stand your ground verbally and fend off troublemakers before the situation could escalate. The main game mechanic is to select the appropriate answers for the respective guest and thus to determine the atmosphere of the parties. The better players choose the right guests, the better the resulting party will be.
We are not interested in simulating the work of a bouncer. We use video games as a medium for storytelling, while maintaining a focus on authentic and unique feel in art style, sound and gameplay.
As you said, your team consists of family members. What advantages and challenges brings that along?
So basically, with this project we are fulfilling a long-cherished childhood dream of one day developing a joint game that we can be proud of and that meets our demands and vibe. Being so close can be very helpful, for example in situations where conflicts within the team need to be solved or the team members need to support each other (e.g. the audio director became a part-time babysitter for a few months so the game director could concentrate on his tasks). We all know each other very well, know the current private situation of the team members and also know about their strengths and weaknesses. This allows us to solve challenges flexibly and efficiently. However, it can be more difficult when you have to draw boundaries between company-related topics and your private life. Basically, I think that honesty, open communication, tolerance and initiative are basic requirements for building a successful startup together, growing and developing as a team. These qualities have brought us to the point where we are now and will always be with us.
What comes next for Dexai Arts and Beat' em Hub?
For Dexai, of course, the focus is now on the successful release of our game, while we are already working on the conception of the next title in the background. Our goal is to establish Dexai Arts as a game development studio over many years and titles, to continue to grow and to always stay true to our principles.
As for BEH, we have many exciting projects, events and partnerships on the horizon, and we are ready to push and expand on all fronts, from community and cultural events to conferences, from education to careers. We want to make sure we don't lose the core values and intentions that brought us here today. After all, it's all very simple: we play, have fun, and inspire others as they inspire us.