How to Leverage Community Feedback for a More Impactful Game Design

Katherine Stull
05 / 16 / 18
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Hello! My name is Katherine, I’m a community manager at Human Head Studios. A lot of what I do on a daily basis involves interacting with the Survived By community and tracking what they do and don’t like about the game, as well as their unique ideas. As a developer, following a model of community-driven development is a great way to ensure that the community’s great ideas don’t go to waste. This can make a game’s design more impactful as a result.

First, I’d like for you to think about a game that influenced you greatly. Perhaps this is a game that made you interested in game development, or even one that made you fall in love with games. Now think about how meaningful it would have been if you could have influenced the game’s design in some way. That would be pretty great, right? This empowerment is what creates lifelong fans of a game, and is part of the magic of community-driven development.

“The Customer is Always Right”

Before I became a community manager, I worked at a number of customer service jobs. There is an age-old adage in customer service: “the customer is always right.” This policy generally involves improving the experience of individual customers by giving them exactly what they’re requesting. I had assumed that community management would be the same, but that proved to be untrue. When there are so many voices contributing their vision to one game, not every individual request can be honored – so a much better rule of thumb is that “the customer is always valid.”

When folks have ideas about ways that they feel your game could be improved, it’s important to take these claims seriously. While many of them won’t share your same behind-the-scenes insight into development, they have experience playing other games that makes their feedback valid. In the same way that you don’t need to be a film director to have valid criticisms about a movie, you don’t need to be a developer to have valid criticisms of a game’s design. In fact, first-time players may be better equipped to help identify oversights in your design than anyone else – they are often more objective and can lend a unique perspective to your work.

Hug Your Haters

While all feedback absolutely should be taken into account, it’s still important that developers set guidelines against abuse. Not every criticism on your design will be constructive, but creating a reasonable set of community guidelines will help to encourage high-quality feedback.

When receiving design feedback from the community, there will inevitably be criticisms that are not constructive. While it may be tempting to ignore inflammatory or aggressive remarks, it’s wise not to. Jay Baer, author of “Hug Your Haters,” says that “haters are not your problem… ignoring them is.” Responding to negative community feedback actually increases customer advocacy across all of your game’s channels – so you should try to respond to every complaint, on every channel, every time. Those who experience your game and are impassioned enough to leave a response, negative or otherwise, are the ones who care about making the game better. Their time should be appreciated!

Generally, Baer says that there are two types of “haters” – onstage and offstage. Onstage” haters” are statistically older and provide feedback via private email and forums. Their criticisms tend to manifest as long-form content and often go into great detail regarding what changes they would like to see in your design. These folks want you to respond to them – in fact, most of them expect a response. Taking the time to let them know that their feedback is meaningful goes a long way, as this is the group that will make up your “game design taskforce.” They are invested in not only helping you identify weaknesses in your design, but also offering suggestions on how to improve it.

“On-stage haters” will present criticisms a little differently. They tend to be statistically younger, and will share their feedback via social media. These folks tend to stick to short-form communication like tweets or Facebook comments and are seeking an audience – fewer than 50% of them expect an answer to their complaints. They’re more likely to help you identify flaws in your design and leave the fixing up to you. Even though many of them don’t expect you to respond, you should – making it clear that their feedback is being heard is important for improving customer advocacy and finding allies within your game’s community.

Make an Impact!

Now that you’ve got an engaged community who knows that you care about their feedback, it’s important that you provide them with opportunities to get more involved. One way of doing this is through the creation of a design council, where the most active members of your community can have the opportunity to chime in or vote on content additions for the game. This is especially useful in situations where you’re looking for immediate feedback on a feature.

You can also get the community involved in the design process by holding fan contests. Perhaps you’re looking to add more character classes to your game and are interested in implementing community-sourced content – let the community submit their designs for a new class! Having their content added into the game is one of the greatest impacts that a community member can make, and it will make them more engaged as a result.

 

Ultimately, the key to community-driven development is simply being a good listener. No design is completely foolproof, and your game’s community can help you fill in the gaps. Games can have a unique impact on the lives and memories of others – why not allow others to have an impact on your game?