Post release comedown: dealing with bad press

Statler and waldorfSo you’ve made something – a song, a poem, a short story, a board game, whatever. You’ve spent blood, sweat and tears (OK, time and effort) making it the best you could and you’re proud of it. So much so, you put it out there for others to look at.

Then someone, somewhere, agreed – they thought it was good enough to publish. Maybe on their website, in a magazine or anthology, through their publishing company. That thing you made in your bedroom, that your friends and now this company like, will be exposed to the world. Which will be AWESOME… right up until the world gets its hands on it.

A few home truths. Some…

  1. People are mean: It’s true. Trust me, I’m one of them. I was a music reviewer for years and had some truly hilarious emails/letters from friends/relatives of bands I thought were awful – doing everything from threatening me, to questioning everything from my brain power to my birth right. I know, I was part of the problem – but at least it helps me brush it off today now the shoe is on the other foot.
  2. People are invisible: In my defence, while I was sometimes critical of albums, gigs etc, I always did it with my real name and so with a right to reply. Now it is easier than ever to criticise anonymously and, so, with no fear of reprisals. This lack of responsibility can inevitably lead to all kinds of unfounded and false statements that, however ridiculous, can still lead to lasting opinions from others.
  3. People are hasty: The advent of the internet – and even more so social media – has given the world a way to spout drivel at an unprecedented rate and to an ever-growing audience. It has practically no checks and balances, often has no takey-backsies, and it’s FREE. You can post things on the bus on the way home from the pub and not even remember the next day – or ever – that you’ve done it.
  4. People are stupid: They don’t do any research. They make moronic comparisons. They claim rumours, guesses and opinions as ‘facts’. They quote a single source as gospel truth without looking into it further (if they did they’d probably find it was posted by a mean, invisible, hasty or other stupid person). And often they haven’t fully (or sometimes even partially) read, listened, played whatever they’re criticising.
  5. People don’t start every critical sentence with ‘in my opinion’: Although that’s probably what they mean a lot of the time. Well, at least some of the time. Probably.

So what are you going to do about it?

Nothing. For several reasons.

  1. It won’t help: In the words of Shakespeare, haters gonna hate – and trollers gonna troll. You have no idea why they said what they said, and if it’s really dumb – or just plain wrong – why do you think the truth will out? Unless something is written in a very well-reasoned way, it’s probably best to leave it be – and even then, you may want to hold off, largely because…
  2. The cavalry is probably on its way: The fact there are several people on the internet will, inevitably, work in your favour – because every bad penny has a flip side to the coin. They may equally bad, mean, stupid, hasty and uncritical but more importantly than any of that they can be forgiven because they’re ON YOUR SIDE. If you let someone else fight your battles for you, you get to keep your dignity – and your sanity – intact.
  3. Because even if you the cavalry doesn’t arrive, getting involved will very rarely make you feel better: Most likely, one of two things will happen. One, you’ll feed the troll and start a childish spat you’re probably not going to ‘win’. Or two, your reply will be met with silence and you’ll never, ever know if the original poster even read it. Think about how much that might eat you up. And while you’re thinking about that, imagine what the percentage is of cases that end in the original poster replying, “Wow, you’re totally right! I didn’t see it like that. Thanks for correcting me”.

Sure it’s hard. But think back to the opening points – the people posting those comments are probably mean, stupid, unresearched and lazy when it comes to sentence construction. There’s no need to fuel a fire and hey, be pragmatic – they didn’t like it. No biggy. You always knew there would be people who didn’t (although of course you’d hope they’d keep their mouths shut). Nothing is for everyone – and at least it’s out there, right? You’ve made your mark on the world and you should revel in that.

But what if they had a point…

The best thing about anything creative is that there’s always a lesson to be learnt, always a way to improve and always another mountain to climb. If they were right, learn from it and move on. Because that next creative project is going to be even better – which means the cavalry charge against the stoopids will be even more vociferous and unstoppable…

Designer and critic: Does one have to give?

reality checkAs a journalist and all-round gobshite I’ve spent my career (and social life) ‘generously’ giving my opinion to anyone who would listen.

This is fine when you’re a third party; when I was reviewing music, for example, all I had to worry about after writing a scathing review was the occasional poorly spelt threat from the bass player. I wasn’t in a band, so reputation wasn’t an issue. If anything, writing something controversial was likely to get you noticed – often a good thing.

Of course nowadays I’m all about the board games. I’m 30+ reviews and lots of opinion pieces in; but now my first game design is out there, with hopefully more to come. So should I draw the line on reviews? Or what might I lose by carrying on?

