Indie developers in public clash with Epic
UPDATE: Rein publishes apology for marketing comments
Epic's Mark Rein has been the subject of criticism by independent UK developer Positech, following a panel at Develop.
At a talk entitled "rise of the microstudio", Rein interjected a discussion between members of Introversion, Hello Games, Beatnik and Cliff Harris of one-man studio Positech about how to market independent games.
"Basically I started making the point," said Harris in a blog post, "about how someone can email you as an indie dev, and you can reply personally back to that potential customer, and hopefully, that way you have converted that guy to buying the game.
"At this point, there was this derisive snort from this guy in the front row, who said something to the effect of, 'One guy? Who cares, that's a waste of time'. He then started to lecture us on how that's a silly way to do it."
Harris claimed that Rein insisted self-marketing and one-to-one customer interaction was not sufficient, and that studios would require a team if they were to achieve success.
GamesIndustry.biz was in attendance, and has a partial transcript of Rein's comments following the initial interruption: "We were a microstudio, we were a couple of guys selling shareware, then the internet came along and the noise just drowned us out. It's happening now on iPhone, it'll happen on Steam. All the distribution channels you think are attractive today... Eventually if you want to grow you're going to have to buy ads."
Certainly, the members of the panel seemed irked by Rein's interruption, with Beatnik boss Robin Lacey initially not recognising the Epic VP and questioning him as to whether he was in marketing himself.
"I resent having some triple-a studio jerk come and tell someone who's run a microstudio for thirteen years that he is doing it all wrong," continued Harris. "If Mark from Introversion suggests I’m doing it wrong, that's cool, he does what I do, and has some serious experience, ditto anyone on that panel, or anyone with long indie experience. And I listen carefully, often over lunch.
"But triple-A studio bosses trying to lecture me on how to communicate better with gamers? F*** off."
Beatnik's Lacey, whose first game Plain Sight proved a significant success on Steam earlier this year, wrote on the blog to say "I can't wait for Mark Rein to do our Marketing/PR…. I'm going to be rich!"
A number of Epic staffers have responded to the contentious blog. Cliff Blezinski wrote on Twitter, "I haven't spoken with Mark today, but I'd wager he thought the comment was silly that only indy devs reply or interact to customers."
Epic's founder Tim Sweeney also appeared in Harris' comment thread to apologise on behalf of his VP. "Yeah, Mark Rein can jump in with guns blazing sometimes, invited or not. It's all intended to be in good fun, but I guess it didn't work out that way this time. Sorry!
"When you have millions of customers, you can't talk to them all. Many of the Epic folks are in frequent contact with enough gamers that we have a pretty clear idea of what the community is thinking, but with this scope of product you can't respond as quickly or as pervasively. It's a nice but real problem, and one smaller teams like y'all will share when faced with a runaway success."
Harris' last communication on the matter, meanwhile, was to say on his own Twitter feed that he had "got an email from Mark Rein. Angry devs are now not angry. Ceasefire declared."
Following the panel, Rein demonstrated the various mobile versions of the Unreal engine to members of the crowd, including GamesIndustry.biz. He reiterated earlier comments to the site that triple-A games would soon come to platforms such as the iPhone, this time also claiming that larger companies such as Epic would leave little room for smaller developers on those platforms.
Rein was unconvinced by GamesIndustry.biz's observation that history suggests smaller developers might move onto whatever proves to be the next upcoming technology while big studios busied themselves with the current zeitgeist.
Update: the Epic VP has now released his apology to Cliff Harris. In it, he claims his interjection was spurred specifically by a comment from the panel that news items could released to individuals rather than media outbursts. "It was completely rude of me to interrupt your panel with my opinion no matter how well intentioned.
"I'm supremely passionate about the plight of indie developers, and game developers in general, and I heard something I thought was incorrect advice and I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut... I apologize and hopefully I've learned my lesson."
Rein also contributes to the thread below, further elucidating comments made on the day of the panel.