Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Gaming Needs To Have More Arguments. Here Are Some Topic Suggestions!!!

Today, I argue for more argument on the Internet. I freely admit that this is a Hardcore-difficulty rhetorical maneuver.

I just got back from the Game Developer's Conference, where I met a ton of cool people who write indie games and attended many panels. Everyone I met was perfectly lovely. Indie developers are a bunch of friendly, outgoing, huggy folks, and they could not have been kinder to me. I appreciated it.

Yet, there is one thing I find fascinating (and maybe even slightly worrying): In several days around my peer group, talking and drinking with them, I did not hear one argument.


Indie gaming is changing very fast. Our art is expanding in every way and getting tons more press. Our business is booming, to the point where it is actually significant. (The figure I heard at GDC was that indies are grossing over a billion USD a year, which is a real business by any measure.) Indie devs are artists, and our work is now a Big Deal.

But here's the thing. Artists are a proud, passionate, opinionated lot. Look anywhere in the history of art, and you will find passionate (even furious) debate. People used to riot at concerts and the theatre, for God's sake.

Indies have a lot of things to argue about. Our art form is very, very new, and there are countless unanswered questions. Hell, there are more questions than answers at this point. Nobody seems to know anything about anything. We should be figuring some stuff out. We should be having debates. Noisy, vigorous debates.

Therefore, I am going to, in my humble and retiring style, suggest a number of Open Questions In the Field of Indie Development and Marketing. I think they are all issues intelligent people could disagree on and have a heated debate about. If you are hungry for a good topic for a panel or article, help yourself. You’re welcome.

I freely argue with gamers and developers, because I am respectful and thoughtful and know that we are all bound by the Magic of Friendship.
A Selection of Topics For Argument

We know it's possible for your game to be a hit or to fail. What about in-between? Is it still possible for new indie devs to chip out a sustainable, middle-class career, building a fan base and serving an underserved niche? If so, how?

So how DO you figure out what price will maximize earnings for your game? Does it depend on genre? Production value? How much media attention you get?

Should indie games be cheap? Indie games have long been cheaper than AAA games. This is an advantage. Is it a good idea to give it up?

I have long believed that one of the great advantages of indie gaming is that people like us and think we are cool. Thus, people want to keep us in business. Buying our games makes them feel good. Is this true? Do indie developers have an ethical responsibility to maintain the reputation of our industry? (This is a tough question. If an indie dev wants to do something unpopular, but it will provide the money he or she absolutely needs to stay in business, I'm not sure I could in good conscience tell them not to.)

Have indies let their quality control slip? If an indie is selling a strictly non-functional game, should we be pressuring them to remove it from sale? (I am a long-suffering Mac gamer. So many indie Mac ports are seriously broken or just plain non-functional.)

Are free to play games ethical? If so, are some sales practices for them ethical and some not? If so, how do you tell where to draw the line?

Computer games are a 100 BILLION dollar a year global industry that employs multitudes and entertains countless people. Given that, does our industry deserve a serious, professional media that adheres to reasonable journalistic standards? If so, do we have it?

Have I gotten myself into trouble even asking those questions? Also, am I being unfair? Is it even possible to make money doing rigorous old-fashioned journalism anymore? In any field?

Customers expect new games to eventually go on sale. Is this a bad thing? If so, how should indies act in order to extract more money from customers? If there was a way for us all to collude to keep prices high, should we do it?

Most agree that Steam Early Access is, overall, a good idea. That said, how developed should a game be before it's allowed into Early Access? How long is too long to wait for a game you bought early (or on Kickstarter) to be actually released?

If you're making an episodic game, how long is too long to wait to release the final chapter? (Bear in mind that if you take, say, five years, a percentage of your purchasers will be DEAD before the final part is out. As the gaming audience ages, this percentage will only increase.) How many years have to pass before you cross the line from eccentric, unpredictable, lovable creator to something far less respectable?

When playing a competitive game, should trash talking be allowed? How do you tell when trash talking becomes abuse? If all trash talking is bad, should it be removed from every competition, including in real life?

While I love many Walking Simulators and have recommended many of them in my blog and on Twitter, I also like to use the term Walking Simulator because I think it's funny. Am I a bad person? I play casual games on my PS4 all the time, but I still joke about Filthy Casuals and Console Peasants. Is this abuse or harmless japery? How do we find the line between the two?

