I quite often write letters to artists whose work I enjoy and I always remember those who find the time to reply. While I have fond childhood memories of receiving letters and emails from my favourite actor (thanks Cam Clarke) or band (thanks sense of belonging) I don’t remember as a child receiving many replies from video games companies, which is not to say I didn’t send quite a few off as I always felt that if I enjoyed somebodies work it was the ‘right’ thing to do just to send them a little positive note, I mean if we are unhappy about something us gamers gamers can be a very vocal bunch, right? I always put the silence from video game companies down to the fact that the companies were just so big, I mean the email or letter might have just got lost in a huge inbox.
A few months ago I got my first reply from somebody who I had emailed about a game. I’m a huge fan of Dwarf Fortress and decided to tell the developers how much I enjoyed it. I also thought I’d run some questions about agent based modelling past him because, well, why not? Imagine my surprise when I got an email response on the same day! At the time this made me have a quick thought about the relationship that indie games developers can have with their audience that the big companies just cannot have. The thought quickly disappeared from my brain as I went to mull over Tarn Adams’ thoughts on agent based models.
These thoughts have come back to me as recently I’ve had another similar experience, although this time the games company sought me (well.. the kids) out! For those who don’t know my favourite Android game is New Star Soccer. I won’t go into detail about the game, but I have written a short review here . While you’ll enjoy the game yourself it’s also the best quid or so you can spend if you need something to occupy kids for a few mins. Seriously forget Pokemon, there aren’t a squillion names to remember.
Anyway, on one day I needed some quiet and New Star Soccer wasn’t there to help. This isn’t the fault of NSS, just the fact that I didn’t want them to overwrite my save game (which I have been informed won’t be a problem anymore – check out the letter later). I quickly scanned the app store for something for them to do and stumbled across a video maker app called animate touch. I gave the kids a challenge to create a short video. They came up with this, a new mode for new star soccer where the players ride giant crabs, check this out, and be scared Pixar:
The kids made me send it to New Star Games, the people behind New Star Soccer, a few exchanges later and this arrived at my door:
There are a few things that strike me about this. Firstly that video was only seen by 3 people when a chap called Mark from New Star Games said he would send them some goodies. The video has now peaked at 29 views. I suspect that was the kids pressing refresh- there isn’t a massive P.R opportunity here, this are people who like what they are doing and likes interacting with his audience. Secondly, while the balls are loverly and I could do with a stress ball it’s the letter that really shines. The letter could have been an email, tweet or youtube comment. But the fact is that it came through the post with some goodies. In a few years time those words of encouragement are what the kids will talk about, the same way I tell them that Leonardo the turtle sent me an email once.
I’ve slowly noticed my gaming library change over time. What used to be packed with AAA EA type titles is now filled with indie games. I suspected this was down to price and the creative freedom that indie games have. I’m starting to wonder if the relationship between developers and consumers is changing for the better and if the fact that indie games are leading this change is being reflected in sales. I can see this now that I am being nagged to get the PC version of NSS.
I haven’t really thought this through because I think the ‘can games be art?’ debate is ridiculous; but perhaps the the way somebody interacts with their audience may be what ends up separating what art is from a business.
Anyway, this post goes with thanks to @newstargames. NSG is a two man operation, Mark Baldwin is the very kind community manager at NSG and Simon Read is the genius programmer, I’m aware that NSS android has become quite the hit it deserves to be for the company and honestly hope it opens doors for them.