Feedback Culture, or the lack thereof (and the idea of Quid Pro Quo)

edited in Meta Discussions
I've put this in meta discussions, and I'm worried it'll be effectively hidden there, but I'd really like some opinions on this, particularly: What can we do to get game makers to engage with the work of fellow game makers.

I've been thinking about this recently. The problem of there being only a handful of regular posters at MakeGamesSA who play other game makers' games, or even look at other game makers' threads, while there are a lot of posters on MakeGamesSA who just use the platform to receive feedback or just to promote their games.

The problem is that for the users who give feedback and spread news about other game makers' games, there is less incentive to be part of the forums, or at least, the forums become a tiring place with a mountain of things to comment on and only a handful of forum users actually commenting. And as these people leave, forums end up looking dead, or just a message board.

The other problem is that telling the people who are just posting their games (who do not offer back feedback to the community) that they should be first offering feedback to receive feedback (or at least giving in kind) is kind of hostile. Opening with a statement about "Quid Pro Quo" is a shitty way to say "Hi".

I think maybe, I'd rather have MakeGamesSA be smaller, and have fewer posts by fewer people, but people who are helping each other, rather than a community of helpers and receivers. But that's not necessarily a feeling aligned with the community, nor the spirit of this community.

But if I'm honest, I'm not sure if this is a solvable problem, I'd like it to be, or at least I'd like us to do better if that's possible. The way I see it, in 2017, it's easier than ever to get feedback on a variety of channels, and using MakeGamesSA isn't as essential as it used to be. I still think there's a lot of value in a local community, and I think there's a LOT that can be learnt by both offering feedback AND receiving feedback, certainly for the kind of game maker I am, but I don't want to fight the tide here.
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  • Hey thanks for the DM, yes I would never have seen this otherwise...

    Undoubtedly it's a tough one. One way to look at this is a systematic, cultural thing... There are of course people who are constantly here and give regardless of whether they're self-promoting or not, and yes, it does get progressively more tiring for them. But they're the ones who form the core.

    Could those who aren't that way inclined be fostered to become more participatory? Million dollar question. I don't know if it's possible. I think the only way to really drive this would be to create more incentive to participate, and that's a bigger question of a) creating more economic opportunities so moving more people into making money from it, or b) creating bigger hype, like for example how the cosplay scene has blossomed (and also become a lot more visibly squabbly, I think we're probably there ourselves, but the excitement in that scene is literally very visible at regular intervals whereas our general visibility isn't, IMHO, up to that par)

    Half million dollar question would be... If not, should we enforce/encourage some kind of quid pro quo to make people participate? Perhaps not necessarily as a in-your-face thing, but as some kind of looming background villain... If we made thanks gathered more prominent? If we created a system of rewarding those who are often thanked? Probably too much, I don't really like the idea, but there might be something there in the implementation that's not obnoxious and can foster people's goodwill.

    I don't really know. It's a tough one. I know I've become less active myself here. And I can't/won't put that on anyone else but me. I've been less productive of late. Despite this fistful of colourful dice :P
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • I'm personally feeling a bit of a drag posting at MakeGamesSA recently... It's just depressing to be the only person giving feedback to a someone new who pops up with a game for their first time.

    And I don't want the burden to be on all the regulars to play and respond to all the newcomer games, but the newcomers are very seldom transitioning from posting a game to looking at anyone else's game.

    I wonder if this is part of a larger trend, I feel like developers are posting to players more and more and interacting less with each other. I feel like platforms like Twitter and Facebook are all about this, and that's where developers see their time best spent (posting things to try make them go viral, rather than posting things to listen to responses).
    Thanked by 1Moga
  • My thoughts on this:

    1. It's easier giving feedback in person. It's a lot quicker to just say things than type them etc and it's generally easier to get the message across without coming across as too harsh or too nice when you meant to be the opposite.

    2. I think we used to do more feedback when our venues offered food (and so there wasn't this rush to leave the venues because people were starved and so they'd hang out and play games). Moving to a different venue also always loses people in the process

    3. The more we practice giving feedback in person, the more the culture will be of giving feedback and I imagine that spilling back onto the forums as we encourage it.

    So, basically, I see the solution involving getting some food at venues and encouraging our meetups to be more about game feedback and playtesting than about presentations. I believe (strongly) that this would translate into changes on the forums.
  • Oh gosh, this feels like a particularly hard problem to solve, not least because other communities bang their heads against it too, and I've also been guilty of putting almost no energy into the forum recently.

