Embrace Feedback… at Arm’s Length

feedback.gifBeing a Puppet Master is a hard, often thankless job. If you do things wrong, your players complain about the content you’ve put out. If you do things right, they tell you that there isn’t enough content. Dealing with the inevitable crises under this sort of scrutiny and feedback is draining.

When I worked on Ares Station, I woke from a nightmare about our players. They were huge, fuzzy spiders, chasing after me through endless hallways. Finally, I made it to a helicopter and jumped aboard, only to have the spiders jump up and pull it down. In desperation, I tossed a spherical puzzle to the ground. They converged on it, allowing me to escape. From then on, any player who complained or demanded content from us was labeled a ‘Puzzle Spider’.

In an odd way, my nightmare made things easier. When our players got into the story or said good things about what we were doing, I let it give me a boost of energy. When our players criticized, I pretended it came from Puzzle Spiders to make it easier to take. After all, Puzzle Spiders don’t mean things personally. They’re just voracious consumers of good puzzles and story. As a PM, you can take their interest as a compliment. After all, if your story wasn’t any good, they’d move on to something else.

But while you’re running an ARG, it’s hard to listen to anyone objectively. You’re invested in the story, so all feedback feels personal. With other types of art, you can distance yourself from the work before making it public. In ARGs, widespread criticism appears throughout the creation process.

Listening to feedback and responding to it by adjusting your story can be really useful. That happened several times during every ARG I’ve been involved with. For example, in Ares Station we had a minor character introduce our players to the world. When the main game started, we got so many comments wondering what had happened to her that we brought her back later on and made her a major character. Overall, it’s good to get an idea of what your players like and don’t like so that you can make sure you’re getting your story across.

Given that, it’s also okay to disregard feedback, especially of a personal sort. Remember, it’s your ARG, so don’t let anyone else tell you how to run it. And if you’re a player, realize that PMs will be more likely to respond to feedback if you keep it specific and generally positive, even if you’re talking about problems.

1 Comment

  1. Great points Will and I completely know what you mean. The great thing about being a developer of ARGs is that even though you will get negative comments, the whole aspect of watching the players unravel the story is such an unmatchable feeling.

    Novelists can write a good book, send it to a publisher, then receive comments about it from fans at some point in the future. ARG developers are involved in the storytelling process and can feel the emotions of the audience as it unfolds. No other entertainment medium – to my knowledge – allows such interaction from developer and audience.

    The feedback is a portion of that unique atmosphere and though I agree some of it can get personal, other feedback helps to strengthen the game in the eyes of the audience. I know how well the audience enjoyed the changes made in Sammeeeees by labfly in response to the feedback he had received, and I don’t quite know how players of Ny Takma would have liked it if we had killed off John Valentine earlier in the story as we had originally planned.

    Feedback is a wonderful thing as long as the players do it in a constructive manner of course.

    Thanks for the article Will

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