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Part 2 of old interview via Dave Shapiro

In December 2012, Dave Shapiro contacted me to contribute to a book about Risk he was co-authoring.This took the form of answers to a series of questions. The book appeared recently, sans this material. This is part 2.

*As with movies, books and music, there are those that enjoy the work and those that criticize it. How do you deal with criticism of your designs? *

Constructive criticism that explains why it is critical is welcome. What I realize very strongly and have emphasized in my first game design book is that there’s a great variety of things that people find enjoyable in games, and not everybody can enjoy what I put into a particular game. All you need to do is look at Metacritic.com to see how widely opinions can vary about the same game or movie.

What I really dislike is uninformed criticism. If I had a dime for every time someone plays Britannia once and says it’s terribly unbalanced I could buy some really good appliances. Yet repeated plays by experts shows that it’s quite well-balanced. The problem is that no one “gets” a highly strategic game like that at the first play, but there are now many “shallow” gamers who believe that if they don’t get it at first play it’s the game’s fault.

Sometimes criticism comes from people who are not anywhere near your target market. For example, someone recently criticized Dragon Rage because the pieces were not hexagonal to match the hexagon grid on the board! (This actually wouldn’t work well, and if you think if it would work well it would be much more common in the long history of wargames.) There were other remarks indicating that apparently the reviewer had no experience of hex-and-counter wargames. In 2012, that indicates a strong bias to games quite unlike Dragon Rage. So an overall unfavorable review was hardly surprising.

Reviewers should always explain why, rather than assume that their tastes are the same as the readers’. I’m often fascinated by the reviewing style in video game magazines (PC Gamer and GameInformer) where the reviewers assume that their tastes match their readers’ tastes. Maybe they do, though not mine!

The anonymity and “distance” of the Internet is widely known to encourage people to say and even do things that they’d never do “in person”. There’s also what might be called “everyone’s an expert” syndrome, so commenters on the Internet are certain they know better than anyone else, regardless of their background or real expertise. I see (for example) many people who told the former manager of Arsenal (soccer) that he doesn't know what he's doing, though he was there for 22 years and is one of the most successful soccer managers in the world in charge of one of the most well-known clubs.

There’s a twitter account called “@AvoidComments" which issues tweets that all amount to the same advice: don't read the comments of those who criticize online, whether criticizing articles, books, games, whatever. For example: "'What an interesting article! I can't wait to read what the average internet denizen thinks about it!' Just stop right there. You're wrong." and "Nobody on their deathbed ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time reading internet comments.'"

I’m old enough and confident enough in what I’ve done to shrug off the random criticism I encounter, which fortunately is not often. Once in a great while I'll encounter someone online that I've never heard of, who clearly has it in for me individually (no idea why), often getting personal about it, and that can be quite annoying.

*When you encounter a game that is an obvious derivative of one of your designs (Hispania, Maharaja and Italia for example), do you play the game? Do you view this as a compliment or is there some resentment? (Personally, the first time I was told that an article I had written had been plagiarized, I was extremely angry. The second time it occurred, the publisher threatened to take legal action.)*

I strongly dislike plagiarism, which is exact copying without attribution, but virtually no game is “original” anymore, and most games are derivative of some other games. I’d just as soon get formal credit for the game system that’s being used in the game, and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Oh well. It’s a compliment more than anything else.

END PART 2

Some videos on my free Game Design Channel on YouTube:

Is location setup (usually in a wargame) in some sense an example of worker placement and drafting?! https://youtu.be/Ot26kksJ11M

The Failure of Cause and Effect! https://youtu.be/onEUdlM9HA8

Games are not stories https://youtu.be/rKD9nJ769nk

Comments

Excellent 2nd post

Dr. Pulsipher,

I can relate to the general tenor of this second post. I hear from designers all of the time telling me they get luke warm feedback from their gaming groups. This is why I always conduct my feedback in both written and oral form. It is a conversation and in that medium one can have a dialogue about the "why" something does or does not work. This is at the heart of my service...informing designers about their games in a way which elicits that conversation and having them look at their titles, by way of their mechanics, in a new light. Just as in playtesting, one gameplay does not provide anything to analyze.

Cheers,
Joe
Professor's Lab

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