Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Epic opinions

I’ve mulled over whether to say anything at all, but if you can’t say what you think about the games industry when you own your own company, when can you?

I was part of a panel yesterday at Develop, the games conference for developers in Brighton UK. I was speaking about ‘microstudios’ with Robin Lacey(Beatnik), Sean Murray(Hello Games) and Mark Morris(Introversion), all of whom are good guys. As a one-man outfit, I’m the real baby studio there, but at 13 years of experience, also the grandfather, so I guess that makes me middle aged. Anyway… all was cool, and there was much joking and mutual silliness. Apparently I am the Barry Manilow of game development, and a mug to spend £75 on jeans. And the topic then came up of how indies can respond directly to gamers on stuff like messageboards. Basically I started making the point, and mark was also agreeing 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.  I’m 95% sure that all four of us on the panel thought ‘what the fuck?’ as well as ‘who is this guy’? compounded by Robin asking him if he worked in marketing.

Anyway… it turned out this guy was Mark Rein from Epic, although he seemed to assume everyone within earshot knew exactly who he was, and why he must obviously be right. I got the impression he was there to laugh at the little guys, or to just inform us how we are all wrong. Interestingly, it seemed there was someone from sports interactive (one time indies, as I recall) there, who seemed more on the indie wavelength than Mark. It would have been cool to chat with him.

So… I’ve given this a lot of thought, and weighed up the pros and cons of just putting this down to misinterpreting someone, and so on, and I have reached this conclusion.

Mark Rein is a jerk.

Now I suspect this is not groundbreaking news, although it is to me, because I’ve never met him or even seen him before. However, this experience seems to confirm my opinions on Epic and companies like them in general. Now Mark may well look down on humble indies like me. He may well think I’m doing it wrong. he may laugh when me and Mark discuss the pitiful money our companies make, and giggle at the fact that we reply to gamers on a one-on-one basis… But fuck him. I would rather earn minimum wage making indie strategy games for the PC, as my own boss, with an original game, satisfying a hardcore niche of friendly customers (the one-thousand-true-fans-philosophy), without a publisher telling me what to do, and without having to leave my house to go to work, without having to do ‘crunch time’ (because, dude… its like so macho to work until 3AM and never see your family)… Than I would work at epic for megabucks. The sheer overwhelming stench of testosterone would probably give me a headcahe, combined with the dizzy excitement of exactly what shade of grey our next game’s space-marine would wear as he kicked alien butt. (I feel bad working on Gratuitous Space Battles for almost 2 years, but it seems like that old ‘wisecracking space marine with big muscles and chisel-jaw’ idea has been stretched out longer than the hundred years war).

I have absolutely no doubt mark would just naturally assume me feeling like that is jealousy, which, as anyone who knows me personally would testify, is just fucking funny. I really don’t care about Epic, and their games, as they are way way too macho and ‘dude’ for my liking, and don’t have demos, so I just assume they haven’t changed since Unreal Tournament. I try not to comment on games I don’t like, as each to their own tastes etc.  The only reason I’m moved to give a damn enough to state my opinion, is that I resent having some triple-a studio jerk come and tell someone whose run a microstudio for thirteen years that he is doing it all wrong. If Mark from introversion suggests I’m doing it wrong, thats 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? Fuck off.

Cliff Harris (

192 thoughts on Epic opinions

  1. I love all these great responses. Its was nice to read the back and forth of folks in the business. Tim Sweeney’s point of view was nice.

    If someone would come into your meetings to be distracting, interrupt, and not be respectful of the people who were running it. That person would be told to shut their manpleaser and shown the door. Interruptions cost time, valuable time each person was there to learn from fellow developers. One mans work in the past while great for the business, shouldn’t be used condoned a disrespectful action. It seemed to take the mood of sharing to frustration. Hopefully the connections others made at the panel will continue. Hopefully it triggered debate to further connect the community.

    I am just an Strat gamer and IT guy and not in the grand development business. Just hate when folks who come in as self appointed experts come in with closed mind, derailing even simple discussions. Its all about respect for your fellow man.

    I look forward to reading more opinions, and especially from others who were at the panel.

  2. Disappointed by the rather childish personal jibes in these comments.

    I will say this: in any of my professional dealings with Mark, he has been gracious and generous and helpful. He is very good at what he does. He can be a bigmouth at times but understand that it comes from a place of sincerity and experience, and the point he was making at Develop has merit.

    Perhaps the question needs to be asked – why are some indie devs so prickly, so sensitive, so precious and protective of their indie status? It really doesn’t help anyone, and some day you may find yourself in need of some help from a Mark Rein and only a fool would burn those kinds of bridges.

