If you’re someone who keeps their ear to the ground in regards to indie news you’ll most likely have heard that last night the laptops belonging to two of the Indie Stone developers were stolen along with months of work on the game.
I’m wholly sympathetic with them on the break-in, it’s something I’ve experienced a few times and it can be very traumatic, especially since it is something you can’t really protect against. However, their public reaction to the loss of the game code, the extremely unprofessional manner in which they acted, and failing to make external back-ups for months, does not earn them much respect.
Project Zomboid is a “Zombie Survival RPG” funded by people purchasing the Alpha version, with the aim of it helping to complete the game. Its unusual funding method (though one gaining traction in the indie community after the massive success of Minecraft) has already caused run-ins with both PayPal and Google Checkout.
The model works well with indie games as it requires very little upfront investment, people pay into the idea of the final game, and that cash is used to develop it from an idea in your head to a final product. For the gamer it comes with the downside of the possibility of the game not being completed. For the developer it comes with the downside of being beholden to hundreds if not thousands of “investors”. If you use your own savings, you’re beholden to no one but yourself, if you get investment from a bank, publisher or similar, you’re dealing with only a single source of pressure. Regardless of your source of funding, it should still not be treated lightly.
That is the part where Indie Stone ruin the party for everyone else. Upon discovering the theft “Lemmy101” took to Twitter to impart the terrible news. And until a blog post later that is where it should have finished. However, as news spread, especially about their lack of offsite backups for two months, people started to respond. When people have paid for something, even if it’s a relatively small £5, they expect something out of it and for reasonable precautions to be taken on protecting their investment. The response was certainly not overly positive, with the usual internet bile you get on occasions like this. The guys of Indie Stone, especially Lemmy, by now quite drunk, did not respond in a very positive manner. While we can be hopeful that the game will be able to get back on track and on its feet, I don’t think it’s incorrect to assume that the public reaction is going to make it hard to get many purchases and, therefore, funding for at least the coming weeks, if not months. Lemmy has since closed his Twitter account and posted to his personal blog on the Indie Stone site stating he will now recede from the public face of Project Zomboid. Captain Binky has also made a post in regards to the past night’s events and it’s this I felt was probably the most damaging. The rants of a drunken and traumatised man are easily brushed off, but Binky’s words are that of a sober mind. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that as an indie studio they don’t have to be professional and you shouldn’t expect them to.
Oh no wait, but we’re selling you a game therefore we must be professional. Who says? Why?
The problem comes in that these guys have now become a major example of why not to crowd source an indie game, and declaring that you shouldn’t expect any level of professionalism from indie developers is extremely rude and harmful to other indie developers. Gamers now become wary and sceptical of buying into these games, “Will they go the same way as Indie Stone?”, and, thus, less people are as free with their cash on these projects and they never get the chance to flourish. Once bitten, twice shy. Given that the guys of Indie Stone have been rather public about their disdain of large publisher-funded games it’s somewhat ironic they’ve become an example of why it’s the safer bet.
While it is sad that they’ve been robbed of property, personal safety and their game, their reaction has been highly disappointing, and damaging not only to their studio but all other upcoming indie developers and crowd funders who will be treated with suspicion of similar incompetence.
A final word: Indie developers, heck anyone, this is the age of The Cloud and cheap hard drives. Back-the-fuck-up. Github, NAS, FTP, SVN, Dropbox, whatever. You cannot predict hardware failure, theft, or fire but you can reduce the probability that this will be damaging to you and your game.