Why Criticism Is Important to Game Development

Why Criticism Is Important to Game Development

How to develop as a developer

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Dear Devs on

Becoming successful in the gaming industry undoubtedly requires a great deal of patience. In the first installment of our "Dear Devs" series, I hope to inspire developers to seriously consider the criticism that they receive instead of taking it personally and becoming bitter as a result. After all, criticism is a key tool for improvement and if used correctly, it could help you achieve extraordinary success.

Crash Bandicoot screenshot
Naughty Dog made their hit Crash Bandicoot after years of unsuccessful projects

Let's start this discussion by looking at an example of a game company that progressed from multiple failed efforts to achieve greatness. Naughty Dog began as a humble development company composed of friends Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin. They created a couple of subpar adventure role playing games before making one of the most critically panned games of all time, Way of the Warrior. If it wasn't for their decision to head into an entirely different direction as a company then they would have never made Crash Bandicoot who ended up being the PlayStation's short-lived mascot. Every sequel that they made became better and better until they took it to the next level and released Jak and Daxter. They audaciously made the second Jak title more mature in nature and this paved the way for their Uncharted series years later. Although Jason and Andy were no longer with the company, it continued to produce consistently evolving and maturing games. Naughty Dog listened to critics and persistently outdid themselves with every release. Recently, they created The Last of Us which has received over 240 game of the year awards. Naughty Dog may have taken a while to achieve success, but seeing as they're now one of the most deservedly respected developers in gaming; their patience, hard work, and ability to evolve has finally paid off. Personally, I can't wait to see what they dream up next.

In my career as a game reviewer, I have met developers that may not have made the best games, but their positive attitude and appreciation for criticism make me confident in their future success. After giving a game a significantly low score, one developer sent me an email asking for a list of how they can improve in the future. I gladly took the time to send them an extensive email because I want them to succeed. Before that, I gave another game a similar score and the developer harassed me for weeks while stating things such as, "This other site gave my game 9 out of 10." Is it my job to echo previously established opinions? No, it's my job to provide unique, unbiased, and fully thought-out evaluations. I worry for developers like this because their attitude dictates that they don't want to improve. They just want to get 9 out of 10. This line of thinking severely limits their ability to grow as a developer.

Jak and Daxter screenshot
Somehow, Naughty Dog managed to top themselves with Jak and Daxter

One of the tallest hurdles to overcome in accepting criticism is to not have a personal attachment to your game. Obviously, this is much easier said than done since spending months or even years creating one thing will definitely affect your perspective. You'll start to get so deeply involved in your creation that you won't be able to see its obvious flaws after a while. This mentality is incredibly dangerous since the inability to see your game as imperfect will make you interpret criticism as a personal attack resulting in you blowing it off or lashing out instead of using it as a tool for future improvement. An easy method to prevent this from happening is to simply do something else with your time. Set some hours aside every single day to leave the house and detach yourself from coding and designing. Whether you decide to exercise or just go for a coffee, it'll provide your brain with the relaxation that it requires to put things in perspective. In simple terms, video games are about having fun and if you're not enjoying your time developing them then why even bother?

Of course, not all criticism is beneficial. Some game reviews contain nothing but negativity and provide no constructive insight. If you read something like that then just ignore it. They're not doing their job and you shouldn't listen to them. In the end, their readers won't either because people have enough sense to sniff out hacks. However, most reviewers do a great job of providing useful insight. If you read points such as your game could use more content or the controls feel unresponsive then keep those issues in mind for future endeavors. Criticism like this can easily turn you into a star developer if you handle it correctly. The best advice is to read the words and not the score. Sometimes, reviewers give a game 10 out of 10 but still provide some points for improvement in the review. I personally don't understand this, but it just goes to show that it's the text that matters and not the score.

The Last of Us screenshot
Eventually, Naughty Dog created one of the greatest video games of all time

In an industry where opinions are in no short supply, you really are blessed as a game developer. In a lot of other careers, you simply don't know how well you're doing or what you can do to improve. One day, you might get fired and have no idea why. Luckily, developers have plenty of opportunity to excel and achieve great success. When this happens, critics will end up praising you for your persistence, hard work, and ability to grow. Ultimately, isn't that much more rewarding than getting one 9 out of 10?

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