So a little over a month ago, I wrote a pretty excellent piece on taking criticism. But what if you are on the other side? You’ve just played an RPG Maker game someone posted on our forums, another fansite, or maybe made by a friend.
Let’s assume you want to help. If you don’t… well, I don’t care. Feedback given directly to devs on a site like this isn’t really to inform people playing the game (it can have that side benefit), but to help the devs make a better game. So if you don’t want to help the dev, this post really isn’t for you.
Anyway, you’ve played through the game and it has its ups and downs. It has some glaring flaws, and you want to tell the creator about it. So how do you go about doing it.
Before anything, you should always remember to be polite. Polite doesn’t mean sugarcoating. You don’t have to be NICE, you just can’t be insulting. Being polite is really a small thing. Just remember: Always address the flaws in the game, not the designer. Its okay to call a design flawed, or to say a single mechanic is overpowered, or say something doesn’t make sense, but you should NEVER say there is something wrong with the DESIGNER. With that out of the way, let’s get started.
Collect your Thoughts
When writing your criticism, the first step is somewhat similar to responding to criticism: Take the time to think about it. Don’t go in half cocked with vague feelings.
Break down the game into pieces. Every game is about how the pieces fit together, but its hard to address the pieces as a whole. Think about the problems you had, and try to identify the pieces that didn’t fit.
Did the gameplay and theme not integrate well? Which part do you think was the issue? Was the gameplay the part that was solid, but the theme fit badly, or was the theme right, but the gameplay weird for it?
Try to identify as many specific pieces as you can that have flaws, and identify whether the piece itself is flawed, or if it is flawed in connection with other pieces.
So you have specific pieces, but you need to be even MORE specific than that. Pick individual mechanics or parts of the games, like a single skill, a single plot point, etc. that shows what you mean. For instance, say that we are going on the “gameplay and theme does not integrate well” part. I could say something like:
The plot point where I have to sacrifice a large number of troops to achieve a trivial goal to continue is counter to the overall theme of the game, which seems to be about being a commander who takes care of his men.
When writing criticism, make sure everything you are criticizing gives the designer knowledge of what to fix. The designer needs to be able to take your comments and KNOW what needs work. Just saying “this game sux” isn’t actionable. What can the designer do to fix that?
When talking about a flaw, always consider giving a possible solution to the flaw. If you see a mechanic that feels wonky, throw out a possible solution while criticizing it. Hobby game dev is a lot more freeform than a big company. He doesn’t have a team of people to throw out an idea that he hasn’t thought of yet. You can be that guy.
Tell Them What They Do Right
If something in the game is spot on, MAKE SURE TO TELL THEM! That little bit of encouragement goes a long way to keeping the designer from wallowing in despair. You don’t have to hunt for something, I don’t particularly follow the “poo sandwich” approach to criticism, in which you HAVE to start and end with something good, but if there is something good, make sure to say it.
On the other hand, if the game is just bad through and through… well, uh… I guess you can say you appreciate the effort. But you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to sugar coat. Just remember don’t be insulting.
Do you have any tricks to giving criticism? Do you review games often? Join the discussion in the comments below.