There has been a lot of discussion￼ aboutDOOM Eternal’s Marauder enemy.
So, if you don't know him, he's this big uglyblighter with an axe and a shield, and he fights unlike any other demon in DOOM.
If you get too close, he'll shoot you witha shotgun.
If you get too far away, he'll throw projectilesat you.
And when you're in that middle ground sweetspot, he'll instantly block your attacks with his shield and spawn a glowing orange wolf.
To defeat him, you've got to wait for himto pounce and then during the split-second moment his eyes flash green, counter withan attack of your own.
It's like a dude from Bloodborne took thewrong door and ended up in DOOM Eternal.
He can be incredibly annoying to fight – notbecause he's hard, but because he feels antithetical to a lot of DOOM's design goals.
And I'm not alone in disliking this chap.
Ars Technica called him “by far the most frustratingpart of any encounter”.
Vice said “he sucks all the fun out of theroom.
” The Steam forums are full of angry threads, and social media is packed with arguments about his design.
Some people even want to see him changed, or removed from the game.
Which… is actually not an uncommon sentimentin games.
Ultimately, this is just the latest in a longline of contentious design decisions that players have demanded be changed or removed, like Animal Crossing's endless eggs, XCOM 2's restrictive turn timers, Breath of theWild's glass weapons, and Mass Effect 3's disappointing ending.
Developers aren't being asked to fix a bugor a technical hiccup, but change something based on the subjective preferences of theiraudience.
So it's less like fixing a crucial flaw ina car that might kill people, and more like swapping Sonic the Hedgehog’sface in a movie because the first one gave small children nightmares.
And all of this this got me thinking: how should developers react to this sort of negative feedback? What should they do when players demand thatentire mechanics be changed or removed? That's what I'm going to explore in this episodeof Game Maker's Toolkit.
To start, it's important to dispel any notionthat developers don't already listen to player feedback.
In fact, it's essential when making gamesand developers seek it out constantly.
Whether that's conducting playtesting sessionswithin a studio, getting opinions from random players at PAX, using beta branches and earlyaccess, or tracking player sentiment to help balance a multiplayer game.
And lots of developers have listened to feedbackand changed things.
Nintendo did tweak the egg drop rate in AnimalCrossing.
CD Projekt Red provided better movement controlsfor The Witcher 3.
Ubisoft rewrote a controversial scene in apiece of Assassin's Creed DLC.
And Bioware revisited that infamous Mass Effect3 ending.
And it's undeniable that at least some ofthese changes have lead to much better games.
Gods Will Be Watching launched to a crushing20% positive reviews thanks to issues with difficulty and randomness.
So developer Deconstructeam released a “MercyUpdate” that fixed those flaws – and, in the process, took the game's user reviews to awhopping 70% positive ratings.
There's a similar story with Swords of Ditto, which removed some of the more challenging features such as time limits and permadeath, and swapped its Steam reviews from Mixed to Very Positive.
Plus games like No Man's Sky, Diablo 3, andpretty much every Ubisoft game, have been completely overhauled in response to negativeplayer feedback, leading to significantly improved games.
Feedback can also be used to make games moreaccessible to a wider audience.
The game SOMA, for example, scared some playersaway due to its spooky survival horror gameplay – so Frictional released an update called”Safe Mode” which let players disable all the baddies and just focus on the storyline.
Elsewhere, Yooka Laylee and the ImpossibleLair was made significantly less, well, impossible, with an update that adds checkpoints to itshardest level.
The atmospheric roguelike Below just got anew mode called “Explore” which turns off the game's most challenging aspects.
And even the notoriously unfriendly Pathologic2 can now be made easier, thanks to difficulty sliders – with one of the game's devs notingthat it was “not right on a fundamental level” to leave out players who were unable to improvetheir twitch skills or sense of time.
And by listening to how people play a game, developers can successfully skew their design to fit the way players actually end up interactingwith the thing.
So while Don't Starve was very much intendedto be a solo experience of one man versus the unknown, many players surprised developerKlei by saying that they wanted to experience the game cooperatively: leading to the successfulmultiplayer spin-off, Don't Starve Together.
And when Burnout Paradise dev Criterion realisedthat players were more interested in just mucking about in the open world than doingthe set races, the studio decided to make future DLC packs that catered to this morecasual, party-like atmosphere.
However, responding to feedback is no easytask, and many considerations must be made before committing to any changes.
So, over the last couple weeks I've been watchingloads of talks, reading endless interviews, and chatting to a whole bunch of game developersabout how best to deal with criticism.
With everything I've learned, here's fourtips to keep in mind when navigating player feedback.
