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How today's game developers come to grips with self-promotion

January 15, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

What do audiences expect?

Sean Colombo (@seancolombo) of BlueLine Game Studios, which adapts board games for digital platforms, has noticed a shift in expectations from his audience. "They might not care about my home-improvement tinkering or how my cats are doing... but I definitely think they want me to stand out," he says.

In his view, it's not only that "reputation as curation" helps players sift through an increasing number of choices on multiple platforms. "I think the indie game community is composed of an extremely large percentage of gamers who have some level of desire to be in the game industry at some point," he hypothesizes. "One strong correlation I could point to is that when Microsoft announced that they were discontinuing support for XNA, the sales on Xbox Live Indie Games immediately tanked." 

"Taking this desire into account, I believe that part of the product that game developers create is the infotainment that we spit off in the form of behind-the-scenes blog posts, public sales data, and any other sort of peek into the realities of game development," Colombo continues. "When we create a blog post about something extremely specific, like 'Representing a Hex Board in a 2D Array,' that's probably not just interesting to other game developers, but also to a huge percentage of our current players who are curious about what's going on underneath the hood." 

Johannes Kristmann (@8bitbeard) is working on a game called Curious Expedition along with a colleague. "Tim Schafer once said that 'you have to be an interesting person to make interesting games,'" he says. "He meant this in the context of creating the game itself, but nowadays, this also applies to marketing your game. There are so many games out there, and being able to add your personality to it helps so much to make people care about what you're doing."

Kristmann also likes a certain Werner Herzog quote, where the unique documentary filmmaker explains that he's not just sharing his dreams, but articulating the things he and his viewers dream in common. This should resonate for game developers, Kristmann suggests: "I want to see and know what kind of person it is that shares their fantasies and dreams with me," he says. "While playing, I accept the beliefs and values of the creator in the context of the game as my own, something that takes a lot of trust on my side." 

He says the fact players increasingly desire a personal relationship with developers is also a reflection of fatigue with the triple-A industry -- in which Kristmann and his colleague are currently employed. He says developers working in triple-A often wish they could talk about and share their work with others (staged or fake "developer diaries" as put forth by marketing departments partcularly upset him), and even doing side-projects to scratch that itch is risky. 

Being too visible as "indies" could harm their actual job.  Many developers working in the traditional space may be uniquely challenged if they take on side projects or attempt to transition out of environments that have historically discouraged outspoken or individualistic behavior. 

Credentials vs. celebrity 

Luke Dicken (@LukeD) is a grad student with a specialty in game AI, and he says he's done more reputable speaking and community work at this point in his career than he has traditional 'credentials.' "In just a couple of years, I've gone from random grad student nobody knows to being a well-known figure in the game AI community, speaking at GDC and on the board of the IGDA among much else," he says. "To date, I haven't released anything but a handful of tech demos." 

"The big thing to me is that in the last five-ish years, we've gained the ability to see each other so much more transparently, and received platforms for our individual voices," Dicken says. "That's a bit different from before where most engagement was directly about the games, either by answering fan mail or posting on forums centered on the game or games more generally." 

"I think it's empowered us to be 'celebrities' even though we're on the far fringes of what you might read in about in the tabloids - it's that same kind of culture that's always existed for movies and TV, but the ability to make it a push rather than a pull means we can all participate, and our fans, while they many not be numerous enough to sell magazines in the way Brad Pitt does, have that same interest in going behind the music," Dicken says. "New media generally is letting us scratch an itch that has always been there."

Self-promotion is inarguably important, and even people who are historically shy about networking can benefit from the increased focus on online interaction, says Dicken, who's comfortable approaching people digitally first in order to break the ice for in-person meetings. "I think 'being the product' here has really helped," he adds. "I just need to write now, or give a talk and people approach me -- which is a very different situation for me, and one I'm pretty comfortable with." 

As Koster suggests in his advice post, developers should blog and write (Dicken says having his focused, AI-oriented posts syndicated from AltDevBlog to Gamasutra helped him build an audience very quickly). They should also put themselves forward to speak at events.

"There's a saying that it's not what you know but who you know that matters, and I think that to an extent both are wrong. The way I put it to people is that what is important is who knows what you know - you can be the most well-read, knowledgeable person on a subject, but if all you do is sit and write it in notebooks at home, you won't ever get traction," Dicken says.


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Comments


Keith Nemitz
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Shyness, fear of falseness, worry over having something interesting to say that hasn't been said better by more visible peers. Time and again, I put myself out there, and time and again I say or do something I regret and agonize over for days. More than making business decisions about my lifework's direction amid highly competitive markets and rapidly changing technology, I hate self-promotion. See you all at Steam Dev Days.

Ian Richard
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I know the feeling.

I'm good at making games. I have a solid set of technical skills and a good understanding of design. I've worked on video games for as long as I can remember and now got my board game published.

And yet... none of it matters because I suck at self promotion. I've always believed that my work should speak for itself and that selling myself is egotistical. The idea of taking the spotlight goes against the very core of my being.

But... what the heck. The world adapts and therefor, so I have to do the same. I've been making an effort recently to promote myself recently. I've started a VLOG, begun emailing important people for advice, and interacting with gamer's one-on-one.

We may not have been born for this side of development, but we can adapt... even if we hate every minute of it.

Phil Maxey
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I've decided to just put pretty much everything out there when developing Clan Kingdom (www.clankingdom.com). I see no harm in continually talking about your project. So much is about making connections with people, that's what you want your game to do, and the earlier you do that (i'e before the game even exists) the better.

