How to give Kind Feedback (even if it means not being nice)

posted in: Game Design, Unpub | 0

When designing games, you need feedback from playtesters to improve your game. But taking feedback can be a painful experience. No one wants to hear the negatives about the game they spent hours toiling on and poured so much of their creative juices and identity into.

What people sometimes forget too is giving feedback can be equally as painful. If you have compassion and empathy, you likewise don’t want to tell a person the negatives about their creation because you don’t want to hurt that person. However, feedback is part of the process of the game design and has to be done if you want the game to improve.

If you’re reading this, maybe you’ve had your own share of painful experiences in either giving or receiving feedback and that’s okay. Giving and taking feedback are both skills that need to be practiced to become good at. In the process of improving, you are allowed to make mistakes. What I hope is that with this blog, I can help you improve giving feedback based on what I’ve learned. As for receiving feedback, I can write about that some other time.

  • Take notes during the playthrough:
    • I always carry a paper and pen with me whenever I enter a playthrough so I can jot down notes and impressions while we’re playing the game. Aside from it helps me remember any issues or strengths of the game, it also helps me order my thoughts later on because I try to tackle the bigger problems of a game first. Without my notes, I might give feedback in a random order which might make it confusing for the recipient.
  • Take a moment to gather your thoughts:
    • Personally, I give myself some pause to gather my thoughts and feelings after playing the game. I try to dig into the more foundational problems of a game first which requires more reflection. Surface-level problems are easier to identify and comment on, but I often need more time to formulate my thoughts on the deeper-seated problems.
    • Giving yourself time before responding also helps you formulate your feedback so it’s as kind as it can be. Some game experiences can bring out very strong emotions of frustration or even anger and by giving time for the emotion to pass, you are able to address the issue without being cruel.
  • Giving good feedback starts from understanding the needs of the recipient:
    • Remember that the ultimate purpose of feedback is in helping the recipient and how can you help them if you don’t understand their situation? I usually start giving feedback by asking questions so I have a better idea how to frame the feedback I’m going to give. Here are some questions I start with
      • “What’s your goal in designing this game?” Is it something to be published or just for personal use and to have fun with friends? Will it be self-published or you will look for a publisher? If it’s something to be published, then I can also give more feedback in things like production costs, marketability, and other publishing concerns.
      • “What’s your vision for the game?” What are they ultimately trying to achieve? This helps me review the game I just played if it meets the designer’s objectives and allows me to judge the game based on the designer’s end vision.
      • “Who is your target player?” This helps me understand the intended complexity and player type for the game.
      • “Have you played any games like the one you are designing?” This helps me reference existing games when I give feedback.
  • Be courageously kind (even if it means not being nice)
    • Unfortunately, there will be times where you have to give negative feedback for the good of the game’s improvement. In cases like this, you might be tempted to say nothing at all to keep the peace, but this would be a mistake. Again, the point of feedback is to help the designer. Refraining from saying negative feedback to keep the peace is selfish because it’s about you not wanting others to think you are mean. Be brave and give your negative feedback in a kind way. As long as you are aware of yourself, humble, and putting an effort not to be cruel, I think your intentions will shine through.
    • Also, how else will you become good in giving kind negative feedback if you don’t even attempt it? It’s a skill you need to practice so practice when you have the opportunity.
  • Don’t patronize the designer. Treat them like an equal, if not as a designer, but as a person
    • Sometimes when we are afraid to hurt the recipient’s feelings, we may not realize it but we are patronizing them and underestimating their resilience. It’s especially easy to patronize a designer if they are new or less experienced than you. But often, giving kind negative feedback is the most respectful way you can treat a fellow designer. Because when you do so, you are recognizing their own inner strength in being able to handle negative comments.
  • If you don’t know how to say your feedback, say so but still attempt to
    • If you have feedback that you feel but don’t know how to articulate, try to attempt it but be honest that you are having a hard time putting your thoughts and feelings into words. Sometimes, that is enough to spark a discussion and other playtesters can fill in the blanks and you can complete the feedback together.
  • Park your ego
    • Giving feedback can feel like an opportunity to show off your knowledge and skills in game design. If you want to be kind, avoid this because it can muddle your feedback. Showing off puts the attention on yourself instead of the recipient which can derail the thought processes of other playtesters. They might end up commenting more on your ideas than on the game they are playtesting.
    • Showing off can also look like using jargon and showing off your own games and accomplishments. Remember, the focus should be on the game being playtested because that’s the game being tested after all and the reason why you’re having a discussion.

In the end, the golden rule applies: Do unto others what you want done to you. Give the kind of feedback that you would want others to give to you.

Follow Nico Valdez:

Game Designer

Nico is a game designer, programmer, songwriter, ex-audio engineer, amateur fiction writer, and president of Balangay Entertainment®. One of the less competitive members of Balangay, Nico only wins against 2k, Marx, and Aya when he's played the game before and they haven't. Nico always wins against Aa. He'll play almost anything as long as it's not loud. He likes euro games for their strategy and thematic games for their roleplaying. He doesn't like party games that much because they get too noisy for his ear disability.

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