Editorials: The Other Side of Indie Developers

According to Phil Fish, this is what a genius looks like.
Phil “Gamers are the Worst Fucking People” Fish

Microsoft’s second 180 has brought a casualty to industry, one Phil Fish. After news leaked about Microsoft potentially allowing indie developers to self-publish on the Xbone, Phil Fish and other indie devs were contacted regarding their opinion on said rumor. Phil Fish and Jon Blow, two of the more recognizable names of indie developers declined to comment. The silence sparked an overwhelming amount of anger from the internet personality Marcus “Annoyed Gamer” Beer. The rant that ensued from Marcus over this silence including him calling both indie devs a number of unkind names, leading to Phil telling Marcus that he should kill himself. Phil continued the war of tweets between him and several people and eventually led to Phil rashly canceling the month-old sequel to Fez and leaving video games forever.

To say that Marcus’ rant was unwarranted is a huge understatement. Asking developers for comments on rumors is normally an exercise in futility, but becoming enraged because they decline to comment on said rumors screams mental retardation. The mental handicaps of Marcus Beer aside, this latest incident has once again highlighted the huge resource disadvantage that indie developers face. The same resource deficiency that has rewarded gamers with gems like Fez, Braid, and Super Meat Boy also means that their creators do not have massive PR teams standing ready to help combat even the nastiest internet trolls. The lack of a comprehensive PR department has led to more than a few public outbursts of the heads of these development companies. Two weeks ago saw Tim Schafer make an ass out of himself in a Twitter argument with a Kickstarter backer. While Tim’s bitch fit did not reach Phil’s levels, he did turn many heads when he acted less like the head of a studio and more like a five-year-old boy.

Braid "Hop" Screenshot
Braid represents the pinnacle of indie games.

While some indie devs truly need a PR department to protect themselves from saying colossally stupid things, others have functioned just fine without one. Team Meat were able to be brutally honest in interviews after the release of Super Meat Boy. Because they did not have a group of stiffs telling them what to say, Team Meat sounded off on Microsoft and their felling that Microsoft lied to them about how their game would be advertised. Team Meat eventually went on to utilize a loophole in Microsoft’s DLC policy that allowed owners of Super Meat Boy to receive free DLC, and even went as far as detailing exactly how they were exploiting said loophole. Gamers have been force fed carefully crafted statements for years, but the brutal honesty from indie developers is a nice change.

Phil Fish has long been known to be a douche bag. Until I viewed Indie Game:The Movie, I had no clue who he was, but within minutes of learning of his existence I also knew he was thin-skinned hipster. His arrogance was palpable in a way that would make even Jonathan Blow take a step back. While Fez is lauded by many to be a masterpiece, I am not sad in the least to know there will not be a sequel. As palpable as Fish’s arrogance is, his disdain for the very community that supports his art is overwhelming. With little money to spend on advertising, indie developers must depend on their fans recommending their titles to friends. It would be hard for me to recommend a game that was made by a guy who declared that “Gamers are the worst fucking people”. Phil felt that gamers needed him and his games, not the other way around. Knowing his feelings towards gamers, I would not be surprised if he had no intention to finish the sequel to Fez in the first place. This recent, childish, temper tantrum gave Fish an excused to cancel the project while placing the blame on gamers. Announcing that he is walking away from the industry is just a ploy to get people to beg him to come back, the same thing a child seeks when he walks away from his parents as they yell for him to return. Cliffy B, the O.G.D.B., has already begged for Fish to return, but Fish will not return until he feels that gamers have learned the lesson he has attempted to teach.

Indie developers have been behind some of the best games released this generation. Every indie game that is released is a testament to the years of struggling the studio behind the game went through. After so much struggling, it is natural for the creators to be combative to criticism of their product. Some people are able to brush the criticism off with ease, understanding that it is impossible to please everybody. These are the people that continue to develop new titles, not to prove to the world that they are a creative genius, but because they truly love making games. Phil Fish is the opposite, and although many people enjoyed Fez, he should not be missed from the industry. After all, how much of a creative genius can he be if his big idea for a follow up was just a sequel to Fez?


