Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Tyler Bushnell, who currently is displayed on card number 4120, from the Superstars of 2022 Collection. Tyler is the CEO and co-founder of Polycade, a modern arcade platform designed for in-person social gaming. Polycade launched with a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2015. Polycade has been featured in publications such as the Wall Street Journal. Tyler previously wrote games for the uWink Inc. and created several large scale in-person entertainment attractions.
Do you remember when you created your first video game and what do you remember about the experience?
My first video game was a trivia game built in Flash, I barely knew how to code, and it was a great introduction to programming. I did all of the graphics and all of the code for it. I actually forget what the game was called…something like “sea of love”.
When did you first think of the idea of Polycade and what was your motivation for it?
I used to arrange game nights with friends where 4-6 of us would sit on the couch and play modern arcade-style games like Tricky Towers, SpeedRunners, Lethal League, and more. This took some effort though, and it required a specific hardware setup that only I had (out of my friend group). One night out with friends at a bar I thought “why isn’t there a device to play those games here, where people socialize on a nightly basis?” Public availability would also mean that tons of other people would be able to access these awesome games without needing the special hardware setup at home.
There are many companies that make stand up arcade machines now adays, what separates Polycade from them?
Almost none of them make their own software, which is our primary focus. Also, most other arcade machines are built for retro-only, whereas Polycade can run retro and modern games. Polycade is also one of the few companies that has officially licensed games, and we might be the only multicade with game licenses suitable for commercial environments like bars.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I think the biggest difference between games today and games in the 80’s and 90’s is that games today have really no boundaries. In the classic era, games were heavily shaped by the available tech, the addressable market, and the accepted business models of the times. A developer today has nearly infinite tools, a massive market, and lots of business models to choose from. As a result, some games today are made in the image of the classics, some games are abstract art projects, others are high-budget immersive worlds - the possibilities are endless and devs are amazing at pushing the limits of their imagination.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
Haha, no I did not!
What is your favorite game on the Polycade?
That changes from time to time. For single player, Downwell is always one of my favorites. Recently I’ve been playing Annalynn, which is like Donkey Kong meets Pac-Man - super awesome game that every retro fan must play. For multiplayer, I can never get enough of Tricky Towers.
What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?
I have a handheld PC that I run the Polycade software on. I love it because it can run basically anything - retro titles, Steam, GOG, Itch, etc. Here’s a video I made of it: https://youtu.be/g5Zm6F7XR8g
What was the best decade for gaming in your opinion and why?
I caught the tail end of the arcade era, and there was a certain kind of social magic to the arcades of the 80’s. Today is a pretty great time for gaming too, and Polycade hopes to revive some of that social magic from the arcades of our past!
What was your long-term goal when designing the Polycade?
This is a two-part answer. My goal with the physical design of the Polycade arcade machine was to redefine where an arcade machine is allowed to be. Classic arcade machines have a certain vibe that makes them clash with some spaces - for example when I told my wife I was going to put one in the living room she said, “absolutely not”. I didn’t want it to be banished to the basement, so the design needed to fit in with our living room decor.
Our goal with the Polycade software is to provide a modern style gaming platform for arcade machines - one that can dynamically swap games, enable user login and features like achievements, persistent save state across machines, and most importantly allow continuous updates so that the experience never stops growing.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I love crafting games, arcade games, and co-op games in general. When I play online with friends, it’s usually Deep Rock Galactic, Factorio, or Terraria. When it’s in-person, we’ve been playing SpeedRunners, Tricky Towers, Antonball, and others. When solo, I just started Escape Academy, and I’ll also play Annalynn, Akane, Vampire Survivors, or Slay the Spire.
What does it take to be a video game developer, and what advice would you give a person today who would like to get into the industry?
Like most things, determination to finish a project is really important. For someone trying to get into the industry - get a low-level job (or higher if you can swing it) doing something you think you want to do (graphics, coding, etc). If the industry slice you want isn’t possible, just get something as close as possible and work your way in. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be building industry relationships, and that will pave the way for you to do what you want.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Legend! If you think about it, Walter Day essentially invented Esports. Very cool.
Are video games today aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?
I think most games these days are aimed at the 18+ crowd.
Do you believe some video games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
No. I’d sooner credit video games as a type of therapy and a way to get some angst out of your system.
Which company today, in your opinion, makes the best games and why?
Instead of a company that makes games, I’m going to choose a publisher that does a fantastic job curating their catalog: Devolver Digital. Their titles do a great job of honoring the classics while bringing fresh mechanics into the fold. Plus, their punk-rock approach to the industry just oozes coolness.
Who is your favorite video game character of all time and what makes that character special?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Dhalsim from Street Fighter. He felt like an underdog character that was powerful with the right strategy. He’s also just such a unique character profile - a fighting yogi with shrunken heads? Yes please.
Are you still involved with gaming today, and what role do you play?
I’d say yes - I play online games with friends, I play a game on my Polycade over coffee, I love in-person gaming whenever possible, I exercise in VR, and my entire work life revolves around gaming.
What does the future hold for Polycade?
Lots of fun stuff! We’re entering the web3 space with a new launch in a few months, we’ve been working on this for over a year and we’re super excited about it!
Where do you see the video game industry in the next 10 years?
I think web3 is going to be a big force in the gaming industry. I also think we’re going to see some interesting inter-operability between games (though I think this will turn out a bit different than the web3 space is currently touting), and Polycade hopes to contribute to this.