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Feedback Cycle, Part One: Giving Criticism

If you’ve ever been involved with an online community where people discuss their creative work, you know that the process of giving and receiving criticism is a minefield. It’s taken as a given that evaluating someone’s work will lead to a rancorous argument, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Feedback Cycle is a two-part essay about how to navigate this process. The first part is focused on giving criticism.


If you’re not sure of the right tone to take when criticizing someone’s work, ask yourself: why am I doing this? Why am I taking the time to write at length about someone else’s game when I could be working on my own? What is your number one goal with this review?

This game sucked and I’m gonna pwn this noob!

Your honesty is admirable. However, you probably should just leave it alone. Really, there’s enough vitriol in the world, let it go.

I want to get that Golden Reviewer award!

Well, I can’t fault you for that. But we’re not going to give this award to someone who can’t give effective criticism.

I want to see this game improve.

This is what a lot of people say but it’s much easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. If this honorable goal is truly how you feel, then your number one priority is making sure the creator of the game reads your criticism and takes it to heart. This means writing it in a way that ensures it won’t start an argument or make them feel overly defensive. Some people don’t like this idea; they think their criticism is just so important and necessary that any attempt to temper it is just “coddling.” But remember, you just said your top priority was improving the game, not satisfying your ego.

If you take nothing else away from this discussion, remember this: They do not have to convince you to keep their game the way it is. You must convince them to change it.

This is a hard reality for some of the more caustic critics out there. They will trot out faux rationalizations like “Any feedback is better than no feedback” or “You have to learn to take tough criticism if you want to grow as an artist.” To see an accurate description of these claims, please consult the picture below.


Trying to write a review that will be palatable for the creator does not mean leaving anything out, despite what you might hear from trolls intentionally missing the point. In the end, it’s not about the content of your criticism but the delivery. Naturally, there are varying schools of thought on this. One of these is the “shit sandwich” approach (last reference to poop in this post, I swear). This concept imagines the review as a sandwich, with the negative criticism in the middle of the write-up with more positive feedback at the beginning and end. This can work but it also runs the risk of going too far the other way, being a little too infantilizing.

If there are aspects of the game that deserve praise, be sure to include that. However, sometimes you will play a game that is an absolute mess in every area. In that case, don’t invent praise where none is warranted. You’ll need to convey the issues with the game in a way that hopefully won’t discourage or infuriate the creator. Here’s a quick list of helpful tips for pulling this off.

  • Word Choice: This is very important. Avoid unprofessional and inflammatory words like “sucks” or “garbage.” I once saw someone defend calling someone’s game “garbage” as not rude, but trust me, comparing someone’s game to the dirty waste that you collect in a plastic bag and throw in a bit at the end of your driveway to be carried off to the dump? That’s rude. Remember, our number one goal is not to be scathing or edgy. It’s to get the creator to listen to our feedback and improve the game. If you really annoy them, they may avoid taking your criticism into account just to spite you, even if it would make the game better.
  • Prioritize: We all have our pet peeves when it comes to games and that’s okay, but we need to recognize them as such and not lose our sense of proportion. Some people hate random encounters in RPGs. It’s totally legit to criticize random encounters and cite reasons why they can weaken the experience, but don’t assume that the game can’t work with this mechanic and demand they be removed. If you want a better example of out-of-control nitpicking, I remember I saw a thread for one IGMC game last year where someone was incredibly annoyed that there was a mandatory full-screen feature. Admittedly, this is a bad idea. However, this person devoted about ten paragraphs to yelling at the poor sap for using this feature. Cosmetic choices you don’t agree with are not game-breaking bugs.
  • Avoid Dogma: This one is the hardest. We all speak like our opinions are the truth and we want our opinions to carry some weight. However, acknowledging that what we are writing is just opinion can defuse a big argument before it starts. Consider the following comparison: “This game is unplayable” vs. “I was unable to finish this game.” In the end, they are saying basically the same thing, but one sounds like fact and the other sounds like opinion. Choosing the second option will get better results. I know, I know, this is one of those obvious things about life and human interaction that should just be understood. But it isn’t. If you keep this in mind, I promise you that your reviews will go over better.
  • Caps Lock: For the love of God, turn it off.

So sometimes you give a great, measured, helpful review and the game’s creator still freaks out at you! I’ve seen this happen plenty of times, it sucks. The best thing to do in that situation is to remind them that you wanted to help and bow out of the discussion. You’ve already said what you needed to with the review, trying to force the creator to take it the criticism will not convince someone who’s already in a stubborn mood. Those people need to realize the error of their ways on their own. Maybe we can help them along with Part 2 of this piece. Next time, we’ll look at receiving criticism.

2 comments… add one

  • Ninkos August 15, 2015, 1:07 am

    @Rob Glidden, i goinf to post the reviews I making at site I making, can I put ad’s at site?

    • Nicholas Palmer August 15, 2015, 8:15 am

      As long as they aren’t clickthrough adfly style links, yes, your personal blog can have ads on it.

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