Taking it on the chin

I was chatting with the Cardboard Console guys the other day (check them out of you like board and computer games) and they asked about reading the comments made about our game, Empire Engine, on Board Game Geek. They said, if it were them, bad reviews would make them super angry: did I read them all?

The truth is yes, I read them all – good and bad. and I watch the videos and listen to all the audio (which is tricky, as it might be a two-minute brush off in the middle of a poorly edited three-hour podcast). And do they make me mad? Nope, not at all.*

It would be contrary of me to criticise others for having an opinion when I’ve earned a living out of spouting mine; and having spent my working life in creative environments, I’m used to criticism. But any design process can be a hard, long and personal and its easy to see why some people find it hard to separate emotionally from that.

So lets say someone has a bad review and they’re pissed. Some will internalise it and have hurt feelings; but others will take that anger and run with it. This can take us back to our angry bass player, threatening scenarios you can just laugh off; but its the smart ones you have to worry about – especially when you’re starting to put some tentative paws into the very industry you’re biting the hand of.

There is no law

You’d think a well balanced review, explaining its reasoning while critiquing opposite opinions, would put you on safe ground. Don’t kid yourself. There are some vindictive, nasty bastards out there. I’ve seen people go on personal crusades to rubbish someone they’d heard criticise them, even if it was an unarguable truth.

One bad review can see you struck off the mailing list of a PR company or manufacturer. You’re then left with the dilemma of integrity versus acceptance; the right versus the easy way out. As a new member of the designers club, this comes even more into focus.

Let’s get hypothetical. I criticise Game A by Designer A, from publisher A – and both take vindictive exception. Designer A goes and gives all my games a 2 out of 10, writes bad reviews and starts to bad mouth me to his designer friends. Publisher A refuses any meetings with me to see my prototypes, while suggesting to other publishers I’m trouble. A bad rep can spread like wildfire in a small community; soon I’m pariah number one.

I’ve seen how friendly this industry is – and it genuinely is exceptional. But then I also listen when people have a few beers, and read between some of the 140 characters on Twitter. Yes it’s a nice industry, but the people in it are only human.

Right and wrong

So what of the moral side? Forget personal consequences – what’s the right thing to do? I mean, why would you want to upset someone in the first place? Especially your piers.

I’m probably not the right person to ask, as my moral compass has been called into question on occasion, but I believe if you think something sucks and people listen to you, you have a duty to say so. Alternatively, you can simply bow gracefully out of the game.

Personally I’m going to stick to writing nice reviews here, while writing pithy 20-word criticisms on BGG when something gets my goat. As I do about one review per month and haven’t been sent a single freebie (bastards) its hard to write a bad review – I don’t buy games blind and if I do play a crap game I tend to play it once then run for the hills.

But if free games start turning up (please!) I’d feel duty bound to review them all – and honestly. At that point, I’d have to think again; do I really want to be that guy?

* OK, maybe they do a bit; but ironically it’s only really the rating number that annoys me, not the words: every 3 or 4 rating brings the average down significantly right now and is hindering the game rising up the rankings. So stop it. Please 🙂

It’s soooo good: ‘Backroads’ by Lonely the Brave

League of Extraordinary BloggersSorry, bit late on this one but it proved trickier than I’d though. A week ago I simply said to myself right, the next time I think, “That is soooo good”, I’ll write about it. But that hasn’t happened until today – hence the delay.

I’ve not had a crappy week. In fact it was pretty busy; trips to London and Brighton, a one day music festival, gaming with friends. And while I saw some great bands, played some great games, saw some cool things, nothing really got the goose bumps going.

But today I wake up with a song in my head. I get up to start work, fire up YouTube and put it on. The song feels pretty old to me as they’ve been going a few years, but it’s only really getting out there now as the band’s album has finally been released after delays.

They seem to have recorded a video to it back in June, which has added even more poignancy to an already remarkable tune. I just sat back, watched it, then watched it again. And again. I thought, blimey, this is soooo good. So here it is – enjoy. Then enjoy it again, louder. You’re welcome.

