Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We Are No Longer Supporting Android. Sigh.

When I stare into its cold, dead eyes, all I see is my own failure reflected back at me.

So I won't bury the lead in this blog post.

As of the very near future, Spiderweb Software will be discontinuing support for the Android platform. We will be removing our games from Google Play and the Amazon App store.

If you purchased Avadon or Avernum for Android from us in the past and need a copy for your device, please contact us and we will arrange a private download or refund, as needed.

We recently had a false alarm where we temporarily thought we would stop developing for the iPad. I was able to fix some technical issues and we're back in business on that platform. This will not be the case with Android. We may develop for that platform again, but it will be years before we are able to, if ever at all.

That's it. We're really sorry to anyone bummed out by this. If you're interested about the hassles of being a small software developer, read on.

So What the Hell Happened?

In the big indie gold rush of 2011-2, there were lots of dollars sloshing around for anyone who could come out with competent products. A good business opportunity came along if we let a certain company port two of our popular games, Avadon and Avernum, to Android tablets.

We took the deal. Solid ports of the two games were made. We got a bunch of money, and a bunch of customers were happy.

However, we did not control the source code to those ports. The 3rd party company did. This means that, if things broke, we couldn't fix them. We had to get the company to fix them.

Then the company went out of business. Now it is gone. Things are starting to slowly break.

We want to be an honest company. If we can't support it, we can't sell it. So off they go.

Well, If You're So Big, Why Don't You Port Them Yourself?

Because I'm only one guy, and I have limited brain bandwidth. I currently support three platforms. That's all I can handle without freaking out.

A lot of the problem is that we're using a pretty old game engine. Soon, we want to switch to a new engine, but first we have to find one that suits our needs. This may not exist. Then we have to switch to using it, which is a big job. Then that engine has to support Android, which it may not. Then I need to take on the considerable job of learning to develop for Android, which I might be too sleepy to do.

On top of all of this, in our experience, for us, Android doesn't make that much money. Honestly, iPad doesn't either anymore. I mainly write games for the iPad as a hobby, because it amuses me. (By the way, if you want to know why we don't develop for Linux, consider all the arguments above, but triple.)

If I Send You a Really Angry Email, Will It Change Things?

No. But you might as well try. Nothing has ever stopped people from sending us angry emails before.

This Is a Bummer. Anything Else?

Just that we are very early in the history of giant online video game stores. App stores like iTunes, Google Play, and Steam are fairly young in the scheme of things. As time goes on, more and more of the games in those stores are going to be abandoned by their publishers.

Our Android games are breaking, but it's OK. I'm still around, and I'm honest, so I can remove them. But what if I moved on to another job and forgot they existed? Who would be looking after them and making sure they're not ripoffs and traps for the customer?

I may have another blog post on this topic in the future.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Very Long Post About How to Become a Creator.

Even by my wordy standards, this page is super TL;DR. I suggest just reading it until I get to the bit where I plug my new game.
It has come to my attention that quite a few young, aspirant creators find my opinions to be of value when it comes to making a career in the game industry.

It's true, and it terrifies me.

Kids, most mornings I don't know whether to crap or wind my watch. (You used to have to wind up watches. Also, people used to wear watches.) My own kids don't pay any attention to me. I see no reason why you should. If I'm so smart, why am I old?

But I do get asked for advice about making a career as a game developer. A LOT. And some questions come up again and again. So I’m writing an answer to the question. I know it is hopelessly, bone-jarringly arrogant for me to do something like this, but I wanted to put my answer on one web page so I can send them here.

These are the answers that worked for me. Your answers will definitely be different. But still, this is a set of possible answers.

(Also, I have a new RPG, Avadon 3: The Warborn, to promote. I need to get it attention to buy food for my kids. Sorry. That’s how the sausage is made.)

As a bonus, much of this advice also applies to other fields. This blogpostlet might be useful if you want to be a writer, or a comedian, or a sculptor, or make naughty needlepoint.

Much of it is focused on encouraging you to actually create something, by yourself or in a small group. There's a reason for this: If you want a real job in AAA gaming, the best way to get it is to have a portfolio to show them. Being able to point at something and say, "See? I made that!" is a huge advantage, if not a necessity.

Here are five bits of advice, elaborated in my trademark snarky, excessively-worded style. Each bit of advice comes with an exercise for you, the aspirant. Do not skip the exercises. They are more important than the advice.

This person took my artistic advice once. Then he embarked upon a memorable career in hotel management.

This is MY advice. Mine. It is what worked for ME.

My advice is mostly oft-repeated cliches, written thousands of times already by more attractive people. My advice may not help you. It may, in fact, harm you. Do not use my advice without consultation with a physician.

A young lad in Dublin tried my advice, and he came down with simultaneous scurvy and rickets. He travels with the circus now. For four shillings, they'll let you poke him with a stick.

This advice is worth what you paid for it. Opinions are like assholes: Everybody has one.

That said, let's begin.

When you make 1000 things, make sure you make 1000 different things, not the same thing 1000 times.
Advice #1: Make Games.

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

If you want to make games, make games. You don't need permission. If you want to make board games, make them. If you want to make computer games, learn a programming language. Or learn GameMaker, or RPG Maker, or Twine. No wrong answers.

Or mod one of the many video games that are moddable. Again, you don't need permission. You can make a Skyrim dungeon and upload it and people will play it and let you know what they think, and this is amazing.

Once you have a game/mod/whatever, show it to anyone who will look at it. Get their feedback, and LISTEN TO IT. More specifically, listen when they say, "I liked this," or "This confused me," or "This made me want to quit." They will also give you advice for how to fix the problem. Ignore it. They're not the creator; you are. Just listen to how your work affected them. That is the precious feedback.

Then make another thing. And another. This is a very difficult craft to learn, and you will have to spend a lot of time and endure a lot of failure. In the end, the only way to ever learn how to make games (or sculpt, or write plays, or knit) is to do it. (It's the same for everything else. Want to be a carpenter? You'll have to saw a lot of wood.)

If your job and/or kids keep you too busy to do this, please believe me when I say you have my sympathy. Look at the bright side. At least you have a job and/or kids.

(Note that I am not saying, as some do, “You must create EVERY DAY or you FAIL.” You’ll probably need to take breaks sometimes. Just remember that, whenever you put the weight down, you do have to pick it up again eventually.)

It is sometimes possible to make a mod or adventure for a game so good that some company will just up and notice you and offer you a job. It has happened. Good, dedicated, serious talent is rare and valuable. (Warning: The quality bar for this is VERY HIGH. Yet, your goal is to be that good. That is what you are working toward.)

Exercise #1:

You should have these things around your home: A chess set. Checkers. A pair of dice. A deck of cards (any set of cards, from any game, even Candyland). Paper and a pencil.

Use some or all of these components to make a game. (If this exercise is too wide open, try using these materials to make a game where the players are trying to win a race. Limitations aid creativity.)

Teach the game to someone else. Play it 2 or 3 times.

