I swear, kids these days don’t know how to go on the attack: Reading Ryan Creighton’s “Steam Greenlights Games In Bulk Because Most Of Them Don’t Get Made“, I’m like Patton looking at a pissant in the Occupy movement. Listen, I applaud Creighton’s use of the bait-and-switch: That’s a great tactic, lead people to expect one thing and slip your true subject in under the radar. It’s a technique I’ve used many times in my own writing; I’m a fan of subtext. Ostensibly a post about yet another controversy surrounding Greenlight–I swear I can’t seem to find anyone who’s happy with the damn thing–Creighton’s piece is really an accusation against the site IndieStatik, revealing that they’re doing something-or-other. I’m not sure. It’s not the clearest or most enthralling read.
I’m fairly fond of IndieStatik. I’ve chatted with a number of its staffers and have found all of them to be decent folk who just goddamn love indie games. If the most cynical thing you can say about it is that it’s kind of a hype site–well, I mean, that’s what I like about it. For me, the value of IndieStatik is that it provides a genuine alternative to mainstream games preview coverage. Instead of giving a minute or two to indie games, shoved way into the corner in favor of AAA titles, IndieStatik gives indie gaming the attention it deserves. If the site covers a lot of games, well it’s got something like a half dozen people on staff, all of whom have broad and diverse tastes and all of whom are very aware of the most obscure corners of the scene. (Chrissakes: They’re aware of me, and I’m kind of as niche as they come.) The sense one gets, reading the site, is that this is a group of people who are so hopelessly passionate about independent videogames that seeking them out is kind of all they do, and that they’re constantly finding new things to get excited about, things they want to go out into the streets and shout about. The worst you can say about them is they’re evangelicals; more accurately, I’d call them journalists. Well, Kyle Orland may have started the trend, but every game blogger is an ombudsman now, and it is absolutely the responsibility of citizens like Creighton to hold journalists to strong ethical standards: We must absolutely be able to trust the people we are reading.
A compliment I will give Ryan Creighton is that his article obviously took a lot of time to prepare. He did several unusual things to give his article panache: First, he selected a humorous photograph and left the watermark in, giving full credit to the rights holder (which is an extremely ethical thing to do!) Second, he did the necessary research in order to create an attractive pie chart. Finally, “for posterity”–he’s thinking of the ramifications of his piece for the future, which is also an ethical thing to do–he presents the full results of that research. What Creighton has done has been to go down the IndieStatik’s 2013 list of their 50 most anticipated games and figure out how many of these games have actually been released. Some, admittedly, have demos or early access, and Creighton tracks those, but in terms of games which have a full complete release, he has found that out of 50 titles that caught the IndieStatik staff’s eye, only seven have had a full release.
It’s at this point that Creighton sits back, confident he’s proven his case. And maybe he has–except I’m not exactly sure what he’s accusing IndieStatik of doing, or that a crime has even been committed. One hopes that Creighton does not have a day job as a litigator. The best he can do is sputter on a little bit about how IndieStatik is doing all of this as part of its nefarious plan to get hits.
Well…I mean, yeah, I’m sure it is. Let’s face it, that’s kinda why we all do what we do, isn’t it? Every single business in the world is looking to increase its consumer base; every creative type wants to find new ways of reaching a larger audience. Were Creighton himself not looking to get hits, he wouldn’t have put his piece on a popular site like Gamasutra. This is not in itself a bad thing; what is important is whether or not this is conducted with integrity. IndieStatik passes the sniff test, at least for me: It seems to be seeking that sort of benign growth where it’s going to use its resources to get more writers on board, to give coverage to more overlooked games, and to have a presence at more events. It’s a young and hungry site. We can’t fault it for a little ambition. And so, yes: IndieStatik, like all sites, must enjoy a certain amount of traffic from people who are searching for info on Ithaka of the Clouds and wander over to an article about Courier of the Crypts, then one about 7 Grand Steps, and so on: Not only have they become a reader, they’ve learned about a few new games they want to try out.
