Accepting Criticism: Taking Your Lumps vs Being a Baby

jwideman

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So the Birthday Bash event got a lot of newbies to enter and release their games. (I'm one of them.) And while there were some standout projects, some stood out for all the wrong reasons. For those who received nothing but glowing reviews, congratulations and keep up the good work, but this post isn't for you. Likewise, if you got bad reviews and resolved to make improvements, you don't need my advice. No, my words are for those of you who felt they were treated too harshly, or decided maybe this game making thing isn't for you. And if you give me a few minutes, you will benefit from it. I guarantee it.


Before I begin, a little background on me. I'm a published author. No, I'm nobody famous, but I'm not an "Amazon author" either. I wrote and sold some short stories, sold a book to an indie publisher, and now exercise my creative muscles in other ways. I tell you this because while I'm a newbie to RPG Maker, I'm no stranger to putting stuff out to be judged by the public. I've collected more rejection letters than manuscripts. If I didn't learn to handle criticism maturely, I couldn't have kept going, and I certainly couldn't have improved my writing.


Now that that's out of the way, let's begin.


First, you finished your project. You should feel proud of this. It's quite an accomplishment. I've talked to a lot of wannabe writers who've never finished any of their stories. I have an old school buddy who hasn't even started the novel he swears is all in his head. It's been there for the past 30 years, but he'll get it written some day, he promises. More people want to have completed a project - being a book, or a game, or whatever - than have completed one. In fact, I have a lot of unfinished manuscripts and a few unfinished games. So good on you for getting it done.


Second, you released it to the wild. This is the bravest thing anyone can do. You've shared a piece of yourself with complete strangers. Even among people that finish projects that's rare. I know writers who have stacks of manuscripts they are afraid to let anyone else read. Now that you're feeling good about yourself, read on.


You bared your soul and some people - maybe a lot of people - found some negative things to say about it. Maybe they found a lot. Maybe they laughed at it for all the wrong reasons, like happened to me. But everyone starts somewhere. Everyone. People are going to look at your early efforts and, unless they are your mother, they are going to be unimpressed. So how do you handle this?


You have to learn to be objective about your own work. That's one of the hardest things to do. You gave birth to it, poured your life into it, it's an extension of you, right? Wrong. It is no more than the end result of some effort. It is no more you than what you flushed down the toilet this morning. Some people struggle to get past this part. They also tend to have the most fragile egos. Until they grow some thicker skin, the world is going to be a scary place for them. Everyone else, let's move on.


You have to be thick skinned. My first rejection letter hurt. It hurt so much I gave up on writing. I thought, "well that's it then." I should have kept at it. But I didn't. I let others determine what I should do with my life. It wasn't until much later when I had nothing more f***s to give that I gave it another go. I'm glad I did. The thicker skin I had grown in the meantime made the inevitable rejection letters easier to take. Then something crazy happened - I'd put together something somebody else agreed was good enough to publish.


Getting back to that objectivity, you have to accept that maybe other people are right. Yes, people on the internet are dicks, but that doesn't mean they're wrong - just that the minimal risk of being punched in the face means they don't have to be polite. For example, some might consider the most glaring problem with Lemuria was the sprite glitch. To me, that was just Murphy's Law. No, the most glaring problem in my mind was that I knew better than to upload it with that windowskin but did it anyway. The critics were right - that was horrendous. And I do know better. However, it's not usual to know what you did wrong.


A certain author comes to mind. He shall only be referred to as Ned (not his real name). His abuse of the English language should be a crime, but he refuses any offers of editing. He insists that his grammar is "artistic style." Faulkner had artistic style. This guy has a poor public school education. He's the opposite of thick skinned, his ego is so fragile that he can't handle any criticism whatsoever. He surrounds himself with sycophants and avoids review sites like leper colonies. What he continues to turn out is unreadable crap, and he will never improve because nobody can tell him he's doing anything wrong. Ned will never be good at anything in his life because he refuses to acknowledge his shortcomings and make necessary changes.


Don't be like Ned. Accept that some of what others say might be valid and take an objective look. Don't give up either. Recognize your mistakes and learn from them. To be successful at anything in life, you have to take your lumps. Or you can be a baby, whine that the critics didn't "get" you or quit just because someone on the internet said something mean. Maybe that will work out for you somehow.
 
