Last month, indie developer Phil Fish announced that he’s leaving the industry for good due to multiple scuffles with press and fans. Of course, this caused quite a stir in the industry and even more back lash against the poor guy. It really is easy to sit back and insult someone anonymously who has found huge success, rationalizing this as “if you’re famous, you deserve harsh criticism,” but I actually sympathies with Fish. Having had to deal with some cyber bullies myself, or trolls as they’re sometimes called, I’d like to share my thoughts on the topic and how to best deal with them, both mentally and in practice.
Where are Trolls?
First of all, these trolls are everywhere: blogs, forums, social media, and especially in the app store reviews. I don’t know what happened, but consumers have, in some cases, taken the mentality that “the customer is always right” to a completely new level, demanding responses from developers for new features added or risk getting a one star review and painful review comments. What happened? When did gamers become so demanding and threatening? Do they really think that this will actually motivate the developer to respond positively? How do they think the developer will feel while adding these new features that are demanded of them? “I love my fans, I want to do something really special for them!” Not so much. In fact, it makes the developer wonder “why bother, my fans don’t even appreciate the monumental effort I’ve ALREADY put in!” I think a lot of these types of fans assume that all developers are Rovio wealthy and are laughing from atop a giant pile of app store money. So not the case!
Other trolls are looking for weaknesses and want to expose them. For example, in one of our video updates to Operation Giant, a YouTuber accused us of “ripping off” the movie “The Avengers” for a specific animation. He wrote we were “morally bankrupt” for even attempting this animation. I personally don’t understand how this is even a plausible. For example, if I show a walk cycle animation am I morally bankrupt for “ripping off” the human bipedal structure for locomotion? Taken a step further, if I show a character punching and kicking, am I ripping of “Rocky”, “Street Fighter”, “Mortal Kombat”, or countless other IP from either film or games industries that happen to have kicking and punching? That said, I don’t want to get off topic here: copyright law is a large topic and not to primary point of this post.
The effect of this is simple: we stopped showing updates of the game. It has also made us stay quiet longer about our projects. I know what you’re thinking, “the bully won, ” but actually that’s not true. We’ve been attempting a new kind of relationship with our fans at Fenix Fire: we want to be more transparent and bring our fans closer to us during development as opposed to just announcing a release video at launch time. This has been an interesting growing pain for us as we are learning that many non industry types are not used to seeing work in progress material and will comment as if the material is final, shippable content. We are therefore establishing a way to show content faster and more regularly, while at the level of polish that consumers are used to when the project is complete. Yet another marketing/PR growing pain, but we like the challenge and learning new skills.
How to Best Deal With Trolls
It’s human nature to focus on the negatives. Applied to indie game publishing this impulse makes us want to fix every opposition to the sale of the game. Besides, if there are no complaints, then the game is perfect, right? When we get a negative comment, the first thing we do is try to understand if the negative comment has a real, constructive point. If it’s insulting, rude, or plain slander, we just ignore it. We understand that when you make something creative, not everyone will like what you make – you simply can’t please everyone. If the comment has a point, or a reasonable feature request, we do our best to implement this and many times do our best to respond personally to the fan via email or social networking.
What is nice about Facebook and YouTube is that you can delete slanderous or vulgar comments, which we’ve had to do on occasion. It’s really unfortunate when this happens and we feel extremely disappointed in the individual. We really don’t understand how someone can have so much hate for such a simple piece of entertainment. As the old zen proverb goes,”holding onto hate is like holding hot coals. You only burn yourself.” From our perspective, we feel confident that we’re on the right path as our ratio of glowing to poor reviews is about 20 to 1. Besides, we’re not making games to swindle people or trick them into playing our game, we simply want to make the best experience possible and enjoy sharing it with others. Fortunately, we’ve been able to make a modest living from doing this, and we hope to continue do this for a long time.
When Things Get Really Hairy
There’s been a couple of times when the the fan had a negative comment, did our best to fix the problem, responded to the fan only to have the situation escalate further. When this happens it’s really best to completely ignore this individual. They will shout and taunt you into a public shouting match but eventually they will run out of steam and move on. Most of the time other fans will do the defending for us and fight off the troll without having to get involved ourselves, which is great! It actually becomes interesting to watch, in a weird way. If things get really out of hand, such as an angry mob scenario, you might want to hire a PR firm and make a public announcement if you’re just getting hammered from all sides. However, if you’re developing games honestly and for the right reasons you shouldn’t have to go to such a far extent. The important thing is not to get sucked in, stay positive, focus on your craft, and know that most of the world is smiling on you. Remember, you can’t please everyone.