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Archive for May 16th, 2007

Bashing vs. Constructive Criticism

One of the interesting things about games, particularly MMORPGs, is that they seem to cause the community to become quite passionate about them. Any MMORPG that has been out for any length of time (usually, beyond the first month) will have its community broken up into groups of different sizes. There will be those who are passionate fans and love everything (or most everything) about it (the so-called “fanbois”). There will be those who just hate everything about it, though in truth this group is much smaller than the first (the fanobois) would have us believe, because most people who truly hate a game — especially one with a subscription fee — simply stop playing it and find something else to do with their time. There will be lots of people on the spectrum in between, including those who like the game enough to keep playing but like to whine about nearly everything. And then there are those who are the critics, and by this I mean, people who offer constructive criticism about the game. Now, sometimes this isn’t all that constructive, and it can be rather “flamey” depending on who is doing the writing. This can be caused by people who simply do not know how to write constructive criticism, and are honestly trying… or it can be caused by people who are angry enough to let their emotions get the better of them.

Contrary to popular myth, however, it isn’t true that all those who post criticisms about a game are “haters” or “whiners.” The people who passionately love a game to the point of having a major blind spot when it comes to flaws (which all games have) try to write off solid criticisms about a game as just flames, but there is a difference between flames and constructive criticism. The problem is — how do you tell them apart? Actually, it’s quite simple:

Constructive criticism is written in a calm, reasonably polite manner.
Mindless flames are written in anger, using insulting rhetoric.

Constructive criticism points out the flaw using causation (i.e. this flaw is caused by A, and will in turn cause B, and B is bad because of C). A constructive criticism post will explain what the problem is, why it is a problem, and will propose at least one means of how to solve the problem.
Mindless flames do not use causation. They simply state something is bad, without explaining why it is bad (at least not coherently). They almost never propose a (workable) solution.

Constructive criticism never include personal attacks (that is, attacks aimed at individual posters).
Mindless flames often include personal attacks.

A brief example of a constructive post:

Allowing players to level up or otherwise gain rewards while Away-From-Keyboard (AFK) is a bad idea. The reason it's a bad idea is because games fundamentally are based around the concept of risk/reward or effort/reward ratios. The idea is that the greater risk or the more effort put into something, the better the reward. By allowing someone to put zero effort into the game, by being AFK, but gaining the reward (in this case experience) anyway, the risk-effort-reward system is completely circumvented, thus destroying the entire balance of the game. The most expedient way to fix this would be to make it so no one can gain any loot, or experience points, or anything else a player might want, while AFK.

A brief example of a flame post:

OMG...Devs! Are you clueless??! How stupid are you people! Anyone knows AFK suxxorz! End it now!!

I would think the difference is obvious. The latter post is angry, makes a personal attack (calling the “devs” clueless” and “stupid”), and doesn’t really explain why AFKing is bad, or what can be done about it.

Now, the hard part for most people is that when they see a post, whether it is constructive or flaming, the visceral reaction is about whether they agree with it or not. If they agree with the flame post, they will overlook its offensive tone. If they disagree with a post, though, no matter how politely worded and carefully explained, they consider it “bashing.” But that’s just not the case.

It’s important to remember, when reading about games, and particularly when reading the bulletin board or forums of an online game, that there are lots of different ways to approach a game, and what you like about it someone else may dislike about it. That’s OK, as long as everyone is polite.

So, the next time you read a carefully worded, rational post that happens to be saying something negative about a game you love, don’t immediately dismiss it as “bashing.” You don’t have to agree with it to respect the author’s opinion. Likewise, if you see someone flaming, even if you agree with him, you should not encourage it by posting your agreement. If anything it would be quite influential, coming from one who agrees, if you instead respond with something like, “I may agree with what you say, but I disagree with your tone.”

The key to improving any game, though, is feedback, and this must include negative feedback. In fact if the developers never see any negative feedback, they can’t ever improve the game, because they’ll never know what needs fixing and improvement! Just make sure you’re polite about it, and post a constructive post, and you’re all set.

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