    I can't comment on super successful (large) structures I've seen aside from the "Quid Pro Quo" approach you mentioned earlier. Hopefully we're not so big yet that we need this.

    It may be a socially mathematical sort of fate that the core of a successful community will always be doing heavy lifting and investing energy into new / irregular members that don't contribute in return. Perhaps the answer we're looking at *is* the raising of expectations for regulars and seniors, but giving one another energy while doing so instead of just spending that energy straight on feedback. A more affirmative sort of "look at this user's game with me" culture.

    Heck, we can already start up a conversation with dormant members in a mostly-unseen part of the board, so there's that. :P There was some energy expended in chasing after other makers to get their comments here, but from there the weight of this whole conversation is delegated. Can we build a successful structure for giving community feedback in the same way we already do for organising jams and events? Dunno. Maybe a "projects that need love" mailing list is a start. :P
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • When I give feedback and I see the person implementing it, I think I actually get a minor boost in energy. It makes it feel like the ~30min that I spent taking the time to write things up was well spent.

    When I give feedback and it's ignored, or the thread dies, it's a major loss in energy. Which makes it very difficult for me to want to spend time giving feedback on a new person's thread, knowing that the majority of them post once, perhaps just for self-promotion, and leave.

    I also find it difficult to give feedback when I don't think it's going to be well-received. There's an analogy that's quite patronizing, but it's the only way I know of explaining it. A psychologist once explained human interactions to me in the form of child-child, adult-child, adult-adult (and amongst other categories that result in other permutations). An adult speaking to a child typically wouldn't tell them "Your perspective is inconsistent, your local colour wouldn't show up that way under a warm light, your anatomy is disproportionate, and your depiction of women is insulting and harmful. But overall you put in a solid effort -- keep at it!" For children, I imagine they're mainly seeking an environment that fosters motivation, experimentation with very little criticism. An adult might be able to accept those forms of criticism, even if it's put across very plainly with no filter. But unless I've met people IRL or have already formed a relationship, I don't know what to say. If I speak to an adult as if I spoke to a child, it would be insulting or patronizing. If I speak to a child as if they're an adult, it could utterly destroy their creativity. I think I've met a significant number of adults who (not necessarily through their own fault) are like children, and really just want a pat on the back and some motivation/validation. (Also, people fluctuate between these different states with different people. I know I've been a "child" more recently because of fighting some depression myself after moving.) This indecision (or even having to coax what kind of a person someone is out of them) stacks up to make it far easier for me not to say anything, in general. :/

    Which obviously isn't the way to go if I want MGSA to be awesome; but forcing myself to nudges me toward draining energy out of my own creative pursuits, which is also not what I want.
  • Firstly, a disclaimer: I am still relatively new to gamedev and this forum. I have mostly posted on this forum in order to get feedback and only on occasion I have given feedback. I can give some perspective and thoughts on what would lead me to contribute more.

    Ok so I have thought about this a bit this afternoon and this is in no way a fully formed set of ideas. It is just a bunch of things I thought I should mention. Forgive me if it is not as cohesive as I would like but here goes:

    Change of forum structure
    So I really have no idea of how much effort this would take but I think that the structure of the site needs to be changed.
    1) Have some sort of live showcase reel that shows gifs/images of the latest projects posted on the site. Something like this: Some images on the front page may help to channel people to the projects and this may lead to more comments/thoughts/feedback. It may also encourage people to post more updates as it would get their project back on the reel...
    2) The forum should be split into projects and non-project related columns so that it is easy to find the projects that require feedback or responses. If it is a particularly busy day some project posts can very quickly be pushed out of sight. They can be side by side so that neither takes precedence.
    3) A live calendar with events or upcoming game jams with links to discussions about those events.

    Ludam Dare 'Coolness' or 'nudges' to encourage posting
    This may veer faaar too much into the gamification camp but they could be useful for upping engagement.
    The nudges could be notifications letting you know that someone that has commented on your project thread has created a new project thread with a link to the thread. May help steamline the "Quid Pro Quo" thing.

    Not knowing how to give feedback
    People tend to just post a project and expect general feedback. This is hard to do as there is a bunch of facets to gamedev. So perhaps it would help to have project posters be more specific as to what type of feedback they would like. They could "opt-in" to types of feedback like in the Ludam Dare catagories.
    Feedback forms
    If we could make a template feedback form that the dev can post. Whether it be a Google form or some similar system I am not sure. The poster could then choose the sections that are most relevant to them. They could request more specific feedback on the project they are posting. This will help to guide people that are looking to give feedback. Eg. if they are looking for feedback on Art they could be prompted to write specific art related questions that they want to be answered. There could also be some stock questions that they can use for each catagory, anything to help make the feedback a bit more targeted...

