October 27, 2010

Overcoming the sound and fury of the internet

It’s hard being an indie game developer. Not because of money pressures, and not because of lack of exposure, though both of these things certainly take their toll. No. I’ll tell you why it’s hard to be an indie: it’s the emotional strain of being continually subjected to the internet for your livelihood.

I’m still appalled at the treatment Notch (Markus Persson), creator of indie success story Minecraft, has received since he publicly released stats detailing his incredible daily sales revenues. First people wrote petty posts about it on TIGSource. Then people discussed the merits of preventing him from competing in the IGF. And now his server has been attacked by some of his own customers.

Though his success makes him something of an outlier in other ways, Notch certainly isn’t alone in being a target for cruel remarks. Resolution Magazine recently ran an article interviewing other indie developers on this topic. Dan Marshall of Zombie Cow Studios described his own experiences thus:

Negative comments are crushing, soul-destroying and it really affects me. Not every game is going to be to everyone’s tastes – and that’s fine. The trouble is that internet comments are so disposable and easy; people rarely write ‘the gameplay wasn’t quite to my tastes’, they’ll just declare it’s ‘fucking shit’ and move on.

I’ve had the same experiences myself. Trying to promote Telepath RPG: Servants of God online has been something like slogging through waist-high mud while the locals take to the trees to pelt me with their own feces.

My most recent heart-warming story: Jay Barnson made a fantastic post about Telepath RPG: Servants of God on the Rampant Coyote blog a few days ago. He described the game as an “ever-more-cool-sounding” “turn-based, role-playing & dialog-heavy indie RPG” “that eschews the traditional Tolkienesque fantasy world, instead going for something that seems to have more of a steampunk-ish middle-eastern flavor.”

The post got a single comment: “I’m more excited for Captain Jameson, in fact.” Really? This is someone who shows up for your birthday party, sniffs in disdain, loudly announces that he cares more about your friend’s party, and then leaves. Who does that? (On the internet, the unfortunate answer is “damn well near everyone.”)

I’ve been working on Telepath RPG: Servants of God for just shy of three years now. If this were the sort of reaction I received everywhere I went, I would have probably quit and taken up gardening. To persevere, I have found it necessary to cultivate sources of emotional support.

My community of fans has been my greatest motivating tool, without a doubt. Their ceaseless curiosity about the game world (and just-as-ceaseless nagging about removing bugs/adding new features) has helped me get TSoG to where it is now. And it makes me smile any time someone edits the wiki or posts fan fiction.

Last night, I discovered another means of motivation, one I hadn’t thought of before: actually just sitting down and playing my game. Somewhere along the line, being subjected to the sniping of a thousand amateur critics had played its own games with my subconscious. I was convinced that TSoG was clunky, the combat boring, the characters hackneyed, the dialog poorly written, the pacing all off.

And then I sat down to play it. What does it say that I was surprised–actually surprised–to find myself having fun playing my own game? The main campaign moved along at a satisfying clip. The battles were challenging without being frustrating. The characters were well-written. Suddenly, I found that I wanted to finish this game, and not just get development over with. Because, I decided, it’s worth finishing.

I just wish I had someone else to promote it for me.

  • Anonymous

    While I admit that it does have a few flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the games. As for having someone else promote it, no one could do it better than you. Who could tell others about it and why they should play it better than you, the creator? The one who knows every secret, every character, even the dialogue, right down to the word? What does it say that I check back here every day, hoping for an update, waiting for any word from you? The only reason you get less praise than you deserve is that people are too busy actually ENJOYING your work rather than telling you how much they appreciate it. Meanwhile, the jerks who put 'bad game. stop making them.' are those who haven't even gotten past the first mission. All they know is that it takes a long time to load. They don't know how fascinating the games are, how each character has its own personality. Sometimes when I'm playing it, I turn around, half-expecting to see the shadowling queen there. I love the way there's no way to win through pure luck; the way you constantly get better; I could go on and on, but I won't. And yes, it is worth finishing.

  • Guest

    Indie games are fun and cool, even with the long waits, anyone who plays anything for 5 mins and declares its crap really has no real reason to be playing it in the first place, and anyone who attacks or slanders it shows that they really couldn't have made it out of school by any sucessful means as no one in their right mind would of let them out into the world when their nothing more then trolls.

    Love your game by the way

  • Mageus07

    I agree your game is definetly worth finishing i have enjoyed playing the last two telepaths much more than i have several of the big name games. Even God of War while fun the first time through failed to have the replayability that I enjoy in your games. I have played telepath 2 at least 20 times and i can tell just what i have seen in the demo that SoG will be even better than the last two.