  1. Apparently Fish had been diagnosed with an attention seeking personality disorder and shouldn’t have been using Twitter.

    Also, I don’t think that Team Meat is really the right parallel to Fish and Blow. There are few people as (usually) forthcoming as Fish and Blow when it comes to giving out controversial opinions – journalists then know they are good for a quote, and so they become one of their first ports of call for industry commentary. Their views are then printed in (often deliberately) provocative articles which lead to scores of readers harassing them on Twitter.

    I’m not surprised that someone as socially maladjusted as Fish eventually blew up. Fish is a hipster, Blow is a little bit odd, and both are elitists – but beyond that they really both are what the game media has made them.

  2. I think it’s hard to identify the core problem here. Is Fish a thin skinned jerk? It seems so. Was this Marcus guy overblown and way out of line? Yeah, that also appears go be the case. Should Fish have had some sort of PR screen between himself and the mass of internet trolls? Most definitely. Is the internet full of people who get their jollies spewing forth vitriol? Of course.

    So it sounds like a perfect storm of things that contributed to this. Personality quirks aside, losing developers from the industry can probably be categorized as bad in most cases. So, if we’re going to have a discussion about this scenario I think the productive direction is to talk about what we can change to avoid this kind of thing in the future.

    Let’s work backwards from my above list. I don’t think it is very likely to make significant headway trying to lower the number of Twitter (or general internet) trolls without some sort of massive campaign to bat them over the head with a digital rolled newspaper and shouting “NO! BAD!”.

    Now, regarding PR: When you have a company like Polytron, is it even possible to have even a single dedicated PR person? Maybe. I wonder if some sort of collective indie PR group could be formed which would handle PR for multiple indie companies for a cheaper rate. Essentially just someone to get in the way for people like Fish to keep them from spouting off. This would require a bit of self-awareness on the developer side, so it might not work for egotistical developers who would think themselves capable of handling the internet. As the article pointed out, this solution isn’t even really necessary for companies like Team Meat who appear to handle their PR fairly well, if bluntly.

    Rolling back further, would it be possible to quell people like Marcus? I think that this kind of thing can be more easily dissuaded than general internet tom-foolery. When personalities go out of bounds like this we can cease to support them with page views and ad clicks. This might be too optimistic considering how popular hate-rants are online, but if enough people “vote with their feet” as the term goes, or maybe in this case vote with their clicks then the impact that this type of person can have would be reduced and hopefully eliminated. There will always be jerks with microphones and cameras so we won’t be able to discard all of them, but we can avoid giving them publicity and actively encourage others to not support this behavior. From my observation, this style of work feeds off of either ad revenue or feedback from users (positive or negative) so rather than attacking in comments or twitter, we might have a viable strategy in attempting to starve them out.

    Finally, what can be done about people like Phil Fish? Without some sort of PR screen or personal therapy I’m not sure that there is much to be actively done. A parallel solution might be to focus less on the personality behind the game and more-so on the games themselves. The difficulty in this plan would be that these developers do have valuable perspectives on many gaming topics and it is often worthwhile to learn about games from the other side.

    So, I think we need a few strong cultural changes to avoid this kind of scenario. I’m no grassroots organizer (though my The Grass Roots album collection is will organized) so I’ve no concept of a starting point, but having this discussion at all is probably a good one.

  3. If I were to make a game that caught a lot of attention, so much so in fact that I and the progress of said game end up on a documentary on Netflix, and then I were to begin spouting controversial things aloud to the media then I should expect to require a thick skin. If he cannot help himself but to go ahead and say incendiary things, what else can he expect? This isn’t random grade school bullying where people have picked on him for doing nothing.

