Five Useless Feedback Bits For Community Managers

Suggestion BoxI’ve always said that Community people will read and take in any feedback that’s shot their way, and that’s the way it should be. After all, one of the main things that Community folks do is to read and sift through the things that people are saying about the product or service or game. It’s something we’re obligated to do, and it’s part of our job. And that also includes praise as well as criticism. There’s a common myth out there that I see posted from people where someone will say that we only want to hear positive feedback, and that’s silly. I mean, if all I heard was that everything was peachy keen and 100% perfect, I’d probably be A)wary of what was put into the water and B)very, very bored at my job. So yes – all the feedback, no matter if it’s positive or negative, gets read. It may not always be something the team responds to, but it is definitely seen at some point.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t feedback that simply doesn’t serve a use. It’s the kind of feedback that a Community person will read and simply scratch their head over, and which doesn’t serve a real purpose as a matter of telling us something needs fixing. I think it’s important, however, to draw up a definition of what I mean by “useless” feedback, because I can just imagine people wondering if we look at some of the feedback we get and shred it without looking at it, kind of like the picture on the right. Useless feedback is feedback that a Community person can’t really do anything about, other than to communicate a sentiment up the chain that something sucks and people don’t like it. It’s feedback that we cant substantiate into a mechanic, design element, or a service issue that can be concretely dealt with, and it’s also something that can’t be taken back and solved with specific steps and effort. Usually, if I see useless feedback, I’ll try hard to read between the lines to see if there’s something driving what’s being said, but most of the time, if the person is just letting off steam, there’s not much I can do about it except shrug my shoulders and move on.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are five useless bits of feedback you can give to Community people.

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1. “The developers are lazy.”

It never fails that when someone posts this bit of feedback to one of the channels we use to take it in, that it’s after a particularly brutal crunch period where a significant portion of the development team was working long hours with little sleep, fueled only for their masochistic love for the game and unhealthy energy drinks. It’s especially mind-boggling when you consider that development of say, games is a multi-year project, filled with many man-hours, meetings, and late nights, so to say that “Devs R Lazy” is just not something we can take back and tell teams. It’s not often that a regular person gets to see behind the scenes of a development studio, but if you do get a chance to experience it, if not just read about it, you’d quickly find that the workday is far from being lazy about design.

Now if you’re saying the developers are inefficient due to rushing their code or QA isn’t holding to a standard, that’s another story. But laziness is not the issue.



2. “You lied to us.”

Whenever I see this come back to me as feedback, I immediately check my calendar a couple days back, just to see if I’d inadvertently scheduled “Lie to Community” for 1:00pm, followed immediately by “Cackle Evilly” at 2:00pm and “Put Lockbox of Kittens on Railroad Track” at the end of the day. I never find these appointments.

The problem with accusing a developer or Community person that they’re a liar is that in pretty much all of the cases, no one, especially a Community person intentionally intends to be dishonest to their players. It’s not just a matter of moral or ethical behavior, but practical as well. The way that dirty business practices and underhanded behavior spreads these days on the Internet, it would be extremely unwise to tell people something that wasn’t true. Maybe all the corporate scandal of the last few years has jaded some people, but in just about all the companies out there, dishonesty is the worst, not the best, policy to adhere to from a business standpoint.

Telling us that we lied is just a misnomer anyway – what someone is really trying to say is that we didn’t keep a promise – a milestone or deadline slipped, a design change was made that contradicts what was stated earlier, or something else changed circumstances. It’s legit to feel that the developers should stick to their design decisions, even if there are tons of circumstances that can dictate otherwise – it’s just not legit to assume or purport that development teams are villains intent on stealing your money.


3. “The person in charge of this should be fired.”

Granted, it’s a bit easy to read between the lines on this useless bit of feedback – someone is dissatisfied with the way that a specific area of responsibility handled a situation. And yes, most times, people giving this feedback will take the time to specifically point out the situation that led them to this opinion. A lot of times, I can sort of extrapolate what the real issue is, track it down, and escalate it if necessary.

But that doesn’t mean this statement is any less useless for Community people. Primarily, it’s the whole rather silly notion that the Community folks have the ability to fire people in the first place. How can I really put this into a report to be dropped to our design leads? It’s not exactly something I can say – “so, people feel that item scaling doesn’t extend into endgame, we have a couple balance issues with the Scissor-Cutter class, and oh, by the way, they don’t think you should be employed. Can you get on all of these by the end of the day?”. It’s just not really something I can do much about – not to mention that were we even to entertain the notion, the task of re-aligning resources and delegating responsibility to a sudden black hole in a position or positions is extremely difficult if not unrealistic. It’s just not going to happen.



4. “This was clearly a cheap money-grab.”

This one’s sort of in line with the “you lied to us” bit of feedback, in that it’s not particularly intentional that companies or dev studios are stealing money from your wallet in an unsavory way. The implication, however, is that the company’s priority is to make money by any means necessary, with the loftier goals of high quality and fun experiences for customers a secondary, even bonus, outcome. It’s hard for a Community person to really formulate this into something other than a non-ideal user experience where people feel cheated out of their cash, and even that is vague. And there’s also the notion, however people don’t want to hear it, that companies, especially game companies, are also businesses – that making revenue to stay in business IS a priority to keep the company funds solvent and in some cases prove viability to publishers or investors. There’s a lot of things that factor into cash-making initiatives.

But if you’re going to just imply that we wanted your money before we wanted your loyalty, that’s hard to dissuade or deal with – especially if you think we were unethical doing it. Really, the issue is not with money-grabs, but the way in which you feel you are obligated to spend your hard-earned dough. If a mechanic involving cash is intrusive to the point of it being necessary or “pay2win” towards others, that’s one thing – but telling us we swindled you is entirely another.

And finally…

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5. “I hope everything fails/the devs get hit by a bus/die in a fire/get laid off and learn their lesson about being bad.”

Most times, the person who resorts to this kind of feedback is frustrated, angry, or just plain in need of getting their bad feeling about their experience off of their chest and somewhere else. I get that. When things don’t work out, when you just need to let it out. It’s cathartic.

But taking it out on the development team or on the Community folks just isn’t the way to do it. Really, one has to stand back and think about what they are saying when they wish harm on other people, want them to suffer, and basically have their lives destroyed over what is essentially frustrating experiences with games and services. There’s a limit to what should be tolerable in terms of the type of feedback that’s given, and an intense need to experience the schadenfreude of watching people or companies be ruined is equivalent to using a nuclear bomb as retaliation for a bump on the head or a bloody cut on the arm. There’s nothing I can do about someone wanting to make a cautionary tale out of an entire company, especially when today’s economy makes it difficult to be employed in the first place.

Besides, company or employee or product failure is only the outcome of what’s happened, not the lesson. The lessons are learned in examining what was inefficient, what design decisions were made that hurt things, and constructive criticism about what could have been done better. The complete meltdown of a company is just not worth the value of the deterrent it serves to others in an industry looking to succeed.

In short, there are better ways to frame your feedback than the short-sightedness and lack of priorities it takes to want someone else to suffer or be harmed for bad entertainment experiences.

And that’s that. Hopefully, this will help frame feedback a lot better. Remember – Community people aren’t out to hear all rainbows and unicorns – but what they do hear, needs to be useful enough to do something about. It just makes it all the more likely that what sucks about your experience will get fixed, ¬†and fixed properly.

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