You will never see me qualify a phrase with “in my opinion” on this site, because I rightfully hate that phrase. Obviously what I write or say is my opinion, and people that qualify, or ask for one to qualify, are simply muddying conversation. That said, this is about as close as I get: the following is my personal philosophy. I realize that this opinion is… off putting, to some – especially if you miss the exactness of my wording, so I’m throwing out a giant blanket of “chill out”. Bundle up, read forth, and hopefully you will come to understand the truth.
The period after your game ships is, I’m sure, a pretty universal experience for most developers, and can be best summarized by a random coworker suddenly blurting out, “Dude! ISpotGiantBomba gave us a 7/10?! Those assholes!” This will be followed by a chorus of scoffs, grumbles, and general discussion of how “reviews are bullshit”. I have not been immune to these moments, but rarely do I let it upset me. I can be annoyed, or I can be sad, but I will never be angry. Which leads me to why we are here.
If negative reviews make you angry, then you didn’t work hard enough on what you created.
Listen: before you flip out, give me the chance to explain. Read the above again. The key word is angry. I mean, really and truly upset. You see, I realize that there is a lot of meaning tied to reviews these days (like, our bonuses), so I can understand feeling sad or bothered, but if you are truly angry, then there is something else going on. Ever hear the phrase, “You can’t please everybody?” Part of what makes us so amazing as humans is the mere fact that we have different opinions about stuff. If we all felt the same way about everything it would be a pretty boring place. So no, you can’t please everybody, and you shouldn’t want to either. This means, now, that you are going to come across people that simply hate the things you like, and if you are a game designer, then it is your JOB to calmly assess the validity of what they are saying. There are two kinds of negative reviews: critiquing, and trolling. We are only concerned with the former and not the latter.
Critiques are important. News flash: you don’t get better as a designer by toiling away, all by your lonesome, without any feedback. It is a necessary and healthy part of the process to read the negative things people have to say, and if you have a problem with that, then honestly, I’m here to say you should probably give up being a designer, because you will never improve. It can be rough, though, and I freely admit that, so when I read / hear critical or negative opinions I go though the following checklist:
- Are they right? – Really think about it. I mean, REALLY think. Do not just flippantly disregard what they are saying. Are the complaints valid? This is an important first step, and if you are not even willing to entertain the idea that a difference of opinion could be correct, then just pack up your bags and get the hell out of this job. But what if, after careful review, we decide they are not correct. We’re done, right? WRONG! So many people jump the tracks here, when the train has only just barely left the station. If their complains are not valid it makes the next question all the more critical.
- Why do they feel this way? – This is such a critical question to ask. Do you not even care why they feel the way they do? This goes double for instances where they give invalid complaints. Why did they feel that way? What lead them to this conclusion? Just because their specific complaint was invalid does not mean that it comes from a bad place. Let’s say you were designing a boss encounter, and a lot of people on forums are saying that he has too many hit points. Despite this, you are confident in your numbers, but you remember that during the boss fight the boss is randomly healed by little henchmen. What players are incorrectly associating with “too much health” could be a bigger problem of “lack of clarity” for the henchmen. This step allows us to identify real issues that we might have missed, which leads us to the final question I ask.
- Was there anything I could have done about it? - Here we go. This is it. We have determined if their complaints are valid, we have reviewed why they might feel that way, and now we must ask if there was truly anything we could have done about it. I have found, and this is me personally, that the times that I have answered “yes” to this question are the times that I was truly angry at the complaints. Only when deep down I realized that I messed up, do I get really defensive about negative opinions. If the answer to this question is no, then why be mad? Really and truly if there was nothing you could have done about it, then why be mad? You should be happy, even. As you might have learned something of real meaning and significance about the game.
The times in my life, and yes it has happened, where I have failed to deliver on 100% of what I am capable of delivering, are the only times I have been truly offended by what people think of my work. Once I made this realization, not only did my dedication to my work increase, but also the quality of my work increased. I realized that the only true path to happiness lay in delivering work that I could be proud of. Work that would exemplify who I am as a designer, so go ahead and tell me what you really think of my work, because I can take it. I will smile a sincere smile… and then I will take notes.