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Old 06-30-2005, 08:24 PM   #1
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Default Don't listen to the fans!

Everyone should take a look at this great editorial that Marek wrote for that site-that-shall-not-be-named. I debated whether to post this in General, because it applies to all games, but it seems especially topical in light of all the bitching constructive criticism that takes place in the Adventure forum on a regular basis.

Quotes of interest (to me, anyway):

Quote:
A problem with most feedback... is that most players are really just trying to protect their immediate personal interests.
Quote:
Through getting to know some of the community members and being forwarded conversations from private guild forums, the fans actually seemed wonderfully supportive. It turned out the real fans were too busy playing the game to go into a forum and debate some minor change. A few players even secretly liked changes when talking in private, but went out on the public forums to complain anyway.
Quote:
The best thing to do as a designer is to let your instincts tell you if you're doing right, and to keep a good professional distance from your audience. After all, most fans couldn't design a game even if the world depended on it. Listening to the fans...? It's a good idea in principle, but rather pointless (and potentially destructive) in practice.
Being a fan, and not a game designer, I can't say I agree 100%. But it is food for thought.
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Old 06-30-2005, 09:00 PM   #2
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It turned out the real fans were too busy playing the game to go into a forum and debate some minor change. A few players even secretly liked changes when talking in private, but went out on the public forums to complain anyway.
Interesting editorial, and the above quote is very true. Just visit the Steam forums - you'd think the entire world is of the opinion that Half Life 2 is the buggiest and most unpolished product ever to have hit the streets.

Sorry for my example being more related to 'general gaming' - just couldn't think of an adventure game in the same situation.

By the way, what are you doing visiting that site?
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Old 06-30-2005, 09:11 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by simpson_yellow
Interesting editorial, and the above quote is very true. Just visit the Steam forums - you'd think the entire world is of the opinion that Half Life 2 is the buggiest and most unpolished product ever to have hit the streets.
I had a professor in college who wrote a book on a very specific, random topic (the development of the radio industry in the 1920s) that received one or two very not-good reviews on Amazon. She spent the first half of a lecture one day ranting about how people only leave reviews if they love the book (or game) or hate it. No one bothers to review something they feel average about. I think it's very true, and it leaves a really unbalanced view of how people really feel. I'd like to know how many people actually read AG and use the reviews to help them decide to buy their games, vs. the fraction of people who bother to post on the forums - or even how many people there are out there who love adventure games but have no idea there are online forums and websites devoted to them. I mean, I know AG has a much larger readership than those who post here, but I wish there were a way to capture the numbers. I suspect there are a ton of fans out there who still shop at the EB at the mall, and don't have any concept of the little nickpicky things we spend so much time ranting about.

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By the way, what are you doing visiting that site?
Err, nothing... hey, look! A three-headed monkey!
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Old 06-30-2005, 09:31 PM   #4
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That site is the wave of the future, you punks.

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Old 06-30-2005, 09:33 PM   #5
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While I understand Marek's frustration, to ignore all fan input is just as bad as trying to please them all. Perhaps there is only a 1% worthwhile contribution in all the verbiage of a forum, but that 1% may make the difference between creating a good game and a great one. One needs to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and see the good ideas that are expressed. This may be hard to do when some of it is disguised in hackerese or gross misspellings and grammar potholes. Never-the-less, it should be mined for good insights into gameplay and user interface, as well as the direction a game may head.

Oh, and another thing - it probably isn't a good thing to tell your fans that you intend to ignore their posts - this doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the developers.

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Old 06-30-2005, 09:33 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kingzjester
That site is the wave of the future, you punks.
Oh yeah? So what are you doing over here?
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Old 06-30-2005, 09:53 PM   #7
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There is something happening here that is like a car crash. Horrible though it may be, I can't look away.

I cannot understand how people who are not cynical nor well-fortified against retaliatory cynicism can exist in the internet.
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Old 06-30-2005, 09:58 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kingzjester
There is something happening here that is like a car crash. Horrible though it may be, I can't look away.

