The biggest mistake in game writing feedback

Some developers are making a big mistake when it comes to giving feedback in game writing.  Are you one of them?  We posted a series on feedback in game writing not too long ago, and reader Martha had this to say:

“This is actually good general feedback for ANY creative process. Number 1 is especially good: remember to hear the request UNDER the request.”

Feedback in game writing tends to follow a unique pattern, however.  Developers are most likely to make requests to accomodate gameplay or production issues.  And what is the request most often really about?  In many instances, the feedback really concerns some story or writing issue.  Developers can save a lot of time if they give good feedback about the writing or story.  Once that issue has been addressed, the gameplay or production issues are a relatively easy hurdle. 

I admit I have been guilty of saying “We can’t do that” first before addressing the story, and sometimes it is appropriate.  At one point, I was pitched the idea that the player would be put in prison and have to fight his/her way out of the level.  While this idea is pretty standard fare in single-player games, this was an MMO.  If the entire point of this story was for the player to feel trapped, it could never happen in an MMO, especially one designed for a casual player.  How would the player log off?  How would the player leave to go help his/her guildmate with a quest?  The premise would get lots of pushback from designers and players alike. 

Not all stories are so linked to gameplay, however.  On another game, we played with an idea that involved the player saving a crazy man, who, in his madness, had made a mess of his life.  Player would then go on a series of quests to fix his life.  The feedback on this story centered on issues like “We don’t have that gender NPC.  We don’t have that type of area here.  We can’t do this chain.”  After we pointed out that all the specific quests could be changed while keeping the story arc the same, the developer at last revealed the true issue: He just didn’t like the story.  We came up with another idea that sat better with the developer and moved forward.   

Clearly giving story or writing feedback first can save you time and hassle.  If you’ve helped your writer “get it,” then you should have few gameplay concerns anyway.  What may come as a surprise is that writers actually want story feedback — it’s what they’re listening for.  If you don’t feel confident giving story feedback, make sure you hire writers who can support each other that way.

Question Mark Guess that game dialog goes on hiatus this week.  Check back next week for more, or throw out your own line of dialog and see if we can guess it!

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Published in: on December 21, 2007 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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