Putting Yourself Out There: Criticism

in Advice

Today, I plan on doing something a little different. I talk a lot about making games. I talk a lot about games to look at to get ideas about making games. I talk about games that are not even video games to get ideas about making games. But, when you get enough of that project you are working on done to show off a demo, there is going to be that next step.

That step where you have to put yourself out there. Every person who creates puts themselves out there. That thing you made, is a piece of you. So you take that piece of you, you package it up with a nice topic on our forums, or maybe one of the many other excellent fan sites, or maybe you just send it to a friend. And you tie it off with a bow. And you just know that people are going to love it. Because you love it. How can it be bad?

I mean, look at that topic header. You had to put like, 3 filters on that thing. That is like, so many filters.

I mean, look at that topic header for my game. I put like, 3 filters on that thing. That is like, so many filters.

And then the shoe drops. Someone has come up to you, and told you what you made is awful. Or maybe they just criticized a couple of details. But all the same, its a crash. We get it. It isn’t fun. No one likes hearing someone say something they made is flawed.

But what you do next is important.

Stop

Never, ever respond to criticism right after you read it. You could be a bit emotional at the time. Its understandable. Someone is criticizing your baby. And I’m sure you don’t need me to explain why responding emotionally is a bad idea.

What do you mean my mapping is bland, that map has 3 trees. THAT IS LIKE SO MANY TREES!

What do you mean my mapping is bland, that map has 3 trees on it. THAT IS LIKE, SO MANY TREES!

But let’s say you aren’t. Let’s say that you actually are perfectly calm. Still don’t respond yet.

If you respond right after reading, 99 times out of 100, you haven’t actually thought about what the person told you.

Think

Okay. You’ve taken a break. Had a Snicker’s (you’re not yourself when you’re hungry). And you’re back at the keyboard. Now, read what they wrote again. Try to identify what they saw as problem spots.

In well written criticism, it shouldn’t be too hard to find. They will tell you directly. Sometimes though, its not as obvious. Maybe they are really vague, or maybe they just are explaining themselves badly.

Either way, think about what in your game could make them come to the conclusions they did.

Ask Questions

Ask them questions to get a better idea of the problem they had. Always lead off by thanking them for taking the time to check out your game. Even if they really were behaving badly, showing that you are mature in your response will help you get more detailed answers, as people will really want to help you out. Detailed answers about why people had problems with your game is crucial to perfecting your project.

Thanks for taking the time to give me some feedback. I just was hoping you could give me a bit more detail on what you meant when you said that all the main character choices felt samey? I made 3 main character classes (that is like, so may classes).

Thanks for taking the time to give me some feedback. I just was hoping you could give me a bit more detail on what you meant when you said that all the main character choices felt samey? I made 3 character classes for him (that is like, so may classes).

Analyse

Now that you have that detailed description of their issue, look at it in the context of your game. Try not to think of your game as your game, think of it as someone just coming in. Does what they are saying make sense?

If it does, you have some work to do. If it doesn’t, why doesn’t it make sense?

Did they misunderstand something? Then maybe you need to work on having your game communicate that better.

Are they not part of the target audience? What attracted them to your game in the first place, and could your target audience be adjusted to include people with his tastes, too?

Respond

Now is when you can take the time to respond. Once again, start by thanking them for their time. You put that demo out to get feedback, and they came to help you out. More than likely, they really wanted to help. Or maybe they just are a jerk who likes to get people down, but I like to assume the best until they prove they are worse, and it never hurts to show you aren’t going to sling mud.

After that, it depends on what you think you should do with their advice. If you think they have a point, tell them so. You can tell them how you hadn’t thought of that, and man, its a good thing they came along to help you out. Tell them some plans you have for fixing it, see if they have any suggestions.

Ugh, back to the editor. They brought up 3 things I hadn't thought of. That is like. so many things.

Ugh, back to the editor. They brought up 3 things I hadn’t even thought of being an issue. That is like. so many things.

If you think that their criticism isn’t applicable, you can tell them so. You can even point out the reasons you feel that it isn’t relevant. But don’t try to make it a rebuttal. You don’t have to justify your decisions. You can explain that you appreciate their advice, but you feel your original design for that portion of your game best serves your intended purpose.

You aren’t bound to follow every bit of criticism you get, and no one reasonable is going to judge you for politely saying you feel confident in your current design. (Though if you find a large majority giving you the same criticism, you should probably take heed).

Of course, there is always the criticism you can feel safe ignoring. If it is laced with so many profanities it could OD a sailor, and says nothing meaningful and personally insults your mother, your third cousin, and your childhood dog, just roll your eyes and move on, don’t even bother responding (and hit the report button if its on our forums!(extra points if you include the eye rolling emoticon on the report)).

So, do you have any advice on taking criticism? Any fun stories of criticism that really helped you? Or maybe an embarrassing story about you having a bad reaction to criticism. Make sure to join us in the comments section below!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • lolhax

    I think Jim Sterlings video about The Slaughtering Grounds is a perfect example of how NOT to handle criticism.

    • Nick Palmer

      I don’t think I’ve seen that. There was actually one that I remember from a professional dev a few years ago though, but I can’t remember who it was. It was a train wreck.

  • Joshua Warhurst

    This applies more to conversations with friends and family who’ve played your game, or a wider audience if you’ve gotten there, but if you’re talking face-to-face with someone, don’t interrupt them. Let them talk freshly about their experience. The goal is not to find a counter to everything they’re saying. Rather, understand that even if you thought something was “obvious” or that “anyone with basic game literacy would understand”, that doesn’t mean it is. And almost definitely, if someone is coming to you with a criticism, it isn’t just them with the problem. Lots of people will probably have the same problem.

    Take all the criticism and put it in a mental binder. Feel free to sort it out and work with it later. Counter it not with words but with a better game.

    Same goes with writing and every other creative endeavor under the sun.

  • Pablo Lavín

    I was laughing out loud on the ”That’s like.. so many ” hahah