One: Don't listen to a vocal minority Insomniac Games brand officer Ryan Schneidersays “just because you see it online and you see it in the forums, that doesn't necessarilyrepresent the majority viewpoint”, meaning criticism might be coming from a tiny subsetof your players.
In fact, he reckons the game Resistance 2suffered because his studio listened too intently to a small group of noisy players.
Whenever you receive criticism you have toconsider how many people are saying it, and what sort of person they are.
So, when it comes to something like DOOM'sMarauder, people who are fed up and frustrated are much more likely to speak up than thosewho don't really have an opinion either way – skewing the perception of how many peoplehate it.
On other games, devs tend to find that themost vocal critics want games to be more difficult and complex – which would likely alienatethe more casual fanbase, who don't interact with forums and other sources of feedback.
One massive way to help with this is data.
So every live game imaginable is trackingan overwhelming amount of information about players.
Every kill is tracked in Overwatch.
Every quest is monitored for engagement inSea of Thieves.
And every piece of loot is analysed in Destiny.
This helps provide accurate and objectivedata to confirm, clarify, or contest player feedback.
And in 2020, there's nothing stopping singleplayer games from doing the same thing.
In fact, way back in 2006, Valve tracked playersin Half Life 2: Episode One, identified a nasty difficulty spike during a certain battle, and released a patch to rebalance it.
In truth, it's not uncommon for developersto track data about players on all sorts of games – and I wouldn't be surprised if idSoftware knew exactly how many people were dying to the Marauder.
But data has to be used carefully.
In Slay the Spire, Megacrit found that thecard Madness was showing up in an overwhelming number of winning decks.
Was it an overpowered card that needed tobe nerfed? Not necessarily – it was just being giventoo regularly in a late-game event, meaning players who won the game were likely to havethe card, regardless of whether they used it.
Data is just one source of information, whichis why Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Siege team say they're data informed, not data driven.
Two: Identify problems, not solutions A lot of player feedback comes in the formof a proposed change.
You know: nerf this! Buff that! Remove him! But in truth, those suggestions are rarelythe correct answer, and would often create new knock-on effects that the player can'tbe expected to foresee.
So as the game designer, the goal is to drilldown deeper into what the actual problem is, and from there you can find potential solutionsthat will actually work.
Super Meat Boy maker Edmund McMillen says”If people don't like how your game controls, this could mean one of hundreds of things, from how things move in the game to what buttons it uses.
When responding to feedback, ask specificquestions and try to find the root of the problem”.
So, when Team Ninja released an alpha buildof Nioh, players told the studio to remove the annoying item durability mechanic.
But that was in there for a reason: to stopplayers using the same weapon over and over again.
So instead of removing it outright, the developersflipped the mechanic on its head to create item familiarity.
Now, when you use a weapon a lot you'll beable to transfer its best stats into a new one – which still encourages players to swapitems on a regular basis.
The game's director, Fumihiko Yasuda, saidthat player feedback shouldn't be used to find solutions, but rather generate questionsthat the developers can ask themselves.
To help with this, it's useful to think aboutthe emotions that a mechanic evokes, rather than the mechanics themselves.
So with XCOM 2's contentious turn timers, Firaxis was hoping that by forcing players to speed up, they would take more risks andend up in interestingly sticky situations.
But, as I've discussed before, there are otherroutes to this same feeling, but with different – and less annoying – mechanics.
Like rewarding fast-play in Mario and Rabbids, or ramping up challenge over time with Invisible Inc's brilliant alarm system.
When it comes to the Marauder, perhaps theproblem is not the dude himself but the way he's introduced to the player.
For example, this tutorial doesn't highlightsome of the most effective strategies that can make encounters with him much, much less frustrating.
Three: Don't let changes lead to a boringgame Sean Davies, technical director at Rare, says”if all you do is respond to feedback, then you end up converging on a fairly middle ofthe road [game] and you don't surprise people”.
And I think that's largely true: feedbackshould be used to sand off the roughest edges of a game – but shouldn't lead to the removalof everything that makes the game interesting.
As an example of this, DUSK programmer DillonRogers had a good Twitter thread about the invincible baddies of Raccoon City.
So, the Resident Evil 2 remake features Mr.
X: an unstoppable, jackboot bastard who relentlessly chases you through the Racoon City policedepartment, regardless of the doors, and walls, in his way.
He was a contentious feature at the game'slaunch, leading to complaints about him being too stressful.
This year's Resident Evil 3 remake has itsown big ugly bugger in the Nemesis, but unlike Mr.
X he very rarely chases you.
Instead, he's largely limited to boss fightsand set pieces.
