Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How (Not) to Win Friends and Influence People: Indie Game Developer Pisses Off Reddit

Here we have quite an entertaining story from the world of games. The subject of this article is someone whom we've come across a few times before, but we generally have stuck to merely discussing said gentlemen in the privacy of the KGB offices. You may have heard us discussing this story in the latest episode of KGB Radio, here's the full story.

Over this past weekend, something truly magical has happened, mostly on the popular website Reddit. The lead game designer at a small iOS developer posted a classified ad in hopes of finding a programmer to work on their upcoming iOS game. This game would be the second commercial release from the company, their first being an iOS roguelike which sold moderately well. Despite only asking for $7500, the Kickstarter eventually reached the final pledge total of $14,571. That's quite a bit of money, and is evidence to the fact that there is an audience that is extremely interested in what this developer, whose name we are not releasing here, was promoting.

The classified ad was originally posted to the subreddit /r/gamedevclassifieds, but was eventually removed, presumably under the wishes of the developer. In the interest of clarity, Reddit user HoboCup took a screen shot of the classified ad, which you can find below.

Click to enlarge, silly!

As you can see, the company was offering a stipend of $200 a week, with a promise of 20% of the new game's eventual profits. If that seems to you like a pretty small amount of money, for quite a bit of work, you're not alone. Reddit jumped all over the posting, with many users taking the dev to task for the relatively low amount of money being offered to the prospective programmer.

Reddit user attrition0 had the following to say to the ad:

"Why is it only 20% share when you're expected to do much more than 20% of the work? The designer is saying half the game is done, the programmer in me calls bullshit on that -- the first half tends to be getting graphics up, getting some movement, basic stuff. The last half is much, much harder. 6 months expectation at $200 a week? That barely covers half of my rent.They had a kickstarter that gained $14k, and they chose not to spend that money on a programmer. That was a huge mistake."

Similar sentiments were shared by many other users on the thread, with the game designer, to his credit, responding to nearly every piece of criticism sent his way. That seemed to only make matters worse. A back-and-forth between Dinofarm and Reddit user tensofdollars went as such:

What's really, really funny here is that I've been doing the whole indie-gaming gig for about 15 or so years, and there have been probably 50 times in my life that I've went on the internet looking for a programmer.
If you have been doing this for 15 years and are unable to afford to hire a programmer FOR YOUR SOFTWARE COMPANY you're doing something terribly wrong."
As the conversation continued, things seemed to take a personal turn, with several Redditors resorting to name-calling and other such behavior. As far as Internet forums go, it's pretty much a by the book flame-war.

What's troubling though, and worthy of mentioning as news, is the nature of the aforementioned Kickstarter. The sum of nearly $15,000 achieved is, by any imagination, a huge success. However, the fact that this developer seemed unsure of what exactly they needed the money for attracted quite a bit of discussion.

On the Kickstarter page, the game is credited as being programmed by Ido Yehieli, a fairly well-known name amongst Roguelike fans. However, the developer has since stated that Mr. Yehieli was merely brought on in order to bring to game up to a level of polish for the Kickstater campaign. From this point on, the game will be finished by another programmer, presumably much less well-known than Ido.

This fact angered a few of the Kickstarter backers, such as peterb12 who had this to say

"As a backer of Auro, I absolutely agree with what a number of redditors, but especially brdma, are saying here. If their Kickstarter page had said "We need to hire a programmer" rather than "Programming is being done by Ido Yehieli", I would absolutely have not backed the project, because hiring a competent developer as part of a project funded with only $7500 is a complete fucking fantasy."

As you may or may not be aware, Kickstarter is pretty much completely free of any obligation to make good on the projects that are funded on the site. Their Terms of Use state:

"Kickstarter is not liable for any damages or loss incurred related to rewards or any other use of the Service. All dealings are solely between Users. Kickstarter is under no obligation to become involved in disputes between any Users, or between Users and any third party. This includes, but is not limited to, delivery of goods and services, and any other terms, conditions, warranties, or representations associated with campaigns on the Site. Kickstarter does not oversee the performance or punctuality of projects."

So you can see why some of the Kickstater backers are pretty upset by these recent events. Many recent successes on Kickstarter, particularly in the gaming space, have attracted an amazingly large amount of attention. Following the huge success of Double Fine Adventure, seemingly every classic genre and developer came out of the woodwork, hoping to ride the hype train straight into Gravy Town.

The Ouya, the Android-powered "console" closed out it's Kickstarter with over $8.5 million. That is mind-blowing. But the Ouya is also not without its skeptics. Ben Kuchera, of Penny Arcade, recently wrote an extremely in-depth look at what exactly the Ouya is, and what it isn't. It's incredibly easy to be impressed by a Kickstarter pitch, and I myself have donated to a few of them.

The circus around this Reddit posting and the involved company, therefore, goes much deeper than regular old Internet drama. Almost a thousand people pledged nearly $15,000 into a company that can't quite articulate where the money is going. And, since the project is fully funded, that money is now theirs to do what they want with it.

It seems that the developer will make good on delivering the game they've promised. They appear to be extremely passionate about their genre, and the games they create. It remains to be seen, however, just how much goodwill their audience will continue to extend in their direction. As we saw with the Ocean Marketting disaster, sometimes it's better to leave the PR to the professionals.

A final note: We fully expect some passionate parties to find their way to this article. We welcome them to comment and provide their own input and analysis of the situation. We have tried to merely present facts, as they happened, in order to illuminate the sometimes unseen world of indie game development. Thanks for reading.

Can you smell what Christopher Linendoll is cookin? He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.

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