Positive Feedback Infrastructures

One of the most basic ways to let people discuss and leave feedback is through a forum or message board with different topic categories. While it is a standard way to do this, it has many drawbacks. These flaws are the bumping factor along with the drama factor,
as well as the lack of quality ratings and also the indirect nature of reporting game events.

Drama threads are susceptible to drama bumps, where turmoil often make people voice their opinion more, which adds fuel to any flame. This in turn affects the entire mood of the forum. Since the nature of a badly written post is more likely to get both creative and destructive input, they flourish and influence the forum to a larget extent than good posts. The nature of a well written post will either become saturated with complements, making each following complement more likely to be reduced to a copy bump than a genuine contribution. This discourages contribution and puts an expiration date on such posts.

When it comes to things like reddit, the bumps and contributions are separate, meaning that it is easier to bury drama posts in “dislikes”, and to bump a good thread without saturating it. If a game developer wants to control and moderate the discussions of their game heavily on their own sites, people will still take the “superior” discussion elsewhere (on reddit). If a good discussion climate is preferred, game forums must step up and improve their functionality. One very good example of this is http://ideascale.com/

Next up is other external feedback systems, like surveys

What are surveys good for? They provide statistics and easier ways to compile opinions into structured graphs that can aid future development. But there are a few rules that game companies trip on when they are collecting feedback for their games. The most recent examples are the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, The Elder Scrolls Online and Battlefield 4 balance surveys. I will not go into detail on each and every survey, but instead describe some of the faults in how questions and answer options are presented.

1. Discarding whole submissions due to certain answers, very bad (FFXIV)
Apparently some submissions were discarded without warning, due to not matching certain criteria in the answers. It might have been (won’t buy the game yet), (haven’t played certain competitor) or whatever, but the people who tried to contribute to the success of their game were not informed when their effort as a whole, up to 30 min, would be discarded and unread. This is poor survey handling, that lost data was important data.

 2. The answers must to a large degree cover most opinions about the question.
I’ve seen many yes/no voting polls and “pick only one” questions about the Battlefield series where multiple changes or features are described in the poll and the complexity of them are not reflected in the answers. I have heard that some of them are not really used as influence, but the more recent ones with balance changes are. Let’s take a look at this.

Here are some guidelines for such future polls, explaining how they improve data quality:

– If you ask “which of these features do you like”, the poll must allow picking serveral of them to get the best and most accurate results of their popularity. Asking “which do you like the most” is really a bad choice, because everyone’s second favorite might actually get considered as bad as their least favorite one. Putting in some effort will pay off here.

– If you ask “Do you want the changes described above”, with a yes/no answer, it is better to actually ask “Which of these changes do you support” with multiple checkbox choices.

– If you describe both nerfs and buffs to a feature, you can’t just ask about one of them.
In that case you must provide answers that say something like Buff it / Leave it / Nerf it.

3. Mixing positive and negative question types with same/different scales
If you ask a series of questions like The Elder Scrolls Online did, people will be very confused. Overall they had good scales and questions, but the answer options were poortly named. Here are some examples to consider when using the Likert scales:

– If you have a 5 position scale, many people will get right in the middle of it, or on 2 or 3. They are less likely to stand at the extreme edges of it and you’ll get a boring average spread. It might be better to have 6 or 7 scale positions rather than 4 or 5, because there is no safe middle and the mostly disagree/agree options will be forced to spread out more. When naming them, the best system is really the “disagree-agree” scale, because you can mix positive and negative questions without confusion. Imagine these questions:

“Do you think your character is unique and feels good”
“Do you think that combat lag is bad?”

If you had earlier answer scales with “disagree-agree” and you were instructed that going to the right on the scale meant agreeing more with that statement, you’ll have confusion when these mixed questions suddely have the answer options “Very bad-Very good”. If you feel that the combat lag is “bad” you would go to the left of the scale due to wording, but if you’d agree more with that statement, you’d go right… And if you use the “very bad-very good) scale in such a way… an answer scale of mostly bad (2) must be converted to match other negative questions where the answer option for (2) was “mostly disagree”.

