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

January 15, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

What if I'm shy? 

It's common to experience shyness -- lots of developers were interested in sharing their stories for this feature, but few contacted me directly. Many put themselves forward in a sort of round-about way via Twitter, seeming anxious that they might not be important or interesting enough to be heard. 

"I'm a little on the shy side, so most of the time I tend to err on the side of thinking nothing that I do is terribly notable," Colombo says. He notices someone like Mojang's Notch ends up getting at least 150 favorites for any given Tweet, even ones about ordinary daily activities. "While all of Notch's actions are inherently more interesting because of who he is, if him saying he got off a plane is interesting to that many people, maybe the public is more interested in our lives as game developers than one might assume." 

BADLAND and Nuclear Throne musician Joonas Turner (@KissaKolme) has the opposite problem: He's anxious about people assuming he's constantly in self-promo mode, and therefore disingenuous. "It feels whenever I talk to people, I have this weird paranoia that they're judging whether or not am I advertising myself to them and it might affect the way I might approach something or someone, even though it shouldn't," he says. 

"For years I didn't apply for things purely because I decided that I wasn't good enough -- I let the marketing hype talk me out of applying," says Dicken. "It nearly happened with blogging. I can remember thinking 'nobody cares what I have to say,' and it took a run of really poor articles being published to get me over that." 

Mode 7's Taylor enjoys public speaking in the right context, but is troubled by the pressure to weigh in on every debate, or the popular tendency to give the most attention to the person who's being the most controversial. "There's a lot of jerking, both of the 'circle' and 'knee' varieties, on Twitter, and my instinct is always to step back so I can consider the facts," he says. "I'm also unlikely to have a meltdown on a forum or start calling people rude names, because I save that behavior for when I'm losing at StarCraft; I sometimes wonder if that's a hindrance these days." 

Christos Reid (@failnaut) makes individual games of a personal nature, and is occasionally uncomfortable with feeling exposed, and with trying to monetize self-expression. "It's been a little weird, because a chunk of my released stuff has been autobiographical in nature... making money from personal games [feels] almost like I've taken my own personal misfortunes, and turned them into a saleable product," he reflects. "It makes me self-conscious about the mindset required to put a price tag on your own personal Shawshank." 

But he sees the press increasingly taking interest in personal games -- US Gamer covered his Dear Mother, a game about watching his mother fall into zealous religious beliefs, as an example of self-expression in games. "I felt like I'd had a breakthrough," he says. "I didn't pitch anything to US Gamer, I didn't even tweet at them, but it's interesting to watch the way in which personal games seem to latch onto people." 

Some more tips 

"I think firstly it's important to emotionally prepare for the costs of opening yourself up to your audience," Arnott suggests. "Are you prepared to really accept the love of your niche? That's a lot of work, and will push you to be more and more vulnerable -- are you ready to face your demons so out in the open? But more importantly, do you have a support system for if/when you get harassed? If you are ready for that, then my best advice is to be as honest and vulnerable as you can be -- lean into your edge, and your community will appreciate it." 

"Don't be put off," Dicken adds. "People are interested in what you have to say wherever you have to say it, and if they like you in one medium, they might like the opportunity to find out more, see more articles, thoughts, or games." He says some people will take offense at self-promotion and try to punish you -- Dicken himself was called out by an audience member in a talk for, he says, spending 30 seconds of the 20 minutes to promote his own work. 

"Ignore the haters," he says. "You can't help but encounter people who've chosen a different path, and are taking out their frustration at feeling that the grass is greener on your side." 

"So much has been written about the 'fresh eye' that indies supposedly bring to the table," says Wu. "I'm here to tell you, it's an exaggeration how important that is. Most of what you don't know is a massive liability. Find people smarter than you - people with more experience. Listen more than you talk." 

"Be scientific about it," says Alexander Bruce. "Critically assess what worked for people in the past, and talk to other developers directly to find out what didn't work for them. Experiment a lot, and challenge all of your assumptions. Don't feel entitled to press or sales." 

"I try to spread anything that's on-topic professionally or personally," says BlueLine's Colombo. "Professionally, this means that if I learned something that others might find useful, I'll write a blog post about it.  If I create a tool for myself that I think would be beneficial to other game developers too, I try to build it in a way that will let me easily release it to others." 

"My tip for other creators is to be honest," adds Broken Rules' Pichlmair. "If you have an outspoken personality, be outspoken. If you are opinionated, share your opinions. Be yourself!" 

"It really still helps to meet journalists in person wherever possible: that's never going to change no matter how big Twitter gets, so going to events is still going to matter," says Taylor. "I think the issue of personal involvement vs. professionalism in general is something that gets quite a bit of airtime: we're all trying to work out where to draw that line."

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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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 ( 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

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:

Pedro Guida
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Btw, my campaign is live at

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.