Student question: anonymous blogging

by Darius Kazemi on August 11, 2010

in blogging,breakingin

Ian Schreiber sends me this question from a student:

I want to get into the game industry [as a designer, some day]. I figured why not start a blog about game design to talk about some the games I’m studying and to share some of the great stuff I’ve been reading online about games?

However, when I started poking around at other blog of people in the industry particularly people who weren’t prominent, I noticed most of them were anonymous. I started to worry: is it a good idea to start a blog about game design, or is that the kind of thing that’ll get you shunned when you go look for a job? For instance, if I say something about Madden having weak gameplay, and I later apply to EA, is that going to reflect badly, and is that why a lot of bloggers I’ve found go by pseudonyms or go completely anonymous?

If you’re trying to get into the industry on the development side, is it a good idea to start a blog? Do the benefits outweigh the potential risks?

I started a non-anonymous blog while I was a student, so I have a bunch of thoughts about the subject. The short answer is: yes, start a blog, and yes, attach your name to it.

I have nothing against people who choose to remain anonymous on the internet. A lot of people have very good reasons to do so. However, if you’re starting a blog about what you do (or want to do) professionally, I recommend against the anonymous route. You’re (hopefully) writing awesome stuff that could some day help you get a job. You should be proud of what you write, and you should get credit for it!

What your blog should contain

On a professional blog I expect to see four basic types of post.

  1. Critical thought. This is where you might critique a game you’ve been playing, write about gender issues in the industry, compare one developer’s style against another, respond to someone else’s blog post, and so on. These are analytical and theoretical pieces.
  2. Other people’s useful information. “Here’s something I find useful, maybe you will too.” Perhaps you’re sharing some resources for CC-licensed assets, or pointing your readers to a website with good articles about game development, or just linking to a good blog. I try to include more than one resource in these posts (“5 websites I use to find free sound effects” or the like). If I only have one resource to share, I share it on Twitter.
  3. Your own useful information. Better than linking to other people’s info is providing your own. I try to publish as many original tutorials as I can.
  4. Developer diaries. I love posts that chronicle the creation of a game. These are some of my favorite to see, especially on a student blog. It helps me get a sense of the student’s work ethic and style. But I love professional dev diaries too.

There are certainly other types of posts that you’ll see on professional blogs, but those four categories cover about 80% of what’s out there.

How to criticize

Notice that nowhere in that list does it say “be a jerk” or “put down someone else’s work.” The aforementioned student is essentially asking: “What if I criticize game X, then interview for a job with that developer; am I ruining my chances of getting hired?”

It really depends on how you go about criticizing a game. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but just in case: don’t be a complete idiot and say things like “Madden sucks, I can’t believe so many people buy it” or “anyone who plays Farmville is an idiot” or whatever. Those are so obviously wrong I won’t spend any more time talking about why you shouldn’t write things like that. I’ve already written about why you shouldn’t badmouth people.

But there are more insidious ways to shoot yourself in the foot while criticizing a game or a developer.

Avoid making assumptions

Wrong: Alpha Protocol is full of bugs that sometimes force me to replay an entire level. I have no idea why Obsidian would release such a buggy game, but I think it does a huge disservice to what could have been an excellent game.

Right: Alpha Protocol is full of bugs that sometimes force me to replay an entire level. I don’t know if it was the developer or the publisher who decided to release such a buggy game, but whoever it was did a huge disservice to what could have been an excellent game.

The first case makes the common newbie assumption that if a game is buggy, it’s the developer’s fault. That’s not always true — if you know anything about the way the developer/publisher relationship works, you’ll write something more like the second case. Both statements make exactly the same point, but if you were interviewing at Obsidian and they read your review of Alpha Protocol, the first case might hurt you; the second case would probably make a decent conversation topic in an interview!

The bottom line about assumptions is that you shouldn’t make them: stick to facts you know are true. The best way to do that is to criticize a game or a developer’s body of work on its own merit.

If you must be negative, be usefully negative

It’s okay to point out flaws in a game. No developer will claim that their game is without flaws. On the contrary, developers are often their own harshest critics. But if you’re going to single out a flaw, be sure to apply some analysis to it. Put yourself in the shoes of the developer: think about why they might have made the design decision that they did, and think about possible design alternatives. For example, you might set out to criticize a loot system in an MMO, but after thinking it through come to the conclusion that it may have been implemented that way to ensure secure item transactions or prevent spoofing from the game client.

Remember that the internet is forever

Assume that everything you write will be available for everyone to see for the rest of your life. Even if you delete a post, even if your website is offline, there are places like and Google’s cache where people can still pull things up. Don’t ever write anything online that you don’t feel confident assigning your name to.

Don’t be too worried

All of this talk about what not to do may discourage from writing at all — far from it! When in doubt, write. If you stick to the four basic types of blog posts I mentioned above, and do your best not to be a dick, even your (eventual, unavoidable) mistakes will be okay in the end. Game developers are a forgiving bunch. When I had my interview with Turbine (who ended up being the game company that would hire me out of college), my future boss indicated that he’d read this rather lamentable post I’d made, and commented on the “big stinking liars” part. Fortunately it was all in good humor, but yeah, that was a close call!

