Game Design Lesson #15: Keeping Up Appearances

21 Jun Game Design Lesson #15: Keeping Up Appearances

I’ve come to realise a very important rule about personal appearance, and it is something that is applicable to artists, writers, salesmen, and really anyone who wants to sell something to others…

Apperances matter.

On the internet you can be forgiven for thinking that it’s not so much the case. No one knows if you’ve shaved or are wearing nice clothes. But in fact there are countless ways that you are presenting yourself to others without necessarily knowing it.

One of these is the response time of your emails. When a client writes to you, how long do you wait before you answer? I usually try to answer straight away, but my rule is that anything past 12 hours is starting to be a problem, and anything past 24 hours is not acceptable. I know that when I write to an artist, I am first of all judging them by their response time.

If an artist takes three days to get back to me, then I realise I simply cannot afford to use this artist. This is out of painful experience. Because to a query letter for their services, they should be really keen to answer. What about to an urgent letter asking them to finish their job? I’ve had artists take three months to reply… making me wonder if they’ve actually died.


Sometimes though, you are asked for something that you don’t have access to yet. For instance, someone could ask you for a document that you haven’t yet prepared, or for your portfolio that you haven’t assembled yet. You don’t want to look foolish by admitting you don’t have it… but then again, it might take you a day or two to get it. What do you do?

I would always write first, and say it will take a day or so. Most people will understand. It’s much better to do that and show people that you are consistently going to keep in touch with them, and that you’re going to let them know what’s going on at every stage of the process. It also shows honesty and transparency. It’s good. Do that.

With every letter, every blog post, every response and thing that you do, you are presenting an appearance to other people. Is the appearance one that conveys trust, reliability, consistency and dedication?

Unfortunately, artists, whether they be writers, painters, graphic designers, musicians, or whatever, are not always all that disciplined. Many tend to get enthusiastic with a project, then have some logistical problems (life…) and then get overwhelmed with the workload and tend to collapse or at least slow down dramatically.

Another way in which you are communicating yourself, your skills and your reliability, is your website. This is your face that you are presenting to the world. If it’s out of date, hasn’t had regular blog posts and is generally “unloved”, then it will look as if you as an artist or professional are not actively working in this role, and your clients will tend to trust you less. Keep consistent. Blog often. Once a week is good – but if you fall off the wagon (as I sometimes do), just pick yourself up and start again.

Related:  Talent Vs Persistence : Game Design Lessons #18

Another way of presenting yourself is your preparedness for a task.

Do you have a contract prepared for this type of work?

Do you have a standard price that you charge?

Have you worked out fees, times and so on, or are you completely winging it?

If you show that you’ve thought this through, that you’ve (hopefully) done this before, and that you can do the task for the amount asked in the requested amount of time, then that will engender more trust. In the past I have had artists who have promised they could get, say, ten pictures done in 10 weeks… but it wasn’t actually realistic, and instead it took 6 months. I have been guilty of being over-optimistic on expected completion dates myself (hell, I thought my Kickstarter fulfillment would be done in February, but it’s going to be in July…). In this case, again, it is far better to be honest and transparent.

If you don’t think the client’s targeted timetable is realistic, tell them so. And if you’ve made a mistake in your schedule, tell them and let them know where you’re up to. Sure, it’s embarrassing to be slower than expected, but most people will roll with the punches and appreciate your honesty. Most people understand that you’re learning, or that you’ve encountered unexpected holdups, etc. It also shows courtesy to your client, by letting them know with as much time in advance as possible, you give them the option of getting somebody else to do the work you were supposed to do.

A final point is generosity. This is quite a big one. I have dealt with generous people and mean people. Those who give exactly what is asked and no more than that, and those who give a little more. For example, I take a certain pride in making sure to pay contributors and artists. It is expensive, sure, but it’s also the right thing to do. I am also fairly forgiving of mistakes, problems and delays. Sometimes I’ve had people stuff up pretty badly, but I don’t hold it against them… I may think twice about working with them again, but rather than hammering them and being nasty, I instead understand that they’re going through some troubles, and try to encourage them to resolve those so they can improve. Hey, I have enough of my own dramas in making art – I know there can be some tough times!

This all creates an appearance of yourself as a professional, and your product.

What other things are important in keeping a professional appearance?

~Oliver R. Shead

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