Friday, February 8, 2013

Snowed under

Since the American Northeast (and New York) is about to get attacked by Blizzard Nemo, I thought I would talk about a different form of getting snowed under. That is by emails and other business related things.

I always pride myself on a quick turnaround when it came to customer support. If I receive an email from a customer - be it a comment, question or scornful accusation - I would drop what I was doing and answer it. I like being approachable. I like making the customers happy. I love seeing someone post online about how quickly I respond. I called those moments "PR wins."

And heck - why not? That's what separates the indies from the soulless corporations. We like having direct contact with the people playing our games. A lot of the time, fans of indie games are fan of the developers as well as the games themselves. Having a good reputation and word-of-mouth is a big part of our business model. So being on top of all the emails and customer questions was very important.

A whole two years ago, back in the dark ages of 2011, I wrote about how there's no excuse to not be accessible and available to your customers. I stand by that now, but things have gotten a lot more complicated. 2011 was before Steam. It was before GoG. It was before we started publishing other games - most of which became pretty big sellers. We have many games out now (eleven!), and - thanks to Steam, GoG, and the efforts of our dedicated PR person - more people are playing them than ever. I obviously can't complain! But... more business means, well, more BUSINESS.

Over the last year, the sheer amount of "business" work I had to do skyrocketed.  Every morning, I would wake up and there would be several hundred emails in my inbox. Tech support questions, requests for Steam keys or download reactivations, bug reports, and so on. They would just keep coming.

It was easy for me to stay on top of this stuff back in 2011 when I got only a few of them a day, but now? I was going through at least a hundred emails in the morning. Emails I had to answer before I could even start my "proper" work of making a game.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. I fell behind. Sooooo behind. The number of unread emails in my inbox crept up and up and up. Every time I tried to make a dent in the pile, it would just grow. Over the last few months, I have sent more emails prefaced with "Sorry it's taken me so long to reply..." than I care to admit. Something had to be done about it.

So, I bit the bullet and hired someone to help. Miranda Gauvin - who is also one of my voice actors - has come on board as a "community manager" of sorts. Answering all the common questions that come our way. My inbox is significantly less busy these days, and she's freed me up considerably. Honestly, I should have done it a long time ago.

So if you were one of the folks who emailed me over the last year and never received a reply (or received a reply MUCH later than you expected), I can only apologize. Hopefully this should all change.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Cafe people - The Power Gamer

*blows dust off blog*

Okay let's do this.

Once in a while, I go to the Starbucks in Astor Place. It's probably the closest cafe to where I live, but it is usually mobbed by 9am. There's rarely anywhere to sit, let alone anywhere near an outlet. I used to never go at all, because it used to cost $10 to access their wifi, but sometime ago they changed that when I wasn't looking. Their wifi is now free, so I try to get over there whenever I can get out early enough.

There's one gentleman who obviously has NO problem getting there early. Every day (or at least, every day that I'm there) I see him. A dude in a black leather coat hunched over a massive laptop - one of those souped-up alienware computers with the fancy insignia on it. The laptop sits on top of a big cooling stand. There's a keyboard attached, as well as a USB enabled XBOX style controller. He wears huge noise-cancelling headphones with blinking blue lights. His gear takes up the entire table.

And what's he doing on this computer? Playing MMOs. Every day. All day.

From a Starbucks.

I first saw him playing The Old Republic around the same time I was playing it last year. Then I saw him playing The Secret World. He is always playing the current Big MMO Of The Moment.

Whenever I tell this story, I get theories ranging from amusing (he's a pro gamer trying to make it big, but can't afford internet) to practical (he's a gaming journalist) to sad (he tells his family he's going to a job but comes to a Starbucks to play games instead). Who knows why he does it. He just does. Like most of the people I see every day in cafes, I don't engage. I just observe, come up with my own theories, and file them away to consider later when I'm designing characters. Who knows, you might see this guy in the next Blackwell game.

It would be oddly appropriate.