Some things need to be said. They sit festering in the pit of the soul while, on the surface, everything seems to be peachy-keen until one day they burst to the surface in a black spurting geyser of ugly truth. The problem is that it’s easier to react to negativity with negativity than it is to understand what and why the things being said need to be said. Call it Phil Fish syndrome, although other developers have had their time in the “let’s kick the crap out of somebody because they said something I don’t want to hear” spotlight as well. Cliff Blezinski tends to shoot his mouth off regularly in entertaining ways, Jeff Minter got ragged on for hating Frogger, David Jaffe is always a fun personality, etc. While I personally have never had any personal issues with anything these people have said (and that includes Phil Fish, who’s fine by me) there’s a view that people in the public eye should always shut up and smile. Today it’s Caspian Prince of Puppygames’ turn to realize that that’s one of the single stupidest courses of action ever advised, and he does this in a blog post about how the race to the bottom in indie game pricing has devalued the individual customer to worthlessness.
If you don’t feel like reading a 2,614 word post, it can be divided into major two parts. Part The First is about trolls, and how the conventional view is that it’s better to rise above the bait and let it go. As stated in the article, however, this presents a problem- “even discussion about the fact that it is a problem is license for the rest of the internet to start trolling you.” The developer’s options become 1) Let ugly garbage fester in places where it’s easily found with no rebuttal, and 2) Try basic damage control and watch things explode. Damned if you do, damned-er if you don’t. If you’re going to be screwed either way, you might as well get screwed hard for being yourself. On the plus side, infamy has the advantage of solving the problem of discovery.
Part The Second is where the meat of the post comes from, but it’s a harsh and poisonous chunk of protein. The last several years has seen the mobile gaming race to the bottom of the pricing barrel infect the PC. Bundles, Steam sales, holiday blowouts, and the like have all contributed to a lot of indie games selling a lot of copies for $1 or less. Games that used to cost $20 now being $1 is great if you’re a consumer, not so hot if you’re a developer who has to run tech support when 99% of the time the answer is “update your drivers”. One sale for $20 means you only have the potential of one customer asking for help, while 20 sales for $1 is the same amount of cash for a much larger volume of work. The net effect is that the individual customer loses value to the developer, and that ties right back to Part The First.
Customers are important. The good ones are wonderful to please and mean that creating something (in this case, a video game) isn’t simply an exercise in mental self-gratification. The whiny self-entitled ones who think $1 is a unit of value that means a developer should eat a river of their crap and keep smiling can go away and do something else, because honestly why would anyone care? “I bought an alpha of your game full-price and now it’s in a bundle!” “My ultra-obscure peripheral doesn’t work with your game, fix it!” (Note- Far Cry 3 not allowing you to re-bind the zoom functions so that those of use with trackballs can play the game does not fall under this category.) “I pirated your games and they suck!” (Which is almost a direct quote from the comments, but this pared-down version is less dickish.) There’s a lot of people in the world who aren’t worth the money they’re willing to part with, seeing as it’s next to nothing.
While all of this is true, reaction has been fairly predictable. Ignoring the “I don’t like your games therefore everything you say is wrong forever” comments, because it’s mean to pick on the mentally incompetent, much of the feedback has focused on the value of games to gamers at the moment. There’s a viewpoint that games are so cheap that it’s easy to stockpile things you’ll never play, just in case you decide someday you want to, and that’s the market we have right now so developers should get used to it, and that’s certainly true. It doesn’t invalidate anything Caspian said, though. The truth of one perspective doesn’t negate the truth of another.
Puppygames is currently in serious trouble and staring into financial annihilation, which is a pretty harsh place to be for an indie developer of 12 years. They’ve jettisoned work on their latest project to kick out a stealth/action game that, honestly, is looking pretty damn fun. It may be the last hurrah for the studio or it might end up its saving grace, but if Puppygames is going out then they’re not going out quietly. And who knows, maybe a bit of notoriety will help.