Kotaku opinion open letter

Open Letter To Patricia Hernandez, EIC at Kotaku

This is a response to an editorial by Patricia Hernandez found here.

Dear Patricia Hernandez,
A heartfelt congratulations on your new position. It was with great interest that I read your introductory column as the new EIC at Kotaku about your desire for change.

I'd like to go along and believe that, starting now, Kotaku will focus on the idea and the follow-through of games, rather than continue to stare wildly into the headlights of the behemoths of the industry.

That the continuing promotion of their glittering AAA microtransaction infested fluff and endless front page consuming DLC cycles, re-makes, and bugged-out beta releases has now come to an end. I'd like to believe that. But I don't.

My name is Rasmus, and I'm a marketing manager in a small but growing game studio in Copenhagen. That's the perspective from which I read your column today, so apologies in advance that I don't address every aspect of the gaming community that you touch upon in your thought-out and relevant editorial.

I like your outcry, and I do want to believe in your vision of cutting deeper and moving away from the dictations of the release calendar. Of getting to the core of how and why we play games. What it means to society, to our psyches, to our relationships.

Of course,
from our end, in the low brush
of the game dev jungle,
it just feels like more hot air.

Please, let me try and explain why. Our latest game is one with none of the marketing tricks you mention in it: No punishments for not logging in. No missing out on one-off content unless you collect this or that token for three days in a row and tweet all your friends about it, and... No. Fucking. Micros!

Gameplay is at the top of the priorities of the devs here. They have the last say in all matters related to the game itself. OK, second to last, the janitor/CEO has the final say, but me, in marketing, sure as shit do not get to dictate anything. If I can convince our devs to change something that's the only way forward for me.

Allow me an example. Trying the game for the first time in July 2020 (as a new hire) I immediately found it much too difficult and told the lead dev that I think this would alienate a lot of consumers. I was rejected. Many times. Reviews started to come in: Game is great but super hard. Comments in Discord and in YT channels: Beautiful, fun, and frustratingly difficult. FINALLY, our devs agreed to make it a bit more forgiving. In May 2021.

Another example is the enormous amount of content our devs put in our games. They're gamers, and they want to deliver value which, to them, equates with lots of stuff, and lots of levels, but the games are at risk of becoming repetitive when we bloat to 80+ levels for what is essentially a pretty straightforward platformer. Albeit, with new mechanics and hardcore quality programming and attention to detail behind it.

Though with these examples I would have liked them to move a bit faster, I do appreciate the keenness with which the devs focus on gameplay as the overarching guideline that rules every decision. And that management encourages it. It's the way it should be.

So, with the premise established that we at Bolverk Games put gameplay, content, and respect for the player at the top of our priorities, I can circle back to your introduction piece - we, in marketing, are making a focused effort to have reviewers talk about a game that upholds all the talking points of "by gamers for gamers".

While our work
has resulted in many reviews
across Switch and Steam versions,
the number of reviews
from big brand game sites
(like Kotaku)
is near zero.

Attention comes from medium to small-sized websites, YouTubers looking to get in early on a promising game, freelance tweeters, and family-run businesses that pick up our press releases and sometimes do an independent article. Good solid work, but it has little chance of reaching the mythical median gamer you mention.

We've reached out to IGN, Polygon, and Kotaku, to mention three of the biggies, with loot boxes shipped by mail, 3D prints of our main character with a hidden lock in it (it is a puzzle game after all), a photo booklet, emails, press releases directly to journalists, tweets, DMs, etc. But, you guessed it: Not as much as a "no, thank you" reply.

It's like throwing time,
energy, and money into a void, so,
we've completely stopped
trying to reach
you guys.

We'll reach the gamers we want to talk with (platform fans) eventually. Through the slow grind of organic growth, mouth to mouth, tweet to tweet. It's fun, it's rewarding and it's a pleasure to go through it this way. I get my paycheck every month, like you, doing something I love.

That's possible because ours is a company with some means. Bolverk is a healthy enterprise, though we have to take the long road around to reach relevant audiences. Again, I'm fine with that, I enjoy the journey, but I don't see Kotaku or any other top-tier gaming website anywhere but on the far horizon.

I dare not even think about what the three dudes and dudettes programming away in a basement on weekends must go through to be seen.

I enjoy reading Kotaku, but my professional experience with the publication leaves me wondering what I may be missing in the realm of indies. How many more like us is out there, trying with futility to start a dialogue with the big-name review sites?

Maybe my colleague and I have gone about it completely wrong, in how we've tried to reach you, but I'm long out of ideas on how to get in touch with anyone at the upper echelons, where you have just ascended to the throne.

I wish you luck with your project, I hope you succeed.

With friendly greetings,
Rasmus Stouby
Bolverk Games

The opinions expressed in the above text is that of marketing manager Rasmus Stouby alone and not an expression of view points by Bolverk Games.