Don't become an indie developer unless you can hack the life of a fat, Ukrainian prostitute

Don't become an indie developer unless you can hack the life of a fat, Ukrainian prostitute

If you're thinking of starting up your own development studio, don't do it.

Well, unless you fancy whoring yourself out like a slightly chubby street prostitute on the streets of Kiev, that is.

"I was recently at Casual Connect in Kiev, and I went to the bar everyone hangs out in when they're there," opened Christopher Natsuume, co-founder Boomzap Entertainment, during an indie panel at this year's Game Connection Europe in Paris.

"Of course, because this bar was in the Ukraine, when it hit 9pm suddenly all these girls came in 'looking for business', and I was watching one of these girls – she was slightly chubbier, slightly uglier than all the others – as she circled the bar.

"She was going up to every single guy in that bar and getting knocked back, and I suddenly realised something - that's me. I go to conventions, and I try to sell myself to publishers, but compared to the big guys there, I'm just as unattractive and unappealing as that Ukrainian prostitute."

Chewing the fat

Though played for laughs, Natsuume's anecdote wasn't without significant merit. "Publishers are just like those men who were turning her down," he continued.

"You go up to publishers, you show them your game and you say 'tell me I'm beautiful, tell me I'm beautiful! But a publisher will never tell you 'no'. Instead, they'll always say 'oh, that's interesting, we'll get back to you.'

"And just like that, this prostitute had to compose herself and remove herself from the situation with dignity and move onto the next guy.

"She had to paint her smile back on and move on."

The panel in action, Gril and Natsuume on the far right

This, Natsuume argued, is the hard, cold reality of independent development.

"This is the life of an independent developer, and if you're not up for that, then get out," he added.

Indeed, even if you have success and you build up your team, you may also find out you're not doing the job you want to.

"I have game developers doing what I'd like to do so I can go out and sell at conventions like this so I can get them more work that I'd like to do," he continued. "It'll break your heart."

Death of the publisher

Juan Gril of Joju Games agreed, adding that any publishing deals he's scored have been signed off "because they know me."

"I don't get those deals because I've spent 30 minutes or so convincing someone at Game Connection to work with me."

Even the publishers at these conventions often aren't the real deal, he continued.

"If a publisher wants you to make a game but they won't give you money up front, then they're not a publisher," he added. "They're a distributor. That's all. The kids these days are using the language differently – there are only a few publishers still out there working in the traditional way."

For Natsuume, it's all about companies these days being unwilling to take risks.

"I want the person who is selling my game to take the financial loss if they fail to sell it," he added, suggesting without risk, there's no real reason for the publisher to get behind it.

"It's because I want them to give a fuck. Most of these 'distributors' don't care if you live or die, basically.

"I've had two meetings today where people have said 'we want to see you soft launch these games, and if the metrics are good, we want to get behind you'. Well, of course you do! They're just not willing to take the risks we want them to."

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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Matt Dominianni
Yes, you are right. Misogyny was the wrong word to use, and I apologize for that. Misogyny is one manifestation of sexism, the sexism I'm talking about is a less deliberate "institutional" part of our society and our industry.

I'll try to be more careful about that distinction in the future. Thanks for pointing it out.
Keith Andrew
Matt - I think you misunderstood Rich's point. Unless I'm reading it wrong, he's suggesting that attempting to highlight misogyny where there isn't any harms the overall cause.

So, in this case, he's suggesting people are crying wolf. And he's right.

Misogyny is the hatred of women. In this case, the story that played out on the panel was one of dealing with rejection - the gender of the person involved had no relevance. If, for example, the anecdote had been given by a female panellist and focused on a rent boy dealing with rejection, would anyone have accused anyone involved of "hating men"? I very much doubt it.

Yes, we can all question whether Natsuume's comments were in good taste or appropriate for a games conference. To suggest they were misogynistic, however, is just an error, and pointing out that fact isn't dismissing the viewpoints of others or not taking the issue seriously.

As Rich says, "if you set up a bad argument in the cause of equality it gives the real misoginysts an easy target."
Matt Dominianni
As well-intentioned as you all are (and I really do believe that you are good people who mean well,) the sexism that may be hardest to see is in the form of a lack of sensitivity to women's viewpoints. A number of women have stated with unquestionable clarity that they were made to feel uncomfortable and offended by the description of the panel discussion, the headline of the article, and the dismissive responses in the comments.

