Hidden People Blog

Why we [almost] don't use social media...

by Fran on 2023-03-07

The first instinct for anyone who does something creative is to use social media to promote it. The temptation is very strong; it's relatively easy to upload an image or video to Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. And it can go viral and attract many eyes to what you do, right?

Not really.

Without yet delving into ethical issues, the cost of maintaining social media is too high: too many people are doing the same thing - much, much noise, all the time - for people to pay attention. The image that comes to mind is trying to talk to someone in a crowded bar full of people shouting. Nothing could be further from something where one can do a good job. Whenever I talk to people who work with social media every day, I feel a very strong tension, like an urgency they have, and a sense that most of what one generates has no value. Isn't this very sad?

Humans, especially millennials and onwards, have a problem: a positive consequence is enough for us to use technology. For us, it would be the promise of visibility for our games that Twitter or Instagram gives us. The reality is that we also need to measure the negative consequences of technology use; we cannot use it blindly. My goal in this article is to make this analysis and try to explain why we prefer not to use social media (or almost not use it).

The Benefits In general, we are all more or less aware of what is good about social media, so I want to focus mainly on the use of social media for creators (in our case, a video game studio).

Social media is a super-efficient marketing tool. Never before in history could advertising be targeted so well. Most video game consumers are on social media, and they can be targeted directly with both ads and content visibility tools (hashtags, etc.), which also makes it ideal in our case.

It's very tempting to pay Google $5 and have your game in front of a million people who you know are potential customers. We've heard it a thousand times: "there's no better way to consistently sell than to find a Google ad that works well." And this is probably true.

On the other hand, having direct contact with your players is much more efficient if that contact is made in the same place where they are already present every day. What do I mean by this? That the "old" way of having your own forum where users enter is very inefficient compared to social media, where they are already present every day to talk to their friends and family. The cost, both economic and in effort, required to maintain your own forum is very high for small developers like us.

The Problems The first and most obvious problem for every creator is the same: virality is a black swan. If one out of every 1,000 posts has higher reach than average, and one out of every 100,000 becomes viral, the cost of the viral post is very high. If virality depends on a complex system of human relationships (which seems random even though it probably isn't), it becomes a full-time job to try to find explanations for what works and what doesn't.

That work requires so many tools of probability and statistics that, in my opinion, most "experts" in social media ignore, and instead use cheap heuristics shared in posts that appear in posts about "The 10 best posts on the 10 most effective things for success in social media." It almost works like a system of faith, and when the rules don't work, they find explanations, as cheap as the initial rules.

"Prediction, not narration, is the real test of our understanding of the world." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Beyond my dislike of the chatty nature of the common people in digital marketing, they are by no means the real problem: they are trying to survive just like the majority of us; I cannot judge them for having a different ethical system from mine that allows them to say what they say. It's up to them and their clients.

The real problem is the second-order consequences that arise from the mere existence of social networks. A post like this is not the right place to discuss these consequences in depth, but I can comment on some of the most disturbing ones:

In a very stealthy way, social networks modify our behaviors, desires, and interactions. Their goal is to keep our attention, and when we pay attention to something, we are taking it away from something else. In our case, the effort we have to make to be "seen" on social media takes us away from our first responsibility: making games. In the case of our "target," it takes them away from living interactive and social experiences of much higher quality than likes and comments.

As several scientific studies have shown to date, the generation of negative emotions favors capturing attention (getting angry puts us in a content consumption mode without a filter). I don't know about you, but I have enough of my own negative brain without adding a layer of anxiety and anger generated synthetically to make me click on ads.

There are other reasons with even more important consequences than this, but, in order not to turn this post into something that could be categorized as a "conspiracy theory," I will mention that a simple search for "Ten Reasons to Delete Your Social Media Accounts Immediately" by Jaron Lanier or "Digital Minimalism" by Cal Newport makes the topic quite clear.


In the end, I think the answer lies in what our inner selves tell us. It's one of those issues where positive and negative arguments can be found.

My dear friend Jojo from Bigfoot, a friend whom I consider a great person, repeats to me ad nauseam: if a player came in through an ad, plays your game and likes it, you did them a good thing. And if they want to keep playing your game and want to pay for it, what's wrong with that?

I'm not saying that this logic is wrong, it's just that I'm too trained to pay attention to second-order consequences, and that's where everything starts to get messy. It may be that THAT person is better off for it, but for every person who achieves a positive relationship with these things, there are many people being abused by Google and the other big players in the attention industry. And the worst part of it all is that layer of sadness and anger that is covering the world and that I don't feel was so present a few years ago.

At the same time, entire collectives have become visible thanks to social networks. Without going too far, I wouldn't have understood something as basic to me as non-binary gender identity, or even sought a diagnosis of ADHD, if it weren't for the experiences of other people we found on YouTube.

That's why I say, the world is better and worse at the same time because of social media, and the only thing we have left is to follow our instincts. Mine tells me that when I used ads and spent time trying to "move" social media, I felt bad, I felt dirty. So I have no choice but to leave mainstream social media behind, stop thinking about it, and look for alternative ways for people to find out about what we do. As Cal Newport would say: do things so good that no one can ignore them.

We want to be proud of what we do, and we can't if we use tactics that we don't consider ethical to sell our games.

If you definitely want to stay connected with us on a social network: we are on Mastodon. We believe it has a much closer vibe to what we would like social media to be, decentralized, without ads and with the objective of communicating and not changing your behavior.

We also have our Discord, we stream on Twitch (for now, if you have any suggestions to replace this, write to us by email!), we have this blog, and our mailing list.

For now, we believe this is enough for you to get to know us and stay up to date with what we are doing, but only if you are really interested.

If you think it's a good idea for a company like ours to exist and you want to help us exist in the long term, you can become a Patreon.

Thank you for your time, we know how valuable it is.

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