(Update: Zack Hiwiller’s response to this post reminds me: when I was working at Turbine, I NEVER blogged about stuff at Turbine, except to sometimes point to official press stuff about a game I was working on. I never felt comfortable taking that risk, and I still think that was a good move.  I was up front with my managers that I had a blog but was not going to blog about my job, and fortunately they were cool with that.)


Ian Schreiber August 11, 2010 at 11:36 am

Thanks for the great coverage!

Here’s an interesting thing I realized about your blog, from back when you were a student: most of your information was very useful… but mostly to an audience of students. You were writing to your peers, and to others less experienced than you who were following in your steps. (This is common sense of course, to not be writing about things you don’t know. I would never start a blog about what it’s like to be an Art Director, since I’ve never been one.)

Ironically, your blog also ended up being a great resource for working developers — not because we needed to know what to put on our business cards or how to meet people at GDC or generally how to “break in” to the industry, but because we get plenty of emails from students asking us about this sort of thing. If you’ve written about it, we can reply to those student requests for help with a copied-and-pasted URL; it saves us the time of writing a long, personalized response. I’m not sure that you planned it that way, but it ended up being a useful side effect of your audience.

So the one thing I’d add here is: know your audience and who you’re writing for.

Corwyn Kalenda August 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

Speaking as a grad student myself, I agree with all of the above. ESPECIALLY the advice to put your name out there. Mine doesn’t scream my name out (it’s not int he title, just on the about page), but putting my real name on it, and also changing my twitter account to use my name (@ckalenda) has been nothing but a benefit to me thus far. I’ve had lots of great conversations, and people in the industry DO read what I say in both cases to various degrees, and here’s the best part: They know my name just by reading those things. the likelihood that I apply for a job or whatever and have someone say “wait, I know this name” is increased dramatically.

One could see this as a potentially problematic thing. I do occasionally get passionate about this or that (arguably, one could call my Heavy Rain article somewhat cutting, for instance). But I tend to think that in those situations, it’s better for both sides to have a bit of honesty up front and know what’s there. If I just really didn’t like a game design, and that offends someone that I’m talking with about a job… it’s arguably better that we both know it right up front than be 3 months into an employment when it comes up suddenly in a design meeting. If it’s that big a sticking point with someone of authority, maybe that’s a place I don’t want to be working. Maybe it’s better to know before I’m locked in. And maybe it’s better for them, too.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t be intelligent about your criticism. But if there’s worry about being non-anonymous because of your opinion being unpopular or whatever… no. You tend to make more friends than enemies if you think and post rational, reasoned opinions and thoughts, and the impact of your real name being on those people’s minds will be more impactful overall than the downsides, in my opinion.

All that said, everyone should read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pertinent to the discussion at hand, it has GREAT advice for how to disagree or be critical without burning bridges.

Zack Hiwiller August 11, 2010 at 11:58 am

Great post. I try to encourage others to blog too. It has been so helpful to me in so many ways.

Darius Kazemi August 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Thanks Zack — your post in turn prompted me to add a brief update to mine!

brian lindahl August 11, 2010 at 12:02 pm

just a note to the original questioner – it’s likely that most game developers (and many others in the gaming industry) go by pseudonyms because many gamers are known by their pseudos, and they likely had those names before they were in the industry. I’m sure there’s great stories behind the names – I often wonder about the names of all the Turbine folks – how did they get their names? :)

Chris Chung August 11, 2010 at 10:41 pm

This is very helpful! I started my blog earlier this year to write about game design and critiques of existing designs, but recently it has just been used as a Japan travel blog.

Do you have any advice for blogging about game art? For example, would it be a good idea for me to make posts for recent pieces I’ve completed and/or works in progress, or should those just be added to my portfolio?

As for chronicling design, are step-by-step/detailed accounts or occasional updates about the development process better? I was planning on writing about my first attempt at making a full Flash game using flixel, but I wasn’t sure how to blog about it (if I should post about the initial game design and concept [art] or just progress updates).

I’ll definitely spread this around to the other IMGD majors at WPI. :)

Darius Kazemi August 19, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond.

“Do you have any advice for blogging about game art? For example, would it be a good idea for me to make posts for recent pieces I’ve completed and/or works in progress, or should those just be added to my portfolio?”

I would do both.

“As for chronicling design, are step-by-step/detailed accounts or occasional updates about the development process better?”

For a student blog, I’d say the more detail the better. If it can verge on being a tutorial and demonstrate your thought process, that’s going to be a huge leg up in terms of a potential employer looking at your blog.

Alex Maw August 12, 2010 at 9:47 am

Good post, got me to finish off this post that I couldn’t write up right away, and got feeling that the moment had passed.

It’s a bit of a recurring issue for me, I tend to think things over too long and end up feeling what I have is too long or it’s been too long since whatever I’m talking about occurs. I must try to just put things out there, and make corrections and additions later, I guess.

FreakyZoid August 13, 2010 at 3:09 am

I don’t agree with anonymous blogging as a way of publishing criticism and then hiding from it. If you believe in what you’re writing, put your name to it. If you’re not happy to have your name next to an article, then consider why – can you back up everything you have written?

I find a good rule of thumb with publishing criticism is “would you say this to the developer’s face?”

If you would tell someone “your game was full of bugs that made me give up before I finished, and the third level was painfully badly designed.” then go ahead and write that.

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