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How to complain to a game developer
by Rami Ismail on 01/31/14 09:13:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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

 

As Vlambeer, the studio I work at, has gotten bigger and our community has grown beyond our biggest fans, I've noticed a shift in the way people interact with us. Where we used to mostly get messages of support and understanding, the ratio of messages that treat us like two guys making video games versus those that treat us like a giant corporation that makes small games has slowly been tilting towards the latter. That's not a surprising development per se—with the release of Ridiculous Fishing we've reached hundreds of thousands of people who have no notion of Vlambeer beyond a quick logo at the boot of the game. While I'd much rather be treated like a human being who's trying his hardest to make everything work out, I can understand that for many people an e-mail to a support address means assuming a certain expectation to a product that perfectly fits their wishes. As a developer, I find that even the most hostile responses tend to be defused by just showing that you care—and we do care—so Vlambeer has steered well clear of extreme hostilities quite often.

But I can't help but be surprised at one comment people continue to make when they're upset about something in an independent game. It is a comment that goes along the lines of 'if you don't fix this, I want a refund' or variations thereof threatening with online hate campaigns, low ratings, piracy and some creative way of costing us money. They claim that without the fans, we are nothing. I've often said the same thing at developer conventions around the world, but there's a difference between saying that to emphasize our thankfulness for and dependance upon people who love our games and literally implying we are not worth anything beyond the opinion of somebody on the internet who happened to play a game we made. We could literally decide to stop making games tomorrow and find a better paying and stable job—but we don't, because we love making games and we care about the people who invested money and time in our work. Dear players, we really care about your opinion. You're not quite the reason why we make games—we make games because we want to—but you're definitely the reason we can make a living doing this. You're the reason why we get to watch Let's Play videos and can interact with feedback. We want you to like and appreciate the game and the months of hard work we put into everything we make, because a game without players is an icon on a screen and nothing more. What surprises me, though, is when an unsatisfied gamer takes their argument the route of 'do this, otherwise I want a refund' or 'I won't buy this game.' Those people are literally saying 'please treat me like a number.' They are expressing the assumption that a studio would always treat people in the worst possible way unless there's the threat of monetary or reputational damage. Essentially, making that statement is saying 'you shouldn't listen to me because I have a thought, just listen to me because of my money or the way I can impact your ratings or your reputation.'

That's not how I want to treat people that play our games, and I know a lot of independent developers struggle with finding a balance between treating people the way they indicate they want to be treated (like a number) and the way we'd rather treat them (like humans). If a game is different from your expectations, or you can't find a setting you'd like, or you feel that you should have an option to turn off the music, or maybe you expect customizable controls—realize that the job of a developer is to make choices. Games are absurdly complex creations, but nothing in a game is by chance. Even the way dice roll in a game is designed, tweaked and iterated upon. Someone spent days tweaking the walking speed in every game, or on the way text bubbles are animated. Sure, sometimes something is literally an oversight, and in that case, developers love to hear about it. Chances are if you just make known that you'd love to see something different in a game, you'll either get a confirmation that they're working on it, a question about why you want what you propose or a response as to why it is not and probably will not be the way you request.

Developers are people who tend to be really curious about the way people interact with their work. They want to know what you think, and why you think that way. In fact, they spend most of their development cycle figuring out what a player might think and how they might react. Most developers want to hear your feedback, not because of your money or your ratings, but because the people reaching out to us are our players. You are the thing that makes our work whole. That's a pretty amazing relationship. But it is your choice. It's either about the game or about our bookkeeping. It's either about your enjoyment of the game or about your money. Of course developers will answer either approach, but our passion is with the game, not the money. If we wanted to earn money, we'd take our skills to a job that actually pays well. But we definitely want to talk about our game. You prefer to talk to a human being, not a corporation. We prefer to talk to a person, not a number.

This article was written by Rami Ismail, edited by Tina Amini, and was originally published at Kotaku and on ramiismail.com.


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Comments


Paul Johnson
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I'm impressed by your attitude, but I fear it does you no good.

Like everyone (I hope), we listen to all genuine complaints. If they have a point, we try to smooth things out, explain an issue, schedule a change or ultimately make a refund. Whatever is needed.

The size of a company shouldn't matter either. Someone working at EA customer support should be treated with exactly the same level of respect as an indie dev.

But when I get "Make level 23 easier or I will take to facebook to kill your company" I just delete them. If people aren't going to treat me with basic courtesy, then there's no onus on me to do the same.

And besides, if someone actually followed through on their threat (they won't), we could use the publicity!

Rami Ismail
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It did us pretty good, to be honest.

Michael Wenk
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Even if that player doesn't follow through on that threat, I would wonder if you'd ever get them to spend money on your company. And while they're an ass, their money is still green.

The worst thing in customer relations is to deal with this kind of thing. I feel for you in that. But on the other hand, no one person is unique. You're marketing a product to many people, so many that that if you have one ass saying that to you, there likely is a few thousand that are thinking of it.

It seems like you're acting like you have a captive market, when in reality, you do not, in fact other than food, I can't think of another market that is so close to perfect competition than games.