  3. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s Mark Rein apology on Develop web site.

    According to Mark Rein, this is some kind of misunderstanding. I can’t tell the full tructh (I don’t know it) but I can tell a few things about Mark. I met Mark Rein a few times on different conferences around Europe, and I can’t tell he’s a jerk – because I don’t think he’s a jerk. He’s actually quite clever and quite enjoyable. Although I don’t know the exact reason why he came to the panel, I know for sure that he’s not going to attend a conference session if the content doesn’t have any interest to him (maybe he wants to buy Introversion. Just kidding). I saw him going out of a conference room because the way the speaker handled the subject didn’t convinced him, so if he stayed you can be sure that he was indeed interrested in the discussion.

    Now, having so many people from outside the industry tha calls him a jerk without even knowing him is just plain weird. He makes bold statements. Most of the time, he doesn’t express his own views but Epic’s views – so crediting him for giving out corporate stuff is a bit like “shooting the messenger”. Sometimes he speaks for himself – and in these cases, he might be righth, wise, wrong, awfull, stupid, clever, dishonnest, honnest, and so on. He’s just a man, and unless I’m mistaken, “errare humanum est”.

    I can tell you that, for sure, he’s not closed minded, neither he is a bastard who should be fucked.

    @BigFatChris : Yeah. “Castle Crusher”, “Braid” or the myriad of other XBLA games are just plain awful and unsuccessfull. Thanks for englighening us with your deep knowledge of the game industry

  4. @BigFatChris, The sales of Minecraft are proof enough that indie game development can be profitable. I don’t know just how well Cliff has done with GSB, or the Arcen guys have done with AI Wars, but with the sales data on the minecraft site, the developer there has made some really nice money over the past 14 months, somewhere in the range of $400k. I don’t know what his costs are, but I imagine a very significant amount of that is profit. How many people do you know who make that kind of money in any field?

    So indie devs can be successful, and they have the advantage that they can take chances on ideas that the big guys can’t. They will most likely be the main driver of gameplay innovation for many years to come.

  5. If you are 1 person, you can’t say you run a microstudio…because you aren’t a studio at all. I am one person who makes music of a band. I am not a band, I am a musician.

    To undermine Epic because of where they are now, and not consider any of their past is……IGNORANT.

    you can’t be ignorant.

  6. Don’t know about the major under dwellings of Epic yet but, I’ve come to understand many company heads are growing out of their own skin to produce a marketable game. Just in general example, what happened to Gabe Newell when he announced at E3 that Portal 2 would be the best game on PS3? Why does that even matter?

    I understand that there is a console war going on and will always be until for some crazy reason games die out but, when do games even become about being fun anymore? I still however, highly respect Gabe. I just hope that more head game developers out there will keep to the basics and ask what is really fun? If you are making games and are not having fun, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

    I’m guess what I’m trying to say is that being more personal to gamers helps to better understand why games are fun in the first place. I’m glad that you helped to open this response up Cliff. What you’re doing is right. Thanks for the post!

  7. On the one hand I think it’s hilarious that Cliffski would deign to respond to Mark Rein for something that’s obviously beneath him, on the other hand I feel it’s pure genius that Cliffski is going to get so many sales out of this little rant. It’s friggin’ brilliant!

    I find it even more hilarious though about some of the responses to the rant. I mean seriously some of you guys are no longer going to buy Epic games because one guy was being rude. Even if he is rude constantly, all the fun you’ve had over certain games and you even care what he has to say. I mean if I came to that meeting and started being rude and making comments and so forth, I would have just been asked to leave. And you guys would be having a snicker about me later, but because this guy is in the industry, and apparently somewhat famous (I’ve not even heard of this guy, but then again I don’t play many Epic games), it’s frickin’ news. I mean seriously guys.

    I have respect for Cliffski in one way and that his, his ability to make a living doing what he loves. The indie world isn’t going to take off because of some of you telling Mark Reign to f**k off, and the mainstream industry isn’t going to suddenly fold because a few of you “heard” that one guy was being an idiot and you’re suddenly not going to buy their games or the whole industry. Yeah the whole industry is to blame for one guy who is as you put it “a jerk”.

    This whole thing just cracked me up I had to read all of the comments, I haven’t had a great laugh, in a long, long time.

    Cliffski – you’re the man for turning this into some great indie pr (like the thing with pirates) I hope this does as well for you as that did.

