A Follow Up to Shmup Viewership Black Hole Article
I’ve decided to write this follow up to provide some clarification and background information to my previous article “Is It Too Late? Are We In a Shmup Viewership Black Hole?” When I wrote that article yesterday, I figured it wouldn’t be very popular or something people would want to read about. It’s a downer, I understand that, and I personally don’t come to the shmup community to deal with problems and that sort of thing. However, I do stand by my choice to write the article because it is a problem beyond my goals and interests and I think it’s better to recognize a problem and try to adjust and plan accordingly, rather than just leave it as a creeping feeling at the back of people’s minds who are considering making shmup content in one form or another.
The biggest piece of feedback which people have talked about, understandably, is the question of why having views on shmup content matters in the first place? A very fair question, and perhaps to most people out there this sort of thing is completely irrelevant. However, for me personally, and based on my general interaction I’ve had with other members of the community, I do think, on some level, getting some sort of viewership is important.
To get the obvious stuff out of the way, I don’t think it’s really possible to leverage shmup content into some sort of monetary endeavor or anything like that. I’m not opposed to that sort of thing if it were a reality, but it’s certainly not a factor in what I am talking about today. The three factors I want to address are clout, motivation, and engagement. For me personally, these are what I think about when I think about shmup viewership and why it does make a difference.
I’ll start off with probably the least relatable issue, which is clout. This is something that is not an apparent issue unless you are actively trying to interact outside the community with other content creators and such. I’ve actually written an entire article about this issue that I think does a great job highlighting the problem, but I’ll reframe the idea here to connect the concept (I’ll also link the article at the bottom, it’s called “The Prison of Unpopularity”).
To give some context to the problem, I’ll go ahead and pull back the curtain a little bit on what I’ve been up to lately. There may be some disconnect between my desires for the shmup scene, compared to other people’s, so if you don’t relate to my goals and such I understand, and maybe this isn’t an issue for you … but it still does affect shmup development and sales. What my goal has been, especially in the past few months, is trying to improve how shmups are presented (or mostly ignored) by the general gaming media. I feel like this is a relevant issue for everyone because it ties directly into marketing and exposure for shmup releases. Essentially, the more coverage of these games receive and the more exposure they have, the higher the sales and sustainability of the genre. The M2 ports are obviously a work of passion, for example, but there is still a bottom line and dev costs and that sort of thing. Why does CAVE now only make crappy mobile games, why is AKA to Blue mobile only? Because the market is brutal and no one in the gaming media cares what happens to this genre. They just check in from time to time when it’s convenient.
So when it comes to shmup representation and exposure in the gaming media, I think it’s very poor. I think it’s bad, maybe that makes me an elitist jerk, but so be it. Overall, I think shmups are still treated like a novelty genre, a “simple” genre that harkens back to gaming’s “primitive past,” and that sort of thing. Personally, I don’t feel that way at all and I do think it does the genre a disservice. I don’t think shmups are any less deep or engaging than other 2d genres and I think this constant way of describing the genre makes it seem like a gimmick or just a talking point, rather than legitimate and something everyone can enjoy. Imagine if Celeste came out and all the articles and reviews about the game just talked about how “primitive” the 2d platform genre is on the whole and never really explained what makes Celeste unique or interesting. This is exactly what tends to happen with shmup releases. There is almost never any involvement from the shmup community either; we’re kept completely at a distance. No one in the gaming press reaches out to the players or anything like that. Personally, I’m tired of being kept in the corner, just waiting for other people to hopefully promote the genre and help out releases I think are important.
So what I’ve been up to is venturing outside the shmup community to try and bring shmups to a wider audience, as I mentioned in my previous article. However, outside the shmup community, you’re pushed into an entirely new set of rules. In a perfect world, in a beautiful world, when I approach certain gaming publications or certain individuals who are working on stuff related to the shmup community, but are not directly a part of the community, they would take a look at my body of work so far, and judge whether to work with me based on that. “Shmup cred,” I’m sad to say, is non-transferable. People in the general gaming sphere care about one thing and one thing only … and I’m sure you all can guess what that is. Whether or not people will respond to you, whether or not people will work with you, whether or not people will see your content as valuable, collaborate with you, follow through on an interview, or even consider your opinion at all, comes down to one thing and one thing only, your plays. That’s it, plain and simple. And so, as a result, I’ve been having a bitch of a time with podcast interviews falling through, walls of silence, or just being flat out ignored. There is a ton of content I’ve planned and wanted to produce, but have not been able to complete because of this problem. I had an episode that I was passionate about that had to do with an inside look at the general gaming press’s attitude toward shmups, but guess why I couldn’t make that happen? It’s stupid, I hate it, but that’s the beast at hand and if you don’t think popularity has anything to do with it, I’ll just say that I wish that was the case, but it is not.