If you want to create something (a game, a story, an earwax sculpture), and you've never tried to create that thing, STOP READING. GO DO IT. NOW. NO EXCUSES. YOUR LIFESPAN IS LIMITED, AND YOU WILL BE DEAD SOMEDAY! GO! You'll learn more from an hour of creating than from reading a thousand blog posts. This article will still be here when you're done, and blogs are dumb.

Real artists ship. Heck, I once had a big success with a game that looks like this!
Advice #2: Play Games. Thoughtfully.

If you want to excel in some art form, it is extremely valuable to be very familiar with that art form. Play games. A lot. Experience it. Know the history of your craft. Know how it developed and the mistakes and clever inventions people made along the way. The more you know, the more tools you will have in your happy little toolbox.

This is meant to be work. Playing one game fifty hours is fun. Playing fifty games of different genres and styles, for one hour each, is work. Really picking them apart and figuring out what worked, why it worked, what didn't work, and why it didn't work, requires effort and concentration.

It also provides an invaluable education, and you don't need to pay one penny beyond the cost of the games to get it. With freemium titles, bundles, and Steam sales, you get honestly get a ton of games (and thus a ton of education) for really cheap.

Exercise #2:

Think back to the last 3 (or more) games you played for more than ten minutes. For each one, come up with a list of three SPECIFIC things it did well, and three things it did badly. Then come up with one design element you can see yourself wanting to use in a game of your own.

You should be able to do this for any game. Every game has problems or rough spots, and I've never played for 10+ minutes a game so bad it had nothing to offer (even if it's just a cool little animation on the title screen).

A great example of inspiration from varied sources. Also a great topic for the "Find three good things. Find three bad things." exercise.
Advice #3: Absorb All Media.

Be a voracious consumer of media. Books. News. Movies. Even music. The more you understand humans and how the world works and stuff, the more resources you have to draw from when you create.

People always ask artists, “Where do you get your ideas?” Often, we get our ideas by filling our brains with as much stuff as possible and letting it swirl around and recombine until weird stuff pops out. The key step is the “filling” part.

For example, I am a news junkie. I read the New York Times every day. In 1996, I was writing a game called Exile 2: Crystal Souls, about a war in a huge series of caverns far underground. (I recently rewrote this game. It's pretty sweet. Check it out.)

At the time, the Siege of Sarajevo was going on. I read about it, and, as I did, it infected the story I was writing. It filled me with ideas for encounters and infected the mood of the whole thing, making for a grittier, realer, cooler game.

But others drew much deeper, more productive inspiration from that tragedy. For them, it inspired a terrific indie hit called This War of Mine. I can think of no better example of how being attuned to your world can improve your work.

Exercise #3:

Go look at a reputable newspaper and read the headlines. Pick an intriguing one and read the story behind it.

Now design a game based on that. Not just a few quick sentences. Really think about it. What genre? How would it play? What are the goals? What makes you fail? Try to get your mental design to the point where you can close your eyes and picture a minute of actual gameplay.

Then think of one aspect of your design that really intrigues you, and one aspect that is underbaked or unfun or won't work.

(For example, at this moment, I'm looking at an article about a young woman who died young and had her head cryogenically frozen. It is very sad, yes, but it also makes me want to write a funny, macabre business sim set in a second-rate fly-by-night head storage facility.)

I tried to come up with the best royalty-free image to convey the concept of "College Debt."

Advice #4: Be Careful About College.

At some point, if you're young, you have some formal education ahead of you. Perhaps college. In these exciting days, you don't have to teach yourself to make games. There are educational programs specifically designed to cram game stuff into your brain folds.

I am REALLY nervous about giving kids advice about where to throw tons of their post-tax education cash. I'm not trying to ruin anyone's life here. I must, however, say this:

Most people who try to get into the gaming business don't succeed. And most people who do get into the gaming business leave within 10-15 years.

When choosing a place to buy your diploma, ask yourself: "If I don't work in games, will my education plan still help me get a job?"

If the institution grants standard-issue bachelor's degrees, the answer is yes. Otherwise, be honest. If the answer is "no" or "probably not," think VERY hard before going into debt to go there.

Established creative types tend to be somewhat suspicious about schools that teach art. If you have drive, talent, and inspiration, you don't need a degree to express it. If you don't have those three things, you probably aren't going to make it no matter how many degrees you get.

Don't get me wrong. Going to college in your chosen field CAN help. It really can. You get to spend several years focusing on nothing but honing your craft, relatively undistracted by the hassles of life. Even better, you get to do so in the company of passionate, like-minded students, who can work with you, challenge you, and provide valuable networking contacts later on. These things are truly precious.

Also, a real college will require you to study a wide variety of different subjects, and this can be very valuable to a budding creator. Revisit Advice #3, above.

Yes, college can help. Just, if games don't work out, be sure you have a Plan B.

One more thing. College can be fun. Live a life. Just never forget one thing:

Somewhere in the dorms, there is a young woman who is working her ass off. She is going at it hard, day after day, studying like her life depends on it, because it does. You don't know her. Nobody does, because she is too driven to leave her room.

In five years, she is going to be your mortal competitor. When you start your business, if you aren't ready, she is going to kick your ass.

So I think it might be a good idea for you to be ready. Don't you?

Exercise #4:

If you're in college, finish your blog-reading break, and then get back to work.

If you aren't in college, you have saved yourself a ton of cash, but you will need to educate yourself. Go do Exercises 1-3 again. And again. And again. Also, find your own community of like-minded folks, online or in reality. Challenge each other. You can make your own college experience, if you try.

This article is long and I am tired and coming up with incisive images is a lot of work why are your still reading zzzzzzz.
Advice #5: Find Your Own Voice.

You are a unique being. Humans are unimaginably complicated. There has never been a person exactly like you, and there never will be again. You have within you, somewhere, a game/book/song/scarf that only you can create. Your job is to find your way to let it out.

This is called Finding Your Voice. If you can do this, and your work is good, you are very close to attaining your dream.

(Of course, it's possible that, in the end, nobody will want the things that only you can make. Don't feel bad. Happens every day. It will happen to me someday. Then I'll get a soul-deadening job writing database software until I die. Oh, well. I had a good run.)

The problem is that, as you work, everyone in the world will be screaming at you what you should and shouldn't do. These loud people come from all design aesthetics and from both ends of the political spectrum. They all have one thing in common: They want to control you. You don’t have to let them.

Academics and college professors will tell you the true meaning of "Games" (or "Ludic Creations" or "Interactive Oppressions", or whatever intentionally obscure term they come up with). If your professor comes to you with friendly, concrete advice about improving your work, give them a serious listen. Otherwise, duck and cover.

No matter what you make, someone will try to bully you for it. Everyone in the world will have an opinion, and it will be LOUD. Don't let them into your head. Find your own voice. It's more fun that way.

