Ridgeland gamers get on board with charitable acts

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After meeting in college, Anthony Coffey and Jesse Labbe found an intersection in their grandiose imaginations: the joy of creating worlds.

Starting as graphic novelists (the Berona’s War series), the two dynamic creatives recently began making tabletop games. Their newest venture is WHO GOES THERE?, based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 book that later inspired John Carpenter’s 1982 horror movie classic The Thing.

Alex Rozier

Anthony Coffey, left, and Jesse Labbe are constantly drawing new characters.

Players work cooperatively through trials of “growing paranoia,” relying on each other for survival with the looming possibility one among them is secretly transforming into “The Thing.” Obstacles include rabid dog attacks, the Antarctic terrain, crazed mad men and, of course, the alien entity that will turn one player against the rest of the team.

Each character uses its specialty (e.g. “the meteorologist”, “the cook”, “the dog handler”) to help the crew build a camp and survive. The goal is to stave off “The Thing” and the other surrounding evils until a helicopter arrives to rescue the crew and return them to civilization.

The game is designed, built and tested at Certifiable Studios, located in a warehouse in Ridgeland. The company is currently managed by Labbe, a Biloxi native, and business partner Rick Moore.

“It was always there, in fact we had talked about doing it with Berona’s War,” Labbe said about his desire to build board games. “I’ve always been into it. It’s just a medium I’ve loved my whole life.”

During their childhoods, Labbe toyed around with designing games, while Coffey had an imagination for stories, characters and places. Their skills went hand in hand.

Labbe founded the company in 2015 with Moore (who was and still works at Eyevox, a production group that shares its space with Certifiable Studios) and writer Opie Cooper, who helped create Berona’s War as well as the studio’s first game, Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove.

Certifiable Studios

WHO GOES THERE? game pieces

WHO GOES THERE? is available on its Kickstarter page; Labbe and Coffey also invite locals to their Ridgeland office for an in-person demonstration. The game’s 30-day campaign, which began in July, raised $612,776 from 6,535 backers after starting with a goal of just $54,097.

The campaign on Kickstarter (a crowd-funding site) works as a way to both fund the manufacturing as well as gauge how many people are interested in purchasing.

“Kickstarter presents a pre-order scenario,” Coffey explained. “Once we get enough backers, we get the funding to make the game, and those backers are basically pre-ordering the game.”

Labbe and Moore used Kickstarter for Endangered Orphans as well; the campaign proved successful, receiving $355,970 from 7,305 backers. It also established an international fan base; while the United States was first in terms of backers, four of the five top supporting cities were London, Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore. The WHO GOES THERE? campaign is showing similar results.

Labbe and Coffey decided to use the excitement around the new game as a way to motivate charitable acts; in exchange for special character pieces, backers can support an animal shelter, either by volunteering or making a donation, the connection being that this isn’t something “The Thing” would do. 

One backer went as far to adopt an emperor penguin through the World Wildlife Foundation on behalf of Certifiable Studios.

Using the games as an avenue for charity began with Endangered Orphans, when the company donated some of its profits to orphanages and churches. One fan donated $1,000 to an orphanage in the studio’s name.

“It was one of those fun things to do,” Labbe said. “We got all the followers, we were making the money, so instead of pushing for more products we figured we could go and do something nice.”

The Certifiable Studios’ office space has a youthful atmosphere, seemingly ideal for creative brainstorming. The front entrance intersects with a miniature bowling alley, the hallways are covered with posters of nearly finished game ideas and a loft clubhouse may be in the works.

While Labbe and Coffey say they haven’t abandoned their graphic novel days, they have a bunch of game ideas they’re eagerly developing.

“I like online games as much as the next guy, but it doesn’t replace sitting around a table with your buddies,” Labbe said.