How to receive Feedback (without losing your cool)

posted in: Game Design, Unpub | 0

In the previous blog post, I shared my experiences on how to give kind feedback to game designers when your playtest their games. Today, we’ll be talking about the other side of the coin: how to receive feedback kindly.

When we get good feedback about our game, it can feel so good! You’ve been working on your design, putting all your creativity and energy into something you can’t tell if it’s going to be fun or not. When you are finally validated and all your peers are praising you for your design, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, most of the time the feedback you will get is quite the opposite. You will hear about the problems of your game: why it isn’t fun, why it isn’t balanced, why it just doesn’t work as a game, etc. With all the negativity you feel inside as you hear these, sometimes you can’t help but show a little anger and frustration to your playtesters. They just don’t get the game and they are playing it wrong! you might be thinking.

But remember that when designing games, you need feedback from playtesters to improve your game. You have to be courageous and get through the feedback no matter how painful. No one wants to hear the negatives about their game, but you need to if you really want to take game design seriously.

So how do you take negative feedback with grace and gratitude? Here are some tips that help me:

  • Bring a paper and pen to collect feedback
    • Be prepared. You are playtesting primarily to collect feedback to improve your game. You will need to record what the playtesters say so that you can reflect on them later. Don’t rely on just your meat memory. You can also use a recorder or a phone but just make sure you are capturing it some way, somehow.
    • When I was younger in this craft, I was sometimes not ready to capture feedback because I was overconfident and thought that my playtesters would only say things I already knew. I was wrong. Expect that there will be things you will hear about your game that you might have never thought about before.
    • Bringing a paper and pen also gives you more time to process the feedback. When you get the feedback, scribble it down and use that time you’re scribbling to get your thoughts in order. You will be much calmer and more collected in addressing the feedback if you give yourself time to feel the emotions before responding right away.
  • Remember that the playtesters are doing you a favor and that playtesting isn’t easy
    • What helps a lot to not become sour at negative feedback is remembering that the playtesters aren’t your adversaries (at least in most cases). They are your allies and are doing you a great favor. Learning new games, especially raw unfinished games, can be a headache. Playing broken games can be unfun. Saying negative comments can be painful too if you don’t like hurting people. The fact that your playtesters are willing to brave these uncomfortable waters just to help you improve your game warrants gratitude. So, the next time you feel they are attacking you, just remember that they have to care greatly to even make the effort to “attack” you.
  • Mindset: You are there primarily to collect data, not to try new ideas right away
    • Sometimes while getting feedback, you get ideas that you want to try right away. I advise against acting on this impulse. At the very least, let everyone give their comments first before trying out a new version of your game. The problems with rushing to test a new version is:
      • Your idea might be half-baked: Give yourself time to think about your fixes to your game. If not, you run the risk of serving a half-baked and broken idea to your testers.
      • You might exhaust your playtesters: They just played a game and now you want them to try again?
      • You might not listen to all the things your testers said: Did you actually have time to hear all the feedback before jumping back to playing? Maybe someone still had something to say?
      • You might be hogging playtest time: Playtesting events are usually community-driven, and everyone waits for their chance to test their game. Be sensitive about this and don’t hog too much time away from other designers.
      • Caveat: this is not a hard rule. If the playtesters are game to play again then go for it! Just be sensitive of their time, energy levels, and willingness.
  • Playtesters are good at finding problems but are not necessarily great at knowing how to fix them
    • This is especially true if your testers are gamers and not designers. Gamers have a good feel of what works and what doesn’t, but they don’t necessarily know how to fix a bad implementation. It’s not a skillset you would practice as a gamer. Designers may be better at this depending on their level of experience.
    • If a tester tells you a fix for your game that you feel it’s the wrong fix, dig deeper into what they find is the real problem of your game. Find out what problem they are referring to with their solution. Ask questions like “Why do you think that fixes the game?” or “Why do you think that’s broken?” or simply “What part of the game are you trying to fix?” Worst case if you cannot figure out the problem, they are referring to then just thank them for their comment and jot it down. You can reflect on it later.
  • Give everyone a voice
    • There are loud playtesters and there are quiet playtesters. Some will jump at the chance to give feedback while others are more reserved. As the designer, you are also the facilitator of the playtest session. Use your position to give everyone a voice. It can be as simple as asking the quiet playtester what they think once the loud playtester is done talking.
  • Explain your vision of your Game and remember you are in control of your own Game
    • If you don’t think a comment is relevant to your game, that’s fine too! You have a vision of what you want your game to be and don’t expect playtesters to understand that vision as well as you do. They might give comments based on their vision of what they want the game to become and that’s alright too. If you end up in that situation, don’t by shy and explain your vision of your game to your testers so that they can recalibrate their feedback to match it.
    • If you don’t have a vision for your game, I urge you to reflect on it and come up with one. A game without a North Star might lost its direction and become a victim of “Design by Committee” which I’ll probably talk about some other time.
  • Park your ego
    • Avoid being defensive when getting feedback because this dissuades people from being honest. Instead, stay humble and grateful so that you can foster an atmosphere of openness.
    • If you are really having difficulty with a playtester’s comments, don’t fight them on it. Just jot it down, thank them for the comment, and move on.

In the end, always thank your playtesters for their time and effort and make sure to return the favor. Playtest their games if they have and be kind with your own feedback!

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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