Posted On: 2023-02-06
I've recently had several especially good feedback sessions, and, in the process of unpacking what went right, I realized that some of these are things that can apply more broadly, not only for myself, but potentially for others as well. As such, I thought it'd be worthwhile sharing what I found, in case it can help you make the most of asking others for feedback.
Although it's been a while* since I've solicited external feedback, I've been holding regular "internal" feedback sessions with my wife, as she's kind enough to offer her thoughts/reactions to every draft. These more frequent sessions have helped me practice the skill of receiving feedback - both things I agree with and things that I don't. In particular, the skill of responding affirmatively without actually committing to making changes** is proving to be extremely valuable, and I'm glad that I've had the chance to hone it.
In the past, I've generally tried to absorb and use every piece of feedback I've received about my project. Often I justified this approach to myself as trying to make the most of a rare (and valuable) thing, but for my most recent sessions I've used a different approach, to much better results. Rather than framing feedback in my mind as "what does this person see that I missed", I now frame it as "I wonder how this person will react to what I've made", and that has made the feedback I received seem much more clear and concretely useful. No matter how I frame it, people will tell me about things that are unclear or things that I agree need to be changed, but when I assumed up-front that the person I'm talking to was right (since I am too close to the project to see many of its issues), it became more difficult to accurately assess the relevance/importance of any particular piece of feedback. Bringing a higher level of creative confidence to the feedback sessions* has made it quite a bit easier to judge which changes are worth pursuing.
My project is fundamentally a multimedia one: art, writing, sound, and gameplay all combine to create the final experience. It is, therefore, no surprise that people will give feedback on all of these parts, even if what they're responding to is just a placeholder. To overcome this, I've found that I get much more focused (and useful) feedback if I clearly isolate a single part from everything else: for my most recent sessions, I've been focused on the writing, so I've taken the time to isolate the script so that people can read it without touching the game itself (which was easy to do, thanks to Ink having a convenient "export to html" option.) Of course, I still get feedback on the presentation*, but far less than if it were in running inside the game, with art, UI, sound, etc.
I usually gather feedback in one-on-one sessions, but during my most recent feedback there was an accidental change to that approach that yielded surprising results. One of the sessions occurred in a (small) group setting, where I was getting one-on-one feedback from someone, but a couple of other people were also in the room. At one point, someone (whom I had previously had a one-on-one feedback session with) jumped in, and shared their own thoughts, which differed significantly from the person who was giving their feedback. Interestingly, it was a section where the person joining the conversation hadn't said anything one-on-one: their reaction was to silently assume one thing, and only by hearing someone else's interpretation did they openly express that assumption. The ensuing conversation was fascinating to observe (each tried to persuade the other of their own viewpoint), and it gave me a lot of insight into how they each viewed the work. As useful as one-on-one sessions are, it seems clear that gathering feedback from a (small) group can also be very valuable, as people talk very differently to each other about a work than they talk to the creator about it.
I have been enormously grateful to everyone who has provided feedback so far, and I think I'm now much better able to make use of that feedback than I was in earlier sessions. Through practice and general confidence in my work, it's becoming easier to acknowledge opinions without needing to make changes. Adjustments to my process are also contributing, as I am now better able to help people focus on what matters - though I'm sure there will be plenty more ways to improve my processes as I start looking at group feedback sessions. I hope reading this post has been useful to you - either now or in the future.