The PepsiCo-sponsored GAME_JAM started as a four-day, $400,000 event where game developers would collaborate and compete for prizes. It took just one day for the entire thing to go up in flames.
Filmed for YouTube and structured more like reality TV than a typical game jam gathering, the whole thing tanked within the first 24 hours, allegedly thanks to the behavior of PepsiCo media consultant Matti Leshem.
[Game developer] Adriel Wallick described the oppressive atmosphere during the first day of GAME_JAM, where contestants had to compete in a Mountain Dew sponsored film set, for Mountain Dew themed prizes, while drinking nothing but Mountain Dew. “Guys with secret service earpieces and disheveled clipboards barked instructions on how to properly represent branded products,” wrote Jared Rosen.
“You can literally trace back the entire crumbling of this show to one individual,” wrote Wallick. “Matti Leshem, CEO of Protagonist.” Protagonist has been Pepsi’s primary branding and media consultancy for the past decade, and Leshem was a constant presence on the GAME_JAM set.
According to accounts from several people present at GAME_JAM, Leshem’s behavior was brash and inappropriate throughout, culminating in a bizarre line of questioning where he attempted to get GAME_JAM contestants to admit that having a woman on their team put them at a disadvantage.
This whole thing is so fucked up, and I’m so proud of the developers who stuck together and stood up for what’s right.