So, game development eh? What a flupping nightmare.
Before I begin, I’d like to state that I can only talk about what I know as an indie developer based in the North-East of England, and I’m not going to comment on the really horrible comments/attacks since it’s flupping obvious that’s detestable and also utterly irrelevant to the conversation.
When we first went indie, our first venture was an extremely low-paid commissioned game which was a joint production between two of us in the North-East and one chap down in London. I must admit, it made us feel a little sad and isolated watching on the internet as all these exciting events and meet-ups were planned, photos were taken, fun was had – as two of us were cooped up in a dingy flat with next to no money. It’s possible that these events were mind-numbingly dull – but everything looks exciting when you’re not there and you don’t get to go to any. By the time that game was done, the two of us in the North were penniless and panicking about what we should do next. That was when Zomboid was planned.
So there we were, with a vague idea, no money, and no actual friends in either indie development or working as games journalists. We’d made a few acquaintances, I guess, since we did manage one or two trips to London in the two years or so we were working on that first game – plus there’s Twitter, but you don’t really make friends on Twitter – especially if most of your tweets are facetious. And even now – three or so years into making Zomboid, a game which has done pretty well overall, has had a modicum of exposure on “proper” games websites – I can count the number of games journalist friends I have on no hands. There are just hardly any indie devs or journalists up here – no trendy parties, nothing. Unless everyone hates me and I’m simply not invited.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. There was one organised recurring meet-up which, at best, you’d describe as sporadic and infrequent. But most of the people who went to that were mobile phone / tablet devs and, well, sorry but I’m just not interested in mobile games. At all. Also, a frightening proportion of the people there would describe their game as “the product” which immediately makes me stop listening.
So this indie dev clique thing. Is it nonsense? In all honestly I just don’t know. What I would say, however, is this:
- If I had made an astronomical amount of money from a staggeringly successful indie game, I could imagine myself investing in a friend’s game to help them get going.
- If that was the case, I would likely be somebody whose tweets and opinion were newsworthy and I would probably use that to pimp my friend’s game.
- If there was an Indie Games Award thing near where I lived, or I was happy swanning around the globe on a private jet, I would probably take part as a judge.
- …And then recuse myself if it turned out my friend’s game was submitted and instead make do participating in the gazillion panels I’m constantly invited to.
In other words, I do not find it particularly surprising that all manner of connections can be drawn up between notable and/or successful developers. I also do not find it surprising that the sorts of developers who have made huge amounts of money would also be the sorts of developers who would invest in other games, and also be the sorts of developers notable enough to be involved in panels / award judging / all that shit. Frankly, it would be a bit weird if that didn’t happen.
But here’s the trouble:
It doesn’t half look bad from an outsider’s perspective. And, I think, at the very least we can acknowledge that it looks a bit bad even if we believe it to be perfectly innocent and above board. Because, much like me – sat here in a part of the country where none of those swanky parties happen – it’s easy to imagine it all being better, more exciting, more career-helping than it probably is. And it’s easy to become angry or embittered when you’re making a game and struggling for press attention when all those other developers appear to have things easier.
It’s easier to imagine that it’s some back-room dealings than simply some failure on your own part. And this is coming from a developer – someone with some degree of knowledge on how games are made and marketed. If you’re a gamer, however, you’ve got nothing to work with except some sense that something is wrong (given that there have been documented cases of wrong-doings in the past). And when developers or journalists glibly reply to you, write off your conclusions as laughable, focus on the manner in which you comment rather than the message, paint you with the same brush as the worst of the commentors, or simply say nothing – what are you supposed to do? You have no access to this knowledge that the devs and journalists have. It all feels a bit like Kings mocking the plebs, and it just adds to the frustration and anger which then increases the use of extreme language and the connections which you will find and the whole thing becomes a vicious circle. Because, after all, questioning the press is a good thing in general. Sure, you might have drawn conspiratorial conclusions which (to those in the know) may be so far off-base to be laughable. But it’s better to do that (in principle) than just to accept everything you read or hear as fact because that’s precisely how corruption starts.
Or there might be some truth to some of it. I don’t know. Perhaps there’s a city somewhere with an unusually high concentration of press and devs and things operate differently. Maybe the UK is different to other countries in this regard but I can only comment from my perspective. I read somewhere (I’ll pop the link in if I can find it) some journalist say words along the lines of, “all my news comes from dev friends” which is less corruption and more being utterly shit at your job. But if there is some truth to some part of the claims, I suspect we’re dealing with a tiny tiny minority of devs and press because most indie developers are like me. Sat on their own at home or in an office with no other indie dev friends to speak of, no journalist friends, and no easy way to get exposure for their game.
(Those “gamers are dead” articles were proper bullshit though. If we had Golden Raspberry Awards for gaming articles, they’d be a shoe-in)