The trick is whether or not this growth comes at anyone’s expense. What it seems like Creighton is accusing IndieStatik of doing is selling its readers a bill of goods: Hooking innocent people in with promises of videogames to come and never delivering. Yes, it is objectively, provably true that only seven out of 50 games came out in 2013. And yet, undoubtedly IndieStatik was simply acting on information provided by the developers at the time of the writing. The only other possibility would be that IndieStatik made up release dates, which is not only implausible, it’s so easily disproven and of so little benefit as to be a ludicrous suggestion. There is nothing legally binding about the list: It, like the double-sized 2014 list, is simply a collection of short previews of games which were expected to come out in 2013. It doesn’t even look like IndieStatik included any direct links to any Kickstarters or asked fans to contribute money to any of the games; beyond linking to the developers’ zone webpages, it simply presented each of the games with a couple of paragraphs of innocuous and fairly standard preview text. The absolute worst effect this list could have on anyone is minor disappointment.
That the lion’s share of these games were delayed is an unfortunate side effect of the inherent difficulties with the creation of videogames, particularly when your focus is garage games like IndieStatik’s is. AAA studios are famous for delaying games, and these are companies who have employees who are doing nothing but making games. And so delays are inevitable when you’re an independent developer with a day job–like, I haven’t done a lick of work on Grand Theft LADY in weeks because I’ve been too busy working. That Creighton does not realize this suggests, like so many bloggers out there, that he does not understand the industry he’s attempting to write about.
So we are at the shocking–shocking!–realization that indie games often get delayed, and that a lot of times previews don’t come true, and brother, I feel you–but I still don’t get your POINT. Maybe it has something to do with the timing of the piece. Maybe Creighton’s article would have had a shred of relevance in, say, September, when IndieStatik, after spending a couple of years building a following, had a Kickstarter campaign in order to pay its writers, cover some of its bills, and, if you want to be frank about it, Become A Real Website. Half of an attack is the timing: The time to accuse a site of conducting itself in an unethical manner is before it asks people to fork over their hard-earned money. If Creighton felt that IndieStatik was doing something wrong, I think he missed his moment to tell people.
Because let’s face it: That kick starter was conducted in mid September and concluded mid-October. $35,000 was requested and $50,000 was made, and if I remember correctly, that $35,000 was raised fairly quickly into the campaign. Let’s even set aside the dollar vote for a moment–although it’s not insignificant that 1400 people said they want what the site is providing. By September it was fairly evident that many of the 50 games on the 2013 list would not be coming out by the end of the year; by October, even more so. Creighton could have written a very similar article at the time–“out of 50 games, 45 have yet to come out and 35 have already had delays announced” or other such minutiae.
And yet it still wouldn’t have altered the results of the campaign by much: Interpreting the list in terms of a scam appears to be an idiosyncrasy of Creighton’s. What IndieStatik is trying to do is to provide a sense of the possibilities of indie games, of the surprising places where they can be found and of the community as a vibrant, busy one. If anyone is disappointed that 43 games were not released last year, it is the site’s staff. If the trend of unreleased games continues, I mean, yeah, Chris Priestman is going to have at least 87 reasons to be upset in the coming year, sure, but I don’t think that Creighton is suggesting that we all do something to cheer him up or anything like that.
And so once again I am left wondering what, exactly, I’m supposed to take from Creighton’s piece. It’s a VERY NICE pie chart. I am VERY IMPRESSED by how he took the time to rewrite the list, cross check it, and put in the release status. I would not have the patience or the time to write this particular article–as I mentioned, I’ve been busy working–and so it’s great that this work was done. Let’s put it up on the fridge so everyone can see it! But that question of “why” is not self evident. And so we have the impression of Creighton waving his hands and screaming I DIDN’T GET ALL THE COOL TOYS INDIESTATIK PROMISED ME. Which, yeah. That sucks. You’re right, little guy. Maybe those games will come out next year. In the meantime why don’t you try Might and Magic? You might like Might and Magic. Come on, let’s go find some colored pencils and graph paper, okay?
Now that’s how you attack an article.