This morning, I woke up to this email in my inbox, from someone called William Usher writing for a site called Gaming Blend:
Having spoken a few times about the way in which Positech Games ‘indie-published’ Redshirt (including a talk at Develop Conference), I started putting together a very quick reply explaining briefly how Redshirt’s marketing had worked. As the publisher, Positech had effectively handled all the marketing for the game, in terms of promoted posts, banner ads, arranging for exhibiting Redshirt at various expos (EGX, Rezzed, MCM Comic Con, etc.), and also handling press releases when the game was launched. The point being, so I could get on with development — for my first game, it worked very well. Though, as the developer, I’d made devlogs, did all the subsequent interviews about the game, as well as the obvious tweeting-about-my-game-to-the-point-of-obnoxiousness and talking about it to anyone who’d listen.
Anyway, all that is an aside because, opening Twitter this morning, I had several people make me aware of this:
— (´????) (@_icze4r) November 30, 2014
Ah, a GamerGate conspiracy theory about my support of Cara’s Embed With series (as well as my knowing other devs and critics?!), and trying to stretch it into some bizarre “paid-for-reviews” type scandal? Seeing that it had been retweeted by the same journalist who’d sent the above email, and that he was ‘investigating’ this, made it clear that the above email was not, after all, sent in good faith, and was meant to address this ridiculousness. Good thing I hadn’t replied just yet, eh?
I’m replying now (not only to the above journalist, but to the larger discussion around this within GamerGate), and I’m replying in good faith, and publicly, because, like everyone else who has been targeted by these GamerGate conspiracy theories, I have only ever acted in good faith. I have no problem with being transparent about the process of being an indie developer, and all that entails. I’ll come back to why, later.
So firstly, in bullet points, for those with such seemingly short attention spans:
- Cara Ellison (whose work I’d become familiar with when she’d begun writing some fantastic stuff in 2012.) first played and interviewed me about Redshirt at Game Developer’s Conference in March 2013. She then used that material to turn into an early preview for PC Gamer (online) in May 2013. (Edit #2, as GG still seems to take exception to this: Prior to that, Cara & I were Twitter acquaintances from sometime in 2011, but I hadn’t followed her work back then. As one of those red-line conspiracy images shows, we made vague plans to hang out ‘some time’ back then, though I don’t think that’s an unusual exchange for people were are only Twitter-acquaintances so far. Sadly, it never did transpire, and again, the interview at GDC was the first time we’d spoken properly in person. We became more friendly later on in summer 2013, after her preview was published, when we actually to start chatting for the first time about something not related to my game.)
- Redshirt was (finally!) released in November 2013. Lots of publications and players alike had nice things to say about it, and other publications and players had not-very-nice things to say about it. I think that’s probably accurately represented on Metacritic. That’s okay, though, because it was my first game – and it was an ambitious game, relying to an extent on interesting emergent NPC behaviour – and I am still proud of it. (And hey, Will Wright liked it, which basically made my life.)
- ANYWAY, in late 2013, Cara announced she was going to start her Embed With project. Really keen on the important global perspective of this project, and knowing that she’d already been doing fantastic work highlighting other devs from diverse backgrounds, I was very keen to support it. This seems such an obvious choice to me, and apparently, to over 500 other patrons. And to prove it, the stuff she’s produced as part of her Embed With project has been fantastic.
- I paid $4 per article for the first 7 Embed With articles (January-July 2014), then sadly had to stop all my various Patreon pledges to everyone because, due to life circumstances, I couldn’t really afford it any more. (I still feel bad about this, and wish I could still do more to financially support the work of creators and critics whose thinking I admire.)
- Other journalists have been pointed towards here too, like IndieHaven, who reviewed Redshirt back in November 2013 (and prior), and whose Patreon I supported from June-July 2014 (because Laura is also a great voice in games criticism, and I want to see her succeed!)
- And finally — and I only became aware of this precisely thanks to GamerGate (!), Cara had written a paragraph about Redshirt in her 10th October 2014 S.EXE column on RPS — a bi-weekly column all about relationships in games, which she’d been writing about since January 2014. (Edit: since some people seem to be unclear? RPS pays their contributors for these columns, they’re definitely not funded by her Patreon.) And so, for GamerGate, mentioning a game about relationships (there aren’t many!) within a column about relationships (after writing about 9 months’ worth of other games), is somehow corrupt?
