Have you heard? The world’s richest man has bought the world’s most-important social media network and just… I guess… set out to deliberately make a massive pig’s ear of it, for some reason?
From reports, he’s sacked half the staff, and then tried to rehire some of them when he realised whoops-a-daisy they did important jobs, and then made it so you could buy your way into being Verified and then backtracked when it turned out that people would exploit that system and cause some very-real world problems, and then (at time of writing) he’s announced Twitter 2.0 and apparently forced people to ‘retire’ by a deadline if they don’t want to write their code in HARDCORE MODE and sleep in the office and never see their families, or whatever.
Look, it’s a lot. By the time this article goes live, who knows what state the site will be in. He’ll probably have removed the ability to Tweet altogether, who can tell?
All of this fuss and bother is causing a mass-but-very-cautious exodus of people who are kind of looking for somewhere new, but also kind of hoping this washes over because despite constantly talking about how awful Twitter is for the last decade we’ve now suddenly realised actually it’s kind of important.
And hate it though you may, Twitter is important. It gave people a voice, and got them jobs. It’s been a way for politicians to communicate directly with their constituents. People used it to communicate during wars, uprisings, protests and a pandemic. It’s been instrumental as a new, powerful driving force for communication around the Globe in too many ways to count.
It’s also been the main way you can share a neat gif of your game and get hundreds of thousands of eyeballs on it instantly.
Giffing to success
Yes, Twitter has been the main route to indie game notoriety for some time. Journalists will ignore your press release until the cows come home, but fling a gif on Twitter, watch it do numbers, and suddenly they’re the ones coming to you asking for details about your game. Cool gifs on Twitter have been the most important marketing tool for indie developers for so long, and it’s hard to imagine where we’ll find that sort of traction again once Twitter is truly dead.
Reddit generally has rules against self-promotion, and (frequently) awful mods - anyone who’s tried to share their work on Reddit to a community they think might enjoy it has been met with the almighty force of the cool-and-powerful-and-clever-and-handsome-and-very-reasonable-actually Mods, who will delete it immediately and ban you.
Facebook is a disaster for sharing your work, and they’re pretty open about why: “We shared your little post with 50 people buuuuuuut if you greased our palms a little, is all I’m saying, a couple of hundred quid and boy I could actually put some effort in for you.” With a tight indie budget, no one’s risking forking out for marketing to Facebook boomers.
TikTok meanwhile, is for young people. And also for old people who haven’t realised they’re not welcome but try their hardest to #share energetic #EngagingContent all the same, but generally wind up producing awful cringe that immediately bounces off battle-hardened youngsters.
Not that Twitter’s any good for sales. It’s been incredible for discoverability, and garnering press coverage, and making people generally aware of your game. It’s even amazing as a testbed for whether or not it’s worth making a game in the first place - knock out a prototype, upload a gif, and go into production based on whether or not the gif took off. It’s as valid a reason as any, and it works - I was messing around making a stupid football game, but the gif took off and when the BBC came to me asking for an interview about it, I was pretty much resigned to making the rest of the game - you can’t buy coverage like that.
What’s more slap a funny gif of an amusing bug (or, if you’re awful, fake it) and you’re laughing. Nothing does numbers quite like a funny bug, people love that stuff. Watch the likes, retweets, and follows pour in, and with each successful gif you’ve got a slightly bigger audience to keep riding that train all the way up to launch day. Promotion has never been easier, or more effective.
A waning sales influence
But not sales. Twitter is no longer a driver of sales. There was a time, back around 2015 where a single mention of your game from a high-profile account would cause a huge spike in sales. I certainly remember being able to trace several thousand pounds worth of new sales to a single solitary tweet - enough to keep my little company going for several months. As Twitter got bigger, the way people engaged with it changed - people rarely click through links any more, we absorb the headlines and move on, and as such the conversion rate from Tweet-to-money is basically zero. These days, a similar high-profile tweet about my game will barely nudge sales, if at all.
Twitter is also instrumental in getting solid feedback from the people who will play your games, instantly. Slap a gif up and a million armchair designers will scream out in delight and fury, and whether you like it or not you’ll be subjected to a tsunami of feedback. There’s no better way to know if you’re right or wrong than by asking on Twitter.
So, what does all this mean? We find somewhere new? I have to hope that a new, more functional social media hero will emerge. One that shares the best of Twitter, but ditches all the hate, the racism, the propaganda and the endless futile bickering.
It’s sad. Twitter means a great deal to indie developers like me. It’s been a way to communicate with fans, a way to share what I’m working on, my primary loudhailer when I’m announcing something new, and I’m livid that it’s being torn apart and taken away from me.
For my part, I genuinely hope someone steps in and salvages Twitter. I hope Musk steps aside - as he's said he will - and lets someone competent step in and fix all the recent mistakes. I absolutely detest Twitter for all the negativity it allows, but scrolling through gifs of new and exciting games has always been one of its greatest highlights, for me, and I’ll be gutted if that all comes crashing down. Also the wars and protests and uprisings, obviously, that’s good too.
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