This is art. Nobody knows anything, really. Just remember that, at several points in your learning, a trusted authority figure, in person or online, will serve you up a plate of pure, good olde-fashioned crappe.

This is OK. It's part of the process. Often, figuring out why someone’s bad idea is bad is far more educational than just meekly absorbing a good idea.

Just don't ever take anyone's words as Absolute Truth. Your path to success might be proving them wrong.

Never forget that, in the end, all of the teachers and web commenters and friends and family and me will fade away, and it'll just be you sitting there staring at a blank screen. It's all up to you, friend.

Exercise #5a:

You might profit from spending a little time developing confidence and humility. You should know about and beware of Imposter Syndrome. However, you should equally beware of its evil opposite, the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Learn about them. You have to be confident enough to persevere, but not so confident that you can't tell that your poop stinks.

For a little reality about the road ahead, you should hear about the 10,000 Hour Rule. When you are 5000 hours in and not sure you're making progress, this will remind you that you are still getting better. Just slowly.

Exercise #5b:

You need to be able to recognize when your own work is flawed. Go back to the best games that you made. For each, identify one flaw or way it could be improved. Then make it better.

Sometimes I can't resist ending with a bonus inspirational quote.
The Hard Truth Of The Thing

A career in games is hard. You really have to scramble to get a long-hour low-paid position, and you may well be laid off right after your game ships. In other words, it's as harsh and demanding as most artistic careers.

Don't try to do games for a living unless you're pretty sure you couldn't be happy doing something else. You can always write games as a hobby. It's still a fun creative outlet, and who knows? You might have a financial success and end up doing it for a living despite yourself.

Time For a Big, Rousing Finish. Cue the Trombones!

At least 20% of what I've written is useless garbage.

For you.

If you try to be a creator, you will end up developing your own way to do it, your own process, your own workflow unique to you. This always happens. Some of the smug, cookie-cutter "wisdom" above just won't apply to you. It's OK. You're a free person, and it's awesome.

I love making art. All guidelines can be ignored. All rules can be broken.

I especially love making games, because games are weird and new and nobody really knows anything about what they can do. Plus, games! Games are fun! Wheeee!

Your elders can give you a ton of advice, but, in the end, it's your brain on the line, splatting itself out for all to see.

You're a creator now, another in a lineage of creators millennia long. That is awesome. Be proud.

Get going.


Little nuggets of my dubious wisdom can sometimes be found at my Twitter. The really nifty retro RPG I just released is on Steam.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We Released Avadon 3! (Also, a Few Words About Free Time)

Avadon is done. That's 5 years of my life, tied up with a bow.
I don't always write controversial, widely-read blog posts that make people way, way, WAY angrier than they should be. I also make games.

At last, we have completed the Avadon Saga! Avadon 3: The Warborn is out for Macintosh and Windows! We are selling this fine, indie, retro, story-heavy RPG on Steam, GOG, Humble Store, and our own site.

Our next step is to port the game to the iPad, and hope that Apple doesn't accidentally step on us with its big, lumbering feet.

I wrote in some detail about who we are and what the Avadon series is like in May. I don't like to repeat myself. I prefer to troll the Internet by bantering about whether or not video games are Art or not. (Answer: Good Lord! Who cares?)

It is very exciting to finish a fantasy saga, the third big one I've completed. I'm sure you find it perplexing, as taking forever to actually wrestle a story to the ground is a constant plague in the genre. My secret technique: 1. Sit down in a warm, dry place. 2. Figure out how the story ends. 3. Write that.

Anyway. What to blog about? I'm trying to make interesting blog post that people tweet about so I can get a tiny scrap of attention and maybe sell some games.

Avadon 3: The Warborn is my 16th full-length, all new game. (My 24th, if you count remasters. And I put a lot of time in my remasters.) This is a large number. I've been writing indie games an unprecedentedly long time, and aspiring developers, for some reason, are often interested in my advice about things.

So, since I'm entering my blissful quiet period between games, I wanted to say how I spend that time. Because I know some of my in-depth fans like to know how I make the stuff they like. And because, when you want to be a creator in the long term, profitably expending your downtime is vitally important.

(If you don't care about me or my process, and you shouldn't, your time may be more profitably expended getting a huge, free demo of a cool new RPG.)

So what am I about to do?

Screenshot of my game provided for crass self-interest purposes.
1. Rest.

"If you're going to rest, rest."
- Angry White Pyjamas 

If you are a driven, type-A person, it can be hard to rest. You might think, "Oh, I'll sit around for an hour, but first I'll write a blog post/make some calls/do some design work/not rest."

You need rest to live. Pick a time. Pick something that will rest you. Spent that time doing that thing. I know you're driven. That's why you are a success. You still need to refill your tank for when it really counts.

2. Play Games.

This is actually work.

While I write a game, I am filling my Steam library. If it's hip or gets my attention or is in a nice, cheap bundle, I buy it. Now is the time for me to try them. All of them.

The purpose of this is to evaluate the state of the art. Find out what sorts of designs are hot now. Sample all of the weird mash-ups indies have come up with. ("Procedurally generated tower-defense roguelike") Look for new interface innovations, and see what irritates me so I know not to do that.

I play each game until I think I've seen everything new it has to offer. Most games get 15 minutes, tops. I especially try games in my genre, RPGs, even though I hate the vast majority of them. (I am a VERY jaded RPG gamer.)

Every once in a while, I find that rarest of treasures: A game I actually enjoy playing. This is a true treat. I actually play it for a while for fun, to remind myself why I do this. (This time around, I'm playing a lot of Inside and Salt & Sanctuary. Great games.)

As always, terrific color art provided by Ben Resnick.
3. Gather Ideas.

When I am not formally working on a game, it's a wonderful time to just go for long walks and thing up ideas. Stare at a wall. Listen to music. Think. Imagine. Write down what comes to me. It's a wonderful bit of freedom, to just let my brain wander.

99 out of 100 ideas are never used. But that 100th idea? That might be the bit of gasoline that fuels years of productive development.

But Back To Avadon. There Is a Demo.

Demos of games are vanishingly rare now, but I'm cranky and stuck in my ways, so I provide them. I don't want to take your money until you are sure the game functions and you like it.

We still have the biggest demos in the biz. You can download one on Avadon 3's page on our site.

(By the way, since I am often asked, we get the biggest cut of $$$ when you order using the Humble widget on the game's page. This comes with a Steam key. However, I am very grateful when you order no matter where you do it from.)

I'm still really happy with this screenshot. Looks even better in the trailer.
I Hope You Like the Game

The Avadon trilogy was very different from what came before. A lot of new people loved it. A lot of our old fans really didn't. I genuinely enjoy playing them, so I'll vouch for them. I think Avadon 3 is really cool. It's a gruesomely tough market, but I'm optimistic. I hope you like it.

On to the next thing ...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

No, Video Games Aren't Art. We're BETTER.

