Opinion: Dear Indies, Communication Is Important

I love indie games. So much so, in fact, that I've basically given up on AAA development. AAA development - to me, at least, seems like an endless cesspool of "generic brown shooter 56," or "Watch The Crew Dogs Cry Far As The Creed of Assassin's" takes over. Or to some degree or other, they're plagued with silly launch day fiascos that involve you paying extra money to get stuff that's already on the disk. Even if you somehow dodge all those bullets, you have to contend with pre-order exclusives, Day 1 "Downloadable content" and my absolute favourite, "we're patching the game on day 1, because we didn't actually test properly, so now we have to fix all these errors at launch." [which, of course, doesn't work for the most part, cf: the fiasco that was Batman: Arkham Knight, where that game just didn't work at launch and then continued to just not work even after patching.]

So, I'll take indies any day over AAA games. The experiences are shorter, more focused, often reasonably tested [within the limits/budgets of the small team, of course] and often, they're just more fun to play.

I'm currently about half way through Evoland 2, a game I've been waiting for for several years, now. It does absolutely everything better than the first game and is proof that indie devs can learn from their previous offerings.

The problem is, indie devs still need to learn one crucial skill and that's communication.

Twitter, Twitter Everywhere And Not A Thing Was Said

One of the bigger problems in the indie scene is - sometimes - how little is divulged. It's gotten better, of course, but sometimes...you wonder what's /really/ going on. And at that point, your faith in the game/company begins to erode. That's never a good place to be.
Talk to your community. Even if it's bad news.

One of the problems with indie development is that - often - you only have a small, quite core following of rabid fans - and the issue there often becomes that those people are an echo chamber of sorts. Is the game running late? Don't worry, your fans think it's OK. Does the game have bugs? Sure, but your fans can swallow that particular pill.

This echo chamber environment sometimes leads to poor communication to outsiders who might be interested, but don't necessarily want to take the time to wade through being in early access, [a curse word if ever there was one] and who won't necessarily subscribe to the idea of being in the endlessly open beta [another curse word right there.]

As a result, when something gets communicated to the internet at large, that handful of outsiders often pricks up their ears and listens intently. This just recently happened with a game I had been watching for years. But - for the record - I wasn't one of the rabid core base. So there was a lot I just didn't know about the state of the game. Also, I was going on what I'd seen and read the developer say.

The trouble is, the developer changed their mind midway through what they'd been saying and, instead of communicating that, they stripped a bunch of logos from their social media and didn't change their prior written communications about the game.

And the thing is: there were MULTIPLE outlets for them to talk to their non-core fans. They were on Twitter, they had the ear of some of the more mainstream press. There was ample opporunity for them to simply add a sentence to any interview or to tweet out a 140 character message simply saying, "our launch date for this platform will not be met due to technical difficulties."

That was all anyone needed to say. [Admittedly, they'd have to say it on many platforms so that many people could get the mssage, but...]

So launch day came and went and the platform I was most interested in got left out in the cold. No word from the developer about why until two days later. And even then the word came down in Steam discussions and forum posts. To this day, they still haven't blog posted or sent out tweets or any of that good stuff. There's still many interested fans in the dark and confused about what's going on with that particular platform.

Why This Matters

In Duke's case, the game came out and their PR decided they wanted to crack down on "bad journalists" who "wrote bad things." In Daikatana's case, John Romero never did that game any favours.
Duke Nukem: the message seemed to be, "only people who like our game are allowed to talk about it." Daikatana just wanted to hit everyone over the head.

It matters because for an indie, there's very often only one opportunity to get their game in front of people. They're not an AAA studio and cannot rely on a publisher to do the advertising work for them. They have to sell themselves. And for an indie, a bad first impression could be the kiss of death.

Witness what happened with Daikatana. John Romero split ways with iD software, now independant, he decided to make the best shooter he could. There wasn't a lack of communication with John Romero, but the problem was that every bit of communication was terrible. It set his [admittedly bad] game up for massive failure of the worst sort. Sometimes, bad press really isn't good press.

Or, for that matter, how the situation with Duke Nukem: Forever got out of control. Certainly, that game isn't particularly very good and that was exactly part of the problem. After the game was released, got dismal scores and was shrugged at, their pr team came out and literally decided right then and there that they were going to share future game information with only a select few games jouranlists. Naturally, this did not work out as intended.

So communication is important. Correct communication, that is. And no communication at all does not help matters in the slightest.

Daikatana and Duke Nukem Forever logos found via trawling the internet.

Some images courtesy of Pixabay