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What's so difficult about writing an update post?
Managing expectations in Naughty List News #83
This week’s edition of Naughty List News was sponsored by Paradise Lust, the erotic dating sim about a stranded pleasure yacht full of beauty pageant contestants looking for a way home.
We expect a lot from independent adult game creators these days. Not only should they be pushing out regular updates to their games, but they also need to keep us up to date on their progress with blog posts, roadmaps, and an ever-increasing number of social media channels as well.
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I think it’s worth examining what these mounting expectations mean for the people making the content you love. How much of their time are you owed when you give them a few of your dollars every month?
How Blizzard gets it right
Many game creators can get sidetracked when writing updates, using the space to talk about their personal life and grievances, and basically writing too many words about topics unrelated to their game’s development.
But clear communication is an actual skill. It takes time and effort to craft an update post for a game. The writer must gather information from the development team and figure out how to present it to your audience. Players may be enthusiastic about the game but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily interested in all the technical details.
Let me show you what I mean with an example from the masters of this type of writing, Blizzard Entertainment. Their games are played by millions of people around the world and every change is ruthlessly scrutinized by their community. Blizzard likely employs professional writers that help communicate these changes in as clear language as possible. Take a look at this paragraph, taken from Diablo IV’s latest Quarterly Update:
We’ve made a foundational change to Legendary items in Diablo 4 by allowing legendary powers to appear on multiple item slots. Now, if you’re searching for a legendary power […] you may find it on rings, chestplates, or helmets; there’s no need to hunt for a specific item type any longer.
Note how this sentence avoids getting bogged down in the technical details but instead focuses on the impact this change will have on your game experience. It starts by warning that these changes are “foundational” and ends by reassuring us that they will ultimately help improve the game. Although the changes to Legendary items will likely still make some people mad, you can’t please everyone. This is as good as it gets when it comes to communicating game updates to an enthusiastic audience.
Unfortunately, most teams don’t have Blizzard money.
Writing for the right audience
Speaking not as someone with insider knowledge about Blizzard’s development practices but from my own experiences working in AAA games, this expertly crafted sentence in Blizzard’s blog post was likely translated from a note in source control that read something like this:
JIRA-666: Fix legendaries not propagating to other item types
These types of notes are intended for a wholly different audience: Other developers who may be working in the same area of the game. It’s a type of internal communication that assumes a lot of upfront context and is often extremely technical.
And so it would be a mistake to communicate this note directly to players, right? Yet I see this happen with independent creators time and time again. Here’s an example from a recent update to the wildly successful Wild Life:
The inventory refactoring is pretty much done until we do a proper stress testing further down the line.
This likely came directly from a programmer, without help from a writer on the team to help translate it. As a programmer myself, I like to think I have a pretty good grasp of what they’re talking about, but “refactoring” and “stress testing” do not mean anything to a general audience of fans of the game. That’s unfortunate because I think players would be excited to learn that their inventories will be more usable in the next update!
I do want to stress that we can’t exactly blame the team for this lack of clear communication. The problem is that writing update posts is hard, cannot be easily automated, and has never been seen as actual skillful labor.
Because when it comes to game development, there are always better things to spend your money on than writing blog posts.
If creators could afford to hire people to handle the jobs for them that they aren’t necessarily good at, all of this would be fine. A well-funded team has a dedicated writer on staff to collect the changes from the source control and write them in a nice update format. But most creators do not earn a living from Patreon.
Graphtreon is a website that allows you to look at the (estimated) earnings of all creators on Patreon. If we look at just the “Adult Games” category, we can see that at the time of writing, 5087 creators earned about $2.1 million in pledges every month, which gives us an average of $413 per creator.
This is obviously some nice supplementary income, but even this average is nowhere near enough to run a studio on. Remember that this is revenue and not profit. Patreon takes their cut and creators will have to pay taxes over their earnings. And we shouldn’t focus too much on the average earnings anyway; they are not distributed evenly across all creators.
By my own math, the top 50 Adult Games creators on Patreon grab 29.5% of the pie, with the highest-grossing project alone accounting for 5.8% of the total payouts in the Adult Games category. That means that earnings on Patreon follow a classic hockey stick pattern: the top 1% of creators get almost 30% of that $2 million in pledges, with earnings dropping steeply after dropping out of the top 50, and most creators earning nothing at all.
Nobody forces you to stay subbed
The flip side of this coin is that adult game developers can’t expect their audience to stay interested in their games if they never update players on their progress. Fans want to know what’s going on, give feedback, and let developers know about the issues they’re facing with the game. But they can’t do that if they’re given the cold shoulder.
Even a “bad” update filled with jargon that’s hard to parse for non-technical fans is better than none at all.
One thing that developers can do is provide a roadmap. While these charts are difficult to produce, they can help fans understand how the game is progressing and what they can expect. Especially with a big and complicated game project, it can be a useful tool for the team to understand where the priorities lie.
The truth is that while adult game development is hard, it’s not okay for creators to leave their players in the dark for several months at a time. Fans are totally justified in voicing their frustration and even deciding to unsubscribe in these cases. Because it’s ultimately about trust between developers and their audience, and fans just want to know where their money is going.
And if all else fails, fans can always come back as a subscriber later.
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Until next time!