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

January 15, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

(Yet another) second job

It's a lot of extra work for devs just from a practical standpoint, and approaches vary. For example, BlueLine's Colombo makes sure to Tweet a picture anytime he does something industry-related ("any time I give a talk, am on a panel, or even do something as simple as playing a new board game for the first time, or running into a huge version of Fia Med Knuff (it's like 'Sorry!') on a strange ancient fishing island in Sweden").

Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal), co-founder of all-women indie developer Giant Spacekat, is constantly working to put herself out there, sharing her thoughts through writing and speaking up about important issues. "I try to be genuine and professional," she suggests. "More than anything, I try to talk to people more powerful than me -- not like a fangirl, but just as another person. Respect their work, be very polite, but be neither fawning nor presumptive," she recommends. "Editors don't want a suck-up, they don't care about your product. They are bombarded all day long by amateurs with bad pitches... my approach is, just be myself, present myself professionally, see if a genuine connection happens."

The extra tasks mean longer hours for Wu, and less downtime: "I know a lot of indie developers that spend their nights and weekends at the bar. Not me, I spend days, nights and weekend working my butt off on my game," she says. "You are playing at a massive handicap, and don't underestimate just much harder you're going to have to work compared to the people next to you."

Broken Rules' Martin Pichlmair (@martinpi) has an additional challenge: His team doesn't have the advantage of English as a first language. "Apart from language difficulties, I have a different set of ethical values to most people from our biggest market, which is the USA," he says. "I don't get half of the pop culture references, and my perceived lack of political correctness has caused more than one stir in the past. On the other hand, I have an outgoing personality and I am making games because I want to change the world."

Pixelles and Kitfox Games co-founder Tanya Short (@tanyaxshort) has a harder time self-promoting for more complicated and personal reasons: "My co-founders prefer it when I step outside my comfort zone and write, talk, blog and Tweet about all sorts of things and get us more attention, but I really, really don't like taking any credit for other people's work, even implicitly through being 'the face' of an organization." 

She implies that some of her challenges come from the arenas that women are most commonly invited to talk about or most often expected to be 'experts' in, even though those aren't where she feels her strengths lie: "It's kind of my responsibility to promote myself and therefore them, but I often feel I have to rely on topics of feminism, marketing, storytelling, art design, tools design...which I'm not comfortable with." 

She enjoyed representing Funcom at MIGS 2011 to discuss design problems and solutions for cooperative gameplay, but when asked to talk about "women in games" she felt uncomfortable. "I still feel like a bit of a fake, and my 'expert blog posts' on Gamasutra follow a similar pattern of discomfort, regardless of their success," she says. 

Similarly, it's easier to promote her own "silly non-commercial side projects" than the work she does with her team -- "I don't want people to call the latter 'Tanya's game,' when I'm only one in a team of four, even though I know I'm using Twitter specifically for network advancement/promotion." 

As a result, she still sees a schism between her "real" self and herself as a game-maker: "Tanya the person is in a short fiction writing club, loves cooking and snowboarding, sometimes draws/paints for fun, prefers cello to electric guitar, might have a kid in a few years, lived in four countries over the last 10 years," she says. "Tanya The Game Designer eats, drinks, breathes games and only games. She only cares that she's married because her husband is also a game designer." 

Complications, challenges and emotions 

Though Arnott admits "blogs take time and energy that I'd usually rather put towards development," he says the real extra work of self-promotion is emotional. Being completely honest and transparent about a project, its shortcomings and its challenges "hurts in a way that 'work' isn't supposed to," he says. 

He recently gave another journalist "permission to pry into my insecurities: ways I let my friends down, ways I spent my backers' money recklessly. But that honesty was worth it because it helped people see themselves in my story and connect with my work. It's also pushed me be more honest in my relationship with the work itself, which is extremely important."

But the consequences can be as steep as the workload. Alexander Bruce says he was an "emotional trainwreck" by the time of Antichamber's long-awaited release. "I felt personally accountable for every success and every failure of the game along the way," he says. "It was extremely difficult to detach myself from what I'd created, so when people spoke about the game, I felt like everyone was talking about me personally, even when that clearly wasn't the case." 

"This road is sometimes ruthless, especially if you're Phil Fish or a woman," Arnott agrees. "If I had to put up with the kind of shit [Depression Quest developer] Zoe Quinn does, I'm not sure it'd help me be more honest in my work... I think it'd make me want to curl up in a shell and quit. I am very grateful both for the women who bravely channel that toxicity so we may have a safer creative space in the future, and for the privilege of not having to bear that hatred myself." 

Katharine Neil is a founder of Australia's Freeplay event, and a former triple-A developer who learned a distrust of marketers early on in her career, watching them buy scores ("I was at Atari during 'Driver-gate'") and diminish her and other female colleagues. "They would sail into the studio, look us all up and down, and single out the prettiest [woman] and have her talk about what it's like to be 'the only girl on the team,' while the other women had to stand by and watch," she recalls. 

"And now [I'm] expected to stop worrying and learn to love the marketing side of the games industry, and be one of these people myself. I know the context is different, and I know why it's important and necessary, etc. On an emotional level, at least, it's hard for me to embrace without it making me feel a bit low." 

Neil read and enjoyed Koster's self-promotion advice, but for her, it highlighted some of the ways the rules for women are different than those for men in game development, particularly when it came to his advice about dressing (you can be "rumpled," like himself, or "professorial" like Warren Spector, so long as you're consistent). 

"Was he thinking of ordinary-looking 30-plus year old female developers when he wrote that? I suspect he wasn't," says Neil. "Call me cynical, but there's only one way a woman can dress in this industry and get herself noticed, and it sure isn't 'rumpled.'" 

"I find it immensely challenging. I have zero desire to be a public figure," says Giant Spacekat's Wu. "I"m happiest on days where my inbox isn't chirping at me every 30 seconds. And yet, the political and marketing side is an extremely important part of the process. You cowgirl up, and make it happen." 

"The fantasy of indie gamedev is making some wonderful creation from your unique, special vision," she adds. "The reality is doing anything and everything that has to be done - no matter if you like it or not." 

For Paul Taylor (@mode7games) of Mode 7 Games (Frozen Synapse, Frozen Endzone), there's some skepticism about the conversation space itself: "Twitter and Reddit [are] fueled by controversy and personality," he says. "These days, a game might get more traffic from those two sources than it does from a major site, so that's going to put the focus on how you communicate." 

"I'd question that there's an expectation placed on developers to be well-rounded: I think people are actually looking for more inflammatory personalities," he adds. "They want 'celebrity developers,' and  not everyone feels comfortable in that role." 


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