We don't know for sure, but Rogers arguesthat it's “very possible that Capcom listened to people complain about Mr.
X's roaming sequences, and decided to limit Nemesis to only a few short sections”.
And the result was a far worse game, withalmost every critic noting how Nemesis is disappointingly neutered compared to lastyear's Mr.
X, as well as the Nemesis in the PlayStation original.
“Devs need to be careful not to let theirown fans ruin their games, ” says Rogers.
A similar thing cropped up in DOOM 3.
That game infamously forced you to pick betweenholding a torch or holding a gun: which was a bit fiddly but also a big component in drivingforward that game's spooky atmosphere.
Fans demanded it be taken away, though, andso in the the re-released BFG Edition, you get to have both items at once – arguablyspoiling the survival horror theme.
Ultimately, if there's a way to open yourgame to more people with a simple and well communicated optional mode, then great.
But trying to please everyone is impossible.
David Bocek from Respawn told me, “as a designerat some point you just have to be brave.
You can't shy away from making any major changesjust because a subset of players may dislike it, or you will never ship anything interestingand your game will become stale.
” Four: Create a conversation between developersand players Chris Avellone, who let players help guidethe development of Pillars of Eternity during its Kickstarter campaign, said “once you explainwhy a certain feature is a certain way and make a very structured argument for it, wefind that generally that level of frankness causes a lot of buy-in”.
Developers often find that players are moreforgiving of a contentious game mechanic if they understand the reasons and motivationsbehind its inclusion.
And so it's not uncommon for games makersto open their doors and communicate freely with players – from Warframe's weekly Twitchstreams to game designers diving into the community forums.
Also, things like beta branches and earlyaccess builds allow developers to experiment with new game mechanics while the game isstill under development.
This signals that the game is still in flux, and so players generally give the developers the benefit of the doubt￼.
However, that’s not always the case.
NARRATOR: “Make no mistake.
We will face ever greater threats” During early access, the game Darkest Dungeonintroduced the corpse mechanic, where killed-off enemies would leave behind a dead body.
It was designed to give combat more depth, kill off a dominant strategy, promote interesting party compositions, and more.
The designers thought it was a great mechanic.
But some players vehemently despised it.
Designer Tyler Sigman says the change sparked “a hateful crusade by a select few against the game, the company, and us as individuals, “and lead to review bombing, a splintered community, and the false narrative that a promising gamewas suddenly irrevocably ruined by one experiment.
Because, ultimately, it's impossible to talkabout player feedback without mentioning abuse and entitlement.
To frame this topic as helpful players givingconstructive feedback to developers would be wholly disingenuous.
Because while that definitely does happen, there's also harassment, death threats, and review bombing.
People push agendas, construct narratives, create schisms, and poison the well.
Now Tyler Sigman admits that the studio couldhave communicated the change better, and is sympathetic to the concern that people paidmoney for the game only to see it significantly changed – but, ultimately, he found himselfheld hostage to player sentiment.
Sigman says “we decided [the corpse mechanicwas] right for the game.
So we were in this weird dilemma of do weremove this and make what we consider a 'worse game' to make people happy?”.
The ultimate solution for Red Hook was to, one, make corpses an optional feature – and, two, hire a community manager, John Lindvay, who helped the developer redefine the relationship between the people who make the game, andthe people who play it.
He says he shifted the dynamic from “helpus make the best version of the game”, to “help us make the game we're aiming for”.
That's a subtle shift in language, but hesays it helps frame the relationship as developers leading the charge with a creative vision- and players helping them to achieve it.
Here's the thing.
The idea of a game designer doggedly stickingto their creative vision without caring what players think is a myth.
Games are made to entertain people, so it'scritically important that those people are being heard.
And sometimes, that feedback can lead to bettergames, more accessible products, and experiences that the original developer had never eventhought of.
But developers also have to know how to interpretthat feedback.
The call might just be coming from a vocalminority.
It might actually end up making the game worse, or create a knock-on effect that breaks another part of the game.
And worst of all, it might come as an entitled, angry, volley of destructive vitriol.
Whatever the case, it's better to have a gamethat people love so much that they get invested in how it's made, than a game people don'tcare about at all.
NARRATOR: “As victories mount, so too will resistance” Hey, thanks for watching! And cheers to the many developers who spoketo me, on and off the record, about their experiences with player feedback.
Players and developers alike: please let meknow what you think in the comments down below.
Oh, and if you're player and want to see whatthings are like on the other side of the fence – maybe join the GMTK Game Jam? This is the latest game development marathonand it kicks off in July.
Full details in the video link that shouldbe on screen right now.