Sean’s mind in every interview: “Are they laughing at or with me?”
Way back, when we were making Joe Danger, we wrote a column for Edge about our experiences as a tiny, new, indie developer. Being part of our history, we’re publishing them here again every week.
Check here for the full set…
Sean Murray I’m 17, waiting for my computer arts degree interview and I peek at the portfolio of the guy sat beside me. I’m 13 and Maeve meets me after school, but all she wants is for me to ask Jon out for her. I’m 28 on the way down to Future Publishing’s offices and I’m not interesting.
Mr. PR paid us a visit last week. He’s done publicity for big games, huge ones, and it’s a minor coup to have him drop in and give us advice. He’s slick. He’s loud. He talks fast and like Bono I doubt he ever takes off those sunglasses. If only half of his stories are true, they undoubtedly hide the sort of epic hangover that I thought only happened in 80s comedies. Those who know Hello Games, know we know how to enjoy ourselves, but we can recognise a professional in the field.
Apparently, this is the most important part of games PR: “When someone hires me, they are hiring twenty years of strip-clubs, drunk and disorderlies, STDs, bad hangovers and bodily fluids.” Go on… “When I send a press release, Sean, it goes straight to the top of everyone’s inbox. When you send a press release, where do you think it goes?” He makes me say it. “That’s right. Straight to the bottom.” The joke’s on him, there’s no such thing as the top of an email inbox. Depends how you sort it. Besides, I think we both know I end up in the spam folder, though I like to think at the top.
“Tell me one unique, interesting thing about Hello Games.” It’s a difficult question to answer, for anyone, especially difficult when someone easily dismisses every answer with, “Nobody cares”. Nobody cares we’re a new UK indie studio and are putting everything on the line. Nobody cares that we’re four friends who wanted to do this since we were kids messing around together. Nobody cares we’re living hand-to-mouth, working night and day and loving every minute.
He doesn’t want to play our game, but we insist. Surely this is what’s really important? “There’s only so much you can write about games, Sean, and it’s already been written. People won’t cover a game like yours unless it’s mental, unless they have no bloody idea what’s going on.” It kills me, but I’m sure there’s a certain truth to it, something like Flow or Noby Noby Boy are probably more interesting to write about than they are to play – love them both though I do.
“You are a coder. That’s your job. You don’t talk to people. That’s my job. Know what I mean? It’s like – how do you spot the coder at a party? You can’t – programmers don’t go parties.” You’re obviously going to the wrong LAN parties.
I’ll admit, we poop ourselves at the idea of showing off our game to the press, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing it either. Especially after today. Not that we could afford it (his fees are astronomical, plus expenses), but this isn’t how we want to represent ourselves. No matter how effective.
And so it’s decided, we’ll PR ourselves. Now here we are, a car full of uninteresting, bland people on the way to talk to the press for the first time. I’m desperately running through our story in my head searching for our unique selling point, but all I can hear is a whispering, echoey voice, “Nobody cares…” “Bottom of the inbox…” “Programmers don’t go to parties…”
Then we meet the guys from Edge. We eat pies and have Coke (Diet). There are no crazy stories, but they seem to like the game and later offer us this blog on Edge Online. I guess we are interesting after all and really didn’t need that PR person. The End.
Except it’s not that simple. Actually, Mr PR was right about everything.
It takes us months of hard work, pestering and begging to build up contacts. We cold call and email over a hundred journalists to begin with and only a handful reply. We drive thousands of miles to visit everyone who does and meet enthusiastic people who are obsessed with games, working hard for not much money. People much like us, actually. They even put us in touch with other press and some genuinely beautiful, helpful PR people. Still though we have barely scratched the surface and our emails sit at the bottom of most inboxes.
We lack experience in every area and it shows. We make a ham-fisted mess of our screenshots. We waste two weeks working on a magazine spread that doesn’t get used. We send a press release to Eurogamer and they laugh, rewrite it for us and send it back. We blurt out controversial nonsense in interviews, then have no idea what we just said.
And finally, we learn there’s nothing unique or interesting about us, really. We meet dozens of other developers on the indie frontlines. They have the same problems, the same struggle for coverage, the same ambitions, the same talent, and are making great games, too. We are nothing special. Just another hardworking, everyday indie. And you know what? We’re proud to be counted in that number.
Originally published October 27 2009