I cannot understand how people who are not cynical nor well-fortified against retaliatory cynicism can exist in the internet.
Ah, but denial is a wonderful defense mechanism! What I don't see can't hurt me!

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Old 06-30-2005, 10:26 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kingzjester
There is something happening here that is like a car crash. Horrible though it may be, I can't look away.

I cannot understand how people who are not cynical nor well-fortified against retaliatory cynicism can exist in the internet.
So true. But then again, my work deals in criticism, so I can't understand the defense mechanism seen so often on internet forums. I'll never understand the "well, I think it's good so therefore it works" reasoning either. This forum's good as there's more of a sense of detatchment than most, which is important when dealing with games from a critical standpoint.

Games are fickle beasts, and adventure games even more so since they're so deconstructed in terms of gameplay. That's why so much can go wrong with them if one thing is out of place. If you take a bugged-to-crap shooter like Boiling Point, it illustrates this point clearly - it's easier to forgive flaws if there's a few other things worth playing for. In general, the public know this.

Fans here are often more willing to forgive major flaws in favour of benefitting at least either narrative, puzzles or design, but to me all are equally important and adventures require a lot more strength than the average game in order to hold up. Their simplicity is what makes them for a lot of people, but it's thin legs to be standing on.

Which is why I'll never be a true fan in some peoples eyes and don't think I am myself.
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Old 06-30-2005, 11:00 PM   #10
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Listening to the fans...? It's a good idea in principle, but rather pointless (and potentially destructive) in practice.
I haven't read the piece (yet), but this quote jumped out at me. It smacks of a superiority that no one, particularly those who are designing product which relies on selling to the tastes of the fans/players, should be party to.

I'm not saying that just because Henrietta Smalltoken says that she likes dolphins in games I should include a dolphin in all my future designs because that's too specific and the designer/developer ends up chasing individual sales in this way, which is not efficient.

However, by being aware of comments that frequently arise from a number of different sources on various forums a designer is able to form a picture of what players in general are enjoying or hating. This can then allow you to develop your ideas with these things in mind.

Last edited by Steve Ince; 07-01-2005 at 12:00 AM.
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Old 06-30-2005, 11:40 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Ince
I haven't read the piece (yet), but this quote jumped out at me. It smacks of a superiority...
Sort of like this, you mean :
Quote:
I soon stopped soliciting for ideas, stopped answering the fans' questions, and felt increasingly superior. I almost got a perverse pleasure out of implementing changes that fans would hate, but which I knew would benefit the game in the long run. I felt the people at the bottom didn't understand what I was trying to make, despite constant efforts to explain it to them. The player community soon became the subject of many sardonic jokes made by our team over lunch.
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Old 06-30-2005, 11:52 PM   #12
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Fan feedback is important but I also think it's often a good idea to appropriately filter it before it gets to the developer. From my occasional lurking at the Steam forums, the moderators there seem to do quite a bit of that (forwarding information on bugs through to valve etc).

Every now and then, a valve employee with sufficient fortitude will communicate directly with the Steam forumites, which is all well and good but it takes some guts to confront the masses of people whining endlessly about your product.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kingz
I cannot understand how people who are not cynical nor well-fortified against retaliatory cynicism can exist in the internet.
Maybe, but if - by analogy - I'd spent several years researching and publishing a book, I'd get pretty jacked off if I went to speak to my 'fans' and all they did was complain about the page number font being too small. And as emily suggests, feedback forums are often largely comprised of these extremely negative, hair-splitting types.

Last edited by simpson_yellow; 07-01-2005 at 12:01 AM.
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Old 07-01-2005, 12:15 AM   #13
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Having just read the article, it seems a little too personal to be an editorial. It feels like it belongs in a blog. I have a feeling that Marek may come to regret some of the things he wrote, for instance, "I discovered that the players I had been listening to most of the time were mostly, well, whiners."