Do you think this should fill me with shame? Because it does not.
"When I was twenty, I worried what everything thought of me. When I turned forty, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. And then I made it to sixty, and I realized no one was ever thinking of me."
- Bob Hope, as told by Patton Oswalt

I used to argue passionately that video games were art.

Then I stopped arguing about it, because why bother? Of COURSE video games are art.

Now I see that it's a waste of time thinking of video games as art. Why would we game designers ever aim that low?

I Don't Want Art. I Want Transportation.

I just finished playing DOOM. Like many, I was amazed by how awesome a game it turned out to be. Penny Arcade had the perfect description for it: "Playable sugar."

DOOM had three of the best boss fights I've ever seen. Punishingly tough and yet scrupulously fair. When I died, I could say, "OK. I know what I did wrong. I won't do that again." When I fought those bosses, I was utterly transported. The rest of the world vanished. When I won, I was sweaty, wrung out, and completely satisfied.

I love literature and theatre. I love great movies. Yet, I can't remember any work of art, no matter how good, that consumed and drained me as much as the Cyberdemon in DOOM.

When I beat it, I felt proud. It is dumb to feel proud about something in a video game. The feeling was real nonetheless.

Nobody considers DOOM a work of Fine Art. Nor should they. Bloggers are not grinding their gears contemplating the True Meaning of DOOM. Nor should they.

It's not art. It's simply awesome.

Why would I ever be unsatisfied with Awesome?

Put this in front of me, and I will be lost until the sun comes up. Nothing else has that power over me. Should I be ashamed of this? Because I am not.
We're Doing Fine Without You.

It always peeves me when some blogger says, "Video games are OK, I guess, to the simple-minded. But they're not enough. They are unworthy. They're [string of negative adjectives], and it is up to me, hero that I am, to FIX them at last!"

Get over yourself. Video games are fine. No, they're not fine. They’re doing GREAT, by every possible metric.

Number of titles? The market is gruesomely flooded. (Gruesomely for developers, I mean. For fans, it's an overwhelming embarrassment of riches.)

Number of fans? Video games are popular to the point of global invasion. Find me a human, and I will find a game that can addict them.

Financial success? We're a 100 BILLION USD a year industry. We're huge and getting bigger every year.

Artistic accomplishment? Creativity? Look up any Best Games list from 2014 or 2015. Video games are breaking new barriers in craftsmanship and artistic expression every year and turning profits while they do it.

Diversity? Pick any demographic group, and someone is making games to cater to them personally. It's one of the great advantages of a gruesomely flooded market. (Of course, not every game will cater to you personally, but that's not possible or desirable. Other people get stuff they like too.)

Video games are taking over the world, and they're doing it in style.

We're winning because we offer something better than art. We offer Experience.

If you don't think Pong is fun, try it with friends. It holds up.
I Understand The Last of Us On a Higher Level Than You

The Last of Us is a truly great game. Many have written about it, including me. I recommend it very highly.

But here's what bugs me. The cutscenes of The Last of Us told a very good story. Those cutscenes, all together, would make a solid B+ zombie movie. But when bloggers wrote about it, they treated the actual game part of The Last of Us as this sort of useless, irritating, vestigial limb.

Without the gameplay, the action, the battle, the fear, the dying again and again, The Last of Us is just an above-average zombie movie. The true greatness of the experience is in the sneaking and the stabbing and the shooting and the dying. (LOTS of dying.)

Here's Why.

Would You Survive the Apocalypse?

It's not a hypothetical question. I mean it. Think about it. Five seconds from now, zombies leap in through the window. Civilization is OVER. Would you make it through?

Well, here's a way to think about the question.

Imagine starting a game of The Last of Us on the highest difficulty level. (Or The Walking Dead. Or DOOM, for that matter.) Go into it blind. Try to play through the whole thing, front to back, without dying.

If you make it, you survive the apocalypse. If you're one of the 99.9999% of people who don't make it, you die. You help make up one of the mountains of skulls that serve as DOOM background.

Try it. It's an amusing exercise. It took me five tries to get through the tutorial of The Last of Us, so I know where I stand.

I had a much older relative once who thought she was immune to video games. Then this infected her. Eventually, she shook free, but she never again dismissed the power of our craft.
Of Course, This Isn't Literal Truth.

Obviously, the skills to win a video game are different from the skills needed to literally survive the End of Days. I know this.

The Last of Us, the actual game part of it, is trying to do something impossible. Like, literally impossible. It is trying to give us a glimmer of a portion of a sensation of understanding the experience of the end of the world. It doesn't succeed, of course. It can't.

But it does come closer to putting us INSIDE that experience than anyone else. We're not watching, we're doing. We are, in an indirect way, mediated through joysticks, living an experience. We are taking part in a compelling demonstration of how fragile our lives are. How utterly inadequate we are to the challenge.

The Last of Us can trick our brains, for a moment, into thinking we're struggling for survival. Similarly, Minecraft can trick us into feeling like we're building something glorious out of nothing. Cookie Clicker creates a powerful sensation of growth and progress, abstract but compelling.

When I write a game, I try to make you feel like you have power. Then I try to make you feel the awesome, terrifying responsibility of having power. When I force you to make a tough decision, for a brief moment, I can reprogram your brain and take your thoughts somewhere they've never been before. This is amazing.

That is, at heart, what the games we make are. They are tools we creators use to compel and rewrite your brains. We haven't begun to come to terms with the power we've unleashed with these toys, these addiction machines.

This is an integral part of childhood now. It will only stop being thus when it is replaced by something even more powerful.
SimCity Isn't Art.

Nor is Civilization. Or Halo. Or Space Invaders. Or Castle Crashers. Or DOOM. Or Super Meat Boy. Or Hearthstone. Or League of Legends. Or Clash of Clans. Or Minecraft. Or Pac-Man. Or Solitaire. Or Pong. Not art. Why would they aim that low?

They provide consuming experiences. They are compulsions.  I'm not going to argue that they're High Art. They aren't. They're SuperArt. They take over your brain and let you get lost in them.

I can see why Artists look down on what we do. They have no choice. They certainly can't compete with us. What we do is irresistible. Authors and playwrights are dinosaurs, and we're throwing the asteroids. We'll let Film and TV survive. For now.

Atari Adventure doesn't look like much. Yet I've seen this silly thing compel people, young and old, for a whole evening. Not an evening many years ago. An evening NOW.
"But What About Games That Do Try To Be Art, Smart Guy?"

They're great. I am a huge fan of video games borrowing storytelling techniques from obsolete art forms. Beginner's Guide. Gone Home. Her Story. Firewatch. All worthy titles that fused game elements with more mundane art forms to create things that felt new and fresh.

A lot of indie games now are movies that you stroll through with the WASD keys. You can make a neat game this way. I’ll probably buy it. Just don't think it makes your work inherently superior to more gamey games. If you're just telling a story at me, well, a lot of media can do that. When I play Overwatch or Dark Souls or Civilization, I am transported in a unique way only video games can provide.

