April 30th, 2023

Gris, a Viral Reddit Post, and Community Passion: How the Fans Made Us Do Better

By Thomas Schulenberg
Key art created for the video game GRIS showing the face of the main character, a girl named Gris.

The passion of fans is at the core of everything we do. It’s the force behind wonderful things like the incredible cosplay, art and game tributes we’re regularly blown away by, and it’s an invaluable inspiration for us and the creators we work with to elevate our craft along with the world’s finest double butthole jokes - but in this story, community passion is a powerful teacher of lessons.

Back at PAX West 2018, Devolver Digital brought the beautifully realized Gris to Seattle, giving fans a chance to play the massively anticipated, breathtaking game ahead of launch. Devolver Digital fans have excellent taste, so it’s no surprise that the Gris booth was bumpin’; the game drew a long queue for the entire weekend, with folks patiently waiting for their turn to play. 

Gris had only three playable stations to accommodate the entirety of PAX West though, including the wall-to-wall appointments we booked with reporters for preview articles and developer interviews, which are often a bigger deal for justifying travel costs than they may seem (shows of any kind are expensive, y’all). We added a sign (seen at the top of this article) to one of our stations designating it as a “press priority station” - a gentle way of warning fans their demo might be cut short so that we could accommodate our full schedule of appointments - but the sign wasn’t visible enough, and having your demo abruptly end doesn’t feel good after waiting more than an hour to play, even when you know the interruption is coming.

The fans we explained the scenario to were kind and understanding, but the setup was a recipe for frustration and confusion which quickly came to a head: someone posted a photo of the booth on Reddit, claiming the picture showed a fan who had been booted from playing to accommodate a media appointment. At a glance, it was easy to immediately feel for this wronged fan, perceiving their facial expression as total disappointment that they couldn’t keep playing. 

The backlash mounted as quickly as the upvotes. The community’s empathy poured out for the wronged fan, with comments tagging Devolver Digital and developer Nomada Studio to share their disappointment. It’s totally reasonable for fans to voice respectful disagreement like this to a team when it seems they’ve missed the mark. The thing is, the person in the photo commenters were defending wasn’t a fan - it was the game’s developer. They were standing beside the media appointment to field questions as the reporter played, and their expression was misunderstood.

After much explanation across Reddit and Twitter, the confusion was cleared up - but the kerfuffle made it exceedingly obvious that we had work to do. We never want fans to feel secondary, especially when they take time out of their week to visit our booth. Even though the photo’s moment was misunderstood, the frustration it represented was likely felt by a few of our guests that weekend. And quite frankly, dear reader, that sucked to realize.

The crew at Devolver Digital reflected on this, and it fully shifted how we now accommodate fans for demos, fist bumps or cult initiations as we greet folks at PAXs and everywhere else. The appointments we can’t miss during all too rare in-person gatherings no longer solely rely on the same demo stations fans are waiting for, and press and partners who stop by aren’t racked with guilt from having to cut in front of literal children waiting to play a game. The bottom line is we’re offering a better experience for everyone now, and all it took to have this epiphany was a good thrashing from the internet - a fair, thoughtful critique from fans who, at the end of the day, share our goal of lining Fork Parker’s pockets with as much dough as possible. Is there a greater unifying mission out there?

Thank you for helping us do better, and we’ll see you and your wallet on the road at the next event.

Game: GRIS