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Azurecyan

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Very true. In the real world, everything isn't perfect. No one's gonna praise you for the mistakes you've made. Some will dislike you, some will love you and continue to support what you are doing, and some will help you. You have to take it all in and use it to better yourself. If you're only a beginner, you have to learn to LEARN FROM MISTAKES that people point out. I've seen where people ask for criticism and advice and when someone gives their utmost and tries to help, the asker begins to backlash and say that their project or whatever they're working on is perfect. If I were that person, I'd take in the advice and see where I messed up and work on it.
 

deilin

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On the other hand, you also have to take what the criticism is, and who's saying it, into account. For many, a criticism is also partially based in personal preference as well.


For me, grammatical errors, being dyslexic, probably plague me the most, so I'll look into them. In some cases, I do purposely write bad grammar when some characters are speaking, but I try to limit that type of dialogue.


If it's a critique on a scene, I will weigh it out. I can sometime be short on context, but I'm not going the smear the prose purple to make someone happy either,


Mechanical critiques are usually personal preference. When giving, or receiving this type of critique, I always give, or want more of a why answer to figure out if the mechanic is flawed, or the person just doesn't like it.


An example of this is FF VII. I really don't care for it, but it is often used as the why. You need to be more like it. Saying someone has to copy another game is not a critique. On the reverse side, if I notice someone has a lot of FF VII elements I don't like, I avoid the game/program because I already know I don't/wont like it for personal reasons. Same goes for Bravely Default.
 

jwideman

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Very true. In the real world, everything isn't perfect. No one's gonna praise you for the mistakes you've made. Some will dislike you, some will love you and continue to support what you are doing, and some will help you. You have to take it all in and use it to better yourself. If you're only a beginner, you have to learn to LEARN FROM MISTAKES that people point out. I've seen where people ask for criticism and advice and when someone gives their utmost and tries to help, the asker begins to backlash and say that their project or whatever they're working on is perfect. If I were that person, I'd take in the advice and see where I messed up and work on it.


Indeed, learning from mistakes isn't something we're born with. Learning to do this is part of growing up. Similar to your observation, I've seen writers do that. Some of them were actually very good writers. Hubris is a nasty thing.

On the other hand, you also have to take what the criticism is, and who's saying it, into account. For many, a criticism is also partially based in personal preference as well.


For me, grammatical errors, being dyslexic, probably plague me the most, so I'll look into them. In some cases, I do purposely write bad grammar when some characters are speaking, but I try to limit that type of dialogue.


If it's a critique on a scene, I will weigh it out. I can sometime be short on context, but I'm not going the smear the prose purple to make someone happy either,


Mechanical critiques are usually personal preference. When giving, or receiving this type of critique, I always give, or want more of a why answer to figure out if the mechanic is flawed, or the person just doesn't like it.


An example of this is FF VII. I really don't care for it, but it is often used as the why. You need to be more like it. Saying someone has to copy another game is not a critique. On the reverse side, if I notice someone has a lot of FF VII elements I don't like, I avoid the game/program because I already know I don't/wont like it for personal reasons. Same goes for Bravely Default.



Granted, some people just bash. Bashing shouldn't be confused with criticism. Bashing should be ignored.


Criticism points out the flaws. Good criticism points out the good as well as the bad. Great criticism suggests specific fixes.


As for personal preference, yes, that can be a factor to. But there are things that objectively need improvement, and these should not be ignored.
 

wintyrbarnes

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Not to mention, if someone gives you criticism, it means they actually tried out your project--they read it, if it was a manuscript, or played it, if it was a game. They checked it out and that, by itself, is a really, really, excellent feeling. Hold on to that. 


Also, sometimes, folks critique something because they think it's worth the improvements you could make. There's nothing quite like giving somebody criticism and suggestions and then following up to see that they've incorporated those suggestions. And there's nothing as cool as someone who gave you a harsh critique coming back and saying, "this is much better now that you fixed those things, good job!" 


And if you just want to ditch the project after its first iteration, that's fine. But keep some of the criticism in mind for your next project so you don't fall into the same traps.


This is a really good post. And yeah, some people are just haters who try stuff out even though they know they'll hate it just because they need an outlet for their hatred. Ignore them. Take the criticism that lets you improve on something. "This sucks" or "be more like [other thing]" doesn't give you any place to improve. "Your grammar sucks" at least tells you what to work on.
 

chaucer

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much agreement with the OP,  you can never get better if you're not willing to accept criticism and make changes, sometimes your changes can be good, sometimes bad, it's all about experimenting, you have to keep an open mind and be open to suggestions to be truly creative, otherwise you'll just keep making the same thing wrapped in a different package, if that makes sense. even if you're skeptical about what other people are saying, just take a step back, and go through the game and play it for yourself to try to see it from their perspective. Also keep in mind you can't make everyone happy, not everyone has the same taste, and not everyone is the same, no matter what there will always be someone who disagrees with some aspect of the game. Lastly remember, you're goal is to make a game that other people wanna play, if people are complaining about it, then it's obvious your goal wasn't accomplished, and you need to try a different approach, and in words of Jason Nesmith "Never Give up, Never Surrender" haha. :D  
 