So while I feel for you in dealing with this, I have no sympathy if you just blow off/ignore these people and suddenly find yourself having to close because of a lack of revenue.

Kelly Kleider
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It saddens me to see on-line reviews of games where the reviewer has some ridiculous agenda (in-app-purchases, ads, anti-analytics etc). It feels like a bunch of pitchforks and torches looking for a "monster" to burn.

I applaud your positive attitude, mostly because I don't think I could do that in the face of so much public interaction. :D

Stefan Park
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I admit it. I hate prolific in-app purchases. And I also admit having left a couple of scathing reviews on recent EA "games" that not only tried to ram in-app purchases down my throat, they also were not really games.. merely semi-interactive money sinks. However, I do not take exception to ALL in app purchases. I recently thanks Half-brick for their excellent Jetpack Joyride, a game I strangely enjoy and one that does have in-app purchases, but doesn't attempt to hamfist me into buying them. I have not tried ridiculous fishing yet, but I have heard it's a great game so will probably pick it up.

The only game I have EVER demanded a refund of was Dinosaur Hunter HD, which had the nerve to change from a paid model (where I paid for the app and could do what I want) to a free-to-play in-app purchase model, and gave me NOTHING in compensation. It's these kind of predatory business practices that are leaving the kind of sour taste in peoples mouths that may cause them to react this way.

Chris Foster
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I've read a lot of Rami's interviews and listened to a lot of his talks and he knows what he is doing. In regards to the people with this attitude its a shame they will probably never read this. A great perspective and well explained.

Frank DAngelo
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I think game developers tend to forget they are releasing a product. Too many have this philosophical view of game development of something like "We are creating fun out of nothing, it is art, pure art!"

If you buy a TV and it randomly freezes, you complain and return it and get a refund, or have the company fix it for you. If you buy a board game and some pieces are missing, you get your money back or have the company send you the pieces. But video games... I can't even remember the last time I played through a recent game front to back without some serious bugs or glitches. But yet games keep coming out for sale filled with bugs. Even more formal software development can't get away with this. No products can get away with this, just games...

So you have tons of players complaining about the broken game, but it stays on the market, selling copies to unsuspecting customers who will also be unhappy. It is borderline corrupt if you ask me. Devs say they listen and will fix the issues, but how long? 1 year, 2 years, never?

I miss the days games actually worked right off the shelf. If games weren't so broken, players wouldn't complain as much.

Michael Wenk
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The games as art thing amuses me. However, if you're looking to make pure art, you need a patron, not a customer.

Don't expect me to be a patron, I am a customer.

Will Hendrickson
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I'm a bit torn on this reply.

First, I am in agreement. There are tons of bugs in games and it's only getting worse with developers rushing half-finished games to market and calling them "beta"

Second, I am in disagreement. I've actually noticed a steady increase in quality. Not from AAA studios (who undoubtedly are cutting back on quality in a big way in all areas besides tech), but from indies in general.

So I don't think the issue is quality degradation. We all know very well from Minecraft that if you create something and make it public, eventually someone is going to try to grief you.

The fact that someone actually took the time to grief you is surely some form of compliment! Just think of the unlimited supply of terrible games out there: they weren't interested. They wanted to grief *your* game. So, it couldn't have been all that bad, really. And, those feelings of frustration they might get are a result of their appreciation that your game does have value, otherwise they would not have become frustrated with it in the first place.

They would have simply left.

John Owens
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Bugs are a part of games. It's up to the reviews to educate the customers and the customers to read the reviews.

"It's not a bug, it's a feature" :-)

Remember without bugs we may never have had combos in fighting games.

El Drijver
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The '2 guys making video games' angle you were enjoying at the beginning is frankly a luxury position. One that you guys worked hard for to achieve, don't get me wrong :). As more people from outside the industry play your game it's only natural to receive more correspondence from people who are unaware of your studio situation.

As an unknown indie 'two guys'-studio we are almost always addressed to as if a big corporation/studio by people who send us feedback/inquiries. Luckily there are people who send us the most wonderful messages, but the negative ones always assume that something isn't happening because we are either too lazy or too busy counting our money, neither of which are true ;)

Paul Lenoue
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But what if the game makers deserve the abuse by making a game full of frustrating flaws that drive away the very people who would otherwise enjoy it? For example, Marvel Puzzle Quest. I've rarely seen a game get so many hate-filled comments on numerous forums, and they are well-deserved. From the game blatantly cheating, tourneys rigged so casual players have no hope of advancing and "random" covers that _never_ give players what they need, there's a lot in that game to drive people to fits of rage.

If 19 out of 20 emails to the company are rage-quit rants most people would take that a sign they're doing something terribly wrong, yet D3 ignores them, deletes critical forum posts, has employees give the game high ratings on app stores, etc. Trying to insulate themselves from the frothing masses just provokes even more hatred.

There's always going to be a few who will hate your game for some reason, but when you frustrate the hell out of the vast majority of people who try your game, maybe hate-filled email is the only way gamers have of conveying how badly you screwed up?


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