So if you’re wondering why I’m particularly concerned about the viewership problem right now, part of it might be my own vanity and all that, but there is also a tangible element of where I want to jump in on the conversation about the genre on a wider scale, but I can’t. Views, subs, followers, all that BS is the currency that makes or breaks certain projects that I want to make happen. Maybe I’m being overly ambitious, but there is a ton more I want to do with my podcast and content, but I feel completely trapped because of this problem. It’s like Scarface: “First you get the views, then you get the interviews/attention, then maybe you can make some sort of change.”
Ok, so I’ve ranted on about the whole clout thing long enough, I’ll move onto the other two reasons why viewership is important. Motivation, as I mentioned earlier, is a big one. This is a trend that I’ve seen over and over, so even though it would be great if everyone created content completely in a vacuum, this rarely happens. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who do this, I’ve seen it happen where a dude is super motivated and creates something awesome for no other reason than passion. However, content like this is infrequent and less sustained than content that has an audience. Again, I can use myself as an example. Before EUP, I had actually recorded a good number of video-game related podcasts, none of which I published. I would be hit by inspiration, record the podcast, plan out additional episodes, but then never release them. I never had a real tangible reason to continue. I did this for years. Then I release the 1st ep of EUP and the forum gave me a ton of support and feedback. I came away from the episode thinking, “Wow, people want to hear more, I guess I’ll continue making more.”
In a way, I’m really glad I started out my podcast on the forum, rather than on a large platform like YouTube, because the interaction I gained from the community was a strong source of motivation to continue. It’s not like this emo thing where you release and episode, get low plays, and feel sorry for yourself. It’s more of an issue of why would I take time out of my day to work on something that no one will see or enjoy? Why not just leave it in my head at that point? This is the exact sentiment I’ve seen from people when I’ve talked to them about creating content. It’s a legitimate question too. The creative process itself is not something that everyone enjoys and even if you do enjoy it, it eats up a metric shit-ton (using the scientific term here) of time. Hell, even for someone like myself, who does enjoy the process, I definitely have had moments of grinding out editing simply because I knew there were people looking forward to hearing the new episode and I enjoyed providing that content for them. If I didn’t have an audience, I have no idea what state my podcast would be in right now, but I know for sure there would be fewer episodes and probably less passion and enthusiasm on my part. I’m the type of creative person that feeds on an audience; it’s my source of energy and motivation. I can’t speak for other people, but I’d be surprised if this didn’t play some sort of roll for them either. Why I’m like this I guess could be examined while I recline on a couch, but I honestly think it’s just my nature. Humans are social creatures, for the most part.
So yeah, plays are a source of motivation. Plays are not as strong as community interaction, I can say that much, but when you start to get a combination of increasing plays and increasing community interaction, it does make you look at your own content as something valid and something worth your time and energy.
Finally, I will end this follow-up on the issue of engagement, specifically audience interaction. Above, I’ve described the benefits of plays from the perspective of the person creating the content, but plays also improve the experience of the audience itself. Certain content appeals to certain people, and usually, but not always, content has a tendency to bring people interested in the same stuff together. For example, with shmup content, I’ve always enjoyed going through and reading the comments people make on STG weekly episodes. The audience a piece of content pulls in can create interaction and excitement beyond the content itself, my dead discord was a great example of this. When my podcast had low plays and low engagement, the discord consisted of mostly me just posting random thoughts to myself. As the show grew in popularity, and as more people discovered my show, the interaction that took place in that discord really took on a life of its own. It was pretty awesome actually, and it was typically connected back to the content and feedback of the podcast. It created a strong cycle of increased viewership, which led to increased interaction and inspiration, which led to increased content, and so the cycle repeated and built upon itself. This cycle is what the shmup genre needs, but right now we can’t get the wheels spinning because we’re caught in the reverse cycle I talked about in the previous article.
So in the end, when I talk about the problem of shmup viewership and why it’s important to increase it, it all comes back to getting out of the negative cycle of the previous article and pushing forward into the positive feedback cycle I explained above. Plus, in the age we live in, plays are the currency in which you are judged by other people making content (yeah, it’s super whack and not something that I do, but that’s what I’ve run into). Yes, I recognize that there does start to be a breaking point when it comes to increased popularity and all of that, but right now we’re so far from that issue it’d be like the people in Donner’s Pass worrying about obesity.
Hopefully this helps clarify my point of view.
Related Article: “The Prison of Unpopularity”