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Something important to keep in mind is that not everyone's first language is English.  We're on an English forum but that doesn't mean we all have a perfect grasp on the language.  Sometimes people say something harsh simply because they don't know a better way to phrase it.  If someone says something bad about your game, ask why they're saying that.  Usually they'll try to better explain what they meant and that can help in the long run (maybe they couldn't get into the story because things were rushed, or maybe they didn't like how the mapping/battles/etc. were done because of errors).  And if all they can say is "this is bad" then it's probably safe to move on to other criticisms.


Finishing a game is a great accomplishment, and if you finish making one you should be proud of what you've done.  But it's just the first step, and learning how to listen to criticisms will only improve your future works.
 

Makio-Kuta

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Very nice write up.


One thing I'd like to add is that you should never reply to criticism the second you get it. Humans are emotional beings, and even with the thickest skin sometimes we react in a knee-jerk sort of way. It's best to read (or listen) once, walk away, think about it, then come back and read it again and then reply. You are going to have a cooler head if you take that time in the middle to really think about what was being said to you.


And even then, don't act on the things they have said right away either. Obviously, fix typos and glitches at your earliest convenience, but when it was something subjective or opinion based, and you're not sure on it - wait for some other opinions. Write out the pros and cons of changing it. Really think hard about it. Don't change it just to please that one person; because you'll never please them all!


And just like @wintyrbarnes said, it means they played your game! I have at times given rather harsh critique in the early and project development threads. I have taken 2 hours writing critique for 20minutes of gameplay - let me tell you now, that I would -NOT- use my time on that if I thought the game was worthy of being abandoned. It stings to see that get rejected, but it goes both ways. When you put your time into critique, you need to have that iron skin as well to deal with the people who are going to act like Ned there and ignore it.
 

jwideman

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I'm getting more responses than I expected, or can keep up with. If I don't respond to your post, it's not because I ignored it. It's probably because I agree with it and have nothing to add. Also, I might respond to your message without quoting your post, because that's a lot of extra work.

Something important to keep in mind is that not everyone's first language is English.  We're on an English forum but that doesn't mean we all have a perfect grasp on the language.  Sometimes people say something harsh simply because they don't know a better way to phrase it.  If someone says something bad about your game, ask why they're saying that.  Usually they'll try to better explain what they meant and that can help in the long run (maybe they couldn't get into the story because things were rushed, or maybe they didn't like how the mapping/battles/etc. were done because of errors).  And if all they can say is "this is bad" then it's probably safe to move on to other criticisms.


Finishing a game is a great accomplishment, and if you finish making one you should be proud of what you've done.  But it's just the first step, and learning how to listen to criticisms will only improve your future works.



That's an excellent point. It is difficult enough for two people who both speak the same language to communicate online. A text only medium doesn't provide for body language, facial expression, or tone of voice. That's why emoticons were invented, in fact. 
 

deilin

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I'm not saying anyone is wrong, and, mostly, critiques are made in good faith.


I'll play some Devil's Advocate here for purpose:


In general, I hate the words Objective/Objectively.The words themselves are open to objectivity, and are relative. What one person sees as objective isn't always how another may see it, and sometime the critic isn't being objective themselves. Critiques are no more then suggestive changes. A critique isn't always right.


The sky is blue. Well, no it's not. It's transparent. Particles in the sky give the appearance of being blue, red, purple, and so on. If I look out my window right now, yes, the sky is blue.


Seriously, though... How many watch award shows? How many of you agree with the outcomes? Many of the winners I didn't like. There were comedies I thought deserved more awards then the nominated films, and comedies get horrid critiques.
 

jwideman

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I'm not saying anyone is wrong, and, mostly, critiques are made in good faith.


I'll play some Devil's Advocate here for purpose:


In general, I hate the words Objective/Objectively.The words themselves are open to objectivity, and are relative. What one person sees as objective isn't always how another may see it, and sometime the critic isn't being objective themselves. Critiques are no more then suggestive changes. A critique isn't always right.


The sky is blue. Well, no it's not. It's transparent. Particles in the sky give the appearance of being blue, red, purple, and so on. If I look out my window right now, yes, the sky is blue.


