How to Recieve Criticism

Back in 2008, I created a mod for Half-Life 2 called Modular Combat. It was a huge passion project for me. I poured hundreds of hours into it. Took the time to learn basic C++, worked with a new coder, had many, many sleepless nights.

Finally, release day!

Then there was this review:

[This mod is a…] tootsie roll covered in cat shit. Then you chew through the shit and get inside the tootsie roll to find out there’s more shit, as well as nuts and corn.

Ouch.

I did two things after hearing this.

First, I became indignant:

Who were these people? Why don’t they understand how much work went into making the mod. It seems unfair they gave up on the mod without even playing through it all.

Then I did the smart thing and sent an email asking some questions about their experience. We had a quick meeting, and I made a list of all their issues.

The next time Podcast 17 reviewed our mod, they gave it a glowing review (link here, 38:00 minutes in).

The mod went on to become a success with over 400,000 views to our Mod DB profile before I left the project. It still maintains an 8.8/10 rating.

I even thanked Podcast 17 for their initially horrible review.

Why would I thank someone for a terrible review of something I made?

There is one thing I’ve always known:

Players don’t care about how much work you put into your game.

They just want to have fun.

The most fun any player has is learning and internalizing.

If you’re passionate and deeply involved with a map, it’s incredibly easy to pour hundreds of hours into it.

Now, I’m going to say something many of you may not like:

Hours worked does not equate to higher quality work.

Every person works differently, but there is one universal quality between all great content creators: they actively seek and use feedback.

If your goal is to have a widely known and appreciated map, learn how to take the criticism you receive, no matter the kind of criticism, and always find a way to use it constructively.

If someone says your work is cat shit, ask why. And here’s the most important part: LISTEN.

Here’s an example:

“Hey, I couldn’t figure out the solution to this area of your map. I tried for a long time, but eventually gave up.”

That sentence could be great feedback if you ask the right follow-up questions.

Instead of assuming the player put in a little-to-no effort, consider what kind of problem the player is facing.

Here is a basic checklist you can run through:

  1. Did I give the player enough information to solve the area?
  2. Did they learn the mechanic I wanted to teach them?
  3. As they make attempts to solve the puzzle, am I giving them any feedback?
  4. At what point did they begin getting frustrated?
  5. Is there a way to present the information differently which will make learning the mechanic(s) easier?

Which leads me to my final point:

Consider and note all comments and criticisms, no matter what.

All feedback can be valuable if you know how to read it.

If a player says your map sucks, ask why.

They will always tell you why, and what you should do to fix it.

Do not argue with them. Instead, listen and probe for more.

Consider whether the feedback makes sense. Determine where the problem originates. Then make an educated decision on how to address the issue.

Finally, I want you to remember this statement:

The player owes you nothing.

They do not have to play something they do not consider fun.

You do, however, have an opportunity to change their minds.

If you win over someone who has already written off your game, then you’ve done a good thing for your game.

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