The Friday Five: 5 Ways We Give Bad Feedback

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! For those of you who haven’t read any of my previous Friday Five columns, this is a relatively new feature where I discuss a range of topics related to basketball video games, the real NBA and other subjects that are relevant to our community, either in list or Top 5 countdown format.

To say that the Internet has had a major impact on video gaming is a grand understatement. One of the ways it has changed gaming is its ability to put developers in direct contact with their customers, giving gamers the opportunity to provide feedback that shapes future releases and aids in post-release support. We basketball gamers have been doing that for some time now, but we don’t always make the best use of the opportunity. These are the things we should avoid doing, the five ways we give bad feedback to basketball video game developers.

1. Being snarky, rude or childish

As you may have noticed, the Internet can be a pretty cynical place, rife with false dichotomies. A popular one is that you’re either a suck up who sugar coats everything, or someone who “tells it like it is” with the cold, blunt truth. For a person to be truly honest, this line of thinking declares, their words must be accompanied by snark and a sneer.

The problem is that such an approach is needlessly confrontational and can come across as being downright childish. That’s not to say that you should speak with rigid formality, nor shy away from declaring something is badly done and flat out needs to be better when that is the case. It’s important to be honest and the truth certainly isn’t always positive.

However, when we go out of our way to be colourfully insulting, peppering a post intended to give feedback with as many LOLs, SMHs and snide comments as possible, that’s just giving developers more muck to wade through to get to the actual feedback; you know, actually describing what we don’t like and what we want to see? When more effort is put into the insults than useful commentary on the things we want to see improved, when a rant against the developers takes up more of the post than proper critique and valuable suggestions, that’s bad feedback.

Snark is a poor substitute for intelligent thought. Indeed, you’ll find that this is an underlying theme in the ways we give bad feedback.

2. Presenting feedback poorly

I’ve compiled several Wishlists during my time running the NLSC and had the opportunity to speak with several developers and community managers at EA Sports. When I’ve asked them the best way we can present them with feedback, it’s always been bullet points that get straight to the point. They’re easy to read and what we’re saying is clear, since there’s no need to sift through rambling thoughts and other superfluous prose.

To give you an example of what we shouldn’t do: a couple of years back, a user signed up for our Forum with the intent of posting some feedback that they wanted the NBA Live developers to read (as they do peruse the NLSC Forum), or for us to pass along to them directly. What was ultimately posted was, to be frank, a mess. It was a huge wall of text, one long paragraph that was virtually a run-on sentence, every word beginning with a capital, LOL and SMH everywhere with rambling, ranting tangents. It was an eyesore.

The user became upset when we tried to point these things out and help them present their thoughts a little better. Obviously, they angrily proclaimed, neither we nor EA cared about this wonderful feedback. The thing is, the feedback may or may not have been useful, but when it was presented so badly, being so painful to read and try to make sense of, it was impossible to tell.

Good feedback should not be a challenge to read. That means bullet points, concise paragraphs, no redundant and insulting tangents, no capitalisation on every word and certainly no leetspeak. If it’s virtually unintelligible or the point you’re trying to make is meandering and unclear, it’s not useful.

3. Using the words “cartoonish” or “cartoony”

I’ve come to despise these words. When I see these words written in a critique of a basketball video game, I immediately stop what I’m doing and sprint to the nearest field where I can let out my rage without breaking any of my possessions.

Alright, I don’t actually do that. At worst, I may grumble quietly to myself. But I really do dislike what are vague, ill-defined buzzwords that are best approximated to “I don’t like the way this looks” or more specifically, “This doesn’t look realistic enough”. They lend themselves well to snide commentary on videos and screenshots (“Didn’t I see this on Cartoon Network? LOL!”), so they also don’t score well on the Snark ≠ Intelligence test.

If they had a more concrete definition they might be useful but as catch-all terms, they’re not descriptive enough. I’ve seen them used to describe and deride the graphics in both NBA Live and NBA 2K, so clearly gamers have different ideas about what they mean beyond not liking what they see.

This is where we should be specific in our criticisms: the body models are not in proportion. The faces don’t resemble the real players closely enough. The heads are too big. The animations are too stiff or robotic. The lighting makes the players look too shiny, like they’re oiled up or wrapped in plastic. These are more useful criticisms that cut right to the heart of the matter, avoiding overused buzzwords that don’t say nearly enough.

They’re actually a symptom of a bigger problem which I’ll get to next, but they happen to be very prominent examples that deserve to be singled out. The sooner we phase these terms out, the better.

4. Being too vague about what we want to see

When we’re all posting our ideas for a Wishlist, you can guarantee that someone will use phrases such as “better gameplay” or “better (insert game mode here)”. We shouldn’t do that. Oh, we should absolutely say that we want to see better gameplay and improvements to the game modes, but we should not be uttering those brief, useless sentences.

Imagine going to Subway and asking for a “tasty sandwich”. There’s no way to properly fill that order, giving you exactly what you want, without sheer dumb luck. When we ask for “better gameplay”, or a better Dynasty or Association or MyCAREER mode, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Granted, someone developing a basketball game is hopefully going to have a decent idea of what would make an enjoyable experience, but with vague suggestions like that they have as much chance of addressing your specific concerns as a Sandwich Artist has of knowing exactly what you want on your sub without being told.

Once again, it comes down to being specific about what we want to see in the game. Responsive controls, players playing like their real life counterparts in terms of skill and tendencies, simulated stats that are more along the lines of what we see in the real NBA, better logic when selecting award winners, better facilities to develop players…these are just some of the many things that we can and should mention in detail when talking about what we want to see improved upon in future games. If we don’t say what we want, we’re leaving the developers to guess.

Speaking of leaving developers guessing what we want…

5. Not mentioning the things that we do like

Stepping away from basketball games for a moment, Ed Boon – co-creator and developer of the Mortal Kombat series – has gone on record about the need to innovate in future games and strive for a “radically different experience”. It’s safe to say that other developers feel this way too and it’s not an unwelcome philosophy, especially when it comes to sports games which are often criticised for being glorified roster updates with their annual releases.

That can be a problem, however. Good ideas and features that we enjoy and should be in the game can potentially be brushed aside in the name of trying new and innovative things. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While technical limitations and new code sometimes make it inevitable, seeing popular features disappear from the game can be just as frustrating as much desired features not being added or bugs and other issues remaining unresolved.

In recent years, we’ve changed up the Wishlist format a little bit to not only describe the features that we want to see added to the game and issues that we want to see addressed, but features that we want to see retained. It’s important to mention that a feature is popular or working well, so that the developers not only have an idea of what needs to improve, change or perhaps be scrapped entirely, but also what’s good, enjoyable and on the right track.

Although much of our feedback is about what’s wrong with the game, the negatives are not the only things worth mentioning. If we make mention of the things that we do like as well as making constructive criticisms of the things that we don’t, all the while avoiding being needlessly snarky or vague and presenting our thoughts in a clear, easy to read manner, then we’re providing quality feedback. To do otherwise is not only making the developers’ job more difficult, we’re also doing a disservice to ourselves as consumers.

That’s going to do it for this week’s Friday Five. As always, I hope you enjoyed reading it and invite you to post your thoughts on this week’s topic in the comments below, as well as take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. I’ll be back next Friday with another Five.

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