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5 Nov 2014

Indie Developers: Holding Your Tongue and Taking Criticism

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One of the trends I’ve noticed happening over the last several years – especially in 2014 – is that some indie developers are having a difficult time taking criticism. We’ve seen scandals pop up on the gaming scene throughout the year stemming from either an indie developer failing to take criticism with class, whether as the result of a critic bashing the indie game a little too unfairly, fans lashing out at them for saying something they didn’t agree with, etc. Living in the age of social media, it can be so easy to lash back at someone that doesn’t agree with you, bashes your game, etc. without thinking about the repercussions until it’s too late, but it’s a discipline that we all need to have.

It all goes back to the age-old saying of, “thinking before you speak.”

Indie developer Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone) sees the same trend occurring. Some indie developers have went to such extremes to silence their critics that they have issued DMCA takedowns of videos that bash their indie game, sued indie blogs and YouTube personalities for covering their indie game in a negative manner, and of course, some have went to social media to talk loudly and call others out that are negative of their product.

Again, we’ve seen examples of this crop up in this year alone. Why does this happen? Simple: these indie developers have forgotten how to take criticism. Bithell describes the feeling you get when you read/hear a scathing comment/review about your indie game:

“It makes sense on an emotional level. You work for years on something and some dude in an ergonomic desk chair spends a half hour video pointing out that what you made sucks. Maybe he does so a bit rudely, or with a fair degree of theatricality. You’re fuming, and you want to lash out. Don’t. No, really, don’t.”

Why should you lash out at someone criticizing your game, anyway? After all, it’s their right to do so. Especially if you want to lash out at a reviewer, that really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. People read/watch/listen to said critic because of his/her opinions, and just because you don’t agree with his/her opinion really means nothing. Besides, you’re being biased since it’s your game they are talking about. Listen/read/watch their critical review once again: you may find they bring up some good points that could improve your next game.

A lot of indie developers also state that they are just trying to protect their income, and see critics (professional critics and ordinary players alike) that are critical as the enemy that is trying to steal their income. It goes back to people having the right to voice their opinion. When someone is critical of your indie game, they’re not trying to attack you. Instead, they’re trying to let everyone know that to them, your indie game isn’t worth a player’s time. I mean, that’s the role of a reviewer – to give their opinion to their audience and tell them whether they should pass on the game or play it. Sure, their reasons may be ridiculous, but responding to them negatively is going to do more damage for your brand than their criticism.

Bithell sums it up best:

“When you chose to sell your product (and it is a product, if you are selling it) you chose to let the market decide if it had value. The market won’t care about your feelings, and neither should a critic.”

It’s as simple as that.

I urge you to read the rest of Bithell’s post – ‘nay, I urge you to bookmark it! It’s mandatory reading for all indie developers from one of the brightest indie devs to come along in several years. The guy has learned to deal with criticism in a responsible manner, and the advice he gives could save your brand one day.

In the end, realize that no matter how venomous someone’s comments about your indie game may be, you need to sit there and take it. No, you’re not letting anyone roll over you: instead, you’re taking the high road, listening to their criticism, and thinking about how to reply in a professional manner.

Look for a post on how to reply to criticism professionally tomorrow. Until then, let us know if you have any questions/comments about criticism in the comments below.

Source: Mike Bithell

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