Thursday, June 16, 2011

Your game sucks! (and how to respond)

So did you hear about Duke Nukem Forever?  After twelve years of development hell, it finally arrived on store shelves to the fanfare of almost universally negative reviews.  And how did the PR firm behind the game spin this development?  By throwing a childish, angry hissy-fit.  Suffice to say, this was bad news for PR firm Redner Group, who was dropped like a hot potato by game publisher 2K Games.

It was a facepalm moment, but one that made me think about all the times I've been tempted to do the very same thing.  This might be shocking to hear, but there are people out there who don't like my games and will eagerly declare their feelings on reviews and public forums.  The desire to leap into the fray and defend your work is great, but is it a good thing to do so?  Well, it depends.

Keep your dignity

As an indie game developer, the best weapon in your arsenal is your reputation.  If you get the reputation of being a prima donna who can't take criticism, then you will never be taken seriously.  So if there's a nasty message on an internet forum (or negative review about your game) and you wonder if you should respond, think carefully about how it will effect your reputation.  Remember, once it's out there, you can't take it back. You don't want to be this guy.

You won't change their mind

Seriously.  Don't even try.  I know it's tempting.  Maybe they are playing it wrong, or they are approaching it with the wrong mindset, or they just don't "get it."  It doesn't matter.  Nobody likes being told what to do or what to think, and your customers are no exception.  Don't believe me?  Try debating politics sometime.  No matter how logical your response, no matter how well thought-out and persuasive you might be, it is not going to matter.  You're not going to make a person "see the light" and magically love your game.  It just won't happen.  If anything, it will just cement their belief further and make you look defensive and insecure.  And on a public forum, that is magnified tenfold.  So don't do it.

Reply when it benefits you

Here's a hypothetical example.  A customer buys your game, installs it, and gets an error.  Pissed off, the customer goes to their favorite game forum and rants about how your game doesn't work.  They call your game cheap and you a rip-off artist.  You, the developer, see this post.  The customer's problem is a very common one and you know exactly how to fix it.  So what should you do?

This is the only situation where I'd advocate responding publicly.  There is no better opportunity to show potential customers that you can remain dignified under pressure and give great customer service at the same time.  Keep cool, respond politely, and explain how to fix the problem.  Congratulations, you've kept a customer, and probably made a few more to boot.

As for reviews, the only time I'd advocate responding is when they get something factual wrong.  For me, this usually happens when they spell my company name wrong! (it's spelled with a J, darn it)

Remember, it's the internet

People who are otherwise normal, functional adults will say hurtful and stupid things simply because they can.  Folks who enjoy something aren't as inclined to jump on the internet and rave about it as those who hate something.  Remember that you can't please everybody, and you'll be fine.


P.S. I know I said I'd write more about demos in this post, but with the whole Duke Nukem thing happening I wanted to remain topical!  Next time.  Promise.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Game Demos and How I've gotten them wrong

So when developers get together to make a game, their first priority is usually to get a demo out.  After several games and several demos, I have come to my own conclusions about demos and how most of them get it wrong.  I can say this with certainty, because I've gotten it wrong many many times. 

For Blackwell Legacy, I didn't even consider creating a demo.  I just wanted to make a game, and surely the game would be so awesome that people were going to buy it sight unseen, yes?  Well, duh.  Of course not.  People wanted to try it before they bought it.  Perfectly understandable, but I was faced with a problem.  The draw of the game was the emerging relationship between Rosa and Joey, but Joey doesn't actually show up until you've played through a decent chunk of the game.  I could have started the demo there, but the events that followed wouldn't have made any sense. 

So, I hemmed and hawed and I patched together a demo that that was a heavily edited version of the first fourth of the game. It did the job, barely, but many people have told me that it doesn't sell the game terribly well.  I have to agree.  So from then on, I always planned my demos alongside the actual design of the game.  And for Blackwell Convergence, I thought I got it nailed.

From the Blackwell Convergence demo.

I had a brilliant idea.  I would start the game off with a stand-alone story - a ghost in an abandoned office that you had to save.  It had nothing to do with the rest of the game, but it would serve as an introduction to the Blackwell world for newcomers and a refresher for everybody else.  And the bonus?  I could break it off and release it for free as a demo.  Win-win.

But no.  I realize in retrospect that it was a mistake.  I'd forgotten the purpose of a demo, which is to encourage people to buy my game.  By releasing a demo with a stand alone story -  with a definite beginning, middle, and end - I utterly failed to leave you wanting more.  There was no reason for you to come back.  You had already left perfectly satisfied, and got it for free to boot.

So what's my plan for the Deception demo?  To leave you hanging as much as possible.  You're welcome, everybody.