Most agree that game refunds are, overall, a good idea. Should we push every platform to offer them? If so, when should a customer be allowed to get a refund?

Most agree that user reviews are, overall, a good idea. However, user reviews enable a few disgruntled cranks to brigade your game's page and directly attack your sales. This really sucks, but it seems impossible to prevent it. Can it be prevented? If so, how do you do this without enabling developers to simply remove bad reviews they don't like?

The most common story I've heard from indies lately is: "We did a ton of PR work. We got a lot of positive attention. Our game still didn't sell well." Does this actually happen or is it just my imagination? Is the universal advice of, "Indies need to do tons of PR or die," actually correct? What sorts of games is it true for?

I have read many articles saying that developers should have high self-esteem and confidence and avoid Imposter Syndrome.  Yet, my self-hatred is what drives me to improve, and my terror is what drives me to work hard. Is there really one optimal developer emotional state?

I was hugely disappointed when Steam's program for paid mods and add-ons failed. I think this is a good potential route for indies to make a name and a living. Is a working for-pay mod system possible? If so, how would you make it?

One of the best ways to make a living as an indie is to find a much loved but underserved genre and start to serve it. Are there any underserved genres left?

Do Let’s Plays of your game always increase sales? Suppose you don’t want long Let’s Plays of your games. Do you have the right to prevent them? Is a long duration Let's Play a copyright violation? How long until a big lawsuit forces twitch.tv to only allow streaming of your game if you give them explicit permission?

Are schools that teach game design and programming a good deal? How useful are the degrees they offer if the recipient leaves the industry? Is anyone doing long-term studies of this issue? When a young dev asks me whether he or she should blow $80K of after tax money to study game design, what the hell should I say?

Finally, video games are a TOUGH business. Many indies go into it with the strategy of, "Newer give up. Never surrender." But not all of them can make a living. Isn't there a point where you SHOULD give up and/or surrender? How do you tell when you've reached it?

I am going to transition from My Little Pony to Naruto header images, as my daughters are forcing me to watch Naruto. All 80000 episodes of it.
“Great. More arguments on the Internet.”

I can picture you now, sighing and shaking your head. "The last thing we need is more discord, more shouting," you may well be thinking. It seems like the whole Internet is good for nothing but shouting. There is a small number of assholes out there now, doing enormous damage. I don't deny it. To deny it would be willful blindness.

Yet, we can't let those assholes keep us from doing the work we need to do and figuring out the things we need to figure out. We should provide the assholes a good example by showing them that respectful criticism and debate still exists.

I really enjoyed GDC, but the talks there left me with more questions than answers. Tough questions, that could use some real debate. When I wrote about the Indie Bubble, a lot of indie devs called me out on this point or that, and it was awesome.

Indies are decent people, and we like each other. This means that we can afford to have a few arguments. It is possible to debate someone, even passionately, even with shouting, and still love them and go out for drinks with them at the end of the day. I do it with my family and friends all the time.

This nightmare is what comes up when you do a Google Image Search for "Naruto fights." So. Um. Don't do that.
In Conclusion

When I was young, I loved a good argument. I don't really enjoy debates anymore. I'm a lot more chill in general now.

But I will still argue, not because I enjoy it but because it is my duty. Frequent, vigorous, respectful debate is good for a community, an industry, and an art form. Debate is the Darwinian crucible in which bad ideas are burned away and good ideas emerge, purified in fire.

(The key is to make sure that only bad ideas get burned away, not people.)

I’m going to try to defeat my cowardice and start blogging again and chipping away at this pile of open questions. I hope, when I’m dumb, people point it out. If you think I wrote something wrong and can provide actual reasons to prove your case without resorting to cheap ad hominem attacks, I hope you’ll take your shot at me.

Then, if you manage to score a point on me and we meet at a convention someday, I will happily buy you a drink. Something reasonable. Jack Daniels quality. None of this top shelf crap. I'm not made of money.


As always, you can get fresh opinions and news about our games at our Twitter.


  1. Maybe they all spend enough time on the Internet to be sick of arguments. I know I am, and I'm just an outside observer, not the usual target of vitriol that so many developers seem to be.

    1. Who could get sick of arguments? That would be like getting sick of beer, or RPGs!

      If someone gets sick of arguments, I'm guessing they never liked them anyway...