  • Sqid

    I had no idea promoting a game was like that. Though I had heard of Minecraft and the attack, I assumed that it wasn't like that everywhere… But apparently I was wrong.
    It's true though. I don't spend my time talking about how wonderful your games are, I play them. I have not tried Servants of the Gods yet (I find if I wait for the final project rather then play bits of it, I enjoy it more) but I have played the first two several times and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I've been interested in flash games for many years (they are free and there are so many out now), but Telepath was one of the great games that really peaked my interest and helped start my fascination with them.

    Besides. The only thing you should really be interested in is if you find it fun. Everything else is secondary.
    Also, I think you're looking for real, thoughtful comments, in the wrong place. The internet is a helpful tool, and provides the opportunity to get feedback in a very easy way, but not many gamers are looking for games with such an in depth plot and harder (though not to hard) gameplay that requires a good deal of thought. I honestly don't know what else you can do, but consider this; these people are not your fans. They probably won't play the game when it is finished, even if you manage to completely change the the game to match what they say is better. We here are your fans. We will play the game. And we will love it.

  • What's important to understand–as I've been told with a lot of my own creative works–is that you make a game for what you think should go into it, rather than cater to the specific requests of every person who would otherwise rant about how awful your game is. Playing it yourself is probably the best thing you could do as far as developing it to gauge whether it's something that's actually fun to play.

    It's likely the people who don't like this have a personal bias against Flash itself, not necessarily the game–unless I'm blindly stereotyping, a lot of Linux users and programming enthusiasts call it a clunky and inefficient system, so of course that audience will never like your games. That's irrelevant, though, because all you need to be concerned about is the group that says they do like it or think it has potential. For those that seem to be concerned because TSoG has a bland, cliche plot, I can't seem to remember any decent games where the developers of it had the balls to let your character openly criticize or denounce religion, though that may be because I'm always months or more behind most game announcements. At any rate, you've still taken a step that most game creators don't even bother with: creating your own truly unique world, and even if the gameplay, graphics, story, everything else was bungled, you'd still deserve credit for originality. That's something RPGs really need more and more in today's gaming world.

    As far as promotion goes, word-of-mouth by the internet really is one of the best ways to go about it, and that's already happened for Telepath. I've seen tons of copies of TRPG2 all over lots of flash game sites. Googling 'Telepath RPG' yields about 45,000 results. And every post, negative or positive, is just another thing that could make someone aware of your games, and chances are they might like it.

  • Algebra14

    The portion of people that acutally comment on these things is not an accurate representation of people that play the game, as perhaps the ones that like the game most are too busy playing to comment?

    I said this first half without having read the first Anonymous comment, and it's clear others agree. Keep at it! Everyone except people who don't know what they're talking about and people who don't like the genre and people who aren't familiar with the technology LOVE it!

  • Im2smart4u

    Speaking on behalf of your fans, we will never attack your server (unless you cancel TSoG before finishing).

    Don't forget that if you story was boring, then your fans wouldn't be willing to play every update just to find out what happens next.

    Sorry, but I don't plan on stopping my “ceaseless nagging about removing bugs/adding new features”.

  • Bob123

    If you need someone there to support you, I'm all ears myself, being a programmer and all.

  • Guest

    i think it is a great game
    I can't wait until it is finished

  • Rainen

    and don't forget about the fan site :P…. that has apparently broken… :.( yet again my idea failed XD

  • RageStick

    go for it

    I'm a big fan of your work, I have been playing over and over Telepath 2 like crazy even that it has been deleted three times I still like the adventure and I hope that you finish this game becuse since I found your website while I was looking for cool games I have been waiting for this game to be out, I like this games so much that I even create a story line with past and future events.

    I do really hope that you finish this game, so good luck with that.

    Your big fan Mike

  • Jojolagger

    If people denounce your games without explanation, they can go back to playing WoW in their mothers basement.
    Remember, hateful posts are easy on the net, and that 1 positive post usually has more substance than 10 or more. anon's post is 208 words, where as his example “bad game, stop making them” is only 5. That is 41 and a half negative post to reach the substance of 1 good one.
    The negative posts are short because they are made with no real knowledge, and the positive ones are long because they are made by people who know what they are talking about. ignore the idiotic words of the uninformed, and pay attention to those who actually understand the subject.
    P.S. you might get along well with psuedolonewolf of fighunter.com (he made a flash game that has over 50 hours of play time)

  • PsySal

    Just wanted to jump in here and voice my support. I think it's great that you managed to find perspective by playing your own game, and realizing that it was, indeed fun. It's a strange thing but easy to get tunnel vision when we devs are always crunching on some particular thing… Keep going!

