Being 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.