I agree with Rich Woods; sexism is subtle and it is an institutional part of our culture that is often very hard for men to see. Here are some examples of insensitivity to women's viewpoints taken from the comments to this article: "this story is not misogynist and does not belittle women in any way." or "Anybody who sees women being ridiculed hasn't comprehended the message of the author." The underlying message of these comments is clear; women and their views don't really matter.

If a game developer is made to feel uncomfortable when she's at a business conference (or reading an industry article about one) because the men there think it's ok to use an inappropriate analogy that is "played for laughs" involving a woman who is a sex-worker, then that game developer is not likely to feel very welcome or included. It is a business conference after all, not a comedy show or a frat party. Anyone who is passionate about this industry can surely see how important it is that all talented people feel included in our industry gatherings, messageboards, and workplaces.

Sometimes good people make mistakes that accidentally hurt other people. How one deals with such mistakes is just as important as trying to avoid mistakes in the first place. When it comes to sexism, a good place to start is by being sensitive to the viewpoints of women, and listening to what they have to say and taking it seriously. It is literally the least you can do.

I hope this gets through, because I'm done here.
Rich Woods Independent games developer at Exobyte Games
It could be argued that badly targeted attacks against perceived mysoginy are themselves damaging to the cause of women's equality. If you set up a bad argument in the cause of equality it gives the real mysoginysts an easy target.

The real mysoginy in the games industry is often much more subtle and institutionalised. It's in a big studio decision that a female character needs to be "sexy". It's in the publishers decision that having the option to play as a female character adds no value. It's not in the lone voice of a games developer using an analogy that you decide is offensive because it refers to an overweight prostitute.
Yan Marchal
Matt, I may be looking bad in your eyes, but I stand my ground: this story is not misogynist and does not belittle women in any way.

For the record, I do oppose misogyny, but I also oppose unfounded accusations. There is some irony in seeing Chris Nastuume being blamed for "making the game industry hostile to women" when his studio employs a number of ladies, some at key creative positions, and they are specialized into hidden-object adventure games that mostly appeal to a female audience.
Matt Dominianni
@Yan I don't need moral authority to criticize misogynist behavior. It also doesn't matter if I grasp the actual message (which I do, by the way.)

I'm not demanding anyone do anything. I personally don't care if they apologize; I'm simply stating the facts about how civilized adults conduct themselves.

Each of you that defends this misogyny with your smarmy demands for civility are doing your part to make the game industry hostile to women. Do you really want to be the jerk that stands up for hating on women and making life difficult and uncomfortable for them? What could you possibly gain from that?

Seriously. Stop and think. There really is no valid way to justify this, and the more you try the worse you look.
Yan Marchal
@Matt Dominianni, did it ever come to your mind that people may have a different sensitivity than yours, and that their views are not necessarily less valid than yours? Who are you to demand an apology? What moral authority do you claim to represent? What if I were demanding an apology from you for your thoughtless overreaction and your failure to grasp the actual message conveyed by an analogy?
Christopher Natsuume
@rich: Actually, publishers have their place. To be very honest - sometimes having someone else there to tell you "hey, this ain't any fun" or "there is a different way you could be doing this" is worthwhile - much as it might hurt. Also, funding has it's uses in allowing you to make designs that simply aren't achievable through the funds you have available.

I've been working with publishers for 20 years now, and as draining as it can be... I'm still out there doing it for a reason. Some of them do have something to add - and the good ones can add a lot. My point was that... digging out the good ones, and getting them on board is a never ending battle - and a pretty brutal slog at that.
Grant Dillon
This analogy is completely ignorant of the kind of real threats and fears that sex workers actually experience, and instead cheaply uses one culturally assumed aspect of their lives to turn heads and garner attention. To say that this is an exercise in empathy is flat out embarrassing. I'd just encourage anyone really interested in building empathy in this space to educate themselves - a decent place to start is the Sex Workers Project website.

Personally this article is really upsetting to me and I'd appreciate some acknowledgement towards our voices and concerns that isn't just dismissive. The industry has enough problems creating a safe space for women and articles like these aren't helping.
Haitham Ennasr
Here is a writeup that is was written for a different situation but that I believe applies here:

Its not just about feelings, its also about being accountable for what you say.

This (bot the speaker's analogy and the writer's very unfortunate covering the analogy) is unchecked male privilege.
Matt Dominianni
I saw this article yesterday, and came back today hoping to see apologies from Christopher Natsuume, Keith Andrew and Pocket Gamer.

It seems pretty clear at this point that some people were hurt and offended by the analogy, and also by the article's headline. It's not really relevant what the intent was, and trying to explain your intent to people who you have hurt is not really helpful. When your words or actions have hurt someone, the only sensible thing to do is listen, learn, and apologize.