This is my game. It doesn't look like much. Yet, for 20 years, I've gotten fan mail telling me how addiction to my work threatened relationships and livelihoods. Good.
I Am Done Apologizing For My Craft.

I have been obsessed with video games for as long as they have existed. These strange, shaggy, crude, profane, elegant, lovely creations are my life's work. I love them.

However, video games have a crippling self-esteem problem. We are desperate for validation, and this makes us targets for any shyster who wants to take advantage of us.

Roger Ebert says he doesn't think we make art, and we lose our minds. Some people seriously claim games don't deserve the journalism due any industry of our massive size, even while ripoffs and shoddy goods are an epidemic. Academics and print journalism write about us in terms that are condescending, uninformed, and occasionally slanderous, and we cravenly respond,  "A newspaper cares about us! Please act like we're worth something! Please!!!" When you are sufficiently desperate for validation, even abuse can feel like love.

Enough. Developers and gamers are working in a symbiotic relationship to create something entirely new, a craft unlike anything in human existence thus far. We are exploring a new realm of possibility, and I count myself truly blessed that I get to take part in it from its infancy.

I just finished a game called Avadon 3: The Warborn. It's pretty cool. It has a lot of neat scenarios, choices, characters, battles, and just plain good stuff. I made a little world for you to try on for size. I hope you like the little toy I made. I've already started building two more.

Video games are so powerful that they can even disrupt the Magic of Friendship.
We've Only Taken the First Few Steps of an Epic Journey!

Want to pitch in? If you have ideas, suggestions, or feedback, we designers need to hear them.

Don't get me wrong. While our craft is awesome, it's still young. We still have so many ways we can improve. There are so many sorts of things we can and should do (design, technical, storywise) that we aren't yet. We need everyone's feedback to make a great thing better.

But I personally do require one thing: That your criticism be delivered with respect and love for the craft. If you don't like video games, don't play them. Fine. It’s your time. But we're already pretty terrific, and we're getting better. Fast. With or without you.

Stop using the word 'art'. Erase it from your dictionary. It's too weak a word. I want nothing less than to compel you. I am coming to consume all your thoughts, all your attention. I want to absorb you to the point where it threatens your marriage and your livelihood.

Video games should not interest or impress you. We should scare you. Video games are taking over the world. You haven't even seen a fraction of what we can do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

To Be a Pro is to Be Abused.

Trigger warning: Bears.
I want to say a few words to young developers on the value of resilience and the growing of a thick skin.

Slow down there. Hands off the keyboard. I an NOT talking about abuse, harassment, and threats. I've already written on this topic. Certain behaviors online are clearly unacceptable, and you should not be subjected to them.

What I AM talking about is learning to endure criticism and occasional hostility that is an inevitable part of being a creator in a public way.

Because you will be criticized. You will be insulted. People will be mean to you. Also, because you are only human and will occasionally make mistakes, sometimes that criticism will be justified. So you should be ready.

I'm going to tell two instructive stories. One about me, one about an ambitious young developer. (Well, as of this writing, ex-developer.) Know enough to be afraid. 

You WILL receive feedback like this at some point. Prepare in advance an appropriate reaction.
A Time That PC Gamer Was Mean To Me

In November, 2000, PC Gamer. reviewed my game Avernum. This was a huge deal for me, as PC Gamer was the biggest press outlet around. The game was already selling very well, but we were eager for a hit. Also, press attention for a small developer has always been really hard to get.

Imagine my surprise when the review, written by a Gentleman I Will Not Name (GIWNN for short), came out and my score was 17/100. Yes, 17%. I'm sure a lot of thought went into it. I imagine GIWNN up late at night, agonizing. "I mean, this game isn't quite good enough for a lofty 18%, but it's also not the sort of hackery that merits a mere 16%."

But it gets better. The review also says my game is worse that choking to death on your vomit. (I swear I am not making this up.) The review included a helpful sidebar that listed rock stars who choked to death on their own vomit. (Again, I SWEAR I am not making this up.)

If you are upset by the current level of journalistic standards in the games industry, I assure you there have been issues for some time.

Some developers would be given pause by a review like this. Some might even be slightly upset. I was not. I was still being given a full, free page of coverage in PC GODDAMN GAMER. I know that review brought me a bunch of new customers. I heard from them. I'm sure I got more extra cash from the review than the GIWNN got for writing it. (And, when you get a few drinks in me, I still get the review out sometimes to show to friends.)

Are you an aspiring game developer? Picture the largest games press outlet publicly treating you in such a manner. If you have any response besides, "Hey, any PR is good PR," you might want to reconsider your career path.

I got that review, and I went on to have a highly lucrative and satisfying career. PC Gamer went on to give very kind coverage to quite a few of my other games. And the GIWNN went on to achieve his True Destiny: being a negligible non-entity.

Since I was taking pictures in my office, I thought my more devoted fans would like some sweet backstage info. For example, I work surrounded by my classic vidya gaem collection. Here is a tiny portion of my Atari 2600 games.
The Tale of Bear Simulator

What brought this article on was the sad story of recent indie title Bear Simulator, written by an ambitious fellow named John Farjay. Full disclosure: I have not played it, as bears are Godless Killing Machines

Bear Simulator was funded on Kickstarter with an impressive haul of over $100K. Farjay then broke from Kickstarter tradition by actually finishing the game in a reasonable period of time. He delivered it to backers and released it on Steam. (As of this writing, user reviews for the game: Very Positive.)

At this point, and I'll admit I'm a little fuzzy on the exact particulars, the game received some negative press. There was a particularly brutal takedown by renowned INTERNET TOUGH GUY Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (sometimes referred to as PewDiePie). This review ended with him getting a refund on Steam, which is now the traditional way for a vicious hack job to spike the ball in the endzone.

John Farjay quit, announcing this in a poignant little post on Kickstarter. Since it might not still be up when you read this, I'll include an excerpt:

Well the game didn't have a great reception, has a stigma against it's name and there's plenty of other problems so making any updates or going further is basically a lost cause now. Plus not skilled enough to make the game better than it currently is or write better updates than previously.
 Was really hoping the Steam release would go well but why would it, should have just gave the game to backers and not bother with Steam.
 Also don't want to deal with the drama anymore. Can't ignore it because that causes more drama and can't do anything about it because that causes more drama.
 It was really fun making the game, trailers, updates, websites, tutorials, blog posts and stuff, hopefully you all liked those things.
 Am glad most of you guys are happy with the game though, unless you were just being nice

I mean, seriously, if you don't find this at least a tiny bit sad, you have an even harder heart than I do.

The Thing That Makes Other Indie Devs Raise Their Eyebrows

There are so many of us who would give a lesser body part to be savaged in a video by PewDiePie. Man, I would love for him to tear apart my work in one of his videos. I'd salve my hurt feelings by using the extra sales to buy a Tesla.

But that's the difference between a hardened veteran and a new recruit, isn't it?

Some of the piles of junk that form my nest. Yes, those are two functional Vectrexes. I am amazing. 

