Tuesday, July 20, 2010
By: Matthew Doucette
Background: Cliff Harris of Positech Games, makers of Gratuitous Space Battles, blasted out Mark Rein of Epic Games, makers of Gears of War, Unreal Tournament, and the Unreal Engine, in a blog post. Mark Rein apologized. If you don't already know about it, I gave you all the links, read all about it and read the comments.
I'm here to share Mark Rein's indie advice. Most reposts skip this in place of the hit-producing drama. What follows is a verbatim copy (minus a carriage return error I fixed) of Mark Rein's email sent to Cliff Harris. Make sure you read the fourth paragraph and onward:
After spending the whole day on the plane ride home from England yesterday I was greeted with a link to your blog post and boy do I feel like an ass now. Since I got home last night I've been trying to think of a proper response but I decided just to send you an apology and try to clear up a misunderstanding.
First of all I want to apologize. It was completely rude of me to interrupt your panel with my opinion no matter how well intentioned. I'm supremely passionate about the plight of indie developers, and game developers in general, and I heard something I thought was incorrect advice and I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut. But there's no excuse for bad manners. You called me on it and it made me realize that it is a behavior I need to try and change for these types of events in the future.
It's not like some great injustice was being done and needed commentary from me. I was just being a jerk.
But I did want you to understand that it was not my intention to criticize the fact that you reply to your fans' emails or discourage anyone from doing that. What caused me to speak up was when I heard you talk about revealing important news items about games through 1-on-1 emails and in forums. My opinion is that doing so runs the risk of these things no longer being 'news' when you need to use them to get publicity for your game. Gaming websites and magazines are all about news and getting a 'scoop' and often won't cover things that are already announced or generally known. If you release important new details to small numbers of people you run the risk of not being to get it disseminated to a larger audience that helps make more people aware of your talents. Indie studios don't usually have big advertising budgets and PR is a war where you have to save your bullets for the greatest possible impact. Indie developers already have a strong relationship, and close ties, with their users and customers but getting heard through all the noise of the internet, and reaching new ones, is a massive challenge. I know this because, I've spent many years trying to tackle this challenge. I wasn't trying to talk from the perspective of what we do today with games like Gears of War and Shadow Complex, or trying to talk down to anyone, but rather share my direct experience being an indie studio of our own for many years and working with tons of them these days as a technology licensor. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with a passion to share our experiences (both good and bad) and I just can't wait for the right turn to speak.
Epic was a tiny indie studio back in 1992 when I became a partner in the business and this sort of thing (sales, marketing, PR) was my specific responsibility. Just like you do now we sold our games directly to our customers by giving our free 'shareware' episodes (or demos) they could download with no fuss. I've noticed you sell GSB in separate episodes and one big value pack exactly the same way we sold our games back in our shareware days. Through careful dissemination of news and other information we were often able to get our little shareware games reviewed and covered in the top gaming magazines alongside titles from major publishers and studios. Being prudent about PR never stopped us from communicating in smaller venues with our customers and undoubtedly brought us many more of them.
In addition to our efforts we've also been huge supporters of indie studios. We created three Make Something Unreal contests (the latest ones with cash and prizes over a million dollars!) and loaned our technology, and provided support and encouragement, to many indie studios hoping to catch on and be successful. We also created the Unreal Development Kit which indie developers can download and use for free then buy an inexpensive license when they want to start making money with it. We've updated it regularly with new features and enhancements. We answer tons of email from small developers and I regularly talk 1-on-1 with them by phone and at events like Develop all over the world.
I'd like to think I do already have the "long indie experience" you talk about in your post and my intentions were purely to try to be helpful to folks in the room. I wasn't trying to talk down to you or anyone else there. But clearly it didn't come off that way and, regardless of intentions, none of this makes up for my bad manners. So again I apologize and hopefully I've learned my lesson.
Good luck with your studio and games in the future. If you'd like to discuss this by phone I'd be happy to speak with you. I'll try not to be a "triple-a studio jerk" :)
Epic Games, Inc."
I hope this helps some of us indie developers out there. And I want to congratulate Cliff Harris for having the courage to follow his gut and rip on a AAA studio publicly. It looks like everyone has benefited by the aftermath.
About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning indie game studio that I founded with my twin brother. We make intensified arcade-style retro games. Our business, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. Our business has won $180,000 in contests. Our games have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, have won game contests, and have held 3 of the top 5 rated spots in Japan of all Xbox LIVE indie games. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions -- relating to the games we make. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and view our blog.