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Hot Button: How Much Feedback Is Too Much?

Posted By John Arcadian On April 6, 2012 @ 12:51 am In Hot Buttons | 9 Comments

imageOk, I’ve been contemplating this one for a while, and I don’t think it is actually too controversial, but I can see where it might open a can of worms. I don’t mean anything here disrespectfully, and I open any and all constructive feedback.

The other day I was reading gaming blogs and articles that were filtered into my feed reader. I came across this article by Jon Schindehette about revamping the logo for D&D next. Being a person who is sometimes familiar with  design and art direction, I read through it and found it a really interesting look at what trials and tribulations there are to putting together a brand identity. I read through and found the ever familiar poll at the bottom of every D&D article in the last few months. I found myself involuntarily thinking “Man, can’t they make any decisions themselves?”. Now this didn’t come from the content of the article. The article was in fact a great look at some of the fundamentals and logo challenges they face. The article also didn’t jump out and say “Choose our next logo!!!”, nor did the poll at the bottom do anything more than ask what elements of the logo people felt were important.

But that little thought jumped straight in, and I found myself wondering why. After some thinking on the subject,  I believe it was a gut reaction to seeing so many poll boxes and requests for feedback from the D&D next project. Don’t get me wrong, I’m behind the way they are getting feedback for D&D, especially in light of how badly D&D 4e fit my gaming group. I’ve always felt that D&D 4e could have fit my group beautifully with a few changes and focuses in just one or two more areas. If they’d had my feedback for 4e, it would have fit my group perfectly. I have no idea how anyone else would like it.

And that is the question that stuck with me. At what point does the feedback start becoming harmful? When does a project (any project) get so diluted that a clear path is lost? When does so much feedback occur that the good and clear ideas get lost in the noise?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Too many cooks in the kitchen" once or twice. I’ve been involved with projects that died slow painful deaths because there were too many paths to walk down. Without a single clear plan and goal, or a single clear leader, death by committee was inevitable. Person A, B, and E wanted to pursue one option, while person C and D were sure that would lead to failure and this other option was the only way. Person F had a completely different idea, and G was just in it for the free food. He spend most of the time dreading being a tiebreaker and wondering why no one in this group was given a real name by their parents. Too unclear of a path, too many voices trying to be the dominant one, can hurt a project big time.

Too much feedback can be harmful at the gaming table as well. You, as the Game Master, ask for feedback from the players. Everyone has a different idea, highly attuned to their character concept. You want to make sure everyone feels satisfied, so you design some things that require everyone’s involvement. Having an idea of this, the party gets paralyzed trying to decide how to get into the next room. The rogue knows you listened to his feedback, so obviously he’s going to get to sneak around a LOT! The warrior, however, knows you imagelistened to her asking for more enemies to fight, so if the rogue sneaks ahead, he’ll get killed. No, the best way is to charge forward, cause that is the game we are playing now, right? The wizard is spending all of his time and manna looking for the magical spells he asked you to include, so he can’t help keep the party protected. At the core of this example is a communication problem, but too much feedback can create that problem.  When people give feedback, they feel like they are being heard. That is good. The only problem is that many voices don’t work well together unless they are singing the same song.

I can only begin to imagine what the process of collecting and correlating the feedback for something like D&D next might be like. They’ve opened it up to everyone to have their say. While their articles and polling boxes show they’ve narrowed down options and are trying to determine which one holds the most sway, is it going to make a game that feels right?

Edition wars occur because people get so invested in the way “their” version of the game works that they can’t help but dismiss another version. The next edition of D&D is supposed to unite people under a common banner that fits everyone, but will the next version of D&D actually feel like it is “mine” at all?

If they  try to appease the masses, are they going to have a game that feels so bland that no one is satisfied unless the module that addresses their preferred way of playing is used? If they narrow down to the most popular choices, are those actually going to be the best ones? People like snack foods high in salt and sugar, but those aren’t going to feed you well or keep you healthy. Will they unintentionally alienate large chunks of their fanbase who don’t feel like their comments were heard because their ideas (possibly good, possibly off the wall) weren’t used?

See, did you get the double entendre? Brass dragon, brass... oh nevermind.Opening up a project like the next edition of D&D to such massive amounts of feedback is incredibly ambitious. I give them kudos on their big brass ones alone. I’ve got faith in the people heading this project, and I’ve got faith in the idea, but I can’t help but wonder how the massive amounts of feedback might damage the process if not handled carefully.

What do you think? Could massive amounts of feedback cause harm to a project like D&D next? Have you ever had a game where too much feedback from players has caused issues?