If you know anything about me, you know that I would never savage a young, earnest developer. Others enjoy lashing out when there's blood in the water (especially when there's tasty, tasty clicks to bait), but I don't.

I have no problem with John Farjay. He offered a game on Kickstarter, delivered a game, became unhappy, and tried to extricate himself from the situation in as ethical a way as possible. The only real criticism I've heard leveled against him is that he didn't provide Kickstarter updates that often, but that isn't a crime as long as the game eventually arrives.

Here's what this situation sounds like to me: This guy wanted the job, applied for the job, got the job, decided he didn't like the job, and quit. This happens 10000000 times a day. It's not a big deal. It's only the public element that made it newsworthy.

And here's the cool thing: There's still hope. Suppose John Farjay changed his mind. Suppose he caught up on sleep, went for a few restorative walks, and went, "Wait! I do want to write games!"

He could write a Kickstarter update, say, "Sorry. I went nuts for a few days. I'm better now, and I'm back to work!" If he did this, I promise that he'd be welcomed back with open arms. It's a great story, and people love indie devs because we're quirky and human.

This shouldn’t have ever happened, though. Aspiring developers need to hear tales like these, so that they know what they are in for.

A shareware award I got in 1997, next to notes from my new game. My work notes very strongly resemble the opening credits to Se7en. 
But What Does That Mean Exactly?

It’s easy to say “Toughen up.” But what does that mean? How do you modify your behavior and reactions in a way that enables you to withstand being in this business longer. Because that’s the goal: Creating a stable, sustainable business you like to run.

This will, in the end, vary from person to person. I don’t know what your mental fault lines are. I don’t know what freaks you out. I only know that, when you find the thing that freaks you out, you should probably modify your behavior or inputs in a way that leaves you calmer and more able to do your job.

For example, a lot of devs I know worry about weird metrics. They obsess over their Steam wishlist numbers, or their user reviews, or if they can compete with some new game that’s coming out, or whether keys they chose to sell through Humble Bundle are being resold. The world presents us with infinite trivia to worry about.

If a piece of input worries you, and you can’t control it, and you have no crystal clear idea what its impact on your life will be, feel free to ignore it. In fact, you probably should ignore it. If something upsets you, do everything you can to ignore that something.

Being harassed is VERY difficult to ignore, so do what you need to to keep from being harassed. Forums are nice, but you don’t HAVE to have them. Twitter has its points, but you don’t HAVE to be on it. (This is true. I ran a successful business for many a year before Twitter went live.) If a forum or public-facing account is a hive of harassment and nastiness, shut it down for a month. Most of the trolls will move on.

If you say, “I have to be on [web site] no matter what!” you are giving the crazies a weapon they can use to hit you. Don’t do that. “But they can drive me off of a site? That is wrong and not fair!” Yes. It is wrong and not fair. I’m angry about it too. But this isn’t an undergraduate ethics class. It’s business. Who ever told you business was fair?

(Fun aside: What percentage of online abuse against developers is secretly being launched by their competitors to push them out of the business? It might be 0% now, but, as the industry gets even more competitive, it won’t stay 0% forever. Sleep tight.)

This is a TOUGH, competitive business. It’s a blood sport. To have even a small chance of success, you will need to bring your A game, day after day, for years at a time. If something distracts you from that, you must cut it out without mercy.

My latest game's Metacritic. It's entirely fair. When I disagree with something someone wrote, I send them a respectful rebuttal
Quick Aside About User Reviews

Most indie developers write games aimed at niche audiences. Therefore, the games they write won’t be liked by most gamers. This is pretty much the definition of ‘niche.’

Alas, indie developers also tend to really freak out about negative user reviews on places like Steam. They worry about this too much. It’s easy to forget that, if you write a game aimed at only 10% of the gaming audience, 90% of players will hate your game. A lot of them will leave bad reviews. This sort of review is not harassment. It’s the system working as intended.

Sometimes, when a dev expresses an unpopular political opinion, those who disagree will organize a brigade and spam your Steam page with negative reviews. This sucks, and they shouldn’t do that. (Although I would gently observe that, when your goal is to run a profitable business, political activism will only very rarely help in this.)

Not all clumps of negative reviews are signs of evil intent, though. Maybe you just wrote a game a lot of people don’t like, and they told you, and that’s the end of the story. Be ready for it.

I suggest making sure that the sliver of users who like your games are paying you enough money to stay in business. Then do what I do and don’t read user reviews. EVER.

But Getting Back To the Main Point

John Farjay was living the dream, and he fell apart. It's far from the first time, and it won't be the last. Life in the public eye, even in so lowly a role as indie game dev, can be tough. It's not for everyone.

It's the job of me and others like me to prepare the neophytes. They need to be ready for these jolts. They can't let one nasty review or article collapse them.

Assholes and hacks exist. So do reasonable people who will call you out when you inevitably make mistakes. You must be ready for all of them.

How do you get to this lofty point? I don't know. I just wish you luck, and I won't hold it against you if you find you aren't cut out for it.

Brace yourself. Good luck.


(You can read my moment to moment thoughts on Twitter, which I am on for the moment. Finally, I can't resist ending with a link to this.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Avadon 3, Announcing New Games, and Facing Your Inadequacy.

Aaaaaand ... we're off!
We have just announced our newest game, Avadon 3: The Warborn!

It's the final game in the series! At last, you get to end the war, pick a winner, and decide who lives and who dies! (Though we are making sure that the game will still make sense and be satisfying even if you didn't play Avadon 1 and 2.)

It should be out in September, unless things go wrong. Completing this series will bring an end to five frenzied years of my professional life.

I wanted to talk about the game a little, for people who don't know about us, people who do, and people who are interesting in making games in general.

I'll try not to be boring.

If You Don't Know Who the Hell We Are ...

Hi! We're Spiderweb Software. Since 1994, we have created indie, retro, turn-based, huge, epic fantasy role-playing games. We specialize in games with intricate stories that give you a lot of interesting choices. We also like making fun game systems and varied combat with lots of unusual encounters and tactical options.

If that sounds cool, just stop reading this. Go here or here and download a big, free demo. We have always had the biggest demos in the business. If you like what you try, all of our stuff is on Steam.

If You Already Play Our Games ...

Thank you for your support!

We asked for a lot of fan feedback before we started Avadon 3, and we put a lot of it into effect. There are a ton of changes and improvements in this new game. Many long-overdue interface improvements. A lot of rebalancing and new abilities. Fewer trash fights and greater encounter variety.

I managed to generate some pretty decent screenshots this time around.
What Is Avadon About?

If you want the basic facts of the story, they are on the main game page, and I'm tired of rewriting it. (This is the sort of disciplined approach to PR that has enable me to maintain decades of consistent anonymity.)

I'm more interested in talking about the process.

In the 20+ years I've been doing this, I've always had one main habit: I write the sort of game I enjoy playing. They are always RPGs, because I am obsessed with that genre. It's a genre that allows for great variety. (And the basic, addictive elements of which have infected just about every other genre.)