I hope it’s apparent from this that there’s nothing here implying ‘paying for reviews’. (And I will note that, though I have no problem being transparent about any of my own experience as a developer, this does not mean licence for GG to scrutinise the personal lives and experiences of all other developers and critics — the overwhelming number of which have so far been women and minorities.)
Indeed, much has been written about the toxic beginnings of GamerGate — a toxicity which continues to fuel the movement, as evidenced by the continued harassment of women and minorities, and those who support them. But, just as I’m writing this in good faith, I also take it in good faith that there are people who are concerned about supposed ‘nepotism’ and ‘cronyism’ within the industry, and I think this arises from a misunderstanding about how industries — and communities — work. And it’s this kind of misconception which leads to so much misdirected suspicion and anger.
Yes, this is a tiny industry, and for indie developers especially – who are not mediated and restricted by PR people – game critics and journalists are our peers. We may keep up with each other’s thoughts on current issues via Twitter, we may follow their work, and we develop a level of professional respect for them. Sometimes, this evolves into a friendship based on “yes, I agree with what you’re saying and I want you and your message to succeed, because we’re on the same page re: the future of games” and for some people, that can grow into a more personal friendship too. But, I’ve not witnessed anyone covering anything purely for the sake of ‘friendship’ — after all, no-one feels like they ‘owe’ each other anything (what would they owe each other?), other than wanting to support the work of people who they see as doing something important for the future of games.
This is one of the things that I love about the games community; it doesn’t feel like the dystopian version of social media that I built in that game of mine (though the interview I did in July 2013 with Mike Rose talks about the inspiration for that!) It feels like people supporting work that they genuinely like, and want to see more of. If someone is supporting someone elses’ Patreon, they are just doing what it says on the tin: they are supporting them so that they can work on that particular project. These things are not corruption; they are individuals making decisions about what kind of work they want to see in games.
That’s not to say there aren’t ethical concerns to be looked into in the wider field of the games industry, but it sadly speaks volumes when these concerns (a partial list is here) are overlooked in favour of flinging accusations at (nearly always female) indie developers.
I know that many might wonder why I’ve bothered addressing this stuff, but again, I’m okay with talking about my experiences. After all, I am just here, making games, and supporting others who care about games the way I do, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. We — all of us — are here because games and their future are important to us, and we love them deeply. We want them to grow and embrace all kinds of new thinking and people, and that is a fantastic thing.
Edited, 8.18pm: Because of this ‘delightful’ article (which I guess, published speculation before contacting me to verify), I’m adding another quick for-the-record here, as it brought to attention that my brief Patreon support of Critical Distance is another issue which GamerGate has taken exception to. Apparently this is because its editor, Kris Ligman has also written about me before & was also on the jury for IndieCade, for which Redshirt was a finalist this year. All the things I’ve written above apply here, too — both about how creative industries work & grow, and about how Patreons are explicitly support towards a specific important-to-us project existing. So, to address:
- I’ve read Critical Distance for years now, even before I became an indie dev, and was keen on it not going away (for the work it does highlighting interesting games criticism), so I supported the Patreon as soon as I became aware of it, from March 2014 – July 2014 (5 months at $3 per month).
- Again, this was supporting this particular project (Critical Distance) — and, as with Cara above, I have no idea if they realised my measly $3-$4 a month amongst their >$1000 a month donations (which is common, I’m told, amongst Patreons with so many supporters.)
- That the editor of Critical Distance (Kris) was also an IndieCade jury member is apparently of some concern for people, given my aforementioned $15 donation for Critical Distance, specifically, over the course of the year, and then my game being one of the many, many finalists. Entering IndieCade with your game costs >$99. Imagine, if only an extra measly $15 towards a completely unrelated project could get you a spot as a finalist? I kid, of course — that would be terrible, and that is not how it works at all. I should note also, that Redshirt sadly did not win anything. But, there is always the next game.
- …And, when you love games and care about doing cool things with them, there is always a next game.
Edit #2: It was also brought to my attention that for GamerGate, the Polygon Review of Redshirt is perceived to result from some kind of friendship from the author, when in reality actually hadn’t even heard of Danielle Riendeau before I read her review (sorry, Danielle!). After the review, however, I followed her on Twitter – since, I thought, here is someone with good taste in games(!).