Exclusive: Mark Rein's indie apology

Exclusive: Mark Rein's indie apology
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

July 19th 2010 at 8:12PM

We publish the Epic vice president's mail to the indie upset by comments at the Develop Conference

Epic vice president Mark Rein has handed Develop a copy of his email apology to Cliff Harris of Positech games, explaining his recent input at the Develop Conference in Brighton.

On Friday Harris published a blog post heavily criticising Rein's comments during a panel hosted by Develop at the recent conference.

In his post Harris, who was one of the four speakers on stage for the 'Rise of the Micro Studio' conference session last Wednesday, suggested that Rein looks down 'on humble indies'. The accusation came in response to Rein addressing the panelists from the front row of the audience area during the afternoon slot of the three-day event.

Develop was also on stage, in a capacity as panel's the moderator, and saw the drama unfold first-hand as the discussion came to the subject of whether the traditional PR and marketing model is relevant to modern micro studios; a point where Rein offered his advice and experience in a manner that apparently disgruntled Harris.

"I want to apologise," said Rein in his email to Harris, published below in full. "It was completely rude of me to interrupt your panel with my opinion no matter how well intentioned. I'm supremely passionate about the plight of indie developers, and game developers in general, and I heard something I thought was incorrect advice and I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut."

The incident occurred when the panelists mused on the benefits of having a one-on-one relationship between a micro studio's lead creative staff and journalists.

While it is hard to refute the fact that Rein interrupted proceedings (something he has apologised directly to Develop for), his remarks from the audience only came across as well-intended over-enthusiasm by a man clearly enamored by the games industry as a whole. His involvement also brought a great deal of energy to the room, fueling much fascinating debate, and since indies in the session have spoken to Develop in support of Rein's passion for the industry as a whole.

Rein has also contacted Develop to make clear that he is a huge fan of indie gaming, and drawn comparisons with the current independent scene and the shareware days when, in 1992, Epic was born; an era he stated has "amazing parallels" with the current indie eco-system.

"My only motive is to help people," said Rein to Develop, calling indies "both my friends and customers" and explaining that he is always keen to give advice to people currently in a situation with which he can readily empathise.

Epic, which hosts the indie and aspiring developer-focused Make Something Unreal contest, certainly does a great deal to support the independent sector. The studio itself started out as an indie making shareware titles like Epic Pinball, Brix, Jill of the Jungle, Jazz Jackrabbit.

According to Rein's email, and based on Develop's perspective on stage, it seems the controversy following the panel comes from a simple misunderstanding of the Epic VP's slightly over-enthusiastic contribution.

Of the topic being discussed at the point of Rein's input, the industry veteran said in his email: "Indie studios don't usually have big advertising budgets and PR is a war where you have to save your bullets for the greatest possible impact. Indie developers already have a strong relationship, and close ties, with their users and customers but getting heard through all the noise of the internet, and reaching new ones, is a massive challenge."

Rein also clarified the fact that he was speaking not from the perspective of a huge studio working on a triple-A product, but offering advice based on his experience of Epic's indie heritage.

Epic took the Best Engine accolade at last week's Develop Awards, which Reincame on stage to collect.

Here follows a verbatim copy of Mark's email sent to Cliff Harris of Positech games:


"Cliff,

After spending the whole day on the plane ride home from England yesterday I was greeted with a link to your blog post and boy do I feel like an ass now. Since I got home last night I've been trying to think of a proper response but I decided just to send you an apology and try to clear up a misunderstanding.

First of all I want to apologize. It was completely rude of me to interrupt your panel with my opinion no matter how well intentioned. I'm supremely passionate about the plight of indie developers, and game developers in general, and I heard something I thought was incorrect advice and I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut. But there's no excuse for bad manners. You called me on it and it made me realize that it is a behavior I need to try and change for these types of events in the future.

It's not like some great injustice was being done and needed commentary from me. I was just being a jerk.

But I did want you to understand that it was not my intention to criticize the fact that you reply to your fans' emails or discourage anyone from doing that. What caused me to speak up was when I heard you talk about revealing important news items about games through 1-on-1 emails and in forums. My opinion is that doing so runs the risk of these things no longer being 'news' when you need to use them to get publicity for your game. Gaming websites and magazines are all about news and getting a 'scoop' and often won't cover things that are already announced or generally known. If you release important new details to small numbers of people you run the risk of not being to get it disseminated to a larger audience that helps make more people aware of your talents. Indie studios don't usually have big advertising budgets and PR is a war where you have to save your bullets for the greatest possible impact. Indie developers already have a strong relationship, and close ties, with their users and customers but getting heard through all the noise of the internet, and reaching new ones, is a massive challenge. I know this because, I've spent many years trying to tackle this challenge. I wasn't trying to talk from the perspective of what we do today with games like Gears of War and Shadow Complex, or trying to talk down to anyone, but rather share my direct experience being an indie studio of our own for many years and working with tons of them these days as a technology licensor. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with a passion to share our experiences (both good and bad) and I just can't wait for the right turn to speak.

Epic was a tiny indie studio back in 1992 when I became a partner in the business and this sort of thing (sales, marketing, PR) was my specific responsibility. Just like you do now we sold our games directly to our customers by giving our free 'shareware' episodes (or demos) they could download with no fuss. I've noticed you sell GSB in separate episodes and one big value pack exactly the same way we sold our games back in our shareware days. Through careful dissemination of news and other information we were often able to get our little shareware games reviewed and covered in the top gaming magazines alongside titles from major publishers and studios. Being prudent about PR never stopped us from communicating in smaller venues with our customers and undoubtedly brought us many more of them.

In addition to our efforts we've also been huge supporters of indie studios. We created three Make Something Unreal contests (the latest ones with cash and prizes over a million dollars!) and loaned our
technology, and provided support and encouragement, to many indie studios hoping to catch on and be successful. We also created the Unreal Development Kit which indie developers can download and use for free then buy an inexpensive license when they want to start making money with it. We've updated it regularly with new features and enhancements. We answer tons of email from small developers and I regularly talk 1-on-1 with them by phone and at events like Develop all over the world.

I'd like to think I do already have the "long indie experience" you talk about in your post and my intentions were purely to try to be helpful to folks in the room. I wasn't trying to talk down to you or anyone else there. But clearly it didn't come off that way and, regardless of intentions, none of this makes up for my bad manners. So again I apologize and hopefully I've learned my lesson.

Good luck with your studio and games in the future.  If you'd like to discuss this by phone I'd be happy to speak with you. I'll try not to be a "triple-a studio jerk" :)


Mark Rein
Epic Games, Inc."