Whenever I'm not sure what to do with a game, I always make the choice I would prefer if I was a player. It's a compass that has almost never steered me wrong.

When I decided to write Avadon, I'd just played Dragon Age: Origins, which is still, for my money, one of the finest RRPGs every made. It made me want to write a similar game: An epic story, full of intrigue, dark fantasy, and touch choices, set in a huge and complex world. I wanted the battles to have their own flavor, with lots of different tactical options and unexpected events, and in which movement and positioning are really important.

I think I succeeded. Kind of. I will say that I enjoy playing Avadon games more than I enjoy playing any of my other games. A lot of my fans don't care for Avadon as much, but that's ok. We write a lot of different sorts of RPGs.

Actual gameplay footage!
But I'm Ready To Move On and Feel Bad About What Has Come Before

Like many creators, I hate looking at the work I've done. Even if it's good, it still pales in comparison to the beautiful image I had in my mind when I began. Looking at the final work can be a painful process.

A painful process, but a helpful one. When you fail to do what you wanted to do, well, failure can be very educational. You just need to look hard and honest at you failures and see what you can do to correct them.

So, some things I'm unhappy with about the Avadon series.

When I was designing Avadon, I was very ambitious. Lynaeus, the continent on which the series takes place, has 5 friendly nations and six hostile nations, each of which has its own politics, history, and so on. I wanted to make a whole world.

In the end, however, I was just one designer.

There are so many factions, wings of government, conflicts, controversies ... Too much for me to keep track of, too much to fully develop. I wrote so much lore I could never find a place to fit into the game. There were so many locations I just wasn't able to give enough time to.

My eyes were bigger than my stomach on this one.

Also, i didn't put as much polish in these games as I should. Avadon 3 will have a lot of careful rebalancing and useful interface improvements. However, these changes should have been in Avadon 2. Honestly, a lot of these things should have been in Avadon 1 so I didn't have to fix them in the first place.

I have a good excuse for some of this. I'm only one person, and I'm getting older and slower. Still, a problem is a problem, and, if I'm asking people for money, I'm still responsible for flaws.

Finally, I've stuck with this particular engine, graphics style, and world style for too long. After I remaster Avernum 3 (our most popular game over the years), I'm going to do something way different. It's well past time.

Actual gameplay footage!
I Also Have Reached My Own Limits

However, the Avadon games have also reached the limits of what I am capable of holding in my single brain. They are the limit for how complex I game I can make without going mad. There's just too many characters, story threads, and so on. After a few months of keeping everything balanced and in my head and making sense, it gets exhausting.

One of the great pleasures in my job is finishing a game and being able to forget everything I've had to hold in my mind, ready for fast access. It's like putting down a heavy weight. I'm really looking forward to letting Avadon drift away. It's been like having to have a second family, only in my head. A weird, dysfunctional, non-existant family. I want it to fade away and leave a blank canvas, that I can fill with other fun stuff.

And, in Avadon's sprawling messiness, I think we made something really neat. Among all of the treasure hunting and epic battles, this is a story about running a fading Empire. You have borders to protect and unlimited power to do so. Will you be cruel or merciful? Will you be dutiful to your country, or will you focus on power for yourself?

Avadon 3 is full of choices, and your decisions will lead to a multitude of possible outcomes. No cop-out twist endings. It won't all have been a dream. We will make sure that the series caps off with a satisfying ending.

We'll be starting an all-new series soon. When we do, it will still be a big, complex game, but it will be big and complex in a different way. At the very least, there will be fewer than 11 countries for you to keep track of.

Back To Work

And that's all for now. Hope you like the screenshots and the trailer. If you're new here and like RPGs, we have 20 years of back catalog to tempt you.

Time to go write a few thousand more words of dialogue!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How I Deal With Harassment, Abuse, and Crazies In General.

Whenever I write about a topic that upsets me, I calm myself by illustrating it with royalty-free, reassuring stock photos.
"People are a problem." - Douglas Adams
I get a lot of requests for advice from young developers. Some of these questions regard advice on how to deal with being harassed online. Sometimes, these requests come from people actually experiencing harassment. This is a topic I've been afraid of writing about for some time. It tends to draw firestorms.

Also, it is an issue that affects other individuals WAYYYYY more than it affects me, and I don't want to be a callous buttinski around other peoples' troubles.

But I do get asked. And I do want to respond. I don't think young developers should value my feedback, yet they do. They certainly deserve to get fair warning about what awaits them. So.

This is how I, me personally, handle the threat of online harassment. Your mileage may vary. No, it WILL vary.

I Am a Public Figure

When I release a game or write something visible to the whole world, even a tiny something (Warning: Twitter counts!), I am acting as a public figure. A teeny tiny one, but a public figure nonetheless. Public figures have always received hate mail, abuse, threats, and messages from the unhinged, and they always will. Alas, the internet makes them much easier to deliver.

If you are a public figure, you will be abused eventually. Maybe mild insults. Maybe much worse. This abuse can spread to those around you. (Employers. Loved ones.) You should start thinking about this (and your tolerance for it) now.

This means that, unless something changes very drastically, from Day 1 of your life as a public figure, you should be thinking about your public image and how you will manage it. What is your mental resilience? How much abuse can you take?

Yeah, these chocolates are really reassuring, until some rando finds your street address and gets 100 boxes of them shipped to your house.
1. Harassment is real, and it has a real effect.

Being harassed is harmful. It's easy to say, "Just toughen up. Walk away from the screen." until you've actually experienced it.

Humans are tribal creatures, and tons of insults are upsetting to us on a deep lizard-brain level. Anonymous threats are terrifying, even if they aren't credible. Organized swarms of bad Steam/iTunes reviews can sink a vulnerable business. Organized swarms of angry people can cost you your job. And getting swatted (someone giving an anonymous call to your local emergency services to get a SWAT team sent to your house) might kill you.

By the way, these days, they don’t just come after you. Your family and loved ones will be considered targets as well. You may be capable of ignoring being called every dirty word in the book. But is your mom?

So complaining about harassment isn't just whining by sheltered nerds. The more visible and outspoken you are online, the higher the chance that a whirlwind will land on the heads of you and those you love. There is no chance of this changing in the foreseeable future. This is serious business. I am scared. Everything I do online is weighed against the risk of harassment.

Actually, that's another good reason why I haven't written about it. I don't want to be yet another sheep, bleating loudly in the middle of wolf-infested woods.

Actually, these macaroons look sort of gross. Also, who ever thought it'd be ok to charge two bucks for one small cookie?
2. I filter my input. Mercilessly.

I know a lot of creators of nerd culture. Game designers, writers, comic artists. Old, gnarled, crabby, battle-hardened pros with decades of experience. You'd have heard of a bunch of them.

They all have something in common. It never fails to amaze me, but a single mean email or bad review can send them into a spiral. Like, they'll still be obsessing over it days later. I think, "Wow. After all these years, they still won't let this stuff roll off of them?" And then it happens to me.