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  2. Do Let’s Plays of your game always increase sales? No.

    I've been a fan of That Dragon, Cancer and supported their Kickstarter campaign. They claim people are more willing to watch the game instead of buying it. Is it a direct impact? I don't know, but I can see why the developers aren't interested in supporting Let's Plays.

    I'm a hobbyist game developer although I've tried making a go of it and went broke doing so. The games I made were either not polished enough or had unfamiliar controls. To be honest, I'm actually happier making games in my free time because I don't have to worry about a paycheck and have the freedom to make what I want.

    I appreciate the thoughtful questions and would love to know the answers to many of them myself. I'd like to know why indies don't often do sequels. Do they have some moral code against it or is it just because they want to develop something different? Seems like an obvious way to stay afloat, if the first game was successful, because there is already a market.

    1. That Let's Play thing is a good question. I've been following the Let's Play culture on SomethingAwful forums for a good while now. They recently changed their rules, but for a long time the rule on their LP board was that new games are not to be LP'd. This was partly because the LPer would not have enough time to construct an informative, well thought out LP out of it, but also because of possible legal issues related to damaging the sales of the game.

      There are multiple games that I'd much rather watch being LP'd than play myself, while some LP's have made me buy the game. Often, the games I end up not buying are bad games with a humorous, mockery LP of it, while games such as Spelunky and The Void were instant buys for me after seeing them.

      An example of a game that did exceedingly well due to LPs[citation needed] was Five Nights at Freddy's. The game was relatively unknown until some major influences started showing the game off, after which it became huge.

      As such, I'd say that the influence a Let's Play has on games sales is mostly about the type of the game. A single narrative with no changes along the way wouldn't probably offer anything new if you were to play it yourself, unless the gameplay mechanics were really fun and those were the reason someone would buy the game in the first place.

  3. Glad to see you are blogging again. Miss the crazy old uncle.

    Other questions: Why is it so many gamers express a sense of entitlement about their purchases, taking to the internet to express vitriol if anything disappoints them? Is gaming more conducive to attracting this type of immature personality than other forms of entertainment or art? If so, why do I want to I as a game designer want to cater to this type of person?

    If I am writing an expansion of a certain venerable RPG with a rabid fan base is it okay for me to express my progressive views regarding transgender or will I just be labeled (pejoratively) a social justice warrior? Is it okay to be a social justice warrior? Can't you just, like, not buy my game?

    1. If you express anti-progressive views, you'll get vitriol too. I guess you have to choose either to keep your views on hot-button issues out of your work (especially if folk are primed for a fight about them), or brace yourself for the rotten tomatoes.

      I suspect the main difference with gamers as distinct from consumers of other media is that they mostly talk and discuss works on the internet. Arguments are not only more visible there, they are also more heated.

  4. I don't believe gamers show much more of a sense of entitlement than any other group of fans. Take a loot at basically ANY message board and you'll find the same behavior (or worse, depending on the board). I think it seems like it's more frequent with gamers because they're on the internet anyway. Also, as I've had pointed out to me frequently, are there really THAT many buffoons on the 'net, or are we really just hearing from the vocal fringe minority? I'm increasingly of the opinion satisfied gamers are busy playing and not posting their thoughts. I'm not saying the behavior isn't boorish or dangerous, I just think there are FAR fewer of these folks that their volume seems to indicate.

    As far as "journalism" fares- I think there are probably a good number of decent, fair-minded critics, podcasters, and reviewers out there, but good writing and thoughtful insight doesn't automatically bring in readers. I often find it amusing that obvious clickbait reviews, etc. are met with overwhelming numbers of responses, forum posts, and the like, which only encourages that kind of post. Since no one requires training to create and maintain a site, you're going to both reap the benefits of having so many voices available if you're willing to find them, and deal with the fact that there's a lot of poor and/or incendiary voices to sift through to get to your own personal "good stuff." SHOULD there be responsible journalism? Insofar as saying when facts are reported, they're reported accurately and fairly, yes. Otherwise, you're dealing with opinions which inherently deal in passion rather than objectivity. Unfortunately, people seem to confuse the two far too often.

    Interesting conversation starters here, Jeff! Keep it up!

  5. Definitely agree with this post. :) It's worth having respectful debates about the real issues without the ad hominem and such.

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