    I’m not justifying why people were giving him a hard time, but any one should have seen it coming. The internet is full of anonymous righteous rage, the kind a young man feels compelled to express to give meaning to a small life. This isn’t a revelation.

    If he needs help then I hope he seeks it, and I hope he reconsiders his position which I feel is entirely possible down the road.

  4. While I don’t care much for Mr. Fish, I find his departure from the gaming industry to be unfortunate, because despite his lack of social graces and tact, I like what he has to offer in the form of his games.

    While both are at fault, I find greater blame on Beer for acting like an internet troll, who felt that he wanted some news that he was, frankly, not owed in any way shape or form. He was out of line and I find it, frankly, surprising that such a belligerent attitude that started this nonsense in the first place and he’s still employed.

  5. I’m totally in agreement with Iliya here. Whilst Fish’s reaction was perhaps a bit incendiary, we must remember who threw the first punch here: Beer, who demanded an interview and then behaved like a petulant child when he was (quite rightly!) told ‘no’.

    Frankly, given Beer’s initial behaviour, there’s very little that Fish could have said that wouldn’t have gained my approval. Beer is a jumped-up Youtube celebrity who hasn’t ever created a single thing of lasting value: his feeble attempts to aggrandise himself by trying to pressure Fish into an interview, and then using Fish’s refusal as a means to generate attention, are demonstrations of the worst sort of attention-grabbing, Paris-Hilton-esque hysterical bullshit.

    You don’t have to like Phil Fish. You don’t have to like Hironobu Sakaguchi, or Shigeru Miyamoto, for that matter. I could not care less if they go home and eat babies. All I care about is that the games they are making are good, because that is what I am buying. When I buy Fez, I am not buying an afternoon of conversation and bonhomie with Phil Fish, and so it doesn’t matter to me if the guy is a dick.

    If Cliffy B. still made decent games, a la Unreal Tournament ’99, I’d freely acknowledge what a dick he is, but I’d still buy his games, too! (Unfortunately for Cliffy B., not only is he a dick, but he stopped making good games a long time ago.)

    Beer is a whinging, clattering cunt. Like Iliya, I am amazed that he has a job, and that his employer backed him. I suppose it just demonstrates that they, too, have the same jumped-up sense of self-importance which leads them to believe that, when they cannot manufacture the news at the point of the sword, they can point to those deplorable actions and gain even more attention than they would otherwise have gained through the interview.


  6. I feel like I’ve attempted to form an opinion without all of the facts. Normally, I’d go straight to the source (Beer’s page) to hear what he said, but I don’t want to give him my hit. I’ll endeavor to find a different place with a more complete run down.

  7. @Lusi: You may recall this little Gametrailers gem, which serves as a smear piece on Cliffy B. for having the audacity to write that supportive open letter to fish… Yeah…

    @Dice: This is what went down. The full video as was uploaded by some random Youtube denizen, so don’t worry about it contributing to Gamefailers viewer numbers.

  8. Fish was on the verge of bankruptcy just before Fez was released. With his personality, would he get many job offers if he stayed in the games industry? I doubt it.

    I expect before long we’ll hear that Fish has found a reason to keep working on Fez 2.

  9. Not really related, but you, Lusipurr, are the first person who has ever been able to properly type the first name of my handle without wondering if it was an ‘l’ or an ‘i’. You have my gratitude.

    I thought everyone knew who Ilia Moromets, the Bylini Folkhero, was. People gotta brush up on their slavic folklore!

  10. I agree with a tweet that Gyme posted. It said something like, “Why do we lament the loss of Phil Fish? He made ONE game.” So even though he was standing for all that is good about games and all that, there are other people who do what he does.

    That said, I also agree with Imitanis that he’ll probably be back. The first thing that entered my mind when hearing that he was leaving was, “So what’s he gonna do now?” Is he going to work in a fast food chain? He may have some other secret hobby that he tries to turn into a living, but I suspect that he’ll play Super Mario World one day and get all inspired to make a new game.

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