Here’s the understatement of the year: being a game developer isn’t for the faint of heart.
You have to work hard to learn everything, and the learning process never actually stops. Landing work is even more difficult, and it’s impossible to make a proper living until you’re established. So when you get a terrible review, you have every right to be upset and ask these people if they’ve ever made a game.
Well, actually, not really. Developer conduct is a thing. If you act a certain way, you’re no longer professional. And if you’re not professional, landing work can become even more difficult, as can selling copies.
But then, how do you handle those reviews?
Refrain From Backlashing
It’s a cliche, but a good one – be the bigger person. It might sting when someone goes on and on about how terrible your game is, what an awful story it has, how redundant the mechanics are, etc. But honestly, backlashing is only going to make it worse for you and your team. It will always come across like you can’t take criticism, and like you favor your own opinions over that of your players. Even if you have the best intentions, it will always come off wrong.
It’s best to put on your brave face, and take it in stride. Don’t read reviews when you’re already feeling pretty vulnerable. Read them when you’re ready to avoid the fuming rage. Have a friend or colleague read over your drafted replies before you post them, in case it comes across a certain way you can’t see.
Listen to the Common Points In Reviews (Learn Something)
Once you begin reading these reviews, your focus should be going about it intelligently. Don’t read for the sake of reading and feeling awful about what you’ve put out. Read with the acceptance needed to learn.
There will always be common points made, points that you’ll see repeated from one review to the next. Forum to forum, article to article. It’s those points that you should take note of, and learn from. Share them with your team, see what they think. Be as objective as you can, because remember: if everyone agrees on something, then there must be some truth to it. The game is out on the market, and the market is giving you feedback. Listen.
Examine What Your Target Audience Didn’t Enjoy
Every game has a target audience. FPS games are geared towards run and gun style players. RPGs are for players with a passion for story and immersion into a fantasy world. Going into development, you knew you were creating this game for a target demographic, so you need to examine just how far from you mark you were.
What didn’t they enjoy? What did your target audience want, that they feel you didn’t deliver? These are the questions you need to ask when you get poor reviews. That’s how you turn things around next time. Make sure you can isolate your audience and identify the key point they dislike — obviously a FPS player won’t like the turn-based combat of your card game, so don’t listen to them!
Updates Are Your Friends
Just because your game didn’t do so well doesn’t mean you need to roll over and hide your face in shame. While they shouldn’t be used as a means of finishing a game, like they’ve been used sometimes in the past, they can be used as a method of improving upon what you’ve already created. After all, that’s what updates are for – improvement and maintenance.
If your game is bombing, consider using updates to make changes that help sales, and increase player satisfaction. If they’re asking for more characters, and you didn’t deliver on it, add them in and see what happens. If they dislike the limited weapon selection, add a patch with more weapons to choose from. If demand is high enough, maybe consider reworking how certain items or aspects of the content are used as well as how to get them – for example, if weapon selection is an issue, instead of just adding more guns maybe you could add a way to modularly customize weapons to make them your own! Get creative.
Do Better Next Time
Remember the saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results”? It’s the truth. If you examine poor reviews, but then continue putting out content that features no changes from previous games, then you might as well stop examining the reviews. Unless you’re learning and applying something new, there’s just no point.
The idea is to do better next time. Always, with everything in life, especially your art. Take feedback from past games into consideration, and apply it to your next projects. Don’t be disheartened because you launched a title that had poor reviews — see it as an opportunity to learn and get invaluable feedback directly from the consumers you are targeting.
There are some brutal reviews out there. It’s easy to lose heart and feel defeated. It’s easy to get angry and want to snap back. If you need to take a minute to vent to a loved one, do so! Don’t sit there and fester. But remember, once you’re done letting yourself vent, the objective is to learn, adapt, update and implement the tips and requests to your next project.
No poor review should be wasted. Every complaint is a valuable piece of feedback you need to survey your potential market, and analyze what it is they wish to see from you and your team. As a developer, your mission is to practice good conduct, and deliver content that players get addicted to. Poor reviews are just drawbacks. Take a deep breath, grab a pen and some paper, and start iterating again. Good luck.
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