Throughout all of this, Ismail was traveling the globe, speaking at gaming conferences and telling Vlambeer’s story to other developers. Conference organizers at one show would see him speak and offer opportunities at other events, and Ismail saw first-hand how powerful this brand of marketing could be. Every time he spoke, not only was he offering sound advice to other indies, but he was promoting Vlambeer, solidifying it as a voice of authority in the industry. He created talks and toolsets to help a fresh influx of indie developers navigate contracts, press and marketing, including the widely used presskit() template. He advocated for equality on-screen and behind the scenes, and highlighted the sorry state of Muslim representation in games.
In the early days, Ismail would string together conference appearances on the fly, accepting if organizers would cover flight and lodging costs. Often, he didn’t even have a plan to get back to the Netherlands.
“I chained together talks,” Ismail said. “And I genuinely had times where I was in foreign countries with no idea how I was going to fund getting home. Because, like, I needed a talk in Europe to fly me back home from the US or from wherever the hell I was.”
Nijman added, “And also if you look through Rami’s speaking throughout the years, you can see that he was just learning so much. You very quickly found your voice, but at some point you started giving speeches that were a bit like Obama’s… and I think now you’ve finally really found your own voice, but it was like watching someone learn to rap.”
This entire time, Vlambeer was sustained by the momentum of a rapidly growing indie scene, and the kind of personal hunger that often manifests in early-20-somethings. Ismail and Nijman released project after project, attended conference after conference, and kept their profile high. They released Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Gun Gods and Luftrausers, and got right to work on Nuclear Throne, the most ambitious game in their roster. It took three and a half years to complete, and by the end, Ismail and Nijman were running on empty.
“We had a lunch meeting, I think,” Ismail said. “And we just looked at each other and we’re like, I need time off. We need to not talk for like a year or something.”
“Not even that we didn’t need to talk, it was just that we needed a big, big fucking vacation,” Nijman said.
Ismail and Nijman took a break. In 2016, they stepped away to work on their own projects, separately. Nijman traveled the globe and built MINIT with Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio and Dominik Johann. It was nominated for a handful of awards, including Seumas McNally Grand Prize at IGF 2019 and Outstanding Achievement for an Independent Game at that year’s DICE Awards. Ismail expanded his advocacy efforts and launched GameDev.World, a global effort to connect and support developers trying to make it on their own.
Vlambeer’s momentum stopped.
Ismail and Nijman reconvened and attempted to pick up where they left off. They created plans for ULTRABUGS and started coding. And coding. And coding.
“We noticed that just getting ULTRABUGS out has just kind of been this, I don’t know,” Nijman trailed off.
“Long, drawn-out process,” Ismail finished.
“It’s not necessarily hard, but it’s just not happening,” Nijman said. “I think we both realized that our interests are now kind of in different places.”
“We reorganized our lives during that year,” Ismail said. “And it turns out that I guess part of Vlambeer was momentum, and that went out for a bit. So we both grew in different directions. And this was sort of the first opportunity for us to fully grow in different directions.”
ULTRABUGS is still coming, and it’ll be the last game under the Vlambeer banner. Ismail and Nijman will work on it in their own time, release it, and then turn off the lights for good. There’s no release date for ULTRABUGS.
Nijman and Ismail will continue to do their own thing in the video game industry. Nijman is collaborating with other developers and building games like Disc Room, which is being published by Devolver Digital. Ismail is focused on GameDev.World and other advocacy efforts, as well as his own development projects.
“I’m a little nervous, but also excited,” Ismail said.
Nijman cut him off to say, “I’m not worried for you. I totally trust that you’re gonna do your thing, do your Rami thing.”
Even though they’ve never been friends, per se, Nijman and Ismail respect the hell out of each other, and this partnership served them well for 10 years. They’re now approaching their early 30s, shifting their goals and finding new perspectives. However, one core mission remains the same for both of them: help the indie industry grow. Vlambeer served that purpose for a while, but now it’s time for something new.
“People don’t necessarily need a Vlambeer anymore,” Nijman said.
“We’ve said what we wanted to, we’ve said when we needed to, we’ve grown along with the industry in such interesting ways,” Ismail added. “If I’m honest, I would much rather close this chapter with one last good choice than bleed out over the years, doing less and less.”
The indie industry may not need Vlambeer anymore, true. But more importantly, Ismail and Nijman don’t need Vlambeer any longer.