Seriously, though... How many watch award shows? How many of you agree with the outcomes? Many of the winners I didn't like. There were comedies I thought deserved more awards then the nominated films, and comedies get horrid critiques.



If someone sees something as objective, it is by definition not objective at all. It's subjective. We can all agree that 1 + 1 = 2. This is not debatable. It is an objective fact. The merits of using simple math as an example of objectivity is debatable. It is a subjective opinion. But in any case, by "being objective about your work" I mean one should try to view it without emotional attachment. If you can't do that, it is hard to accept that it needs improvement.


As for the awards... the winners aren't chosen by merit. It's mostly political.
 

AwesomeCool

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@jwideman - Instead of using the term of objective, how about stating something like, "looking at the game from a players view point."


It is much more clear and will be less likely to cause confusion, imo.


With that said,


Most game developers struggle to see the game from a player perspective (hence the use of play-testers by even AAA studios).  You know all the enemy weak-points, all the puzzle solutions, can skip parts of the game (and thus may not realize the tedium of them or of potential bugs), know everything there is about the story (will not be able to see parts of the story glossed over or not explained well).


This results in the developer never experiencing the game the same as a player (you can mitigate it a bit by forcing yourself to play sub-optimally but it still will not be nowhere near the same) and thus the developer ends up seeing the game better then it really is.  And when the players come in and start pointing out the problems of the game, the developer can get confused as they will never even have the chance to experience many of these issues.


This can make the developer feel like the game is being attacked and make them defensive (to the developer, they never seen any of these issues), which will make them ignore the critique as they seem like they are just hating.


I think that is the underlying issue.  Developers want to make there game better, but they cannot see many of the issues a game could potentially have as they cannot see the game from a players standpoint.  If a developer does not realize how there experience differs from that of a player, then they cannot see how what players said could be true (just like a player cannot see how difficult something in a game is to make).


Each developer understands this to varying degrees(ex: some understand this about game-play, but not story elements and such) and those that understand this more are more open to listening to players concerns.


Note: listen.  Just as developers do not know the experience of players, players do not know the experience of said developer (they do not know how much effort something will take, if it was tried in development before or if it is even feasible).
 

jwideman

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@jwideman - Instead of using the term of objective, how about stating something like, "looking at the game from a players view point."



Perhaps "impartial" would have been a better word? Or I suppose I could have said "look at your own work without emotion or bias." Anyway...


I suppose the blind spots can be a factor. But deep down, it's about ego. Nobody likes having their shortcomings pointed out. When you can't be impartial about your game, someone pointing out the shortcomings is like they're pointing out your shortcomings. Close friends and family can do that, not strangers online.
 

deilin

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It's about having the right persons critique it. Not sure about family. It is commonly discouraged, even from a professional standpoint.
 

jwideman

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It's about having the right persons critique it. Not sure about family. It is commonly discouraged, even from a professional standpoint.

Oh, I think you misunderstood. We allow family and close friends to criticize us. I didn't mean we should have them critique our work. That is rarely useful.
 

Makio-Kuta

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I think it's ego when it's reactions like "No, my thing is totally the best you are wrong!"


But sometimes it's the reverse. Sometimes people respond poorly to criticism because they LACK ego. Their self-esteem is low already and people are just voicing what they already feared, so they lash out to deny it. This was always (and sometimes still is) my biggest struggle with criticism on things I am less confident about.
 

jwideman

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I think it's ego when it's reactions like "No, my thing is totally the best you are wrong!"


But sometimes it's the reverse. Sometimes people respond poorly to criticism because they LACK ego. Their self-esteem is low already and people are just voicing what they already feared, so they lash out to deny it. This was always (and sometimes still is) my biggest struggle with criticism on things I am less confident about.

Although it's common to use "ego" to mean "over-inflated sense of self worth," it has a broader meaning than that. Ego is the sense of self. Thus when someone criticizes our work, our ego makes us feel that we are being criticized. Objectivity keeps our ego out of it.
 
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PsychicToaster

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Constructive criticism is what people need to give. I am my own worst critic as it is, and I have absolutely no preconceived notions when it comes the potential for people to be a bit too abrasive in their feedback. I've already been a jerk to myself as it is, striving to do better at every turn and it's hilarious when my own berating words are echoed through somebody else. However, I can say that I don't value the critique of any individual that cannot at least qualify their opinion in some fashion. It's fine if you find something I've written to be drivel, but provide me with two things:a reason and a way you think it can be improved. You can be as harsh as you wish. Go for it. Do me the favor of at least providing proof that your opinion is valuable outside of your ability to be an ass because you didn't like something. You will be ignored entirely.
 

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