This concept is extremely well known among writers of fiction, who recognise more than others their dependency upon their fanbase. While I was working on Discworld Noir, Terry Pratchett mentioned how moved he had been as a boy by the letter he received back from J.R.R. Tolkien when he wrote as a fan, and committed then to always look after his fanbase, which to his infinite credit he has always done. I have great respect for authors who are able to make this kind of commitment to their readership, and all the more so when the numbers of fans becomes so large that doing so becomes a major undertaking.
But this general policy – “always feed the fans” – is advice that applies to everyone, whatever their skills and vocation. To be sure, it is most important when you work in an entertainment job, like writing, or games, or film, because in such contexts your fanbase is the foundation of your livelihood. But whomever you are and whatever you do, you have ‘fans’ of some kind, whether they are just a local circle of appreciators or a wider catchment of associates. If someone likes what you do, you should accept that graciously and support their support of you – it’s good for both your respective mental healths, and it is a simple community virtue that helps dissipate tension and isolation. In short, it is good for everyone when we express our gratitude and admiration.
I have consistently come into contact with people I admire, as with the time while working for Perfect Entertainment I got to work with Graftgold during their last days and thus met Andrew Braybrook, who created one of my all-time favourite games Paradroid. But after a friendly chat with Nicole Lazzaro at GDC one year, I changed my attitude about this from simply happening upon such people by chance, to actively seeking out contact with them. I began, for the first time, to write to people who were ‘big names’ to me and initiate conversations. They don’t always respond, but so what? Some do – and via this blog, I had the opportunity to offer mutual benefit to us both, through interviews and other promotional activities. Again, feeding the fan (me) was good for everyone – especially other fans.
Unfortunately, I get a little sensitive about some of the communications that terminate. Sometimes I will write effusive praise to someone whose work I admire and commence a conversation with them over email, only to find that a few emails later they have ceased to respond. Usually, I assume, it is simply that I write too much too often, and lacking time to respond they simply decline to continue the discussion. I appreciate the practicalities of life may require this. Yet, I wonder if there is not some better way to deal with this situation – is there no way to send a short missive that says, in effect, ‘I appreciate all you’ve written, but I don’t have time to respond?’. Although I can take it on the chin, I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some other way of handling the need to pull back from this rather than the sudden invocation of radio silence.
I encourage everyone reading this to be good to their ‘fans’, in whatever context they emerge, and in turn to be an encouraging fan – write to those people whose work you appreciate and tell them how you feel. This is perhaps less important for those ‘big names’ that are inundated with email, but it can mean the world to some newcomer struggling to make a name for themselves to know that out their in the world are people who truly appreciate what they are doing. What’s more, it’s easy to misjudge this – to think that someone has a big fanbase and is bored of being praised. Actually, unless someone is on the cover of People magazine every year it’s a safe bet they don’t get praised very often, and will appreciate whatever compliments come that way. This is especially true of indie game makers, classic and current, who almost always struggle and almost always appreciate hearing that their work has been appreciated.
“Always feed the fans”, and as a fan try to “always praise the talent” – especially the emerging talent. It’s a big world, and a few ‘big names’ tend to absorb all the praise, which is why I hate award ceremonies, the sycophantic rewarding of the already rewarded. (What a waste of time and effort, to give the already-successful a cherry on their gigantic stack of pancakes instead of offering fresh cupcakes to unsung heroes and newly emerging talents.) Find new voices and help them both to be heard, and to know they are being heard. It is sometimes the simplest things that make all the difference.