Making games is amazing. Making games is also absolute hell, which is why I want to take a few moments to give voice to something I’ve often struggled with since I started this crazy adventure roughly two years ago. It’s one of the few gruesome dark sides of game development, and some days it makes me seriously question whether I can stomach this industry.
I suspect I’m not alone.
It’s a question that comes up every time I hop online and inevitably wind up wading neck deep in the vile Internet spew flung forth from the absolute worst that gaming culture has to offer. It’s a question that I absolutely HATE having to ask, but it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to avoid much longer:
What do you do when you fundamentally loathe the behavior of so many of the players you’re supposed to rely on to buy your latest games?
Gazing Through the Poison Lens
Listen: many people who play games are awesome people. They’re intelligent, respectful, and thoughtful—even when they’re leveling criticism or constructive feedback at a developer. These are the people I make games for . . .
Or so I thought.
That might be the case in an ideal world, but truth is: when you’re just getting started and struggling to build momentum while still working out your footing in a new industry, a new project, or a new venture, every sale matters. Every review matters. Every thing that happens to you and your game matters, and it’s all hyper-amplified through a very powerful lens pointed directly at you at all times.
When the kinds of people who buy your games don’t fall into that ideal “intelligent, respectful, thoughtful” group…you suddenly start to have a very big, very noticeable problem:
What’s getting filtered through that lens can turn super, ultra gross in a hurry. And the impact it has on one’s mental health and well being can be utterly crippling.
It’s challenging and awful to deal with under normal circumstances—when you’re not under tremendous daily pressure to keep moving forward towards a distant finish line or risk everything falling apart. As most indie devs know all too well: nothing about the process of game development comes even remotely close to “normal” as the rest of the world understands it.
Crunch—both self-imposed and external—is a very real thing. And when you’re a solo dev or part of a small team where everyone is juggling way more roles than any single person should on top of their regular work and life obligations, crunch feels like an eternal thing that never goes away and only amplifies when the real deadlines creep in closer.
Most people can’t afford to make games from a comfortable space—at least not at first. We work full-time day jobs and clock grueling hours at the end of the day and through weekends to see our projects through to fruition. Everything takes longer than it should, and every facet of creating and launching a game as an indie is more complicated than you first expect.
The sheer act of creating is an exhaustive, draining, but ultimately rewarding process. Except the joy and catharsis of releasing your creation into the wild is rarely the thing you expect it will be—regardless of whether you ultimately find success or not.
Increasingly, and oddly, it feels like our audiences themselves — the people we’re hoping on and relying on to buy our games so we can stay afloat and keep developing—are the most volatile ingredient in the entire process.
Riding the Downward Spiral
Let’s not mince words.
Negativity, harassment, and outright vitriol is a huge problem online, and the fact it’s become the go-to behavior for so many gamers in the way they interact with developers is unacceptable. But it isn’t just the outright bigots, harassers, and haters that are contributing to the problem. There’s an overall air of entitlement and penchant for poor behavior that’s prevalent throughout much of the general gamer landscape, and that can be just as detrimental to the health and well-being of developers and the industry at large.
Simply put. It’ll burn a hole through your soul if you let it.
Constructive criticism is an invaluable thing. It’s not always easy to swallow, but it’s absolutely something developers and creative people benefit from. Do I love it when people give my games a negative review? No. But I do take every opportunity to soak up constructive feedback, try to learn what I can from it, and improve what I can in the future.
And I value and respect critical opinions of my work…when it’s delivered in a way that doesn’t imply the person pulling the trigger is hiding a festering fountain of sewage roiling beneath their human-looking exterior.
Getting critiqued by players and press alike sure as hell has made me a better developer over the course of my relatively short time making games. It’ll continue to do so well into the future, too. Whether you’re writing articles, making games, producing videos, or putting some other kind of content out into the world, you quickly learn to grow a tough skin. But there are some things that can pierce even the most well-tightened armor.
What sickens me to my core is the new norm I’ve been watching unfold in the gaming industry these past few years. Maybe it’s always been there to an extent, but it’s getting worse.
No matter how good your game is or what you accomplish in creating it, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get blindsided by a vocal minority that spews awfulness your way in some shape or form. The average stuff I read, including comments leveled directly at me and games I’ve made, gets pretty gross. Multiply that tenfold if you make any mistakes or your game has issues of any sort.
Now, that’s just if you’re an average white dude making a game, too. Heaven forbid if you’re a woman, a minority, or someone deemed different in any other way that bothers to make a game. In which case . . . take that grossness dial and crank it past 11 until it snaps right off.
When make games of any sort these days, you can expect with some reliable certainty that you’ll get a variation of “delightful” common themes popping-up in reviews, comments, and communications. Things like:
1) “Neat game, but thing X is broken [or I don’t like it]. Fix it or I’ll boycott your future games.”
2) “Hey, I like your game, but I gave it a bad review because of [minor/arbitrary thing X] Fix it, and I’ll change my review.
3) “I enjoyed your game, but it’s too short so I got a refund.”
4) “Your game looks awesome, but I wouldn’t pay for it.”
5) “I’ve played your game, and it sucks. Thumbs down.”
6) “Thing X is broken [or I just don’t like it]. Fix it or I’ll keep emailing you about it and start posting everywhere that you suck.”
7) “I saw a video of your game. Haven’t played it, but I know it’s total garbage.”
8) “Your game sucks AND you suck for making it.”
9) “This game looks like garbage and it doesn’t belong stinking up on MY [insert platform or gaming device of choice].”
10) “The publisher of this game sucks, so OBVIOUSLY the game also sucks, too.”
11) “Your game sucks, AND you should die in a fire for making it.”
12) “Your game sucks, you should die in a fire for making it, and oh by the way I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE.”
13) “Your game sucks, you should die in a fire for making it, I know where you live, and OH HEY go answer that knock at the door.”
Have we forgotten how to be human? Apparently so.
The Big Takeaway
I could go on and on. The point of all this isn’t to point the finger at gamers as a whole, but it’s time for everyone to take a big step back from the screen and take a look in the mirror.
The anonymity of the Internet, of GamerTags, of Steam profiles, of user handles enables people to say and do things they’d never consider doing to a person’s face. It’s very easy to hide behind the warm safe glow of your computer monitor while saying anything you want.
Even good people are capable of doing or saying something hurtful to another. We’re human. Many people out there, however, seem to have embraced some of the vilest manners of personal conduct as their normal way of online communication — both in regards to game developers and with others on the Internet in general.
So if there’s one thing I hope you take away from this article, it’s this:
You can do better. We all can.
Take a second to think about the way you treat people online—whether you’re a player, a game maker, or anyone else. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to unleash a volley of bile at the person who created it. You don’t have to actively spread negativity about things you don’t like. You don’t have to level threats at them or resort to social blackmail. That is an actual choice you can make.
The next time you’re on the verge of blasting out awfulness direct at someone online who created Thing X that you’re less than jazzed about, why not try this simple exercise:
Think of something you HAVE enjoyed recently, look up the person or team who made it, and let them know you appreciate their work. Or even better: go one step further and make sharing the creative work of people you like and admire a regular part of your daily routine.
The world has enough negativity. Instead of adding to the growing toxic din of sickening behavior, harassment, and outright hatred, try being a positive force for good. That’s the only way this industry is going to become a better place—for gamers and game creators alike.