Tuesday 11 April 2017

How to accept criticism of your game

Accepting criticism of your product is hard, and if you're reading this you probably don't need me to tell you that. Every artist - regardless of whether they're a painter, game developer or musician - will eventually have to take criticism of their product, and it's important to know how to take it properly. Hell, even if you don't consider yourself an artist at all I'm sure this post would probably still be helpful if you have trouble taking criticism.

Understanding the difference between "you are bad" and "your game is bad"

One of the most important things to realize is that as the developer of a game, you are not the target of criticism. It's very easy to take critique too personally, or take it to mean that you are "bad at making games", where in reality what a critic might mean is just that "this game you made is bad".

One of these two interpretations involves an attack on your person. It suggests that you are incompetent at doing the thing you are so passionate about, and that really sucks to think about. The other interpretation involves accepting that you simply made something that wasn't good enough, and to leave it at that. Extrapolating this basic concept to imply that actually you're a terrible artist, a terrible programmer, a terrible mathematician, a terrible composer, or the myriad of other things which you can be terrible at is actually tremendously harmful to your willingness to work.

Of course, taking a simple criticism as what it is at face value is much easier said than done. It takes active effort to keep yourself from continuing the spiral of rapidly diminishing self-esteem, but you have to take my word for it that it's worthwhile to do.

Now, don't misunderstand. I'm not telling you to ignore criticism just because it makes you feel bad. Feeling bad sucks, but it's important for the learning experience. Without a disincentive to keep making rubbish, you would hardly improve at a reasonable rate.

What I am saying is rather that you should never view your own skills as being absolute. In Western culture, there is a lot of worship of the innately talented musician, a repressed "hidden talent", or even that of the noble savant. The truth is that the first two are all but non-existent and the third is exceedingly rare(and its usefulness is questionable at best).

Your skills are fully malleable and constantly evolving balls of amorphous goo. They will never be stable for very long, perhaps a year or two at most. From there, you're bound to either improve or become unfamiliar with them. The point I'm making is that if you think you are innately not good at something, you are wrong. It might be more difficult for you to improve or to learn than it is for others, but it is certainly never "gated" beyond your capabilities.

As stated, your skills are malleable and they usually do not define your character. It's important to understand and admit that you're bad at something if you're bad at something, and separating yourself from your skills is a large component of that.

Criticisms do not exist in a vacuum

Criticism is full of bias, and could be argued to not exist without bias. It quite easily follows that what one player perceives to be true about your game(unsatisfying controls, unappealing graphical style) might not be true to many others, or vice versa.

The important thing to realize here is that if you are receiving a criticism that you believe to be unfair, it is possible that it is unfair. Whatever you do, do not go crazy with this idea. It's something to keep in mind, but it's to be used incredibly sparingly.

On the other side of the coin, you as the developer may also be biased. I'm not talking just about the idea that the developer may be so highly protective of their game to the point of ignoring criticism, I'm also talking about the developer genuinely believing that their game is good because it aligns perfectly with what they want out of a game in that genre. However, it's also possible that what you want out of a game in a given genre is simply not what many other people want out of a game.

It's no secret that some developers want to make or have made games which are almost entirely inaccessible to the audience. Even among games with cult followings such as Dwarf Fortress, this is a common criticism.

Every piece of criticism is an opportunity

Every time someone suggests an improvement or tells you something about your game which you didn't want to hear, you gain a little bit of insight. Even the most benign "This game sucks 0/10" comment can help you to understand a perspective which you could never otherwise begin to comprehend.

This sounds very flimsy, but it is tremendously important. So much conflict is based off of simple misunderstanding of each other's views. Any opportunity to gain insight into another person's perspective is a valuable one.

If you truly want your game to be the best it can be, then you have to consider as many perspectives as you can. You have to take in every piece of criticism and evaluate it as fairly as you can. Of course, this isn't easy. It's both cognitively and emotionally strenuous to accept and work out flaws in your game.

Then again, no one says that making a good game is easy!

As usual, if you have done, thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more semi-regular posts.

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