    More meetups
    So this is a tricky one, if there are too many meetups then the numbers will more likely be inconsistent as people can "just go to the next one". As people have mentioned above, getting to know people and speaking face to face allows for quicker and more efficient communication.
    Here are some ideas off the top of my head...
    1) Perhaps having weekly "themed" meetups may help. So it could be programming, art/sound, design, showcase. There could also be "study groups".
    2) A weekly theme with homework, then devs could meet up and "jam" some ideas around what they have learnt? Even something so simple as a code-swap where each participant brings a piece of code they have found useful, explains it to the group and then makes it available. This way a general library could be built up for game jams and the like. Perhaps an MGSA repo? I know I would find this useful and would try to contribute because I am not the greatest programmer and would love to see how people solve certain problems. Even if it is as simple as screen shake or some sort of juice effect. These things are small but really important to the overall game. @EvanGreenwood and @SUGBOERIE gave fantastic talks at Amaze which I learnt a lot at. I am suggesting things similar to those but on a far smaller scale.
    3) Take gifs posted by other gamedevs and try to host discussions around how to pull off certain effects or mechanics.
    4) It has been mentioned on the forum but a steamprophet league or even something in a similar vein to the ClarkTank where we host a video chat and discuss things like marketing, trends, predictions and game critiques.
    The problem with this is that it all takes a lot of time and effort. I am sure most of these ideas have been thought of before but these are things that I would personally love to attend...

    I don't really know how useful these ideas are and most of them will probably take a fair amount of effort to implement but if I am able to help in any way I will try my best :)
  • edited
    Just addressing @Dammit's post (though I'm not saying it's the only post worth addressing, it's the suggestion that has an implicit deadline, before the next Cape Town meetup). Focusing on more feedback at the Cape Town meetups is something we can immediately do and is the encouragement part is free.

    Is it possible to offer catering at The Bandwidth Barn (like do they have a rule against food on Wednesday nights)? Does this just require sponsorship? Maybe we can ask people for donations if they are eating?
  • The best person to address that question would probably be @mmillions_
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  • Thanks for the ping @dammit. So @EvanGreenwood, there's no rule against food (or drinks for that matter). As I have it external event organisers are responsible for their own catering. MGSA can ask the BwB staff to set the venue up in a way gives you more space to pack out refreshments. They can also help with organising food (not paying for it though). We usually order platters from PnP, which is a good option. The trickiest thing will probably be confirming attendance in advance and ordering food accordingly. I'm quickly going to check with the venue staff about all this. Will let you know if there's anything I left out.

    Personally, I'd be happy to contribute towards some food (and cover extra if people want to attend and eat, but aren't in a position to contribute).
  • @mmillions That sounds excellent! Is this something you're in a position to organize conveniently? It sounds like you're saying you've done it before, but I don't want to make requests of you that are difficult.

    Free Lives is happy to put money towards it, though I don't want Free Lives to foot the whole cost. I wouldn't expect every hungry person to have money on them, and we'd be happy to pay for some.

    I doubt we can perfectly predict attendance, and much less who is going to want to eat. If we start this we'd have to guess the first time? ...

    Does it sound sensible to guess that 12 people out of the 40 or so who attend who would want a snack? Even partially feeding people means they can spend more time playing games at the end.
  • edited
    How about having a collection's/honesty box. Those who eat can contribute money to a money pool. I certainly will be happy to pay for my food and I think most people will. The value of having people around to test would be well worth that cost (and I usually end up buying food on the way through anyway).

    This of course only works as a "pay back the person who already paid up front for food" system, which isn't ideal for whoever takes on that responsibility.
  • @EvenGreenwood yeah, I've done this before and I'm happy to contact the caterers and order food. @dammit raised a good point about the upfront cost though, unfortunately I won't be able to cover that. Is that something Free Lives could take on? I can send the catering invoice to Dee once I have it.

    Since this conversation is getting pretty nitty gritty, maybe we should continue it outside of this thread? My address is / I'll be at the jam tomorrow.
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • @mmillions_ Rad! (email sent)

    Also, in terms of having more feedback after (and during) the MGSA meetups, I think those of us working on games probably should lead by example, even in cases where we don't feel 100% ready for feedback from meetups. Some of us are in a position to normalize getting feedback at meetups, and all of us can enthusiastically give feedback at meetups.
    Thanked by 1dammit
  • Finally getting to this, only a week after it was first posted ;)

    Totally agree that giving feedback in person is easier. Excited about having food at the meetup tonight, thanks for making that happen! :)

    I like the "projects that need love" list.

