I swear I don’t make these things happen on purpose but it seems the topic of the hour is game development and game critiquing (is that even a word?), both being topics that are near and dear to my heart so I feel compelled to write. I’ll get back to my resolution to be more positive soon I swear.
Before delving into today’s post I want to take a moment to lay out precisely where my critic lies today. My issue is not with the people (dev, QA, artists, etc…) actually making videogames who are doing an extremely hard job in incredibly stressful environments. When I read stories about how developers worked 70hrs weeks for months on end and poured all their heart into a game only to see it butchered by some producer crazy demands my heart break for them.
My critic today targets a particular defense I’ve heard too often used, the “you don’t know! Cut us some slack!” defense. There’s many reasons why I hate this particular line of defense in an argument, it’s dismissive, it insults the intelligence of the person making the critic, it doesn’t solve anything… but more than anything it warps the relationship between a customer and the company selling the product.
So before continuing on, I suggest you go read this article on Kotaku.
I might not know you but I know myself
I too have to deal with harsh critics, big budgets, limited time and though customers in my line of work. One of the things that was drilled into me and that served me really well was the following:
“The client isn’t always right! But he always know that he is.”
What this phrase illustrates is that ultimately, whether the client is right or not is irrelevant. What will decide whether or not he buys you product is his perception of the product and people do know what they think.
How does this play out? Let’s say I play a game and as I play the second level I really hate my experience. I have no fun and I end up quitting the game altogether and uninstalling it. Then if I have to give my opinion on the game I’ll say that level 2 was so awful it caused me to quit and if asked for more details I’ll say the I felt the level felt badly designed and that the controls were poor causing me to struggle unnecessarily.
Now, that is an opinion. It’s my perception of the level and by extension the game. There could be really good reasons for why the level turned out the way it did and why it felt like it was badly designed. Do any of these reasons really matter to me?
No! If I paid 40$ for that game I will feel like it was a bad investment. I didn’t enjoy the experience and that’s it. The why and how doesn’t matter, I didn’t like it.
Let’s keep going with our example. I didn’t enjoy the game and I make it known to the developer. I tell him why I didn’t like the game (bad controls, poor second level) in the hope that they either fix things or at the very least acknowledge me and work on these issues for the next game.
Instead I get this answer “Well, we had limited budget, lead dev left to run naked in Africa and we ran out of money.” Okay…. That sucks but how does this addresses my problem? It doesn’t make the controls better, it doesn’t fix level 2. You’re kinda saying that you agree there’s issues but according to that answer I should be understanding and be grateful for my bad game experience? Really?
Let’s go forward a few years when they release Game, the second chapter, how likely is it that I’ll buy it or recommend it? Last time I had a bad experience and the dev didn’t really acknowledge my issue and didn’t fix it either. Chances are pretty high that I’ll be way more suspicious, that I won’t spend my money and that I’ll tell people to stay away… sounds logical no?
Don’t give me excuses, give me solutions
So this is what it boils down to. When people make critics of games or elements of games, acknowledge the issue and explain to us how you plan on fixing it or why you don’t agree with us. If you think the feature is well done then explain to me why you think it is and then it becomes a matter of opinion.
But don’t give me excuses. Don’t tell me that it’s hard to make games or that you had issues during development. It doesn’t do anything for me and it doesn’t change how I felt when I played your game.
And if like the article author was saying you had to make tough choices to publish on time then be ready to suffer for these though decisions. You cut the ending quality to launch? Then chances are that the ending is going to be critiqued no? A though choice does explain why the ending sucks, but it doesn’t justify it.
I want to close on a more positive note though by agreeing with, and repeat one of the major points of the Kotaku article. No matter what, please try to be respectful of the people working in the games industry. Calling someone an idiot because a game doesn’t live up to your standards isn’t helping anyone. Lay out your issues, explain why you feel X or Y isn’t working and leave it at that.