I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while (since I wrote the How to Give Feedback post) but a recent discussion on a writing list decided the issue for me.
The writers were talking about the feedback they have received from editors (re: rejection letters) and how sometimes they would receive contradictory advice.
i.e., story goes to Editor A and they say
And then the same story is sent to another Editor
Yep, people have opinions. And these opinions are often (very often) different from one another — and from what the writer expected.
How does this apply to the game designer?
Don’t Wait for Feedback, Ask for it
I’ve already plucked the harp string of ‘use data not opinion’ when possible (see You are not smarter than them. But it is worth reiterating. If you can track it with data, do that.
Don’t leave a feedback void… give testers and management a forum to provide feedback to you in the way that you want (and need) the feedback. Set up a poll (even better setup an in game poll/questionnaire at particular points and tie this to the data you are already tracking about their play sessions).
Submit company/project-wide polls on art/plot/dialog… whenever possible ensuring that the feedback is based on in game play (i.e., I found less value polling the company on out of game things like concept art).
Speak to the quality assurance testers (maybe even take them out to lunch) and ask them questions. Direct their focus. Maybe their answers will surprise you, make you realize that you need to be focusing your attention on other areas of your project.
You Can’t Get Rid of (all) Opinions
Let’s say you’ve received subjective feedback and let’s say it is from someone who can overrule your decisions. And lets say the feedback is miserable (i.e., the person giving feedback did not read my previous post on giving constructive feedback). And you disagree with the comments.
How do you deal with that?
If possible I would sit the person down and have a quick discussion about opinion versus data. I would suggest that we restructure their feedback into a series of well structure poll questions. And that we would have several peers (of theirs) play the game and see if they have the same opinions. Then we would have a meeting to discuss all the feedback.
Basically even professional, well known authors use readers to help them judge whether their next novel is good. But they don’t rely on only one opinion or two. They have a team of readers. If the consensus is that the novel is weak (but the exact feedback varies), they know they have a problem. If every reader picks up on the same issue as being problematic then the writer knows that they have a more serious issue to address.
But the writer also realizes that his or her readers should not be the ones to suggest a fix to the problem. They have identified a problem (thank you!) and now it is time for the writer, or in our case, the game designer, to brainstorm ways to fix it.
Once you have a list of definite problems (whether it be with your dialog, your boss battle, or the item progression system you developed) go out for lunch and do some brainstorming with your peers. Solicit their advice. Then think about it, on your own.
Draft a plan, pass the plan around, and then implement the changes.
But my Boss is a Jerk
If you have a situation where you are constantly changing features to suit the whims of upper management AND you don’t respect the decisions upper management makes there is only one solution.
Start looking for a job at another studio.
The gaming industry can be fun but if you never feel in control of anything what’s the point? If management becomes so entrenched and is not open to logic or reason, go elsewhere.