Giving helpful feedback
3 min read

Giving helpful feedback

How to give helpful feedback on a game.

When iterating on a game, it's critical to take feedback openly and directly. This includes feedback from the team and feedback from players.

Without feedback, your game won't get much better. Good feedback is gold. One critical piece of feedback can make your game 5% better, easily. I crave it. I read, re-read and forward the best, juiciest feedback to the whole team so we can devour it ravenously.

But most people give poor feedback - it's often muddy, confusing and unhelpful. So here are some ideas on how we can all do it better.

Symptoms, not prescriptions

If you go to the doctor, you tell her your symptoms. Something hurts, or something is bothering you. What you don't tell her is what illness you think you might have, or what kind of treatment you might need. Even though your doctor is really busy, and you, more than anyone else, want the problem to be fixed, it's just not helpful and takes focus and time away from the symptoms.

You know the doctor is the expert. They might ask clarifying questions and (hopefully) prescribe a treatment, but your job is just to describe your symptoms as clearly as possible. This is a how we should give feedback on a game. Describe what you're experiencing, not solutions.

But what do we often do? We suggest balance changes, features, ideas, fixes - we're full of excitement. We want the game to be the best it can be and we want to help. But the team knows what kind of game they're trying to make and what their goals are - usually the last thing they need is more ideas. After all, they're trying to ship and to avoid feature creep. What they need is to understand, as clearly and vividly as possible, what you're experiencing.

Examples of helpful feedback

This goes not just for game systems and balance, but also for art, level design, music, and most of the other game disciplines. Here are some examples of what I think would be helpful feedback:

  • On a card's power: "I love how it even though it often fizzles, sometimes it gives me such a memorable chain reaction and can turn the game around! It's so clutch."
  • On an ability: "Whenever I'm using Blight of the Ancients on any air map, I feel ecstatic - it seems like there's no way I can lose."
  • On environments: "I'm always getting lost and have difficulty seeing enemies. It makes me want to crank up my monitor gamma."
  • On a character concept: "The character's body type seems unrealistic - is it there just to titillate players? I think it cheapens the experience."
  • On a map layout: "I never like when Truck Depot comes up, because I always see traffic jams between Spawn A and Spawn C. It makes me want to quit. The games seem to go on forever."
  • On dialog: "I loved that line about owing all those credits at the end! I actually laughed, which was a nice release after such a long buildup."
  • On music: "The section from 1:16 to 2:25 sounds like a rip-off of Last of the Mohicans. It's just clashing with lasers and phase gates."
  • On monetization: "$10 feels like too much for this skin. It feels like a tweak of the default skin, so I wouldn't want to buy it without something more special."

This feedback is specific and personal. You can't argue against it - it's true for the person giving it. It's up to the receiver to analyze all of it and figure what are the roots of the problems. These are often totally different from what's described. Only when they have figured out what the real problems are can they start to think about what to do about them (whether to fix it, now or later, and how to fix it).

Conclusion

It's incredibly important to listen to players and your team alike when they tell you something about your game. But ideas and suggestions often get in the way.

Neil Gaiman describes it this way:

When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

Thanks to Brian Holinka and Jeff Kaplan for their input. And here's a totally different take on all this.

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