Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How to Not to Screw Yourself Over on the Internet

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 22, 2014

I’m going to take a one-day break on the horror-themed games to just comment on how indie game developers can avoid turning their own life into a personal horror story.

Earlier this week the game Paranautical Activity, by indie studio Code Avarice, was finally released from early access to full release on Steam. This is a big deal – this is the time your game may receive the most visibility ever. You always hope for more, but… yeah. It’s how it works. Well, a mid-level disaster struck – the game’s label was not changed from “Early Release” to “Released.” A lot of people – like me – will not touch a game on Steam marked “Early Release” unless it’s part of a bundle, or I’m a friend of the developer, or if it’s really highly recommended even in it’s “Early Release” state. So yeah, this is kind of a big deal.

Co-founder of Code Avarice, Mike Maulbeck, was understandably upset about this. Whether this was Valve’s fault or an oversight by the developer isn’t clear, but he faulted Valve. He exploded, publicly on Twitter, and issued a death threat against Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of Valve.

It got their attention, but not in a good way. Paranautical Activity was immediately removed from Steam. Apologies did nothing, and Mike Maulbeck resigned his position and sold off his entire stake in the company so that he was completely removed from any involvement or potential financial gain from the game. So far, this has not motivated Steam to re-list the game, though perhaps it may allow them to work with Steam in the future. Considering how hard it is to get a game listed in the first place…

Now, I don’t think anybody believes Maulbeck was at all serious in his death threat. If we’re not a violent person and we say things like that among acquaintances, it’s no big deal. Everybody understands that it is hyperbole.

One of the problems is that while nobody normally pays attention to you on social media except acquaintances and other interested parties who maybe somewhat familiar with you, you must never forget that you are in public. And the general public doesn’t know if you are Mother Theresa or Ted Bundy.

Now, I do feel bad for the team, and I think the whole thing is regrettable.  Honestly, I feel bad for Maulbeck, too. But I hope that it can at least serve as an object lesson.

It seems that as the floodgates have opened for indies (well, partly opened), there have been a few who have done well without having learned about professionalism. Sadly, in the Internet Age, it’s often the lack of professionalism that and willingness to be brash, controversial, and sometimes downright offensive that gets rewarded, because attention is the source of all rewards. But it can also come back and bite you, especially when you have enjoyed enough success that you no longer seem to be the “scrappy underdog.” Behavior that’s acceptable on your way up may not be later.

There’s a certain level of understanding out there that people need to do what they need to do to get attention. That’s fine.  While twenty years ago it would have been considered highly unprofessional, today it’s simply Marketing. It’s a big ol’ grey area. The boundaries aren’t super clear. But if you stray beyond them, you will be shooting yourself in the foot. Or in the head.

So here are some ways to NOT screw yourself over in the Internet age. All of these have exceptions, naturally, but your particular case is probably not one of them:

1. Do not threaten to kill other people in the industry, even in jest. With very few exceptions (most of which involve your target being a close personal friend, or if you are referring to an action inside an online game), this is pretty far beyond the pale.

2. In fact, don’t make any sort of posturing at someone else’s expense – particularly not customers or current or potential business partners. If you come off looking like a clown all by yourself – well, people may laugh, but nobody else is hurt. But if you hurt other people, that sends a signal to everyone to not associate with you for fear of collateral damage. Rage against the darkness or the unfairness of the universe if you must, but don’t bring other folks into your public rants.

3. If you feel the absolute need to rant / vent, do not name names and do not bring third parties into it. Even if the recipient so richly deserves it, anybody who doesn’t know better may see themselves as the potential target of your next public rage, and may think disassociation is the safest course.

4. With emails – when you are writing somebody you are really pissed off at, put your own email address as the recipient. Write the email. Don’t send it (putting your own addy as the recipient helps prevent an accident.). Then go do something to calm down. Psychologically, you may have already vented. Then you can go back and look at the email, rewriting or editing it for a more professional communication.

5. Always remember that you are in public on social media. It may feel like a private conversation, but your voice can carry. Especially at that very moment when you say something bad or stupid or embarrassing if taken out of context (just the first 30 seconds of this video is sufficient to illustrate my point):

6. I don’t know if Brad Torgersen came up with it, but I’ll call it Torgersen’s rule anyway because I heard it from him: On the Internet, any group will be represented by it’s worst-behaving members. I’ll throw in a corollary: You will be known by your worst behavior or biggest screw-up.

7. If you know that you tend to go off when angry, absolutely do not go onto social media when angry. Vent to a sympathetic ear in private if you need to. But you will be a terrible judge of your own postings. As with emails, assume everything you write in a fit of rage will be permanent and – like step 6 above – the One Thing you will be remembered by.

8. Don’t pick fights with other publishers or developers. You really shouldn’t do that, PERIOD, because word WILL get around. But especially don’t do it in public. That’s the nuclear option that makes saving face (for your target) far more important than resolving the problem, and you may not win that fight.

9. Do NOT whine over someone else’s success. Some totally crap game was greenlit ahead of you? Your game is 10x better than Minecraft? Them’s the breaks. Accept that life is unfair, and channel your frustrations into pushing yourself, not tearing down someone else.

10. And finally, don’t betray confidences. It may give you fifteen minutes of fame, but you will pay for it for the rest of your career of not being trusted.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • C.J.Geringer said,

    regarding the first advice: “Do not threaten to kill other people in the industry”

    i don´t think the “in the industry qualifier is necessary.

    Generaly avoiding death threats seems good advice

  • McTeddy said,

    Especially at this current time in the gaming sphere. There is an active push to stop death threats and other abusive BS and THOSE ARE THE WORDS HE CHOSE!?


    I wish the best for everyone involved and I think selling off his stock was only chance the rest of the team had. Maybe eventually steam will give them a chance… but after such a comment at such a sensitive time Valve had to do this.