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The Dangers of the Echo Chamber Effect on Game Development

by Josh Bycer on 08/13/18 11:54:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The recent news piece surrounding Riot Games focused on sexist behavior at the company, but there is another trouble area that I saw that I want to talk about. In the piece published by Kotaku, they mentioned how the company only likes to hire from the fan base — in the past, going as far as attaching ELO ratings to their job postings.

While hiring like-minded people is not a problem in of itself, only looking for positive thoughts and opinions can lead to the echo chamber effect, and that can be troublesome.

The Echo Chamber Effect:

The echo chamber effect is a situation where someone is only receiving the same positive feedback. This can be achieved by either only hiring or showing your work to fans, or purposely not listening to any criticism about your work.

For a lot of first time developers, they’re going to keep their cards close to their chest. It’s very easy to treat your game as an extension of yourself; thinking that any criticisms about it are also aimed at you.

We can see this from many first timers (or even established developers) who lash out at criticism; usually saying, “Well, you just don’t get it.” This feeling can also extend to play testing, or showing your game to people outside your normal circles.

Let’s face it: It’s easy to hear nothing but glowing praise about your work, but that doesn’t help you grow. In a podcast discussion with Jon Brieger linked below, we talked about how bad feedback is just as important as good feedback.

While you may not like hearing about problems with your game, you still need to listen to it.

Critical Feedback:

Being able to accept all forms of criticism is an important aspect of running a business. Not everyone is going to tell you exactly what they like or dislike about your game, and it’s up to you to figure that out.

This is why getting as much feedback, good or bad, about your game is crucial. One issue I see that a lot of developers face is growing their market beyond just their niche fans. I’m sure every one of you reading this right now can think of a few games that may be great, but also completely daunting for someone new to jump in.

One problem with the echo chamber is that surrounding yourself with “yes-men” means that you’re not getting the perspective of new players. I’ve talked about the importance of playability before and why I come down harder on games that have issues from the start.

A long-time fan of a game or expert is not going to have a fresh take on your game. Any issues with your design have already been dealt with or ignored. This is why getting as big of a tester pool for your game is important. As a quick aside, having access to people play testing your game early is one of the major reasons why Steam’s early access has become a popular tool for developers.

The point is that you want a wide spectrum of players looking at your game. Without hardcore fans, you won’t know if your game is hitting the points they’re looking for. Without newcomers, you won’t know how your game is being viewed from outside the market.With that said, there is also skill in knowing how much to read into feedback. It can also be easy to go in the opposite direction of the echo chamber — taking every opinion as a reason to completely change your game. We’ve said this before: A game that appeals to everyone is a game that appeals to no one.

Getting the balance between a game aimed at a specific audience and still being accessible is a topic too big for this post.

Open to Criticism:

In any business venture you are going to get feedback from a lot of people. Just listening to those who love you is not how to grow. While all that praise is great, if you turn a blind eye to any issues or view them as attacks, you are creating your own personal echo chamber.

I know for people reading this that they probably have received harsh criticism from someone in the past. Not every form of criticism is going to sound good in your ears, but you need to hear it. With that said, that doesn’t mean you should ignore positive comments. As someone who puts out content on a daily basis, I love it when someone says something great. With that said, I’m always paying attention to negative feedback, even if I don’t respond directly to it.


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