22nd August, 2014 - Posted by MashPotato - 1 Comment
I’ve decided to live up to the “Game Dev” part of my blog subheading, and write something for once ;) This is a response to Caspian Prince’s (of Puppygames) Because You’re Worthless: The Dark Side of Indie PR. It’s an interesting read, and there’s plenty of content in there that I could go into–whether agreeing or disagreeing. However, there’s one thing in particular that I feel I need to challenge because of its potential for harm: the idea that the more “infamous” an indie dev is, the more publicity they get, and the better they’re off.
You should really read the entire piece for context, but here’s the most relevant part:
And here it is – the bombshell. The more we argue, the more we bait the trolls, the more we seem to get into a death spiral of internet hate… the better it is for us. There is no such thing as bad publicity. Phil Fish may have turned in to a gibbering bearded recluse but now he’s a famous gibbering bearded recluse. Phil Fish only has to tweet a fart and it’ll be all over the internet. Given that discovery is the #1 problem for an indie developer (and always has been), you can see that the more infamous and terrible we are … the more money we make.
And then later, Cas tweeted a graph of Puppygames’ Steam sales that seemed to prove his point:
Oh, internet. pic.twitter.com/KIXIqqXOJ6
— Puppygames (@puppygames) August 19, 2014
Now, I can’t argue with his particular numbers, but there are 3 main problems I have with this argument.
1) Dealing with exceptions
Cas purports to be talking about the industry in general, but uses a highly exceptional case as an example to prove his point: Phil Fish. Now, I don’t know much about Fish beyond that he’s the developer of the highly-successful game Fez and that was (is?) regularly involved in some controversy or another because of his outspokeness (some might call it “asshole-ness”, if they are negatively inclined toward him). In both cases, he can be seen as an outlier: the mass majority of indie devs can’t even hope to reach the levels of financial success Fish has attained, nor get the notoriety (how often do indies get to be featured in a documentary?)… yet, what makes these characteristics necessarily go together? What makes the former contingent upon the latter? Is it perhaps correlation (perhaps relating to the fact that he made a fantastic game) instead of causation?
Now, this is something that can’t really be studied scientifically, so let’s go with more anecdotal evidence: can you name any other indie devs that are highly successful AND have a reputation for being a jerk? I can’t. In fact, most of the biggest successes have the reputation of being nice. While I know stories pop up from time to time about an indie who rants, gets into flamewars, etc., I can’t remember who they are because, in most cases, there’s nothing else to remember them for. In Fish’s case, his words are seen as notable because he’s an industry success, and seeing him in the news reminds you of the good game he made. Similarly, Cas’ tweeted pic doesn’t really prove anything, as his games are established (as he says himself, they’ve made more than $1.5M on Steam). It’s easy to think that when someone is highly distinctive in two areas that these two areas are intertwined, and hey, in some cases it might be true, but it’s a fallacy to assume so.
2) Personal costs
I think what prompted me to write this more than anything else is this line: “the more we seem to get into a death spiral of internet hate… the better it is for us.” I’ve already stated above that I don’t think that this is true, but for now, let’s say that it is: the more you are hated, the better your game will sell. Think about whether that is really what you want.
I tend to refrain from talking about anything to do with sales and finances because I know Project Zomboid is an exception in many ways. It sold well, and continues to sell. We are making a comfortable living from it. It’s easy to say “money isn’t everything” when you have some in the bank. But… money isn’t everything.
People who have followed PZ’s development may recall The Event. I won’t go into details, but the end result was that we lost a good chunk of development, we were attacked, we ranted back at customers, we got lots of negative publicity, and the internet Eye of Sauron was upon us. I’ve never really spoken personally on this issue because I didn’t have it nearly as badly as Lemmy and Binky. I too was caught up in the accusations that we were a scam, that we were incompetent idiots, that we didn’t deserve any understanding (and those were bad enough), however, no one threatened me, or swore at me, like they did them. Our sales stayed the same (more evidence against all publicity being good publicity, btw–we were #1 on reddit), and yet it cost us plenty.
It’s a common saying that no matter how many compliments you get, it’s the criticism that sticks with you… now imagine that a hundred-fold. I can proudly say that giving up on PZ was never tabled, but the the sadness and bitterness we felt sucked out any joy we had. Hatred crushes you, and darkens everything around you. We lost months of dev time, but it wasn’t the loss of data that set us back in the end, but our mental/emotional states.
Now, you may say, it’s the just the internet, you don’t know any of these people, who cares. When you’re a company that exists digitally, sells your project digitally, and interacts with customers, colleagues, and press digitally, the internet is as real as anything. We depend on it. If you’re an indie dev, you will too. Perhaps you’re a person who doesn’t care what people say about you, but chances are you’re not, or just think you are. Being hated may not cost you financially, but it will exact its toll somewhere, and perhaps from a place you’re not prepared to pay.
3) People have bad days
Okay, this last point may be a bit more touchy-feely ;) No one should be rude to you, or send you snarky support emails, or be impatient if you’re a bit late in responding… but what if they are? Are they purposefully being a jerk to hurt you, or are they just someone having a bad day? Sometimes it’s easy to tell, but sometimes you need to give the benefit of the doubt.
There have been so many times when people send an angry tweet, or post huffily in the support forum, and after we politely help, immediately apologize for their tone… and this makes me happy. What would happen if we had responded rudely, or baited them into getting angrier? This not only colours how they see us, it colours how they see everyone else. Sometimes people forget that when they’re dealing with you they’re also dealing with a person–I don’t think gamers are exceptional in this regard, but it’s easier to forget when you’re dealing with some one over the internet and can’t see their face–and it’s easy for us to do likewise. But they are a person, and just like how I wouldn’t want to be judged on my worst days, I try to extend the same courtesy to them.
I don’t mean you can’t defend yourself, and frankly some people really are just trolls being hurtful for the sake of being hurtful, but my point is this: if people gave each other the benefit of the doubt more often, the world would be a less angry place.
As I mentioned before, the reason I felt the need to write this is because I felt it was harmful to believe infamy is good for business. This isn’t me just trying to do some good PR; this blog doesn’t even really get traffic and I doubt many people would see this. It’s just how I feel, and I felt the need to respond. While I don’t know if the world is becoming an angrier place, sometimes it seems that way, and I don’t want my industry to get worse in that regard.
Be lovely, all of you :)
PS: and while I may not agree with the blog post, Puppygames makes some good action games with slick neo-retro style. Check ‘em out, Ultratron is my favourite :)