Mistakes Indie Game Designers Make: Going Dark

For this last part about mistakes that I see the Indie community make, I turn to something that has become more of a personal nitpick for me. And I get a chance to let some frustration out at Indie developers at something that a lot of them do: Go Dark.

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Disappearing Designer:

Many indie companies are really a small team of a few people working on a project and this keeps them very busy. And what ends up happening a lot is that a team will disappear for weeks, months or even years to work on a game, ignoring (or appear to ignore) comments, emails etc from the outside world.

They will usually respond to technical issues if the game is out or in open beta, but for any other inquiry, they are ghosts.

Maybe some screenshot will go up on the site or a new blog post once every three months but other than that, the design team has disappeared off the face of the world. And when this happens, it becomes very hard to get a hold of them for questions, interviews and what not.

I know that some of you will argue saying that you should leave developers alone and they will respond when the game is done or you shouldn’t bug someone when they’re working etc. But to me this is one of the worse things that you can do to hurt both yourself and your brand.

In today’s world, we are all connected through that magical technology called e-mail. Where someone can contact someone instantaneously no matter where they are as long as they are on a computer, which we can assume game designers are using. And I’ve yet to meet someone in the Game Industry who is too busy 24 hours a day to send a one line response just confirming they received your email.

This is one area where I see a lot of the Game Industry as really unprofessional. I’m not going to name names but through Game-Wisdom I have ran into several people in the Game Industry who did not respond to my emails about doing an interview or podcast invite. And I don’t mean not responding within a reasonable time, but no response at all.

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Developers like Valve and Blizzard are known for disappearing for months at a time before revealing some big news. But Indie designers don’t have that luxury or clout.

I usually send at least a follow up email after a week just to make sure that they read it or maybe it got lost in a shuffle.

But after two emails of no response, I move on. And as a surprising contrast, I’ve had cases where developers that I’ve never met, emailed me literally within ten minutes after my first email.

In today’s market with dozens if not hundreds of Indie developers all looking for their game to be successful, no one is above free coverage.

But what’s worse is that choosing to ignore people on the account that” you can’t be interrupted while designing” can make you seem very elitist and we know how this consumer base reacts to people who think they’re better than everyone else. And the case in point would be the Phil Fish meltdown. It doesn’t matter how great and unique Fez was there are plenty of people who refuse to buy it on account of not wanting to reward his behavior and attitude.

The Power of the Press:

If you really think you are too busy to answer emails then get someone to be the dedicated press person: The man or woman responsible for dealing with the press, answering emails and making sure that people don’t wonder if you’re holed up in a cave somewhere. It can be said that major studios can be faulted for relying too much on advertising, commercials and so on. Indie developers can fail for not having enough advertising and launching a game with no one knowing what it is or that it’s out.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; the people emailing you wanting an interview are the next best thing to spending millions on advertising: Fans willing to spread awareness of your game or studio for free. Losing a potential connection and supporter of your game due to poor PR is never good. I understand that a popular developer can receive dozens if not hundreds of emails a day and at this point I don’t expect to receive a response the same day I send out an email.

But when a simple email conversation stretches out to weeks or even months of waiting for replies, then you definitely have a breakdown in communication. Being a game developer, especially an Indie developer is about wearing many hats. And it can be difficult to juggle designing your game, advertising your game and keeping up with the press. But as AAA developers had to adapt to the change of game pricing and digital distribution, indie developers have to be able to do more than just design a game to be successful these days.

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Introversion has been closed off to all but their fans on the backer forum which is not a good strategy especially for such a niche concept for a game.

Nothing is worse for a new studio than designing an amazing title to then have it be nothing more than a blip on digital stores and game sites.

We’ve seen this happen with mobile games and how there is a small window of opportunity after release where the game has visibility in the marketplace.

Understanding how to market your game and to whom is not something that you can just put aside. And is becoming more and more vital for a developer who didn’t have a successful kickstarter or someone on staff with notoriety.

And you can see a huge difference between developers who use marketing like sales, trading cards and keeping up with the press, compared to those who choose to ignore them.

Creating a successful video game is not about disappearing for several years, only talking to yourself and your most hardcore fan base. Ignoring the trends of the industry, consumers and journalists is not how you do business. Indie developers are no longer considered rare or unique within the industry. Four years ago, an amazing game coming from a place other than a major studio was a strange sight, now it’s just another day in the Game Industry.

What it Means to be a Game Designer:

The big takeaway you need to understand from this series is this: Being a successful game designer is not about just making a good game. In today’s world we have hundreds of developers all hoping and working to make a name for themselves with their unique title. To think that you are someone special enough to ignore the industry around you and don’t need journalists or advertising is simply hubris.

It’s unfortunately evident that a lot of people who enter the Game Industry or are enthusiasts either don’t grasp or never learned the importance of professionalism. This can also be seen in the multiple PR nightmares we’ve had regarding misogyny, racism and worse that have been given light in the last few years.

Being able to promote not just your game, but you as a company, brand and a person is a huge deal. And something that has helped made a lot of people famous and a lot of people hated when they failed to learn these lessons.

Click here for the previous entry

After this series was posted, a new incident brought up a new topic on mistakes of being unprofessional