A controversy has exploded in video game land over the last couple days. Totalbiscuit is a famous games critic. You may have heard of him. He made a harsh video review about a game he didn't like. The game devs responded by forcing the removal of Totalbiscuit's review from YouTube. This involved a copyright infringement claim, and things got nasty. This is a huge deal because YouTube may completely shut down a reviewer's channel forever, if enough copyright claims are filed against it. It threatens a reviewer's livelihood.
So, there's some serious issues to discuss here. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Fair use of media. Consumer protection. Censorship. Totalbiscuit covers this in his commentary on this incident.
But that isn't what I'm here to talk about.
It's something else.
Here's a quote from Totalbiscuit (emphasis added by me):
Unfortunately, every day we have to sit there worrying, will some company decide to abuse the copyright claim system to destroy my livelihood today?
Another popular youtube guy, Francis, also chimed in with this:
YouTube has saved my life, and it terrifies me that with this system in place, it's possible all of this will disappear tomorrow morning."
Your dream, your livelihood, your future... everything you're aspiring to be can go *snap* like that. It's terrifying.
That's powerful stuff. It is terrifying. How do I know?
Many video game developers live this every day of their lives.
Many of us, especially indies, have made staggering sacrifices to pursue our dreams. Financial, mental, emotional, relationship. Many of us pour our life energy into our creation. We dream for success. We dread failure. Failure is catastrophic.
Especially indies, who rely almost exclusively - not on multi million dollar marketing budgets, but on the people who review and talk about their games. A review by someone like Totalbiscuit can completely change the fortune of an indie developer. And I mean completely.
The power of these reviewers' actions can create careers. It can probably destroy them, too.
So, this is a rare moment. A moment where the tables are turned. Game critics may feel, for once, a sense of what devs feel all the time. What it's like for another person to have amazing and terrifying power over your life.
Let me personalize this story a bit.
I'm an indie dev. I made a space game called Salvation Prophecy. It's faired ok - it released on Steam earlier this month. Lots of people are enjoying it. It has received a lot of good reviews (mostly from players and the indie press), and some bad reviews. That's fair - there's a lot of interesting things going on in the game, but it is very low budget, and starts a little slowly. And full disclosure, I heard somewhere that Totalbiscuit tried Salvation Prophecy, and didn't dig it.
So, a few days ago, I saw the biggest review about Salvation Prophecy it has ever received. It was a Gamespot video review by Kevin VanOrd [edit: correction - Kevin was just narrating the review, it was written by Tyler Hicks]. I clicked it, and this was the first thing I heard.
In space, no one can hear you scream. And when it comes to Salvation Prophecy, that might be a good thing.
And Gamespot being Gamespot, this is now the top google search result for Salvation Prophecy. Those are the first words people are likely to hear about my game.
Now, even though Tyler didn't like the game, I think he did a lot of things right in his review. He chose good footage for the video. He ran down the game's features pretty well. He played the game right to the end, which was really cool of him, and even found some things he liked along the way.
But there was one thing that really sucked. He repeatedly bashed the game for being too easy. I think we can agree, a combat-focused game like Salvation Prophecy is all about challenge. If it's not challenging - based on your individual skill at the game - it's not going to be fun. This is what difficulty settings are for. Salvation Prophecy has full featured difficulty settings. The hard difficulty setting is designed for people who are very good at games. People like, for example, video game reviewers. People like Tyler. It astounded me that he didn't try (or at least discuss) the difficulty options before bashing the game's difficulty. This oversight on his part likely contributed to that scathing opening remark about my game. And that remark may have a big effect on whether a player ever decides to try Salvation Prophecy.
So, what's my point in all this?
Of course, reviewers are a critical part of the game industry.
Of course, they should be honest in their reviews.
Of course, the internet can be cruel, and this is what we sign up for as game devs.
People are drawn to loud, brash voices, and shoot-from-the-hip opinions. For reviewers, it may seem fun, or cool, or empowering to make pithy remarks about a game. They're good headlines and attention grabbers. And sure, there are a few horrible games beyond redemption. But the truth is that most games have good qualities and bad.
So when you, the YouTube celebrities, the giants of internet gaming commentary, with the loudest voices and biggest audiences, talk about a game, take some care. Play the game thoughtfully. Even if you don't like it, consider - are there things that other people might?
Yours may be the defining voice for a video game.
Your words may make or break someone's dream, someone's livelihood, someone's future.
This is how it feels to be us.