Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The “F**k Off!” Heard ‘Round the World…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 19, 2010

So the story is now last week’s news, apologies have apparently been extended and accepted, hug-hug-kiss-kiss there’s nothing more to see here, move along… But I think it’s interesting in hindsight to see what happened with a slightly fuller view of the story.

According to Cliffski’s blog and a couple of other sources, it kinda went like this: At a game developer’s conference in Brighton, UK, there was a panel on “microstudios” – tiny flea-spec (and generally indie) developers talking about how to make it as a tiny studio. In the middle of the panel discussion, a major figure from a major, mainstream, big-freaking-studio in the front row insultingly interrupts and starts going off on how they are doing it all wrong, effectively muscling his way onto the panel for the final few minutes of the discussion.

Many hours after-the-fact, one of the indies in question (Cliff) finally puts his thoughts on paper, and tells the guy to “F**k off!”  And while it’s directed to the specific mainstream business guy, I feel it’s also a little bit of a statement to the entire mainstream biz that feels – now that indies are becoming a very real aspect of the market terrain – that they have the right to get into our business and dictate how things should work.

Now, said mainstream guy (Mark Rein)  is from a company (Epic) that was, fifteen years ago, one of the little “microstudios.” So he gets a little bit of slack. But they haven’t been there in a long time. While his information may have been useful fifteen years ago, the market has changed significantly since they were fighting their way out of obscurity.

Now, I wasn’t there, so I have no more much right to interject opinions here than Mr. Rein did. But I’m going to wallow in my own hypocrisy a little from my comfortable sideline position. The event and Cliff Harris’s response touched off something of a crapstorm in gaming media, making it something more than just an isolated incident at some panel that most people (even most indie developers) would otherwise have not even heard about.

The generalized furor in the news and blogosphere that erupted following Cliffski’s blog post underscores what I feel is an uneasiness in the industry about the relationship between the mainstream biz guys and the indies. Once upon a time, indies were so insignificant as to be completely ignored. That’s not the case anymore. Years after the small, basement / garage / bedroom development studio had been declared dead and buried by the mainstream studios, it has been resurrected as a force which is at least indirectly, in a small way, a viable competitor to the big studios. It has certainly turned the heads of some publishers.

A couple of thoughts: First,  Cliff “Cliffski” Harris left his mainstream game development job was that he’d figured out he could make as much (or more) money doing his own thing as an indie. That’s certainly NOT the usual story, and I imagine his success as an indie developer was a major reason he’d been invited onto the panel in the first place. While being an indie means giving up the steady paycheck, he’s been forthcoming enough with his numbers that I suspect that while he doesn’t make anywhere near the kind of money the principles at Epic (including Mark Rein) makes, he probably does a lot better than your median employee at Epic. Plus he gets to work in his pajamas. There’s something to be said for that. Something I’d love to hear about, as an indie. Something I’d have attended this panel to hear about.

Another thought: I do think it’s dumb to disregard thoughts and suggestions from guys who’ve been there before us. Even if their approach is out-of-date, if their audience was different from our own, and they are being an obnoxious bozo. So while Rein may have been speaking out of turn, I’ve little doubt there was something of value in what he had to say, and would like to read more. At the right time, right place, I’d love to read or hear his advice and what he thought his studio can offer for indies. But hijacking a panel of indies? Bad form, definitely. It makes him – and the mainstream, AAA industry he now represents – come off as a bully.

And Cliffski calling him out on it? You know, I think it needed to be said.

Cliffski’s “F**k off!” is pretty much the indie thing, the whole indie attitude wrapped in a concise shell using language I try to avoid using.

It’s not that indies – or, I think, Cliff – have any sort of burning hatred towards our mainstream brethren. Well, okay, most of us don’t, and while I know Cliff has some scars that still pain him from his years in the mainstream biz, from my communications with the guy I don’t feel he’s ill-disposed towards them – or even towards working with them – in general. He got his start as an indie doing a project for Maxis / EA, after all… a contract that helped him pay the bills while he made the transition. It’s more that nowadays, he has little use for them.

That’s what being “independent” is all about. They simply don’t matter.

Taking his statement to a far more general level than I think Cliff really intended with his post, this is a statement towards mainstream interference in the indie world. And yeah, awesome history aside, Epic is as big and as mainstream as they come these days without being owned by EA or Nintendo. By very definition, indies reject having their business dictated to by the mainstream world.  That’s what makes them indie. Cooperating with the mainstream companies is fine.

But having them come in and try to force their way upon us, no matter how well intentioned? Um, yeah. “F**k Off.”

UPDATE: Added link in first paragraph to Mark Rein’s official apology.

Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    Rude, crude, and socially unacceptable. That’s indies for ya! 🙂

    One problem with the game industry as a whole is that we get stuck in our own ruts. We see this with game genres, where the majority of games are just trying to duplicate a hit from the last few years. I think this also applies to business. While Mark Rein obviously has come from an indie background, he has obviously made the transition over to “big corporate” point of view in order to continue to grow. Indies that don’t adopt this frame of mind have found it really hard to continue to exist when they did grow past the “indie” point.

    I had a similar experience myself one time. A big, famous MMO developer was giving a session about how to identify and reward those who influence many other players in your game. He mentioned giving away T-shirts, free game time, etc. I volunteered that sometimes a personal note from the developer can help, something I had done in the past. He literally waved his hand at me dismissively and said, “That won’t scale.” Obviously he was used to big-company development where time was demanded by meetings and memos, and writing a note to someone was simply too time-consuming.

    But, yeah, I thought it was funny a big company guy lecturing Cliffski of all people about how to run an indie development house was amusing.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well, Mark Rein does have *some* cred in that area. I think he was brought on early enough to have been with Epic during the Jazz Jackrabbit era. But taking a “shareware” company mainstream in the 90’s is one thing.

    But being (and remaining) a profitable “indie” company in 2010 is a whole ‘nother story. It seems as though Rein’s assumption was that everybody there would want to follow in Epic’s footsteps… but that’s really not the case.

    I guess ultimately there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. That was the wrong way.