The one man band that runs independent developer Positech Games had a less than favorable encounter with Epic Games' Mark Rein.
Cliff Harris's Positech Games, known for titles such as Gratuitous Space Battles, is as independent as independent videogame studios get. It's based in the UK and made up of him and him alone. According to a post on Harris's blog, Mark Rein of definitely not indie studio Epic Games (of Gears of War fame) took a shot at Harris and other indie studios during the Develop Conference in Brighton, UK, leading Harris to believe he should "Fuck off."
While Harris was on a panel with other indie developers Robin Lacey (Beatnik), Sean Murray (Hello Games) and Mark Morris (Introversion), the topic of personally responding to customers came up. Harris said how he liked that "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."
Apparently this was followed by "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." This man was Mark Rein, the vice president of Epic Games. Harris says he "got the impression [Mark Rein] was there to laugh at the little guys, or to just inform us how we are all wrong," and that he's a "jerk," but the language got much saltier after that.
He may laugh when me and Mark [Morris] 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 headache, combined with the dizzy excitement of exactly what shade of grey our next game's space-marine would wear as he kicked alien butt.
After a few more jabs at how anti-indie Mark Rein is, Harris finished with: "But Triple-A studio bosses trying to lecture me on how to communicate better with gamers? Fuck off." Epic designer and rock star Cliffy B tweeted in Rein's defense with "I've personally seen Mark Rein reply to tons of random people who email him. He blind copies me *constantly*," and "I haven't spoken with Mark today, but I'd wager he thought the comment was silly that only indy devs reply or interact to customers." Rein himself hasn't responded to the indie heckling allegations.
I get the feeling that from a big business point of view, making sales by replying to emails isn't necessarily going to make anyone rich, but it does help a company's image especially when the news spreads that a developer cares about its customers enough to reply. I'm reminded of the situation with Torchlight where Runic Games manually helped a single player get unstuck. Assuming Rein's comments weren't taken the wrong way, he may have been incorrect about the effect a personal response can have on a player base and the willingness it can create for people to purchase a developer's games, especially in the indie sector, even if an immediate sale of one copy doesn't earn a life-changing amount of money.