Get feedback. Change the plan.

For today’s blog post, I wrote an article about the value of positive reinforcement in video game design. It was focused, detailed, and loaded with examples, including a funny dolphin trainer analogy. I even made a short video with my dog to illustrate the principles involved. I was really excited!

Sibyl Moon has two beta readers. Full of pride, I showed them both the post. “What do you think? Isn’t this awesome?”

Both of them threw an immediate red flag. One said, “You’re comparing human beings to animals,” and the other said, “You’re advocating operant conditioning on human beings.” They chorused, “This is not cool”, even though one was sitting in my office and the other was sending responses via IM.

I was completely taken aback. I rewrote the post to be more player-centric. I tried to emphasize the benefits of timely feedback for the player, rather than to the developer.

They both shook their heads.

I said, “Well… shit.” And then I went away to get lunch, feeling pretty rotten about the whole thing.

After lunch, I took a deep breath, thought about the feedback I’d received, and took a moment to review the literature on operant conditioning and video games. I made a brief strategy in my head for justifying my existing approach. Then I sat down to write this article instead.

When you ask for feedback from a trusted audience, you can’t take only the parts you want. If you trust someone enough to tell you when you’re doing something right, then you have to trust them enough to tell you when you’re doing something wrong.

Am I willing to stand by an article where my readers feel disrespected? Well… no, actually. It wasn’t my intention to make anyone feel disrespected. I screwed up, and no amount of saying “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful” could have compensated for actually being disrespectful.

I still think the core idea was good. I want to rewrite that article someday, because positive reinforcement is a valuable tool in video game design.

But the article didn’t work in its current form. And I’m grateful to my beta readers for telling me so.

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  1. Thanks for writing this post. It’s something that’s too easy to forget.

    And actually, I cannot wait to read the other post too. I was interested before, but now I’m really intrigued. ;)

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