So we filter our inputs.

Consider this. Suppose you are, like all right-thinking people, a big fan of Taylor Swift.  So you want to write her a piece of kind fan mail, telling her how awesome she is.

She might read it. It's entirely possible. However, before it hits her iPhone, I bet it will have been filtered by at least one handler. (All of this is just my guess, of course. I would NEVER presume to speak for T-Swizzle.)

There is a super-good reason for these handlers. I've never met Taylor Swift, and I likely never will, but I do know one thing about her: She is a human being, so she is heir to all human vulnerabilities. If hit with the wrong email at the wrong time, she will be thrown off her game for a day, or three. If Taylor Swift is thrown off her game, major corporations lose millions of dollars. So they filter.

I do the same thing. Your messages to me are checked before I get them. I almost never read forums. I'll bet most public figures with any kind of profile do the same thing.

Some people are mean. Some people are crazy. Some people are both. I do not let people in these categories pour poison directly into my ear.
That's odd. I don't find this picture reassuring at all.
3. I remember that life is not fair.

Suppose someone gets angry at me for what I write. He gets a bunch of friends together and they give my games bad reviews on Steam and iTunes.

This is really mean and genuinely harmful, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it. They will cost me earnings, and I have no recourse. They walked up, punched me in the nose, and strolled away, and I could do nothing.

Meanwhile, anonymous hordes gather and attempt to cause real suffering to their targets (and their targets’ loved ones). Targets often chosen for silly, trivial, or even factually incorrect reasons and given punishment utterly out of proportion with what they might possibly have done (or not). There is no logic to it, no justice. Just mad lashing out. I have tried to understand it, and I have failed. It is simply maddening.

Life is not fair.

If there was a solution, I would be suggesting it. If I had ever heard or read an answer which would really work and not be a bandaid and would actually make things better, I’d be shouting it at the top of my lungs. But I got nothing. What can’t be changed must be endured.

So, when I get scared or angry (which is often), all I am able to do is attempt a measure of Zen acceptance. I mean, sure, I could rail about how mean the Internet is. But the Internet is what makes my business and awesome life possible in the first place, so it seems a little churlish to hate the Internet.

I will never be totally safe. There will always be fights. Afterward, I get up, dust myself off, get back to work, and try to make enough money to endure the occasional asshole assault.

Well, this is kind of reassuring, I guess. Bones are good. We need them to live.
4. I am very careful about poking the beast.

Over the last year, my writing output has dropped to almost zero. I'm still writing. I have a folder full of completed articles. I just don't post them, because of fear.

The main way to draw abuse is by saying things that anger people. Saying true things still makes people angry. In fact, true things often make people more angry.

When I chose to make a living as a creator, I picked a very difficult job. Very hard, long hours, with a minimal chance of success.

Suppose I also decide to try to change the world in some way. In this case, I picked another very difficult job. Very hard, long hours, with a minimal chance of success.

But there's a key difference between these two jobs. When I try to make stuff to make people happy, most people like me. Only mean, nasty people are out to genuinely hurt someone who only wants to share neat things with the world.

When I am trying to change the world, it's different. Human beings naturally hate and fear change. If you try to change the world, no matter how noble your cause, you will make some people angry.

Remember what I have egotistically termed Vogel's Iron Law of Anger: If you try to make people angry, intentionally or not, you will succeed.

Now what I am not (NOT NOT NOT) saying is that you should be quiet and never state your opinions. I am NOT saying that. In fact, as a citizen of a republic, I believe it is my sacred responsibility to occasionally speak up and try to nudge opinions.

However, a republic is not a suicide pact. What I AM saying is that I weigh my opinions very carefully. When I decide to speak up and try to change minds, I must ask: Am I currently ready to be shouted at? How much? Is the piece I am about to write a ticking time-bomb that will explode and destroy my career in five years? Then I pick fights that will not overly distract me from my first work: creating.

OK, my reassurance-evaluation algorithm is definitely on the fritz. Give me a second.
5. Beware Twitter. 

Twitter was designed, from Day 1, to enable any random person to send messages directly to any public figure. In other words, from Day 1, it was designed to be an abuse and harassment engine. It's not a bug. It's a feature. All that abuse and controversy is how it gets clicks and money.

They are a publicly traded, for-profit corporation, so they will never change in a way that brings them less money. In fact, being a publicly traded corporation, they receive overwhelming pressure to not do so. Do not trust corporations to make the world a better place. They are not your pal. They do not love you. Beware.

6. I have obtained a weapon for self-defense, and I have become proficient in its use.

Ha. Ha. I'm just kidding.

Or am I?

I'm certainly not going to tell you here.

Online harassment has been around for a long time. Every year, it increases in prevalence, ingenuity, and raw damage. I see no reason why this trend will change. I suspect, five years from now, things will be even worse. I don't know what will happen or how I will deal with it when it does.

I've been lucky. I've never gotten to the point where I seriously considered calling the cops. Not yet. Not because I didn't want to, but because I knew it wouldn't help.

Because who are we kidding? They won't do anything. The Law's ability to deal with crimes that haven't happened yet is pretty much zero. (As so many who have gotten restraining orders against an abuser can sadly testify.)

However, the police might make a note in some database saying that SWAT teams heading to my house should be a little extra-careful. That's more than zero.

Look, I've gotten legit scary messages. I've had nights where I sat up on the couch, scared to death, listening for someone trying to break in. I have explored my gunpowder-based self-defense options.

(If you think I am being over the top here, please bear in mind that I am very intentionally leaving out the details of problems I have personally encountered, as I will NOT say anything publicly that might reawaken those problems.)

Writing about this topic, all I can do is shake my head slowly and take deep breaths and try to calm the anxiety. I tell myself that the person who actually comes to kill me probably won't bother to send a polite warning first. Weirdly, this doesn't make me feel better.

I don't know. I just do what I do and hope for the best. Does this count as advice?

GAH. OK. Time to wrap this up.
Scared Yet?

If you're thinking of being a public figure, you need to be ready for it. I guess I do have advice. If you are nervous now, you have taken it: Be nervous. It's OK. It's the rational path.

And that's all I have to say about it. This is a very unsatisfying way to end the article, but the online environment now is very rough, angry, and in a state of flux. I think things will get worse before they get better. (Spoiler warning: They will never get better.)

I respect the damage harassment can do. I don't blame the victim. I don't back down from every fight, but I am prepared for others to fight back. I am nice and respectful whenever possible. I remember some humans are mean, some are crazy, some are both, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. I also remember that the vast majority of people are quietly decent. Finally, I remember that being a public creator is a tough, noble path, and I am proud of it.

I hope you can pick something worthwhile from this heap of scraps. Good luck.


I also say things on Twitter.

Edit (4/17/16) - Replaced the sentence "In fact, being a publicly traded corporation, they are legally prohibited from doing so." with something more accurate.