I’ve thought of making a game for as long as I’ve been playing them. I never did because of the fear of rejection. Not an emotional fear, I’m sure it would be extremely unpleasant but that I can handle. I fear the feeling of futility that comes after toiling for years and nobody caring. So I am sensitive to the lone developer who puts themselves out there with little chance for financial reward.
Giving a bad review was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in the life of this site. The truth is I should have faced that decision a week ago when I played my first bad game. But it was so very, very bad that I could rationalize my way around it. I’m a new blogger and my time is be better spent not jumping onto what is sure to be a gleefully burning dog pile. I uninstalled, got a refund and went on to review the delightful Westslingers and the engrossing ICY.
In the intervening days I decided my responsibility is to my readers. As much as I hate crushing someone’s work, reviewer’s are inherently on “the side” of consumers. My job is to help you allocate your gaming resources in a way that maximizes your enjoyment. With that obvious but important cornerstone planted, I proceeded to write my first bad review. Not just here, but also on Steam.
When I posted to Steam the game was out for two days and had 4 positive reviews. My negative review ruined his perfect score. From my own game buying experience, I knew how damaging that 1 single review could be to a new indie game’s sales. What made it harder to post was that his game was not careless or disrespectful to the audience. He delivered a totally stable and complete game, something you can’t say for half the garbage released daily on Steam. He did his best, I just didn’t like it.
His response was immediate (actual Steam discussion here). First angry and then pleading. I didn’t know what to do. Should a reviewer even engage with the artist? It felt like he was crossing an ethical line. I couldn’t have been more relieved that a different Steam user came to my defense, then a few more. I responded, the Canadian in me unable to do something rude like completely ignoring a person.
From there the discussion continued without me, with a solid consensus that he was behaving badly and probably hurting his sales more than a single negative review. The whole thing made me anxious which some Steam users contended was the point of his behavior. If I was reviewing steam games for fun and not approaching it with specific journalistic intentions I might avoid giving negative reviews in the future. I’d certainly avoid his games specifically.
Seeking more reassurance I sought the wisdom of the Reddit community – a group absolutely sure to tell me if I was being a dick. The developer had been so insistent that regardless of the quality of the game itself, I was being an ass for not holding off longer on my sales crushing review. I’m not an online creature, it’s entirely possible I had broken some unspoken rule. Careful not to be specific or post any links, I described a hypothetical and hit the submit button with icy discomfort gripping my stomach.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved to see a post start with “Fuck him”. What the Steam community politely explained the Reddit community was a bit more blunt about. Then the discussion split into two, the other trying to figure out if a user’s analogy of food was way out of left field or not. As an aside, I’m new to Reddit but as a collective group they seem great. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m on the receiving end 🙂
I’m surprised at how easily people are hurtful on the internet. For me all the anxiety lies in the other direction. The odd thing about it is that in real life I’m not a particularly cuddly person. I’m generally nice and polite but extremely quick to voice displeasure. I honk if you take too long and will cause a confrontation if someone butts in line even if it makes my girlfriend cringe. Those reactions happen because irritation overrides my general Canadianess.
With this review I felt no anger. I genuinely wish the developer the best and respect him for being a full fledged game developer with several published games under his belt. It’s a monumental undertaking. But I can’t be like Mr. Lynch, my grade 9 gym teacher who, with delicious awkwardness was legally forced by the Windsor Board of Education to interrupt dodgeball for two weeks a semester to let us know that masturbating was healthy and normal. He gave out only B-pluses and as much as I appreciated the go ahead to be normal and healthy, I should shoot higher.