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27 Apr 2015

Indie Developer Tip: Be Realistic When Dealing With The Press

Late last week, and article was posted over at Gamasutra focusing on veteran developer Peter Molyneux’s presentation at the Reboot Develop conference earlier in the month. One of the biggest takeaways of the presentation was that Molyneux emphasized that speaking to the press early can ultimately set yourself up for failure. In his opinion (and in his experience) the press regularly distorts the ideas you passively mention as fact, which Molyneux essentially states has haunted him for years:

“In Fable, I said ‘one of the things I’d love in an RPG is to have this world that evolves. I’d love to have trees that grew.’ Well, they grew in Black and White. So I said I’d love to have an acorn you could plant and would grow into a tree. But of course the game didn’t have that, but that became the headline. And some people get so incensed. ‘Why are you lying to us.’ I wasn’t lying, this is what I thought of the game at the moment. They say this is fraud.”

In this indie developer tip, I’m not going to bash or defend Molyneux – people have been doing that on their own for years, but I remember this incident like it was yesterday. Originally, Molyneux touted that the original Fable would contain so many revolutionary features that if you believed everything he said, you would have been convinced that gaming was about to be changed forever. Indeed, he did say you could plant an acorn and watch it grow over time, (he also stated if you chop down a tree it will stay chopped forever, have children and grandchildren, etc.), but he presented this information as fact – and he did this time and again. The shipped game was vastly different than the game Molyneux hyped, and it’s one of the reasons why Fable is unanimously seen as one of the most disappointing video games in history.

 “Those of you in the indie community, you’ve got a massive problem,” continued Molyneux in his presentation. “That problem is there’s a hell of a lot of you. But there’s only one editor’s choice. And that’s the problem. And if it means talking about acorns and oak trees to get your head above water, maybe you should do that.”

No disrespect to Molyneux, but do not do this! There is never a reason why you should outright lie about what is going to be featured in your indie game. The old saying goes, “the truth always comes out,” and quite literally, the truth regarding your indie game will indeed be revealed on launch day. If you promise the moon just to get your name out there and your players discover that you were hyping for the sake of standing out? Your reputation is going to be severely damaged. If you want to gain any trust back from the masses (if you even can), you are going to have to do some serious backtracking and do things the right way going forward. Follow our indie developer tip, and realize that lying just to get your name out there is never the right choice!

I suppose in a way, Molyneux is correct to state that speaking to the press too early could be your downfall. Let me tweak his advice a little bit though: never speak to the press if you do not have anything substantial to say. If you only have ideas floating around about your next game and you do not have anything to show for it, just don’t talk to anybody – even if a big newsworthy conference such as GDC is right around the corner. Don’t mention those great ideas unless they are actually going to be used. There is a fine line between realistically hyping up your indie game and hyping it with lies; do the latter, and you will certainly wish you hadn’t.

To recap:

  • Speak to the press only when your game has substance.
    • Whether that is one week or one year from when you began developing the game.
  • Discuss set-in-stone features only.
  • Label your ideas as ‘ideas.’
    • Never hint that these ideas are reality.
  • Never hype just to get ahead.
    • Hype what’s actually in your game, not what you want to be in your game.
  • Above all, never make empty promises – the press will have a field day with this when the truth is discovered.

Follow our indie developer tip above, and you will find that the press is more of a useful tool that an entity you should be afraid to confront.

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