    I think that the forums might have lost some of their utility for those that have other avenues for feedback, but that is a limited group of individuals - limited by both their location and their existing network of people. I worry that I made use of this avenue to get into the community and get feedback, but it won't be available to others. I want things to get better, not worse, which I feel like it has to some degree.

    The fact that a lot of people see the forums as a place to market or promote their games is an issue. It's a terrible place for that on many levels. The audience they are trying to "market" to just doesn't match what they would need, and I think their effort could be much better spent in so many other places. When they come with that mindset they are also usually not very open to feedback. I think we should also be wary of changes that might make this seem more like a place to promote work. For example, I've also thought a showreel would be a great idea, but maybe that'll have the opposite effect that we want because you can get more "visibility"?

    Newcomers don't see the value for themselves in posting feedback. The experience they get from looking at a game from that perspective is really valuable, but it doesn't seem immediately obvious and so it's largely ignored. I'm not sure how to communicate this.

    There's also the thing that a lot of the ppl that are not posting as much anymore are the ones that were also better at crafting their posts to get more feedback. When there are no screenshots and you have to download a multi-gig installer, you quickly get disincentivised from giving feedback. Getting better at crafting posts to get feedback is not so hard, but it requires effort and some non-obvious knowledge. I think it helps when you see someone else is getting a bunch of feedback and you can maybe figure out why, but there is also the potential issue that the people getting more feedback because they can do this better are the regulars, which makes it seem like the forum isn't very welcoming.

    On a more controversial note, I feel there is currently the idea that the forums should be as inclusive as possible, even if that is at the detriment of its other goals. I personally don't think that just a community is very useful in itself. If it's a community that is focussed on feedback and a culture of improving, then that can work, but a community that is just about belonging doesn't really serve much purpose, and is better served by things like Facebook. To be clear, I think that being inclusive in terms of expanding the demographic beyond the white male majority is great and should be a focus - the diversity of voices is a major boon even if you don't think it's morally better - but I don't think yet-another-white-tech-bro that wants to promote their game and make $$$ is gonna make these forums better for anyone. I'm not saying we should push them out, but I think we should be honest that their involvement is not the focus and comes second.

    On a somewhat off-topic note, I feel there is also currently a lack of administrative and moderation leadership on the forums. I understand that those people might be super busy and it's not their fault, but when they become an obstacle in the way of progress it can be quite annoying.
  • Well, I think last night's experiment was a success. It felt to me that more people hung around to play games and there wasn't talk of moving to a different venue to get food.

    The Vega students were also emboldened/encouraged enough that they're planning on bringing their games to test at one of the next meetups - so again, I think we're achieving the goals.
  • (This forum section is really hidden. I received the message and proceeded to forget about it until now even though I visit MGSA daily)

    Below are a bunch of scattered, probably unpopular thoughts. But here we go:

    I agree with a lot of the points that @blacksheepZA said.

    I also totally disagree with a forced quid pro quo system. Let's take an example for some forums that have a rule about this. It'll usually be "make 10 posts before being able to create your own thread". And the obvious result of that is that people are creating 10 totally pointless posts with 5 words each that add nothing to the conversation. If we added some sort of rule here, then we'd also need to have a way to determine what counts as "good" feedback, else you may post "looks good, but too green" and expect an essay written back about your game from someone. On the other hand, something like "looks good but too green" might be exactly the type of feedback that you need.
    Basically, until someone has an actual good implementation idea for this (I can't think of one), I believe it'll kill any last activity that we still have.

    I also don't feel like the answer here is to make the userbase a small set of focused users. I believe systems like reddit work well because there is a LARGE userbase, and only a fraction of those need to put any effort into giving feedback to an individual post.
    The best feedback I've got for my game (from visuals, not playtesting) from anywhere has been reddit. And I think that is a lot to do with the fact that only 0.1% of the people that see it need to have a stray thought and jot it down, and I end up with lots of good feedback. And some of the best feedback are little one liners.
    On the other hand, on MGSA, there is a vibe that comes across that you have to give massive walls of feedback. But when everyone feels they need to give indepth feedback like that - hardly anyone gets around to actually giving it (because we have jobs and stuff). As a developer, small snippets of ideas are also much easier to take action on than a massive list of things - and then you end up with what @elyaradine said where you spend so much effort and feel that it isn't heard.
    A good case of this - he sent me a super helpful email after playtesting VALA, and it is only months later than I can actually really show him the progress we've made based on it. And that is a longer feedback loop than I think many of us would feel is worth our time.

