Monday Tip-Off: What Is Constructive Feedback?

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Get your week started here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games.

In case you’re unaware, we’re currently in the midst of compiling our Wishlists for NBA Live 17 and NBA 2K17. As always, our goal is to put together comprehensive lists of constructive feedback for the development teams at EA Tiburon and Visual Concepts, spotlighting the additions we want to see, issues that need to be addressed, and improvements that would make the things we like even better. If you take a look at the two threads, you’ll see that some great suggestions and feedback have already been posted.

The fact that we’re aiming to be constructive in our feedback is something that I make a point of mentioning whenever we tip-off our annual Wishlist threads. It’s also a reminder that I like to put out there for everyone involved in our modding community. After all, whether you’re talking about the people developing basketball video games, or the people who are making unofficial add-ons and modifications for them, it’s important to give them the kind of feedback that they can put to good use.

So, what do we really mean when we say “constructive feedback”?

In a nutshell, we’re basically talking about constructive criticism. When it comes to critiquing the basketball video games that we play, that means describing what we don’t like – as well as why – and suggesting viable improvements. It’s refraining from childish insults, rude suggestions, and vague comments such as “make a better game”, “improve gameplay”, or “fix the bugs”. Sure, we do want to see those things happen, but comments like that don’t explain how we want to see gameplay improve, the nature of the bugs we’re experiencing, or what improvements and changes will result in the better basketball video game that we’re hoping to see.

James Harden passes the basketball in NBA Live 16

You see, contrary to what some people believe, constructive feedback is not about sucking up, or downplaying problems. It’s about describing them in detail, identifying the issues and suggesting solutions. “The gameplay sucks” doesn’t tell the development team anything except that you don’t think much of the gameplay. “The controls aren’t responsive enough, and the shooting percentages are too high”, on the other hand, explains your grievances while immediately suggesting possible solutions. It’s not that you aren’t allowed to think a game is terrible – and there are times when you definitely need to call it like it is – but if you intend on giving quality feedback, you need to explain why you think that, and what would make things better.

Presentation is important though, both in the clear organisation of your points, and the tone of your feedback. Again, this means refraining from childish name-calling, snarky insults, and acidic rants. There’s a time and a place to speak your mind like that, and a Wishlist isn’t it. When the goal is to compile a list of suggestions that clearly tells the developers what we want to see added, improved, and fixed, all that other stuff just gets in the way. Good feedback doesn’t demand its audience wade through paragraphs of bile just to get to the useful and informative points. If that’s how you set out your feedback, the good points are going to get lost amidst the ranting.

That also applies to more succinct posts which rely on vague suggestions, ill-defined buzzwords, or condescending overuse of Internet slang like LOL and SMH. Bottom line: there’s a difference between giving a blunt, honest opinion, and going out of your way to be insulting and snarky. Doing the latter is just as bad as posting your feedback in one big wall of text with little punctuation, random tangents, and an abundance of Internet slang or shorthand. Don’t expect anyone to struggle through what you’ve written just to find any good suggestions.

The same goes for our modding communities for NBA Live and NBA 2K. As I’ve said many times before, we’ve had a lot of talented individuals making updates for the various basketball video games over the years, but only a few naturally talented people master the ins and outs of more complicated modding straight away. While someone is still learning how to mod, the quality of their work might not be right up there with the people who are far more experienced. It’s important that they’re encouraged and told where they need to improve, rather than being flat out insulted and bullied out of the hobby. We don’t want to see that happening.

LeBron James dives for the basketball in NBA 2K16

An example that I’ve given a few times before when talking about this subject is a piece of feedback I once received for one of my roster patches for NBA Live. One user wasn’t happy with a release, and told me in no uncertain terms that it was bad because everything was wrong. It took a little bit of back and forth with them before I finally discovered their complaint was that Luke Walton was too high up in the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench order, either due to an oversight, or because he’d been getting more minutes recently. Either way, it was an exaggeration, and far less useful than simply pointing out “Hey, Luke Walton’s a bit too high up in the rotation” to begin with.

Constructive criticism, and pointing out specific details and issues that need to be addressed, is what constructive feedback is all about. When we’re compiling the Wishlists for the basketball video games, we insist on it because we have a great opportunity to help developers make their games better, and anything that distracts from that goal is a waste of their time and ours. Within the modding community, constructive feedback helps modders improve, while making it a friendlier and more supportive place for basketball gamers.

Simply put, when we talk about constructive feedback, we’re talking about feedback that serves a constructive purpose: to let the people responsible for a product or content know what we like, what we dislike, and how it can improve. It’s about clearly explaining what we want to see. You don’t go into a restaurant and order “tasty food”, or “a nice meal”; you order a specific dish from the menu. When you’re building a house, you don’t just specify “Make it a good place to live”. You need to explain what it is that you actually want. If you’re dissatisfied with anything in life, you won’t find a resolution unless you explain why you’re unhappy.

Considering how passionate we are about basketball video games, we should be very knowledgeable about them. If that’s the case, when we’re presented with the opportunity to interact with the people who are making them, we should demonstrate that knowledge. We should be able to explain – accurately, and in detail – what’s good, what’s bad, and what can be done to make a basketball video game better. If we want to be taken seriously, we need to demonstrate that we should be taken seriously.

Kevin Durant dunking in NBA Live 16

In terms of our modding community, we should be appreciative of the efforts of the individuals who dedicate some of their spare time to updating, fixing, and enhancing basketball video games. If we want modders to continue to hone their craft, then we need to show them some courtesy, while giving tips, advice, and feedback that will point them in the right direction. On the flip side, modders should certainly be receptive to polite and constructive feedback. In that respect, I do believe that developers from both EA and 2K set a great example, as they’ve often shown a lot of patience, as well as a willingness to listen to us.

Keep in mind that the act of posting constructive feedback is no guarantee that you’ll get what you want. There’s only so much that can be done within one development cycle and the dev teams obviously have a roadmap in place for NBA Live and NBA 2K. Similarly, not all modders have the same skill or free time, so they won’t always be able to make use of the feedback they’re given (or take requests). However, being constructive in our criticism gives us the best chance of seeing the results that we desire. When we give constructive feedback, we have nothing to lose. When we give feedback that’s vague, rude, or unhelpful, we have nothing to gain.

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