What the piece tells me is what I've felt for a long time - wait for the knee-jerk reactions to subside, then take on board the trends of what the fans are saying. If I hadn't listened to what people were saying on the forums I would never have developed my interaction density ideas.
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Old 07-01-2005, 12:42 AM   #14
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I think Marek has made a mistake by branding his customers as whiners.

Just look what happened to Gerald Ratner when he publicaly told all his customers that the products his company sold were "Total crap".

Never diss you customers or you products if you want to stay in business after all you rely of their loyalty.
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Old 07-01-2005, 12:43 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Ince
However, by being aware of comments that frequently arise from a number of different sources on various forums a designer is able to form a picture of what players in general are enjoying or hating. This can then allow you to develop your ideas with these things in mind.
Completely true. However, that's just what the people who already play games (or that specific game or genre of games) think. If you want to broaden your audience, sometimes you have to look past what hardcore fans want. I know it's EXTREMLY risky and not many development teams can afford it, but sometimes taking risks is the only way to push things forward.

I think having a well constructed and constructive testing group from the very beggining of the project helps a lot. That way you can play with new ideas and see if they work or don't work very quickly.

Edit: Er, now that I've actually read the editorial, I guess that's also what Marek suggests.
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Old 07-01-2005, 12:52 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fairygdmther
Oh, and another thing - it probably isn't a good thing to tell your fans that you intend to ignore their posts - this doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the developers.

Lynsie
No it's not. And the opposite is true: it's a good idea to show your fans that you're listening to them.
Take Martin for example. The only House of Tales game that I've played is Moment of Silence, and I didn't like it that much. But his presence of this forum and others and the posts he makes shows that he cares about us (potential customers/fans), which makes me feel that his next game will be better (ie : more suited to my tastes) than the game before... Meaning that when it comes out, I'll probably buy it.
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Old 07-01-2005, 02:58 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Ninth
The only House of Tales game that I've played is Moment of Silence, and I didn't like it that much. But his presence of this forum and others and the posts he makes shows that he cares about us (potential customers/fans), which makes me feel that his next game will be better (ie : more suited to my tastes) than the game before... Meaning that when it comes out, I'll probably buy it.
Same here.

I didn't agree with the article either. Not listening to the people who actually play your products, is always a bad idea, unless you're some super-designer who can do no wrong at all.
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Old 07-01-2005, 03:08 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fov
(...) that site-that-shall-not-be-named.
Out of curiosity, what's the tabu here?
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Old 07-01-2005, 04:27 AM   #19
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I think both 'listen' and 'fans' are rather problematic terms. I like 'taking into account' and 'players' better.

Games are always created with past, present and future players in mind. Evaluating player feedback is a natural part of that.

This doesn't mean, however, that the mere execution of player demands will automatically result in great games, and that games should therefore be done by a forum commitee. Player feedback is often very contradictory, and there is only a very fine line between 'public demand' and 'smallest common denominator'.

It's probably impossible to survive in this industry with an 'ignore all feedback' mentality (Note: Which I don't really think Marek's article promotes).
I firmly believe, however, that it is also impossible to survive in it without one's own beliefs and visions, and confidence in them. Games won't be fun to play if their designers don't believe in them, don't have fun creating them, and don't have any authority to make decisions.
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Old 07-01-2005, 04:55 AM   #20
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I think that is true Martin.

After all it is the developer vision and he has to have the pull and confidence to see it through without dilution of his origional vision. A decent project manager will be able to take all the opposing views and suggestions and select/reject ideas, but still maintain the end goal.

It's the same thing with any kind of project and it's a thin line that is so easy to screw up sending the project into a spiralling mess as you try to please everyone all the time.

The opposite approach also doesn't work as a blinkered "My way or the Highway" approach is liable to alienate staff and customers.

Feedback is essential at all points in a project to ensure success.

Feedback after the fact (Customer/fan) is also essential if you keep improving and offering the customer want to keep the existing customer base as well as try to attract new ones.

It's a judgement call which points you take into account, but you would probably look for the high similarities. I.e if 90% of opinions are saying the new look doesn't work it would suggest that a rethink is necessary.

Project Management what fun.
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