Therefore, it is best to stick with the (strongly disagree – strongly agree) Likert scale, where “don’t know” means that you leave no answer on that particular question. The most important questions can be ranked with the “reply rate”, which highlights questions where users were convinced of their opinion. Giving it 6 scale positions means you cut out the safe answer, so that you are forced to strongly disagree, mostly disagree, slightly disagree, slightly agree, mostly agree or strongly agree. This works with both our positive and negative questions without confusion and you can categorize positive questions in one group and negative in another when compiling the answers. That way you can get the average positive ratings of your game in one batch, and the average negative ratings in another. From there you can identify which questions added most weight to the spread and you can categorize them depending on impact and reply percentages/importance.

Putting positive and negative questions together in the actual survey prevents the likelyness to put “overall 4s” across the entire page,which is a good thing. But the important lesson here is that you can analyze negative and positive questions separatly. The other lesson is to not let the answer options confuse people. To prevent this confusion, use the same scale, but keep the statements varied instead. This is better than asking the same type of questions, while using loads of different scales & conversions.

Which game has had the best feedback option then?

I’d say that an ingame feedback / report system is a very good way to handle feedback. The Elder Scrolls Online had the ability to leave ingame feedback by typing /feedback or /bug in the game chat. This sent the player to a screen where they could categorize the feedback or bug into different game areas that sent the report to appropriate devs to be handled by the right people. Imagine the following additions to such an ingame system:

– At the moment the player says /feedback or /bug, a screenshot is taken of the game state. They player is then allowed to crop and highlight certain areas of this picture.

– At the same moment, the computer has also gathered a DxDiag file, your computer setup and tempereatures, as well as a copy of the gamestate inside your RAM memory. The player then has the option to submit a selection of these with their feedback/bug.

– These feedback and bug reports can be directly received by appropriate devs, and they can see the cropped screenshots and watch and compare certain memory states while they are sitting with their game or dev client open, by using a feedback overlay toggle.

– Another option is to allow 15 second videos to be recorded and sent with this system. Keeping bugs and glitches away from places like Youtube and open forums may be a good idea if you do not want unneccessarily viral & unintended events seen by the public.

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Combining this ingame system with survey analytics is possibly the best system!
Forums are best for discussing overall design choices and not for measuring specifics.
Next time I’ll probably spotlight a specific patch, game or a nice feature I’ve discovered.

Defining Co-Creation through Gaming


Part 1: Introduction to this blog

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Today I felt like starting a minor outlet and portfolio for my thoughts on the Video Game Industry and its future. There is only so much one can say or do in a world where forums and drama bumping are the most influencial yet counterproductive ways to influence games. If we take a step back and look at the driving forces in gaming culture, we might also stumble upon ways to improve its flow.

What is Co-Creation, you ask? Well… for the purpose of this article, it is an experience that is “alive”, where the consumers and providers are both contributing to the outcome in an interactive way. One could describe it as a growing process, or even evolution. It is a defining feature of all life on earth. When something is alive it is a process in motion and the beauty of motion lies in that it prevents the object from a final verdict or label regarding its position in the universe. Until it stops moving it is a marvel to watch, ponder and predict. As long as there are significantly unpredictable elements involved in this growing process, it is entertaining and rewarding to partake in. The fans are all hungry for the opportunity to contribute to their own enjoyment of this experience.

But what happens to co-creation when post-launch support focuses on “fixing” a game towards a final or acceptable state, instead of “fixing” its ability to stay moving on its own? What happens when the resources and tools for this are placed far away from the hands that are supposed to enjoy this experience? It stagnates, it becomes predictable, it loses its magic and creative appeal. We know where this ends… It loses social appeal. Less people play, less people talk about it, less people dream, less people create. Death. Does this really inspire you to repeat that process? Not really.

It seems like there is a fear from publishers that they cannot effectivly sell a new game unless the old one dies or becomes stagnant. But the true way to building a successive IP, or any family for that matter, must be to allow their different generations to interact and live side by side and evolve together. Every player is different, every player will mature together with the experiences they encounter and every player will try to customize their experience in a way that is unique and worth telling. Why limit a game’s growth potential by finite casualization, when you can build the casualization as a starting point with deeper growth potential. There are so many options that are used by developers in the production phase that are blacked out  when it reaches the consumer.

