I recently had a few gamers play test one of my designs, and have been processing the feedback that they provided. The feedback was insightful and honest, providing a glimpse into my play testers’ thought processes and game experience. One of my play testers was not a gamer, and afterwards pulled me aside. He acted remorseful and concerned about how critical the other players had been toward the game and wanted to encourage me not to take their harsh criticism personally, and that it was, in fact, a good game.

There was a disconnect between my non-gamer friend’s understanding of the situation and the wrenching but constructive criticism that my game received. What my friend didn’t understand was that the other play testers were doing me a tremendous favor. I’ve come to value and appreciate gamer feedback in a way that I was not able to when I first began designing games. Feedback is the single most important resource that a game designer has. Honest, calculated, and critical feedback is so crucial to the development process.

It’s hard sometimes to listen to someone tell you everything that the didn’t like about something you’ve created. But, by hearing, accepting, and processing the insight and contextualization of the game experience that only outside play testers can offer, we can identify the elements in our game that need to change.

When I started, I often took criticism personally. I would try to be defensive about whatever element was being scrutinized, convinced that the critic just didn’t get it. In the summer of 2017, that began to change. I went on vacation to Germany and had happened to connect with a designer in Berlin named Jeffery Allers. He invited me to bring one of my designs to a design meetup that he had with a few of his friends. These guys were all published designers, and were experts in the field. And, they were German. That play test yielded some of the most brutal criticism that I have ever received. They didn’t hold back, and being German, didn’t sugarcoat the issues that they saw in my design. They let me have it. But, that criticism, was the most honest look at my game, and through it I became aware of many things that needed to change. It was an invaluable experience for me as a designer, to sit in that room with experts in a field in which I was just a novice, and have them heap mountains of criticism on my product. I’m grateful that I had enough sense to sit and listen, without reacting negatively. It made me a better designer. And although I eventually scrapped that design, I’ve been implementing the feedback I received ever since.

Criticism is crucial, and should be welcomed as game designers. Every person that plays our games brings a unique perspective and experiences, and can provide insight that no one else in the world can. Honest reactions to and critical processing of a gaming experience are so crucial, and should be welcomed with open arms. I hope that I can continue to receive it.