This article, its headline, and the lazy editorial choice to restate a poorly chosen analogy as if it were acceptable perpetuates a real problem in the game industry. There is a reason a lot of people see the game industry as being unfriendly to women, and it is because of insensitivity such as this. Pocketgamer is irresponsibly perpetuating and enabling the toxic culture that discourages talented people from getting involved in what they rightly see as an industry polluted by misogyny.

It's not too late. Listen, learn, and apologize for your mistakes.
Rich Woods Independent games developer at Exobyte Games
@Christopher I did the same as some others here and projected my own issues on to your article, how interesting!

I think I missed the focus on publishers because the idea of finding someone who is willing to pay me money to make (my own) game is as alien to me as the idea of a fairy godmother suddenly appearing with tickets to the ball.

I know if I was funding a game I would want a lot of editorial control over it and that's exactly the thing I want to avoid as an indie games developer. I'm a control freak when it comes to game design so I can't imagine doing anything other than self-publishing.
Christopher Natsuume
@Rich: I was actually talking specifically about about publishers and selling game development deals. By and large, game journalists are a good lot. They tend to be huge game fans, and are usually very supportive of developers. They may not always say good stuff about your games - but... that's their job, to tell people what they think of games. And if you make a dog - they'll call you out on it. That's fair enough.

Though, I will agree - in the modern game dev world, they have a lot less influence than they once did, and a smart dev knows that they are only part of a more complete marketing package for a game.
Rob Meyer
I just wanted to add my voice to the others in saying I found the comparison of this indies work to that of an ugly, fat prostitute completely gross, sexist, and problematic in a bunch of other ways. It made me personally uncomfortable just to read the title of this article, and the content grossed me out even more.
Keith, in response to Noah's comment you said no one was ridiculed. If I called you fat and ugly and pointed out other failures, I would be ridiculing you.
Yan Marchal
I am amazed at the amount of hate that this story is getting. People are reacting epidermically to any analogy with prostitution, without ever trying to understand the substance of the message. They let their brains be swallowed into a sink of mindless political correctness.
This is not about looking down at prostitutes, for F*** sake. The story highlights that their positiob is hard and unrewarding, and they deserve respect.
This is not about looking down at women either. Where does the story belittles women?
And this is not about bashing Ukraine, which, quite frankly, is far from being the only place in the world where prostitution happens.
This story is imply about telling you that the position of the seller is hard and you have to have a thick skin if you take the plunge.
Quite frankly, people who see sexism or other forms of bigotry in this story are prisoners of their own bigotry and their lack of ability to understand substance beyond an analogy.
Keith Andrew
Tobi Hill-Meyer - I'm not straight, actually. But my sexuality, whatever it is, or my gender or race for that matter should not, and does not, have any impact on how I report news.
Rich Woods Independent games developer at Exobyte Games
I agree with Keith's point of view and can see the empathy in the story. Anybody who sees women being ridiculed hasn't comprehended the message of the author.

My own criticism of the article is that it repeats the myth that games journalists are the gatekeepers to success as an indie developer. That is really not the case. The gaming press and we readers exist in an echo chamber where the current hip games bounce back and forth in the comments of the same familiar journalists.

The majority of the players of your games don't read the gaming press. You can find other ways to reach them without whoring yourself to a game journalist.
TopBoy Apps
I am fairly new to this industry and a bit shocked at how un-professional these guys are. I only signed up to them yesterday. I can't believe this article is still up. I guess they believe in the "no such thing as bad press" theory. Why would they bother publishing this, it makes them look like neanderthal sexist morons. I appreciate they are not actually ridiculing fat ugly prostitutes from Kiev directly. But its still a pretty stupid analogy to advocate or stand by when there are far better one's to choose, it sort of gives us men a bad name in a way. Well thats how I felt anyway and I can see that it has probably not been received the way the journalist might have thought.
Tobi Hill-Meyer
What the fuck? This is disgusting and doesn't deserve any attention. The fact that some guy says incredibly sexist things is not a surprise, but the fact that the folks at this site thought it was worth publishing - and that commenters are actually defending such shit - is yet another reminder of how far the industry is from even a basic understanding of human decency for people that don't fit the white straight gamer dude model.
Tami Baribeau
This is a freaking disgusting analogy and accompanying article. If you don't see an issue with comparing indie game dev to Ukrainian prostitutes (chubby and ugly ones, at that), than you should be ashamed of yourself. What gives, PocketGamer? Used to respect this site, but you've lost me at "empathy, not ridicule." If you can at all compare the experience of being a prostitute getting denied for being 'uglier than the rest' with shopping around for publishers, you are one of the least empathetic people I've heard of.
Keith Andrew
Noah - no-one was ridiculed.
Yan Marchal
Geez people. Cut a fart and take a deep breath...
Noah Schnoll
Agreed with the sentiment that this is completely uncalled for. There's no reason that this analogy was needed to make the point Natsuume wanted to make. Unfortunately, intent doesn't matter when a statement like this is made. If the only way to make your point is to ridicule another (and saying that someone is fat and ugly definitely counts as ridicule) then maybe your point isn't worth making.
Chris Algoo
To be honest, it doesn't really matter what his intent was. What actually ended up on the page was an insult towards a woman, sex workers and the country of Ukraine. There are a million metaphors one could use to describe life as an indie. To choose this one is, quite frankly, awful.
Keith Andrew
Scott - Thought about it plenty, chap. And, again, I think it's a good story. Just because I don't agree with your point of view, it doesn't mean I'm dismissing it.
Scott Jon
Gee, I'm glad to know the author stands by lines like you "whoring yourself out like a slightly chubby street prostitute on the streets of Kiev", and that the panelists seem to think likening a developer's job to that of an overweight sex worker -- and playing that line for laughs -- is not problematic in the slightest.