This leads to alienation, where an experience is no longer feeling “yours” anymore, You have participated in the experience for some time and suddely your input becomes less and less perceivable to both yourself and to others… You become normalized and jaded towards the world that won’t grow with you, and you find this in almost every interactive gaming experience you try. It doesn’t matter if you play them or not, because they are no longer made to last. The once transcendant features are reduced to shooting stars. Next we will talk about some basic customizable features and their role in improving user immersion and the feeling of individuality.

Part 2: What is FOV, and why should we care?

Field of View is the most immersive window a user can experience a game through. Depending on the aspect ratio and the distance to your screen, a specific view angle is the key to making the player’s perspective as natural and immersive as possible. Why limit this? And why calibrate it towards something that is several meters away, when you are trying to communicate details and text information at the same time? As of this generation, we are no longer as bound to the systematic hiding tricks that are used to mask texture quality and image resolution. Scalable Quality+FOV = ❤

1. The rendering performance will become more varied
(actually a good opportunity to find out what game elements can be scaled and tweaked)
2. Animations and models have to be calibrated for this
(just another way to improve  top tier presentations of your game on enthusiast screens)
3. People don’t want to fiddle in menus, they want to play
(another opportunity to invent intelligent FOV identifying solutions, be proactive about it)

I belive the future of gaming has a lot of room for scalabe solutions and more intelligent feature balancing. If the level of detail of each graphics element can vary intelligently compared to other elements, the management of video memory and load will even out.

UI customization, custom plugins and retextures and skins, we can’t allow that?

This actually brings a whole new level of co-creation to your game, where independent artists can work for free and create different display setups of the info that they feel is relevant to the interaction with the gameplay. Several representatives of many different target audiences can get together and provide different UI solutions to your game for free, you can even sell community approved UIs.

When it comes to skins, people are willing to create these for free, and use them for client side entertainment without affecting others. You could even sell community approved ones and focus your dev teams on the actual environments and the gameplay content instead.

When it comes to mods as a whole, there is a misconception that these prevent DLC sales, when in reality, people could actually be more willing to buy DLCs if the mod capability was DLC-gated, and you could get mod ability included in pre-orders or season passes. This ability does not neccessarily mean that you give them access to the entire game engine, but you can make UI or skin editors and other minor creation kits that would also aid your own developers when importing community content or creating optimized version of those. Mods are also a major intelligence resource when it comes to community popularity indicators and future development directions. Just browsing the most popular Skyrim mods will quickly tell you what parts of the gameplay that needed improvement, which story elements were forgotten, and what kind of characters their players would like in the future. Many of these mods require specific dlc assets and this also helps selling the Legendary Edition.

TLDR: Why create a game for a blunt target audience, and sell a small portion of DLCs because of dwindling consumer interest when you can create a blunt but customizable base experience, to sell mod access and more DLCs due to access gating? Awesome!

Part 3: Other evolution examples in gaming

So what should we discuss next? Crowdsourced balance tweaking perhaps? There are private servers for a reason. People buy them for a reason. People would be even more willing to buy them if they could domore things with them, without even impacting the base game negatively. Have you heard of the Promod phenomenon? It is a crowdsourced balancing effort for competitive play that was allowed through modding, which has made optional improvements that are still defining competitive standards today. If players are allowed to change some characteristics, a whole new game style can be derived from these small tweaks. The game is moving again, as the evolving new metagames come to life in the hands of the most skilled players in the world and their applauding fans. This can bloom into new markets, IPs or creative content types previously unseen. This opens up for more content creators and their free advertising, expanding your IP monetization etc.

What we’ve talked about so far is an example of various Co-Creation options that improve the customer’s attachment to a product, especially since the defining feature of games is the interactive element. With this growth process in mind, we can create IPs that mature with their audience, maybe even grow old with them, without feeling dated, stagnant or uninspiring. This can strengthen a wide variety of new IPs and game types for many generations to come. Gaming is not supposed to be a bunch of hollywood reimaginations that stomp down the genuine ideas and evolving concepts they kill and use to dress themselves in. Gaming could be about scaling these genuine ideas towards every consumer, by letting them parent these creations on their own and with their friends.

That is what co-creation is all about, and it is something that will live on and build stronger legacies that any other experience can. Creativity is connecting ideas in new ways, the more ways we can connect these ideas together, the more creative they can become. 

Until next time!
(where we can discuss ideas for community interaction and structured feedback support)