Benjamin Quintero
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man.. if public diaries, outbursts, pity parties, and pink suits is what it takes to get noticed, I'm out! the mantra of building it and they will come has been long dead; not sure it was ever alive, but the search for the next colorful Lady Gaga of the game's industry is poisonous... life was better when i as young and naive and thought that people might someday build a relationship with my work without feeling compelled to know what brand of toilet paper I use..

SD Marlow
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I was going to leave a comment along these same lines. The idea of discoverability and just getting your foot in the door will get even more focus this year than last, but I'm not thrilled at the idea of it being more about "personal fame." I hope people remember there is a difference between community interest and market interest. Developers, gamers, and those in-between are often the social center from which a spark of success may come from, but in the larger context (as a product on the shelf), revenue is still coming from the much larger, "outsiders" marketplace.

Thomas Happ
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The Shyness factor is huge. I'd say at least half of us are varying degrees of shy, socially awkward, functionally autistic, or crippled sociophobes. I'm thinking there's a lot of profit in it for anyone who can help get these individuals (or at least their work) into the spotlight.

Phil Maxey
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That's more or less what I'm trying to do with www.promoteindiegames.com

Rudy Gjurkovic
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Hi Phil,

Thanks for posting the info on your site. I went there to see how it would work for our game Blaster X HD. However, when I went to register (using Google Chrome) it just sits on a blank page with a logo and 2 links, and never shows the registration form. I just wanted to give you a heads up as it would be something that we would be interested in. Thank You.

Talha Kaya
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Great article as always from L. Alexander. But I think so many different emotions from all these developers kinda create this illusion that all this publicity is absolutely mandatory. There are people making games and not being active on Twitter all that much. There are people who we only talk about their work. They are not Phil Fish, but they don't need to be.

This article is about making a better public presence. But this shouldn't mean that we should be getting everything about ourselves out there. We can be professionals, and we kinda need to in some cases, like when we need to maintain our psychological health better.

Being on public social networks is like being infinitely social. You might just get comments from any person on the internet. Being publicly available, being infinitely social hurts. I can understand some people wanting to do it. I am the guy who reads every interview of his favourite developers, just to get to know them a little bit better. But it hurts. People are not supposed to "get" anything you say on the internet. They will misunderstand, and they will think stuff you didn't mean, and it will stay that way in their minds.

For some type of people, being publicly social is not healthy at all. So I hope those people don't get the wrong idea out of this article and prostitute their feelings on the internet for no apparent reason, like marketing.

Anyways, really enjoyed reading the article. Made me think pretty hard. Thanks for writing it.

David Lindsay
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This strategy may be good for small teams where branding and PR image is necessary for exposure. I tried it for City of Steam but ended up getting burnt a lot by reactions to certain features. A lot of the time with online games, many people have vested interests in their player accounts and any change will upset a small percentage of those. In the end, some of those people will be angry enough to make personal attacks, even if the visible community outgoing dev isn't the person making the changes. Once you introduce other publishers in other regions, you basically can't micro-manage what is happening on such a large scale.

When this happened, since I was the visible personality for our company, I was beholden to the community to answer for the actions of many others (publishers, marketing, devs, artists, etc). So you can see how being open and honest can snowball into a bad situation in the case of companies over 50 people.

Dare Man
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Most developers I've met are introvert and not that social. Picking between implementing a new game feature or writing a blog post, guess where the time goes.
And then there are indies, by definition this group must learn to interact and self promote. I guess developers have to figure out where they fit in and not go down the wrong path or they'll probably dislike it completely.

Simon Tomlinson
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Very interesting. I don't suffer from shyness in terms of networking. Indeed some years ago I was told that I was a 'shameless self-promoter' as if it was a huge personal and professional weakness. In fact I was actually given a formal warning for it: I was not being a team player by focussing my every thought and waking hour on the project I was working on. I was amazed and dumbfounded at the time, especially as I was in fact a contractor, so keeping an eye open for the next potential opportunity was very important for me.

I just thought I'd share this, as while I agree networking and self promotion is important, as a developer within a studio it may be viewed as undesirable, like you are already planning your exit! And I'm wondering if others might have experienced something similar or whether my experience is actually unique?

David Lindsay
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Board of Directors in larger companies will certainly think this way. That's why I maintain that self-promotion is better in a small team/group where that is the strategy from the beginning (and nobody higher-up plans on changing it). As soon as the main player acquisition strategy turns from PR to CPA, no only do your original PR early adopters feel crushed, but also the company views this as lost development hours (even when its after hours).

Saul Gonzalez
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It's not the topic of the article, but I was intrigued by the comment that "the Kickstarter bubble is mainly in the industry's rearview mirror". Is this a consensus view? For all the talk of saturation and fatigue, it seems to me that most developers still consider Kickstarter a viable option for development.

Pedro Guida
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My comments:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/PedroGuida/20140120/208865/PreCrow
dfunding_Chronicles_Of_An_Indie_Developer.php

Pedro Guida
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Btw, my campaign is live at http://igg.me/at/theape

James Cockram
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Yep, this is a tougher topic than I thought... currently grappling with the question 'how do you engage with an audience that doesn't know you exist'? I was naive enough to think 'if you build it, they will come', but not any more. They have to be aware of your existence first. Theres a lot of noise out there these days, and rising above that noise isn't easy.


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