Please don't pee in the pool I'm swimming in.
This is a great post.
Without getting too far into the weeds here, I believe that anyone who has sincerely, dispassionately paid attention to Discourse About Video Games And Those Who Enjoy Playing Them over the past decade and a half should realize that at one point there was a bit of a concerted effort to "kill" "gamers". "Gamers" took said effort to kill their self-identification very personally, but missed the reason for why it happened:
AAA games got very expensive to make, and publishers wanted to increase their games' target demographic to be greater than just self-identified "gamers", so as to sell more units, so as to be able to continue to make bigger, more expensive-to-make games, in an increasingly diluted marketplace where it's no longer a foregone conclusion that big, expensive-to-make AAA releases are guaranteed to sell a bajillion units, as they were more prone to do in the Old Days.
That's it, that's the whole reason why that all happened. Everything else involving overemotional platitudes about "feminism" et al., "gamers are dead", the ongoing "culture war" (as it pertains to video games)—all of that stuff is all downstream of this stark, inescapable business reality.
There's much more nuance to the situation than I'm outlining here, of course, but this is the basic gist of how we got to the point where indie developers think it's a good idea to shit on their own customer base, to proverbially pee in the proverbial pool they and their fellow indie developers are proverbially swimming in: they saw what The Cool Kids (AAA, "journalists") were doing, and they got caught up in the overemotional rhetoric being spewed, without realizing that none of it has anything to do with them and the sorts of games *they* make—completely unaware that they were being conscripted as soldiers to fight a war against their own self-interests, on behalf of ever-consolidating megacorporations that are *directly competing against* them in the marketplace!
This is what happens when one confuses Like and Retweet integers as being a useful, viable heuristic for not just Truth (lol (lmao even)), but also Alignment With One's Own Self-Interest. Just because something *feels* *emotionally* good to post online, doesn't mean it's a good idea to do so—even if the phone in your pocket is buzzing nonstop with Engagement Vibrations.
Weird as it sounds, gaming is a service industry (which is why a decent chunk of your advice for small indie game developers is directly applicable to small legal practice).
There are many service industries where people forget it's a service and start feeling entitled to the customers. It always ends badly, it's just who gets fucked over: the deserving, the undeserving, or both.
At this point, it's entirely possible that you are in the top 100 or 150 of oldest active video game developers. A quick look at the Wikipedia listing of video game companies shows that there aren't very many developers from before 1993 that made it into the modern age (and the vast majority of them are from Japan). You might actually be the last of the shareware game developers, or will soon be. When you retire, you should write some kind of memoir about your career and your observations of the video game industry, because you are unique enough to be of historical interest to future generations.
One of the best decisions you made is to make the first chapter of your games fully playable for free. It is how you hooked me 20ish years ago. I loved the game so much that I used all my pocket money to buy it!
I guess some indies take their advantage of being able to communicate to gamers as a live human being instead of dead corporate entity too far, which is always a danger (although... corporate entities aren't safe from mistakes in communications, too; "sense of pride and accomplishment" for lootboxes, and all that).
On the other hand... Writers and actors and musicians can spout all kinds of abuse at their fans on Twitter, and it does little to markets. Is there really a difference, or are game developers still too new to this? I mean, I know AT LEAST one author whose books I kept buying even though his LiveJournal (we both are old-fashioned) was a toxic pool of politics, and possibly everything else (I did not read throughly). I think it did little to either his sales, or other authors sales, so maybe pool is big enough not to care about the piss (not that I approve of pissing, but still)?
"Anyone who actually gives you their hard-earned money doesn't have to. Therefore, this person is a treasure and must be valued."
It's just incredible how many developers I see flat out insulting people on social media (mostly twitter). Usually for things that have nothing to do with their games.
At their core, developers are entertainers. If you're upsetting someone, you are doing your job poorly. I have lost count of the amount of people these days that I talk to who won't see a movie because X actor is in it, and X is a jerk online/has politics they dont like/etc etc. I was recently talking to someone about Subnautica, a fun little exploration game. I brought up the sequel that I have yet to get around to playing because they'd been addicted to the 1st one and I'd assumed they'd already played it, and they told me "Oh, I'm not buying that because they fired so and so for having a political opinion I agreed with." It wasn't worded exactly like that, but the short story is that the Subnautica developers publicized a internal personnel decision, and as a result lost a sale. This person has 100% of the steam achievements and over 100 hours in their first game, but didn't even consider buying the second one because of behavior that had nothing to do with the game. I am convinced this consumer attitude is becoming more common, not less - which makes it that much more baffling that entertainers are becoming more abrasive online, instead of less.
Being nice costs you nothing. So does keeping your mouth shut. A lesson a lot of people never learn until it's too late.
Were devs really rallying behind Daedalic after the Gollum fiasco? That one was almost on par with Cyberpunk 2077 for "most rushed out of the door" game in history!
The Gollum developers misspelled the name of the game in the first sentence. That shows how much they actually care, and their "apology" immediately made things worse.
Is making and releasing games better now than it was in, say, the late '90s, when people didn't have so many lines of communication to the game creator and marketer? I'd think at some point you have to cut off the feedback loop and trust your own instincts and knowledge about what people want to play.