    So what I've mentioned above a bit, is that I think we need to try get MORE people active on MGSA, not less (but focused) people.
    Here are the biggest ways that I think we can achieve this:

    - The website. I've said so much about this, and we've talked in circles so much. But basically, if you direct someone here that is interested in gaming they are going to lose interest in about 3 seconds. We need a front page with cool projects that people are working on, events that are coming up that we can invite them to, gamejam information, etc. Yes, that'll take admin, and work, and maybe it isn't possible, but if we want to fix it I believe having a friendly welcome is going to help a hell of a lot.
    A lot of the time I find out about things like LudamDare a couple of days after it actually happened when people start posting their games. Yeah, it is totally my fault, but it'd be super convenient to have an events board that isn't hidden in a random forum post.

    - Decide what kind of site we are.
    Right now, there is a strong "if you don't have a game we can play to give feedback on, then go away". Surprisingly, some people just want to post bits they are working on as they go. Sites like deviantart are built around this. So why can't we be more accepting of looking at someones gif and saying the background is good, but the character animations could be improved with X or whatever? VALA is a good example of this. I don't have a public link I want to post publically, and that means there is almost no chance of me getting any sort of feedback from videos and such that I post here. And that is why I pretty much don't post anymore about VALA. Right now we've got a bunch of testers playing a Steam build, and none of them are from here.
    I am genuinely interested and mindshare-invested (is that a thing?) in hearing the progress of games actively being built here. I want to know when Riders of Asgard is going to Steam, I want to know their thought process in pricing, and in marketing and in how it sells and how they would change things. I want to know when Genital Jousting has worked on a cool new splashy water thing. And I want to know all the above about all the games people are making right now, even though a lot of that isn't something that need criticism.
    Yes, that is not possible all of the time, because we don't all have lots of time. But how cool would it be if everyone crossposted all their game activity from their Steam updates (etc.) here and we could all follow along the indie process (instead of purely the game testing phase)?
    That is a site I'd love to be a part of. BUT that is just how I feel. If everyone else wants MGSA to be a purely game-testing-feedback site then so be it - I'll still be here reading every day,

    (Just to be clear, I'm not talking about post-game-link-and-disappear type posts which are really not helpful to anyone.)

    - Be friendlier/more welcoming
    When the whole change of leadership thing happened a while back I made a post saying something about how I think we treat newcomers with a lot of hostility. Some new person comes here with a grand idea and we break them down because they obviously need to understand how the real world works and such. Anyway, I think we've got a lot better about this, but there are still times when I'm sure we scare away people. Like this. Now, I really hate singling out a specific post, but it was conveniently recent and when I read it it struck me enough that it came instantly back to mind now. So basically, if I was that person and received that as the first (and for a long while, only) response, I wouldn't feel welcome, and would likely not come back. This person hasn't come back. But that could also be (quite likely actually) that they just wanted to post a link and never intended to participate in conversation.
  • edited

    Just spotted this now.

    I'm definitely to some extent guilty of not giving enough feedback, but posting updates for our game nevertheless.

    Just off the top of my head, some thoughts...

    The first thing that comes to mind, is that when you are in the middle of the grind / struggle to get something to succeed, you are more likely to ask for feedback or simply just post updates for the sake of it, than to actually take the time to really look at someone else's work and give constructive feedback.

    I'm well aware of my lack of contribution so to speak, so I've taken care to mark my latest project posts as "promo", so as not to give the impression that I expect or demand critical feedback. Sometimes I just want to dump some screenshots or a video, without expecting anyone to burn their precious time on actually giving feedback - because getting detailed feedback in a weird way puts a kind of expectation / guilt on me to return the favour, and I just don't feel that I'm in the right mindset to be helpful while I'm going through an incredible daily grind.

    BTW, this is an instant / honest brain dump without any filtering - who knows, maybe this reflective look at the situation will spur me on to actually look at other projects more and give valuable feedback where I can.

    Thanked by 1Elyaradine
  • edited
    As far as feedback goes there is nothing more helpful then completely dishonest enthusiasm. You want to make a game that is so far beyond your skill range you can't comprehend the immensity of the task?... go for it. We need to encourage new developers to pursue their dreams not tamper them down. When they hit the wall and ask for help, that back and forth between community members is gold. Someone please lie and tell me they like my game =)

    FREE LIVES .. so cool wtf
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