I'm so glad we jump to defensiveness instead of considering how our language and how we represent ourselves continues to paint our industry in an immature light -- and make it a hostile workplace for anyone who's not a white dude laughing at a fat hooker joke.

Sarcasm aside, I am embarrassed to know one of those panelists, and to have considered calling him a friend. But my friends aren't people who sit on panels and let comments like that go by without calling them out.
Keith Andrew
Nicholas - you're entirely missing the point. His aim was not to ridicule the woman or even compare the sex trade to indie dev. It was to suggest that seeing her take continuous knock backs has much in common with the experience of an indie dev attempting to court publishers.

It was empathy, not ridicule.

I think it was a valid point and I stand by the article.
Chris Algoo
This is not cool.
Srikrishna Das
> "I've had two meetings today where people have said 'we want to see you soft launch these games, and if the metrics are good, we want to get behind you'. Well, of course you do! They're just not willing to take the risks we want them to."

So true.
At a recent gaming conf, we were showing and had some of these "we'll get behind you" people.
If metrics are good, everyone wants to get behind you ofcourse.
Chris Algoo
Christopher and Keith, please just read this article to yourself out loud, and think about how it could come across.
Yan Marchal
In support to Chris, knowing the gentleman, he certainly did not mean to look down at the Ukrainian prostitute, let alone at Ukraine as a country. It was just a witty way to say that when you make the switch from employee to indy/entrepreneur, you must be ready to leave an environment where people cheer you up and care about what you do, for an environment where yoy will constantly have to sell yourself.
Christopher Natsuume
For the record - my point wasn't to make fun of her - quite the opposite - I spent a great deal of time in that bar watching her and realizing what a terrible, soul-crushing, painful life she obviously led - and respecting her for having the courage and tenacity to continue. And in that I found strength in myself to continue in the face of my own (petty) struggles.
Nicholas Lovell
Sorry, Keith, that doesn't work. If something is in poor taste, it is in poor taste, whether it "actually happened" or not.

But to just to clarify, which of the following do you think was in good taste:
- a developer ridiculing a sex worker on the basis of her looks and weight?
- a developer comparing the life of a game developer to the life of an individual, specific sex worker?
- Pocket Gamer used the above analogy as a hook for a story.

Eamonn Dunne
It's in extremely bad taste because its attempting to equate the relatively comfortable life of a video game developer. With a woman who has been forced to sell her body to make a living.

It trivializes the appalling situation these women have been forced into.
Keith Andrew
If it actually happened, Mitch, how is it in poor taste? The comparison wasn't plucked out of thin air.
Dave Mitchell Founder at Two Tails
I get the similarities but this is a really poor metaphor. I don't find it funny at all and just think it's extremely insensitive and in poor taste.

It's a shame, because it devalues and overshadows some really valid points. If a publisher or partner isn't taking a financial risk in your game, then why will they care?
Keith Andrew
I don't really think he was making a nationalistic point, Maksim.
Maksim Kuzmin
"Of course, because this bar was in the Ukraine, when it hit 9pm suddenly all these girls came in 'looking for business'..."
A really nice to see that prejudice is still living and even pretending to be an art of rhetoric. "Of course, because it's Ukraine...". And this came from guy of Singapore based company. Just great...
I'm even not Ukrainian but able to feel the resentment for them.
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