*Rolls a 1*
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In what may be the beginning of an ideal flame war to roast my marshmellows on, U.K. based Independent Game Developers PuppyGames released a blog post earlier detailing their thoughts on the current economic landscape for indie developers and why that has tainted the spirit of public relations.
In what could be considered a daring move, Puppygames Main Programmer CAS (Caspian Prince) released a blog post a few days ago, which while taken at face value could be seen as insulting towards most of the current gaming scene, may also be shedding a little bit of light on the mentality and insight into what an independent studio faces on a daily basis, or at least for one.
While I try my best to pin-up some of the more important parts of the rant here, some of the context may be lost or misleading, so I do implore you to read the original post before coming to your own conclusions.
There are unwritten taboos on the internet. There are things you Don’t say. There are replies you may not give. There are comments you may not make. There are truths you may not tell, in the world of public relations, for the public are fickle, and behave as a mob. A mob in all its feral, brutal depravity, lacking any and all of the qualities we laud upon humanity that allow us to feel so smug over all of the hapless animals that we raise ourselves over. And we are all, whether we admit it or not in public, under strict censorship of the mob. Even admitting that the mob censors our thoughts and feelings and the expression thereof is risky. Be careful! The mob may notice.
At the beginning we already get a sense of some sort of us vs. them mentality which does seem to haunt the rest of the rant, with the following paragraphs further detailing the B.S. of trolling and the futility of trying to defend against them in an anonymous climate. Even going so far as to recall the debacle which made Phil Fish, the paragon/recluse he is today, as evidence to the trend of current internet/gaming social behaviour.
Firstly, gamers aren’t very nice people. Yes, you. You are not a very nice person. Statistically speaking. By which I mean, independent game developers get more nasty shit from gamers than they get praise. Right now you are preparing to lecture me about how I talk to customers, or how I deserve to be broke and unsucessful. If you’re feeling particularly sanctimonious you’ll tell me you’re never going to buy any of our games again. If you’reespecially spiteful you’ll also tell me that you were about to buy one of our games (for a dollar! ho ho), but now you’re not going to.
I wonder just how many other creative industries have to deal with customers like this. Then again, maybe all of them do. I just make games, so I happen to know about the games side of things. Maybe a musician can chime in and tell me how shitty people can be. Or an artist.
No matter. What does matter is you’re not allowed to point out when someone is just being a shithead to you because they can. Don’t do that. The internet hates you.
This has probably been the main paragraph I’ve seen, where most readers have been getting hot under the collar for reasons obvious. Along with a few other choice quotes which they seem to cling to this idea of the stereotypical gamer to use as their example target, whether this is a valid dispute is debatable, but I feel the real heart of the rant comes in the next extract.
Once upon a time, back in the early 2000s or so, games would sell for about $20 or so. Some developers did really well at that price point – I mean really well. Most of us didn’t do that well, and made beer money, but we carried on making games anyway because that’s what we liked to do, even if nobody wanted them. When we got a customer we were able to treat them like royalty. Apart from there not being that many of them, twenty bucks is a pretty reasonable chunk of money and you should damned well expect it to work properly. We relied on enough sales going through without problems to come out on top slightly, though the reality was that we never actually did.
Then Steam came (and to a lesser extent, Big Fish Games).
Things changed fast. So fast that in other industries it would have been seen as a cataclymically disruptive event. The upshot of it is, within 5 short years, the value of an independent game plummeted from about $20 to approximately $1, with very few exceptions. Steam is great! You can sell loads of games! But only if they’re less than $10. Technically Valve don’t actually dictate the prices we charge. Actually, they do. Utterly. It’s just not talked about. In fact technically, I don’t think anyone’s allowed to talk about it.
Then came the Humble Bundle and all its little imitators.
It was another cataclysmically disruptive event, so soon on the heels of the last. Suddenly you’ve got a massive problem on your hands. You’ve sold 40,000 games! But you’ve only made enough money to survive full-time for two weeks because you’re selling them for 10 cents each. And several hundred new customers suddenly want their computers fixing for free. And when the dust from all the bundles has settled you’re left with a market expectation of games now that means you can only sell them for a dollar. That’s how much we sell our games for. One dollar. They’re meant to be $10, but nobody buys them at $10. They buy them when a 90% discount coupon lands in their Steam inventory. We survive only by the grace of 90% coupon drops, which are of course entirely under Valve’s control. It doesn’t matter how much marketing we do now, because Valve control our drip feed.
Where does this lead us to?
You are worthless to us.
Where once you were worth $20, and then you might have become a fan and bought another 4 games off of us for $20, you were worth $100. We only had to fix your computer for you once, as well, so the next four games amortised the cost of the initial support. If we were lucky you were a gamer and already had drivers and liked our stuff and bought the lot. Sometimes you’d tell your friends and maybe one of them would buy a game from us.
Now you’re worth $1 to us. If you buy every one of our games, you’re worth $5. After Valve and the tax man and the bank take their cuts, you’re not even worth half a cup of coffee.
TLDR? The basic gist of this is that in the companies haste to increase the short term profitability over recent years, they may jave actually devalued their own industry and leaving indie developers at the mercy to sell their project at barely of its potential value and possibly crippling itself in the long term. Although this part of the article may be coming more from Puppygames feelings on their own recent financial worries, but it was the one part from the whole rant that really grabbed me and I feel it is something that might be a commonplace thought among other indie developers that have finally got to the stage to sell their wares.
At the end of the day does Puppygames make a sound yet aggressive argument? Are gamers more mature and rational than we’re being given credit for? And what is the value on anything we buy at the moment and how are we influencing the market for the future?
Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.