It’s unlikely Time ran their cover treatment of Palmer Lucky by the man before deciding to move forward with it. I can’t imagine anyone who’s interested in the success of VR looking at that image and saying, “Yes, ship it!”
On thousands of sites, you can read about how ridiculous the photo is, how it spells the end of VR, and how many different animals Palmer is riding in the meme deluge that followed in the wake of the photo. I’m more interested in answering one question: what can we learn from this?
Something as benign as a silly photo likely won’t move the needle one way or another on your indie game, but it’s important to understand that anything you say or do in public is part of your game’s marketing. Anything. That means your personal Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts, things you say at conventions, slides you show at local game development meetups… in the age of fast and free information, it all quickly gets rolled up into your overall marketing message.
In the indie space far more than in AAA game development, the personalities of the creative forces behind games get tied up in the games they produce. It’s impossible to keep track of everything being said by the 500 people on an Assassin’s Creed team, but it’s easy to follow Notch, Phil Fish, or Paranautical Activity’s Mike Maulbeck.
This is a double-edged sword. It means you can show people that you’re a person just like them. People who follow and play indie games want this. They want to make a connection with a creator. In fact, pretty much everyone can appreciate authenticity because it’s so scary.
It also means that what you say or do can have dire consequences on your game’s bottom line. The aforementioned Mike Maulbeck learned this the hard way when he spouted some idle threats at Valve’s Gabe Newell and saw his team’s game pulled from what’s likely the most important digital game store for several months.
Marketing generally refers to the way you talk about your product, but, when the teams are so small and personalities are so important, your public personal identity also gets tied up in this. You don’t get to choose which of the things you say come back around to help or haunt your game. The Internet does that for you.
Think, too, about the non-verbal ways you communicate about your game. When Chair Entertainment used the name of novelist Orson Scott Card to promote 2009 release Shadow Complex, they likely didn’t expect his views on homosexuality to have any impact on the game. They almost certainly didn’t expect this to be a subject of debate surrounding the game.
They told Kotaku, “Card’s political beliefs sure didn’t come up during the game’s development.” Translation: We didn’t think about Card’s political beliefs when we made the game, and you shouldn’t think about them before you buy it. Unfortunately, this was an important factor to a few prospective players, and some of them decided not to buy the game as a result. Chair had communicated something to gamers whether they intended to or not.
You could interpret this post to mean you should never say anything for fear someone could be offended and drag your game through the mud as a result. That’s not the intent though. Instead, I’d simply like to make you aware that the things you say and do could have consequenses. You may be communicating messages you never intended. Keep your voice and keep using it. Connect with your fans and let them see you as a human being. As you do this, be aware that, as an indie, gamers see your game as an extension of you and vice versa. Be thoughtful in what you do and post, and you’ll avoid having to tuck your tail between your legs and retreat back to the cubicle.