A Dream Daddy dev's guide to survive being always online
“The indie games community wouldn’t be what it is without the Internet," explains co-creator of Dream Daddy Leighton Gray during GDC 2019 this afternoon.
"It’s essential to the work we do here. We don’t have the luxury of logging off when things get bad.”
“I feel like we don’t spend enough time talking about how it affects us,” she continues. "There are a lot of nuanced issues with the Internet."
If things get too negative or heavy, the solution isn't as simple as "logging off" and drowning out the noise. Indie developers rely on the Internet to market their games and promote themselves, so the accessibility of the platform is both blessing and a curse.
“Sometimes when your game gets really successful it breaks your brain a little bit.”
Gray goes on to illustrate how, after the unexpected success of Dream Daddy, she experienced a nervous breakdown which caused her to re-evaluate her relationship with the Internet.
After announcing the game initially on Twitter, there was an onslaught of both positive and negative reception over the reveal. "It’s not a great idea to read everything. The issue was that we hadn’t finished or QA’d the game."
With the added pressure of amassing a huge Twitter following, several articles being published, and some controversy around the subject matter, Gray admits that it was hard to handle.
"The people who I wanted to get excited about the game would criticize it. Because the game wasn’t finished it was all speculation. We wanted to let the game speak for itself.”
“When you have thousands of people piling on with thousands of takes all at once all the time, it’s overwhelming as hell and it hurts. I felt like I was letting my community down.”
After two delays, lots of stress, an convincing herself she'd be laughed off the Internet, Dream Daddy was finally released. “And the next morning, Dream Daddy was the top seller on Steam.”
The combination of crunch and the Internet caused lots of stress on Gray's my mental and physical health. “It becomes really easy to tune the positive stuff out and tune in on the negative," she notes. "For some reason, the negative feels more truth somehow.”
While success didn't help cure all of Gray's ailments, it took her a while to get over the negativity surrounding the Internet and how it affected her. The biggest help was stepping back and asking: "Why does the internet work like this?"
“The idea of being vulnerable and real is kind of terrifying. It makes you want to log off so you don’t have to deal with it anymore," Gray says. Plus, no dev wants to admit that negativity or anger "worked" into getting them to escape the Internet.
"If we have kids who are afraid of being dogpiled by their own community, we’ve failed. No one is immune from criticism but the way we have these discussions matter.”
Hot takes are not productive. Twitter should be used to facilitate conversation, and any tools can be used for good or bad. “There’s a lot of value in work that fails. It’s a collective learning experience.”
“We need to use these tools and the power of our attention responsibly. We need to take the internet and how it affects us seriously. It has consequences."
In closing, Gray says that the Internet can't just be waved off as being a "bad place" and that there needs to be compassion and empathy among developers who use the Internet on a consistent basis.