Negative Feedback. Credit Tomi Tapio K

Dealing With Negative Feedback – Part 1

Negative Feedback? Don’t Panic

How you handle, analyze and understand negative feedback from your team is such an important part of the design process. Probably the most important part. Handle it poorly and you’ll alienate your colleagues and potentially miss out on some great insights, handle it well and you’ll likely produce better design; better games and a happier creative environment to work within.

If you’re a game designer you’ve no doubt been given feedback from a colleague on something you’re working on. You might have had a lot of feedback from lots of different colleagues. Some of it might have been positive feedback. Chances are some, or all (it happens), of this was negative feedback .

Ouch. It sucks. It hurts.

How a designer processes feedback from their peers, particularly negative feedback, is such an important topic that I’m going to devote a series of posts to the topic and a few book chapters as well. It is that crucial.

You Are Not Alone

Before I get into the gory details on how best to handle negative feedback (that’ll come later), in this initial post, I just want to help make it clear to any designer who might be suffering through some negative feedback that it is all going to be ok. Negative feedback happens. It’ll be fine. Really. You are not alone.

I know it helped me considerably when I first figured out that every designer receives negative, bleak feedback on their designs from their team members from time to time. Often it’s lots of negative feedback. It is natural. It happens to everyone. Sure, this might sound incredibly obvious, nobody is perfect afterall, but I think it is good to remind ourselves every now and then. We all have to deal with negative feedback.

It isn’t just game design either, any creative process  has its fair share of rough feedback, authors, artists, movie makers, musicians. Everyone goes through it. Welcome to the club.


To make matters worse you’ll often get an avalanche of negative feedback from your team on just one issue.

Your combat feels great, the level is playing well, your weapons seem balanced, that camera you’ve been tweaking for months is solid, NPCs have started to behave properly, everything is pretty good and you’ve all got a lot to be proud about.

Your team plays the game. For some reason people are freaking about the DPS on the late tier fire spell. And only that.

Ugh. It’s like some horrible incarnation of the 80/20 rule.

This hyper focused negative feedback can really take it’s toll on you. It can be emotionally draining and it happens more often than you’d think. Why can’t people look past this minor bump, that easy fix, so what if the DPS is 15% too high, we’re 6 months to beta. Look at how fun the game is becoming!  Can’t we all be happy? Can’t we think about the big picture?

“It’s like building a house, but people focus on a single painting that’s hung up on a wall in one room, and fixate on it, and keep listing off their complaints of that painting.”

Masahiro SakuraiFamitsu Column Vol. 495: People Are Free to Criticize. But Don’t Lose Faith

It turns out this particular variety of focused negative feedback is perfectly natural and to be expected often.

You work with creative, detail oriented people and you should be thankful for their feedback. Their feedback is valuable. It is your job, your responsibility, to keep in mind the big picture, the goal, the experience you are aiming for and don’t let yourself get bogged down too deeply too often.

Steady the ship and know the fun is there. Assuming you are not in the final stages of development don’t get too distracted by that painting on the wall. Take some time to evaluate the feedback. Take a step back. Think before acting. Investigate. Ask why. Dig a bit deeper.

Keep The Faith

How you may ask? I’ll cover that in the next few posts. In the meantime, if you are sitting there dealing with some negative feedback take solace in the fact that it is a perfectly normal part of the game making process and you’re the better for it, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet.


:: Like this post? I'm also writing a book.

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