Dealing with negativity

30th August 2022 by Frank West4
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I recently had a talk with someone who was struggling as they had just received a bad review for their game. It’s a feeling I know well and wanted to write about, as it is very important to learn how best to deal with negative feedback.

Someone is going to hate it

The first thing I tell people is there will always be someone who doesn’t like your game. The more successful you are, the more bad reviews you are going to get.

Consider Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Pokemon, or any globally known IP. Millions of people love and buy these products and they continue to succeed, but there are also many people who dislike them. It doesn’t always mean they are bad, or did anything wrong, it just means they may not be for that person.

Don’t take it personally, instead, see what you can learn.

Evaluating negativity

Whenever I see a negative comment, I try to assess the purpose of the message and see what I can learn from it.

For example:

  • Sometimes it will just be someone being negative for the sake of being negative, and you should just process it and try to move on.
  • Sometimes it will be someone who doesn’t like this type of game, expressing why they specifically don’t like yours. You may be able to learn from this, it may give you ideas for the future, but you shouldn’t dwell on it too much as they weren’t meant to like it.
  • Sometimes it will be someone who should have liked your game but didn’t. To me, these are the important negative comments to listen to and understand.

I remember many years ago watching a negative review for one of my games and it was painful to see, they disliked many parts of the game and were extremely negative. I remember disagreeing with much of what they said, but on the other hand I was confused by how they were getting to these opinions. I watched the video many times and thought about it a lot, until eventually I came to the answer.

They had misinterpreted what the game was and were expecting it to be something else, which led to disappointment due to it not being what they had wanted. The lesson for me here was not that the game needed changing, but the way the game was described, marketed, and sold needed work.

Moving forward, this was a lesson that has been very valuable to me for future games, and perhaps I wouldn’t have learned if it wasn’t for drilling into that review.

Your first time

The first time someone tells you your game sucks shouldn’t be when it is on a shelf or in a reviewer’s hand. If no one has told you it is bad up to that point, then you should open up your playtesting group.

I believe it is important to have a healthy group of play testers who enjoy my games and the concept of the game they are testing. I also believe once I am happy with a game, it is important to get it play tested by people who I don’t think will like it. Understanding their criticisms may help me improve things, but it also helps me prepare mentally for future comments.

Focus on the good

With everything else said, it still hurts to hear bad things. A week doesn’t go by where I don’t see a negative comment somewhere and I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.

The challenge is to learn to focus on the good comments. We like to mentally hide the positive behind the negative, whenever you’re having a bad day dig out the positive comments and focus on them.

It doesn’t hurt to have quotes from playtests and reviews cut out and stuck on the wall behind your monitor. Fill yourself with positivity and when you’re feeling bad, go and look at the happiness you have brought to others.

Frank West

Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!


4 comments

  • Wonmin

    30th August 2022 at 5:02 pm

    This article should be a must-read for all beginner game devs—especially ones who are playtesting with strangers for the first time.

    Reply

    • Frank West

      30th August 2022 at 5:17 pm

      I appreciate the comment!

      Reply

  • Kevin Young

    30th August 2022 at 8:53 pm

    Great words Frank, I have felt all of this and also learned that I had to better describe what we were trying to with the game.

    I’ve also found that taking feedback at conventions after a demo can be a tricky job. People who might not really be your target audience will offer opinions for improvement.

    Have you found a good way to decide which suggestions to listen to Frank?

    Reply

    • Frank West

      31st August 2022 at 12:07 am

      Thank you Kevin!

      Typically speaking, I try to focus less on people’s suggestions and more on what problem they are trying to solve. When someone makes a suggestion, I ask them why they are suggesting it and what they hope it will change in the game. While their solution may be good, they are unlikely to fully understand all the connected parts of the game. Knowing their issue helps me design the best solution.

      This moves me away from deciding which suggestions to listen to and moves me into which problems do I agree are problems. I find this a much easier thing to decide as I’ll know if it is a bug, feature, or previously unconsidered thing that I should now focus on.

      Reply

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