  8. Cliff, I just wanted to congratulate you on having the courage to publicly rip on a AAA studio and follow your gut with this. It’s not something most indie devs would do, and it looks like it benefited everyone involved, including the spectators (i.e. there’s some great advice in Mark Rein’s apology that I relate to). It was cool hearing from Tim Sweeney too, I’d love to meet up with him at a conference one of these days.

  9. Personally, I think its complete balls to keep your customers in the dark about information just because you want to use it to make your marketing penis bigger. How many times have we all asked developers to tell us about whats going on and they refuse just because they don’t want to say anything until they can use it to get press? Fuck that. I like the little guys ideas, fucking tell us whats up like we actually matter for a change.

  10. Mark Rein or anyone from Epic can’t tell anyone about where they’re going wrong, criticise someone that they wouldn’t know how to connect with fans or try to lecture anyone about how to make a game, they have absolutely no interest in either the community on their origional title, which compared to Unreal tournament is starting to seem like a major happy accident, called Unreal. Not only did they release an incredibly buggy which lacks the origional features (the kind of things it was shipped with, such as dynamic shadows which only work on older versions), but they also released 3 completely incompatible versions of the same damn game. One being the first retail Unreal, then Unreal Gold because it comes with both the origional game and expansion built in, and then a year or so ago, Unreal anthology, which is incompatible with either because of a logo on the intro screen.

    Epic have been informed about this by hundreds of fans over almost a decade (Yes, a decade), and they have just completely ignored the problem or any issue anyone has noted. Instead, a very admirable devotee from the Unreal community actually had to buy the damn Unreal source code from Epic, which was released in 1998, in order for him to fix most problems which people are having (which Epic put there in the first place and didn’t pay one ounce of attention into fixing them or even caring about them), and add re-add in the origional features such as dynamic shadows, with some others.

    But apart from Mark Rein, I hardly think Cliff Blizenski is the highly expertised game designer he makes himself out to be, according to him a good game should not be longer than 10 hours.

  11. Was there any video recorded of this interaction? I would love to check that out, haha

  12. Great post Cliff!

    It was my first time at Develop (Student) and was sat at the front across from Mark Rein. He’s comments just felt so out of place for what the panel was talking about and really gave the impression of just waylaying the whole session.

    A great talk though and plenty of food for thought for students out there!

  13. Great post Cliff. I was also at that talk (with Cameron Akitt) and it was a great panel. When I first heard Mark Rein’s comments I had the exact same reaction as you, but in all honesty I think he had a point. Ok, some of it may have been lost in his attitude and tone, and the fact that he just sat there and interrupted a panel without so much as an explanation, but it was there. What I got from his comments was that although it makes great marketing sense to talk 1-on-1 with your consumers to build a fan base, it doesn’t make sense to release information about the game to them – at least not before you release it to the press. Word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool for indie’s as I’m sure you’ll know, but if you can get the press to spread that buzz for you it’ll reach a larger and more diverse audience.

    I’m not trying to tell you how to scramble eggs here; you’ve run your own company for 13 years and I’ve just graduated Uni. I’m just offering my perspective on what happened at that talk. So yeah, Mark Rein’s a jerk…but I think it was more a case of misplaced enthusiasm than outright and purposeful arseholeness. In any case keep up the good work. I would suggest organising a boxing match between yourself and Rein at next years Develop but it looks like he has the weight advantage. Plus, i’d hate to see you mess up those £75 jeans.

  14. This is BA. I love UT and EPIC games, but I’ll have to side with you/cliff. I despise companies that have the kind of mentality that you describe. Which is why my arch-nemesis is EA.

    Probably not related, but since we’re getting it out there.

    Just keep doing what you do!
    pew pew!

  15. I’m a type of guy You ware talking about Cliff. I remember, a years ago, I wrote a mail with comments to game, which have been during development process, to people who worked on it. They replied me. I bought that game, and sequel too. Even if both still had many bugs, or been to wanting as a whole. I would buy them in pre-order if it would be possible in Poland for that game. And remember about currency rates. They make shopping in on-line stores 4 times more expensive for polish then for US citizen. But still thanks to this piece of private contact, its worth any penny. You just said on this conference for developers, a thing, witch I think is clear for any one. To compete with big studios, You just have to be better then them in some sides of this business – A great contact with buyers of Your products is generally low-cost and effective way. I wonder, who put Mark Rein on his job, if he is so incompetent. Best Regards.

  16. Have your game downloads increased as a result of this post? I love indi strategy games and stay away from mainstream games like those that epic produce. Never heard of your one man band outfit before but about to get stuck in trying out some of your products :-)

    Way2go :-D

  17. Pingback:

Comments are currently closed.