  • I must say that I have always loved your games. Though I am only 13, I myself am a game programmer (although not a very good one, yet) and I take inspiration from other game designers, like you and Pseudolonewolf from fighunter.com, who is also incredible. I spent all my time perusing their blogs, and I find the emotional stress that programmers go through ridiculous. They work years on a game just to have people denounce them as worthless without spending the time to really look for something that's there. Well, here's something about Telepath RPG 3 – I showed it to my dad. Now, my dad is a writer and has made a TV show, and he HATES everything I show him. Either the writing sucks, or the gameplay isn't good, or the programming is bad. I thought he would dismiss your game the same way, but to my surprise, he LOVED IT. He LAUGHED at your JOKES. He NEVER laughs at writer's or programmers jokes. He always claims he can do better, he can write better. But he loves your game. His writing went to a standstill for the two days he was playing your demo, because it was all he could do. And I agree: your work is captivating.

    I have experienced idiot's comments firsthand. I released my first game, Cooperation, on Kongregate, and what did I get? Nasty comments from people who looked at the crummy graphics and decided to look no farther. Several bug reports that simply said that the game sucks. Even though I've made some very nice things, I've never finished anything and posted it on Kongregate because I'm scared to have to go through it again. But I'm working on a new game that I'd like to follow through with.

    I just want to say that even though it seems that everyone won't look for what's really important in your games, there are many that will. And those are the people who are important. Ignore the others.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this, and good luck with your game!

  • Chocobo_Fan

    This is depressing news indeed. It deeply disturbs me how petty, envious, and unempathetic so many people are. (And really, attacking someone's server because you're acting like an impatient brat is just…mind-numbing levels of stupidity) Don't take too much of what they say to heart; the main problem is that they don't seem to have the attention span to play a game that has –gasp!– an actual storyline or even worse, *turn-based combat* where you actually have to think and plan instead of just mindlessly button mashing to get blood and gore. The MARDEK series, a Flash RPG series that is, in my opinion, better than many *commerical games* out there, got this kind of treatment as well. The general Flash community seems to hate RPGs in general.

    For what it's worth, I think Telepath RPG is great, and I'm looking forward to the full version. 🙂

  • abahaty

    just look at all these people. I rarely comment but you will always have my support and that others. dont give up when you proably know that people use the internet for a wepon and if it disheartens you they will succed. i have never heard a bad comment myself although i dont often look though others. you should feel proud at what you've acomplished, if i could ever do as well as you i would be amazed at myself. never give up and remeber you have all these people behind you.

  • abahaty

    ridculasly true, this is it in a nutshell.

  • Absolutely

    I played Co-operation on Kongregate and I'm assuming that was the game you posted. I really think it has potential to be a good 2-player game. It has a few bugs that need to be ironed out but I liked your art style and the way you designed the game. I love playing co-op games with my little brother and we really enjoyed it. Just don't give up and you might start a following of your own someday.

  • Chocobo_Fan

    Oh yeah, there's something related to this subject that you may find interesting. Pseudolonewolf, another Flash developer with similar problems, actually made a thread on this subject on Kongregate. (It was more about lack of empathy in criticisms and ratings, but I think it's similar to what you're talking about)

    You can give it a read [url=http://www.kongregate.com/forums/1/topics/44315?page=1%5Dhere%5B/url] if you wish.

  • Chocobo_Fan

    Agh stupid BBC coding. The correct link is http://www.kongregate.com/forums/1/topics/44315?page=1

  • Drbordener

    don't give up a lot of people like this game to don't let us down you have a good game

  • Hi, I know how it feels being hit by the comments. As a artist, my work usually gets critic in different ways. I've worked with a small indie company, doing all the graphics for a game. That game got comments like : “it's really beautiful”, while some says it's “pure shit” or “we know you are a small indie company, but you should of found someone with talent for the graphics.” I guess the thing is, you can't take comments personal. Positif or negatif… people all have a different background and maybe someone wrote “it's shit” when they had a bad day, or maybe they just like to bash.

    Sorry if this reads weird, I'm a french dude. 😛

    Love your work, keep up the good stuff and don't take anything personal. 😀

  • ThatGuy

    Whats funny about this is that I have followed Telepath RPG from almost day 1 it came out. It has morphed and changed quite a bit since you first started, but you have always stayed the course. Now here you are on the cusp of a major life accomplishment after 3 frustrating years and your concerned about idiots who don’t give 2 shits about your work. FUCK THE HATERS finish the fight and go swim in your pool full of money. God Bless and good luck

  • Unfortunately sharing your art to the world opens you up to criticism and not always constructive criticism at that, other than not reading comments from other sites and heavily moderating the comments on your site there’s no way to avoid thoughtless posts or people stating a preference without expanding upon their reasoning.

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