There’s Professionalism, and then there’s Professionalism.

So Project Zomboid was stolen last night. Literally. Someone broke into the developer’s flat, stole two laptops containing the source code, and booked it. And these two laptops contained the ONLY recent copies of the code. All other backups are at least a month old.


Reddit got angry about this, and Lemmy got angry back over Twitter (account since removed, wisely).

So far, this was all something of an unfortunate morality play, but then another PZ developer popped up this morning to elucidate on the subject of Professionalism and Indies.

In as much as he is talking about people being angry because Lemmy raged at Reddit over Twitter, he’s right. (Hypocritical, of course, since they pulled his Twitter account, but whatever.) One of the differences between indies and commercial studios is that you get a closer relationship with the developers than you would if you had a PR department between you. If that relationship exposes a personality you don’t like, well, tough. Don’t invest in that game, simple.

But he also draws an arbitrary line in the sand in that article, declaring that some indies would rather just be commercial studios. Here, in his words:

There’s the type of studio that really, if they were honest, they’d like to be the first type of indie [independent studios, working for commercial clients] – everything they do is onwards an upwards to this goal. Legitimacy. A proper company. And then there’s the other type.

This type of indie never pretends to be professional. The “company” is probably just a name. It technically exists, but really what it boils down to is a guy in his underpants making a daft game. Sometimes that guy has a day-job, sometimes he’s taken a whoppping gamble and is working full-time from home.

The point is, if you’re going to throw your money at one of these indies, it’s important to know who you’re throwing money at and why. You can’t necessarily have your cake and eat it too.

You can just hear the derision there. Ugh, commercial studios, right? All that process and overhead and accountability, bleh. When PZ was first getting popular, I read a blog post from one of their developers about how he left the commercial games industry because it was the most miserable period of his life. Which is cool – we’ve all heard the gory details exposed by EASpouse and others. Fleeing that environment is a positive, healthy step. But there was always something about the way it was written that never sat well with me.

I guess last night I figured out what it was. At Indie Stone, “professionalism” is a dirty word.

But being a professional doesn’t mean having to give up your indie cred, or bow to the demands of marketing folk or whatever. It just means that you treat this shit like Your Job, which it now is. It means taking all the appropriate precautions to prevent shit like this from sinking you. Every instance of “bad luck” that’s struck Indie Stone so far has been entirely preventable with just the bare minimum of professionalism. If they’d read the PayPal terms that said they didn’t accept pre-orders, they wouldn’t have lost all those money and orders. Ditto for Google Checkout. And ditto for backing up your code appropriately.

You wouldn’t hire an independent caterer who didn’t wash their kitchen first. You wouldn’t hire an independent electrical contractor who wasn’t certified. These are just little one or two-person outfits, without any dreams of gaining “Legitimacy”. But they take the time to know their craft and be professionals about it.

And the dirtiest, scariest part of this all is that setting up an offsite backup in this day and age isn’t hard. At all. It’s almost harder NOT to, actually. See, source control tools were invented way back in the dark ages, and you have a million options nowadays. CVS. Subversion. Git. Mercurial. Veracity. And the interesting thing is, they all make development EASIER, not harder. First, if you ever made a mistake, you can roll your code back to ANY POINT in the development history to figure out what went wrong. Second, when working with more than one developer, it makes it really difficult to accidentally clobber changes that they’ve been working on. Finally, if your computer ever catches on fire, your source control is generally safe on another server somewhere in another city, and even that’s backed up in case that server catches on fire.

The fact that Indie Stone was charging people for pre-orders for a game, and then not expending the requisite effort to protect people’s investment is absolutely, completely unprofessional. And not in the “Commercial Studio” sense that these guys seem to dread, but in the “Basic Respect For Your Customers And For Your Trade” sense.

Now, they’re planning on continuing on (good for them!), and hopefully they’ll be able to. I know personally that losing a month’s worth of work would be devastating – moreso than the theft itself. But hopefully they learn from this, and not just to back up their code remotely. They’ve had three serious hits due to a lack of professionalism. This is the time to start looking into all their shit that they’ve been giving short shrift. Check their security for XSS, SQL injection, change every password (because you now have people who own their laptops, and a whole bunch of people on the internet upset at them). Ensure payments are still flowing properly, ensure refunds are processed immediately (because there’s going to be a bunch of those, and having their payment processing yanked on them now is going to suck BIGTIME) – double-down on this stuff.

I’d love to see Project Zomboid survive, because it’s a thrilling, ambitious project. But I hate how they’re badmouthing professionalism. You can be a professional indie without succumbing to all the soul-deadening crap that happens in a commercial studio. Long-term, it’s even easier to do, because then you don’t have to worry about having your payment processing yanked twice and having months of work stolen from you. Swear all you want on Twitter, but respect your craft, and respect your customers.

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