Saw things that the rat saw
And my eyes couldn’t take them in
Just want to fall here silently
Into the arms of people I love
Under waiting stars as the ships come rolling in

But look at the way the faces turn
Eyes burn why (eyes burn why)
If you be the sky then I’ll be the bird
But look at the way the faces turn
Eyes burn why (eyes burn why)
If you be the sky then I’ll be the bird

So the power lines were leaning
And all was lost
Make a vow with the city lights
With your fingers crossed
You said I’d be a place and time
Said I’d be a man
Making eyes with a sea of lies
So you understand
That you’re raping on my dreaming
And you’re ruining my best made plans

The rat he turned and bared his teeth at you
The wake is calling, what you gonna do?
But your head’s gone
And it won’t be long
The rat he turned and bared his teeth at you
The wake is calling, what you gonna do?
But your head’s gone
And it won’t be long

So the sinners stopped and the villains turned
And I’ll be the sky and you be the bird
Let’s meet the mountains and see what they heard
And I’ll be the sky and you be the bird

And I’ll be the sky and you be the bird (x4)

Other soooo good offerings from the league:

My pop culture road trip to… Seattle

image Growing up, I became obsessed with music. It started in my early teens with the perfumed pop of Duran Duran and Soft Cell, morphed briefly into brooding Goth before landing squarely in the UK indie alternative scene of the late ’80s.

For a while it was a very English thing for me, but around 1988/89 that got turned on its head by grunge. I was working in a London record shop at the time and remember talking to the Southern rep about the next big thing. It was something different, and wrong, every month but hey, he had to get it right one time; and that time was Sub Pop.

LameFest UK (Nirvana, Tad, Mudhoney at the Astoria, London) was a blistering experience. It was as if someone had taken the energy and excitement from punk or metal, and added feelings and desperation to replace pomp and bullshit. My music had just grown balls. That first Peel Session from ’89, kicking off with ‘Love Buzz’, still sounds fresh and vital today.

My love affair with the Seattle grunge scene was fittingly short lived. By Nirvana’s epic Reading show in 1992 I was tiring of that thump thump thump, my record shop education having opened doors to everything from traditional folk to hip hop. But it still hurt when Kurt suddenly decided his time was up a few years later.

But the list of important Seattle bands is a lot longer than you’d expect from an otherwise unremarkable, unfashionable American city. Ray Charles in the ’50s, Hendrix in the ’60s, grunge; then Band of Horses, Foo Fighters, Fleet Foxes, Sunny Day Real Estate, Kenny G… There’s always one.

While I’ve been to hundreds of gigs and festivals and have bought 1000+ CDs over the past 30 years, the anti-romance of Seattle has stayed with me; it has a scruffy, unkempt quality I can relate to. So you can keep Liverpool and New York, Manchester and Austin; Seattle is still my musical Mecca.

This love affair has been rekindled in recent years by the remarkable output of Seattle radio station KEXP. I found it quite by accident while surfing YouTube for something to listen to. I don’t even remember what it was I found; and it says a lot that the radio station stuck in my mind more than the music. Here I was, watching a live HD radio session with fantastic audio. I was hooked – it remains the one thing on YouTube I’m subscribed to.

So here’s to Nirvana, and to KEXP, and to everything else that’s musically magnificent about Seattle. I’ll make it there one day; let’s say it right now – before I’m 50, I WILL go to Seattle. And of course it helps that it’s a couple of hours from Canada – a country I’d love to spend some time in. Until then though, I’ll keep it tuned to KEXP.

More (possibly slightly more exotic) League of Extraordinary Bloggers’ road trips:

YouTube: Five amazing full live sets

I’m happy to still buy CDs and then turn them into MP3s, but I have no interest at all in subscribing to something such as Spotify. Alongside a mass of music on my shelves and on my iPod, there’s YouTube – the home of so many great videos including some amazing live music sets. Here are five I keep going back too.

The Weakerthans  – Live at The Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg 2009

The Weakerthans brilliant concert album Live at The Burton Cummings Theatre has a version that included a DVD of the whole show – this is it. You’ll find no better testament to the idea that the truly great bands always perform better live than in the studio.

The Jam – Live at Bingley Hall, Birmingham 1982

As far as I can tell this is a bootleg that’s been available on video and then DVD over the years, but is now available through the glory of YouTube. It catches the most important band in the history of mod at their peak.

LCD Soundsystem – Last ever show, Madison Square Garden, New York 2011

Almost four hours of the genius that was LCD Soundsystem live. Much of the footage for award winning documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits was taken from the show. And no, I’n not going to give you a track list…

Beastie Boys – Live at the SECC, Glasgow 1999

A 45-minute MTV special that perfectly captures one of the great live bands at their peak. Spoiler alert – they finish with Intergalactic and Sabotage, but if you’re not bouncing around the room to openers Super Disco Breakin’ and Flute Loop its official – you have no soul.

George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic – Live at The Summit, Houston 1976

Much of this concert is available on 1986 album The Mothership Connection, with the whole concert later released in 1998 on video. You can find it on DVD now, if you look hard enough – or you can sit back enjoy the biggest funk/costume show on earth for free here.

Suggestions for the next set of five welcomed – comment below!