Polarity – Why Does Negativity Sell?

Running an indie game studio means that I have to develop lots of different skills and undertake a huge range of tasks. Some of these are great fun, like working with extremely talented people and getting to watch a vision take shape.

Talking directly with fans is also incredibly rewarding.

Then there’s the marketing and PR side of things, which, after two years of thinking up cool PR campaigns and succulent headlines to promote our games, I thought I was pretty good at it.

But something happened this week which has shown that I really have no idea how PR really works, and that the world is not the way it should be.

It is rather sad.

You see, we’ve just made a game that absolutely rocks. It delivers innovation and fun on a level that is, let’s be honest, extremely rare in the console games industry these days.

Velocity has been very well received critically across the board, with Edge Magazine awarding a 9/10 score, along with IGN, Pocketgamer and a host of others following suit. Velocity is currently in the top 5 PSP games of all time on Metacritic and GameRankings.

All is good then?

Well, not really. We’re still struggling to gain exposure from some of the biggest gaming sites out there, at a time when the shiny new PS Vita – which everyone wants to succeed – desperately needs games like Velocity. Despite all the things we’ve done right with the game, it seems we’re still not worth writing about…

…that is until we say something negative.

Yesterday I did an interview with TheSixthAxis (one of the most mature, friendly and clued-up gaming communities out there by the way), about how there are issues with the minis platform; a lack of trophies, networking features and demos specifically.

Barely an hour passed since the post went live, and I’m told that IGN picked up on the story, including a statement that FuturLab thinks a lack of trophies is a major problem. Not words that I used.

The IGN post now has over 400 comments, which is far more than the incredibly positive Velocity review on their site. In case you missed it, the review is subtitled: ‘One of the best downloadable games on PlayStation Store.’

Baffling, and really quite frustrating that Velocity wasn’t even mentioned in the post.

Since writing this article yesterday, I’ve noticed that Eurogamer and CVG have also run the story. CVG boosted the drama further and failed to spell our company name correctly. These are leading sites that I’ve worked very hard to try and get content posted on; positive content about our story – our success on minis, and how minis represents a really good choice for indie developers getting started.

It is clear to me now that negativity sells, which is just not the way it should be, is it?

I’ll leave you with a disturbing nugget of truth, which until now I’ve kept under my hat.

I was once advised by a journalist for a leading games industry publication to make a racist comment in an interview, to guarantee wide exposure. The journalist was joking of course, but they clearly had a better idea than I did about how the human condition actually operates.

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  • Gef
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 9:20 am 0Likes

    Well, that’s that cat out of the bag… why not get John Romero to do a level on your next game, and in that level the player has to kill either a baby or Bobby Kotick.

    That should goose the sales a bit.

  • Trackback: The PS Minis developer vs. tabloid journalism
  • JeremyR
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 11:32 am 0Likes

    I’m afraid that custom firmware on the PSP ruined most of those. Trophies would be meaningless, as people could get them instantly. Cheating is rampant so network features are out. And even timed demos is a problem, they would simply be made into the full game.

  • TechRyze
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm 0Likes

    Hey James,

    I understand your pain, and wanted to contribute a little. Today is the first I’ve heard of your game, Velocity, but I’ve heard great things about it over the past 30 minutes!

    I came here via the link you posted on Eurogamer, and I hadn’t heard of Futurlab before today. Another useful fact to bear in mind is, that I sold my PSP 18 months ago, and I don’t own a Vita.

    The reason that you’ve had more exposure talking about a PSN-wide platform issue, rather than an emulated PSP game is exactly that! Many of us PS3 owners simply ignore Minis by default, partly due to the issues that you highlighted.

    Trophies, network features and demos could be CRUCIAL in changing this, as could the ability to release specific PS3/PSMove and Vita builds of Minis ala iPad / iPhone versions. Many Minis could benefit from Move pointer functionality, or Vita touch-screen features, without excluding them from the PSP platform that they started on. That these games look like shoddy ports running on the PS3 also doesn’t help their sales. On the Vita it’d be worse, as once a gamer’s spent £200+ on new hardware, they’re unlikely to focus their attention on the old PSP games, lacking touch and right-analogue functionality.

    As far a negativity selling, this is NOT a good example of this. What’s happened, is that you’ve raised an important issue that relates to the PSN platform generally, as opposed to games that aren’t generally of interest to most gamers.

    Yes – put the pressure on Sony – you just have, and that’s fantastic. PSminis needs to evolve, as it’s a great platform for small games, and many small games are the best and most original.

    PSminis also needs a decent ratings system to separate the decent titles like yours, from the ‘shovelware’ junk that also devalues the platform. Discovering the best minis by browsing PSN should also be better implemented.

    All the best!

  • TechRyze
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm 0Likes

    BTW – please ignore the journo who suggested making a racist comment. That sort of behaviour may get you column inches, but I’d not be spending any money on a product from a known bigot, regardless of its quality.

    I’m sure you’re fully aware of that, so just continue to cover wider, pressing and ‘controversial’ issues outside your own games, when speaking to journos about your own games. That should help!

  • James @ FuturLab
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm 0Likes

    Cheers for the comment 🙂

    I totally agree with you. I can see that the posts on IGN, EG and CVG have stoked an important discussion about Trophies – something that divides opinion and therefore generates discussion.

    So I can appreciate why these stories are on fire – it’s just frustrating that reference isn’t made to our game, links are erroneous etc etc.

    Cheers again for your comment 🙂


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