I’ve had some awesome experiences with the communities in game jams and hackathons. So many people are supportive, welcoming, and collaborative. Its inspiring
But when the adrenaline runs out and its time to give reviews and feedback, it can be difficult to articulate your ideas without coming across harsh. So I came up with these 7 tips for giving your feedback gently and without discouraging others.
None of this is meant to say “my way of giving feedback is the right way.” I’m often on the “too gentle” side and the world needs all kinds of people and feedback. But if you want some tips on giving gentle feedback, I’ve collected these ideas and questions for you
1. Constructive is the operative word
Think about how your constructive criticism will help the developer. Constructive means it will help them toward their goals.
For example, if you notice a problem or a potential improvement for someone’s game, instead of just telling them the problem, think about what they might do with the information.
If it’s an easy fix, tell them “the game might be more ______ if you add _______.” You’re not saying their game is bad without the change. You’re saying it could be better with it.
2. Gauge their level of experience
I’m not saying to give someone a better rating because they are new, but consider their experience level when you leave comments or talk to them.
Often times new jammers will self-identify on their game page. Other times you can tell from their short social media history or a fresh itch.io page.
At their experience level, they might not be trying to revolutionize gaming, or produce the next polished masterpiece. They might just be trying to learn and have fun. So give them feedback that is constructive toward what their goals are more likely to be.
3. Be a fun-finding-detective
You’ll never get to play _________ for the first time ever again.
My friend said this about minecraft but its true for any game where you enjoyed figuring out and discovering the mechanics.
You don’t know which games are going to surprise you, so don’t waste your first play-thru searching for problems or thinking about advice to give.
On your first play-thru your goal should be to experience it and have fun. This can be pretty challenging on punishing or unfinished games. But you can think of it as a game within the game. It turns every game into a puzzle game. Ask yourself:
-> How can I find what is fun about this?
-> What can I find in here to appreciate?
If you want to provide constructive criticism, the most important issues will make themselves obvious. You won’t need to go looking for them. But if you enjoy looking for areas of improvement, keep up the good work. Its definitely helpful to a lot of people. But you might have more fun if you play once as fun-hunter, then as bug-hunter
4. There is always something to be impressed by
After the year we’ve had, I’d say getting out of bed is impressive
You don’t necessarily have to tell them what impressed you because it could come off condescending. But keep it in your mind. You’re playing a game by someone who did something amazing.
Maybe that something was
-> Starting their gamedev journey
-> Joining their first jam
-> Joining the jam even though they’ve been lacking motivation
-> Starting their first game
-> Trying an experimental concept
-> Surviving their first game jam disaster
-> Recovering from their first game jam disaster
-> Trying a new engine, art-style, or skill
-> Finishing their first jam
-> Submitting a game
-> Submitting a finished game
Maybe they joined the jam and got a lot done while managing other responsibilities. Maybe they achieved their goal of getting some sleep during the jam.
If you’re a game developer, you know how hard each of these things are. You can be proud of yourself if you’ve achieved any of these, and you’ll provide gentler feedback if you recognize them in others.
5. Admit that you might be the problem
When I’m struggling with a jam game, I’m often asking myself: Am I bad at this, is this just challenging, or is the design so bad that it can’t be played?
I’ve realized you better be certain before you conclude its the last one. Because this kind of feedback can be very discouraging. And if you’re wrong, you risk looking like you couldn’t figure it out and that you were rude about it.
So when I’m stumped, I usually look for help in the other comments. And it that doesn’t help I’ll phrase it like this:
-> Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure this out but…
-> Maybe I’m too sleep deprived to figure this out but…
Sometimes it’s safer to assume fault in ourselves than in others.
Its also possible that the game is good — but not up your alley. Not every player is the target audience for every game. Its okay to admit this.
For example, if you don’t like story games but the devs put all their work into the story, try to give feedback from the perspective of their target audience. This is another opportunity to be a fun-finding-detective. Or you might choose to say “I’m sorry, I’m not really your target audience so I can’t enjoy this to the fullest, but I liked …”
6. Don’t pile on
If there’s a critique you’d like to make, especially a harsh one, check the other comments first. If the dev has already heard it several times it might not be constructive for them to hear it again.
There are cases where it could be helpful for them to know that a larger population felt that way. I think talking about a game’s difficulty is one of these cases. Its a metric where you want to have lots of samples. But saying “I agree with the others on the difficulty” will be softer than “this game is too hard.”
Because in truth you don't know that its too hard. You only know it was too hard for you. Which brings us to our final point
7. Speak from your experience
People that get a lot of criticism already know this but: your feedback is only your experience
Just because you thought a game was too hard, it doesn’t mean it is.
So you can instantly soften any criticism by reminding the recipient that what you are saying is just your opinion.
“i found this too hard” is softer than “this is too hard”
“i found the music stressful” is softer than “the music is stressful”
“i found the controls to be unreliable” is softer than “the controls are unreliable”
You get the point.
Anyway, I hope this was helpful. Thanks for reading and happy jamming!
This article was written by steve_is_bland. Checkout blandmanstudios on YouTube for videos on gaming, creating, and the tech behind it. We’re also on Twitter and Instagram. You can find more info at blandmanstudios.com. Thanks for reading!