 

IMG: Suggestion Box – Some rights reserved by jonhoward

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Hot Button: How Much Feedback Is Too Much?"

#1 Comment By Noumenon On April 6, 2012 @ 5:57 am

You just gotta know when to ignore your feedback.

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On April 6, 2012 @ 8:21 am

@Noumenon – That is a great article link. Feedback itself isn’t the danger. Not looking into the feedback deeper is the issue. Understanding why a piece of feedback is being presented and what the person giving it hopes you will take away from it is important.

#3 Comment By 77IM On April 6, 2012 @ 9:13 am

Massive amounts of feedback seemed to work OK for Pathfinder. Granted, the scope of that project was a lot more modest, in the sense that the changes between 3.5 and PF were incremental.

Whenever I fill out those polls on the D&D Next blog, or leave a little comment, I assume that the design team is WAY ahead of the poll already. I’m sure that the design team takes every poll and comment with a huge grain of salt; they must know that there’s a huge selection bias. Likewise, _I_ take those polls with a huge grain of salt — I expect the feedback I leave, and the results from the polls, to be at best a sanity check for the design team, and at worst a placebo to make the fans feel like they’ve contributed.

Finally, in response to this:
“If they try to appease the masses, are they going to have a game that feels so bland that no one is satisfied unless the module that addresses their preferred way of playing is used?”
I hope that’s EXACTLY what they do. “A great game, but not for everyone” = every other RPG. D&D is unique in that it really does need to appeal to everyone. The only way to do that is to secretly package up a dozen different games, but put them all under the banner of D&D by virtue of extending the same very basic core. I think it’s a brilliant strategy and it’s what gets me excited about D&D again.

#4 Comment By Roxysteve On April 6, 2012 @ 9:16 am

My post missed the point, waffling about feedback in a game instead of as part of a game *system* design process, so I erased it.

Idiotness. I has it.

#5 Comment By eryops On April 6, 2012 @ 10:09 am

I look at the D&D next as lip service to the fans they so caustically alienated when they did their build-up to 4e. Rather than talking down to them and telling them they were doing it wrong and being idiots for having fun, they’ve done a complete 180 and are involving everyone every step of the way, making all of their fans participants on the journey and special snowflakes in their own rights.

I don’t believe that any wholesale changes will be made unless the design team is completely out of step with what the fans want. Even then, I think only minor tweaks would happen.

#6 Comment By John Arcadian On April 6, 2012 @ 10:34 am

@77IM – D&D definitely has the broadest appeal of any modern rpg, but it still has a certain flavor to it. I’d like to see that flavor remain, and I have faith that it will. I can’t help but be a bit worried about it being too bland.

@Roxysteve – the original article was about both so go ahead and post it.

@eryops – I think you are right in that d&d faces a big pr issue right now. while I think that the constant quest for feedback is a move to eliminate the issue, seeing some of the people on the design team I think they are definitely taking the feedback under consideration.

I’m responding from my phone, as I am down at marcon right now. So please pardon short responses and typos.

#7 Comment By drow On April 6, 2012 @ 10:51 am

wrt dndnext, i see the feedback process as more of a “what’s really universal” vs. “what should be an add-on module for some groups” process.

#8 Comment By Djaii On April 6, 2012 @ 11:35 am

When you mentioned “Too many cooks in the kitchen”, I was instead reminded of “Management by committee” which frequently leads to disastrous results on numerous IT projects (and leads companies to their demise).

The “Management by Committee” phase, is usually the final (and typically fatal) last stage of the corporate life cycle. The company is no longer dynamic and running with their own good ideas, but is completely beholden to markets and consumers, which in the aggregate don’t really know what they want.

If this is true for Wizards of the Coast, perhaps D&DnexT / D&D5 / 5th Edition (whatever) is the last version before this game once again retreats into the background as it did when TSR went off the rails at the end of AD&D 2nd Edition era.

That would be fine.

Then some dynamic smaller company with new ideas will emerge sometime late 2017-19 with a sixth generation game (6G2D?) which will rock again and bring the game back to the industry forefront. There will be fanfare and fireworks and a renewal of the pencil/dice hobby.

Then again, maybe not.

#9 Comment By Celestian_GC On April 6, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

To much feedback ? Well I certainly think all these polls with players telling you what THEY want is not all that great of an idea either.

Ask them if they want save or die, what do you THINK the players are gonna say?

Now listen to those same players that talk about situations where they had to save or die. They remember those times, not the no-risk games they claim they want.

Asking players for feedback on what they like about classes or races makes sense. Expecting feedback from them regarding situations that makes things “challenging” or exciting and expecting a unbiased vote is just plain foolish.


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