I took a game prototype to Metatopia in November. The written feedback was glowing, with one play tester telling me he would have bought the game on the spot if it was published. Several weeks later, I received an email from a publisher about the same prototype. While the email said some complimentary things about my game, the main focus was three specific areas where he thought my game needed improvement.
We designers can guard our games as our children, and quickly become defensive when somebody points out something wrong with the games we create. As game designers, it is vital not to perceive critical feedback as a personal slight against us or the games we create.
Every year, scores of publishers are releasing hundreds of new good games. Having a good game isn’t enough. For a new game to be noticed and bought and played in a crowded marketplace, it has to be great, it has to rock. I’m glad to have play testers who tell me a game is fun; it provides the encouragement I need to continue pushing an idea forward. I’m equally as thankful for publishers who tell me what I need to hear even when I don’t want to hear it. I view this recent experience as the publisher doing me a favor in giving advice on how to move my game from good to great.
I have been (sometimes painfully) learning to welcome critical feedback. When that critical feedback is valid, for me it becomes the spark that drives a whole new round of innovation to take a game to the next level.
At an Unpub Mini playtest in the summer of 2013, JoshT commented on the long set-up time for my Firebreak prototype, while BenB told me that despite the burning forests, he never felt in any danger. Within days, both comments led to some brainstorms that resulted in crucial changes that improved the game. Without those comments, the game might have stayed a good game yet not become an even better game. (Regarding Firebreak - I have been told this game is nearing the top of the publisher’s production queue, I am hoping I’ll finally be able to announce the details in 2016.)
The developer for the publisher who signed the game originally named Attatat told me the game got a lot of things right, but they would not publish it as an abstract. I didn’t like that feedback. Yet it was that critical feedback that unlocked the creative juices that led me to finally find the right theme to match the mechanics (and get the game signed).
Lady of the Diamonds got a lot of play and the attention of an interested publisher on the final day of Unpub5. However, the publisher had reasons for wanting a different theme. I resisted changing my baby. But once again, the critical feedback made me rethink the game and an eventual change of theme that got the game signed as Lands of Oz.
With the prototype feedback from the other day, it happened much more quickly than usual. Within hours, that critical feedback resulted in brainstorms on how to try to further improve the game that tested so well at Metatopia. The critical feedback was the spark, the push I needed, to not stop but push further to take my fun game and try to make it better still.
Ill-intentioned criticism attacks and demoralizes people. Well-intentioned valid criticism can be the spark that drives us to not accept good enough and instead elevate our work to the next level.
My thanks to all those who have told me the things I need to hear about my game designs to make them even better.