Giving Feedback like a Game Dev

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Reddit and made its rounds around the community and the office. I really wanted to shine an even brighter spotlight on this and immortalize it as an article on the site. For those of you who have read it already, it’s been polished and refined with some additional nuggets of knowledge!

Hello everybody! Dan Felder here—I’m a Game Designer on LoR. You may know me from my Reddit Posts where I’ve transformed a bunch of player pets into LoR followers! Several players have asked me about how to write feedback in a way that’s maximally useful for devs. I posted on Reddit about this, and thought it would be useful to summarize it all in a Dev Blog. After all, it’s something game designers have to do as well, so consider this a chance to use our own techniques against us.

How Does Playing This Feel?

My core advice is this: “Describe your experience the way you might explain how you’re feeling to a doctor.” A lot of us jump past this and go straight to solutions, such as calling for specific changes in the game. This would be akin to a patient walking into a doctor’s office and saying “Please schedule me for an MRI on my left leg, and prescribe me X medication for 14 days.” Even if the patient is 100% right about what should be done, the doc can’t know that until they’ve learned what the patient’s symptoms are.

Doctors diagnose patients by matching their symptoms to a list of possible conditions and performing tests to narrow things down. If someone sent the message above to a doctor, the doctor would have to guess what the person has diagnosed themselves with, and what underlying symptoms might have caused that. It takes a lot of untangling.

Real World Example

A few years ago, a friend at another company got a bunch of negative player feedback during an early beta for an MMO they were working on. Players overwhelmingly complained that the distance between [Zone A] and [Zone B] was way too far. Naturally, the lead producer told the team they should reduce the distance between those zones.

But wait, ripping out a chunk of the world map would have been a huge amount of work. It would take weeks to rebuild the world so the edges of the removed zone looked like they naturally connected. Plus, it would remove a lot of cool terrain that was already built. It’d basically be setting fire to free real estate. Was it necessary?

After digging into the feedback the designers concluded, “The players are probably calling for a shorter distance as a solution to their actual problem: they’re bored. The players complaining about this are very quest-focused, so they’re running through the area after getting the quest to go from Zone A to Zone B, and are ignoring anything that isn’t part of that quest until it’s done. This area has a lot of cool monsters and hidden treasure, but these quest-focused players aren’t doing anything that isn’t part of a quest so…. Let’s put a few quests in there. It’ll take one designer just a few days.”

This ended up working great. The complaints disappeared during the next playtest. Instead of spending weeks ripping out a chunk of the world, the designers spent a few days adding to the world instead. Players now had new quests that encouraged them to explore the area and discover the cool stuff that was already there. In fact, there was even some new feedback that the area should be bigger.

This is the kind of detective work designers do all the time. We look for the symptoms of the experience and build theories about why players feel the way they do, then look for solutions to the underlying issues.

Symptoms Before Suggestions

When giving playtest feedback it’s best to first describe what you’re feeling and when you’re feeling it. Include any information that helps us with the diagnosis too, such as when you aren’t feeling bored or what types of content you usually enjoy.

Once you have provided this information, you can also give suggestions for what you think would help. That can also be valuable information for us, but it’s important that we understand the key symptoms first. Otherwise we have to try and guess at them, and if we guess wrong we may think your solution wouldn’t work for what we think you’re feeling.

This is why the most useful feedback always describes what you’re feeling first—the motivation for why you’re making the suggestion—before adding any suggestions for how to fix the problem. If a player said, “I felt really bored going all the way from Zone A to Zone B with nothing to do in between, so I think you should shorten the distance between these zones” then it would be much easier to pinpoint the ideal solution.

Behind The Curtain

Here’s a behind-the-scenes example from LoR: In the Path of Champions release, Jinx was going to get a special PvE-only card as part of her adventure. At the time, playing it discarded all cards in your hand, then replaced them with 1-cost spells that dealt 2 damage to a unit. This is the feedback I wrote about this card when playtesting:

I wasn’t excited by Jinx’s treasure card. I felt it was an interesting utility option, because I understood this would trigger her to level up; but I wasn’t confident that trading my cards in hand for a bunch of 1-cost mystic shots that only hit units would be a good thing. It felt like a downgrade once I had a ton of mana. I wanted to play my more expensive cards I already had in hand, not lose them all for cheap cards.

I was also worried that if Jinx got removed, I might lose the game because I would have no proactive creatures in hand anymore.

All these new removal spells also made it feel hard to generate a super mega death rocket. I had to play all those removal spells to empty my hand, but I naturally wanted to save the removal for scary enemy units that might show up. So, while the treasure helps level Jinx up it makes it pretty hard to actually generate the iconic super mega death rocket. I think I only played a single rocket during the run.

This feedback follows the same flow I talked about above. I started by explaining that I wasn’t excited about the treasure card (we want you to feel excited by a special PvE-only treasure card) and talked about the experience of trying to use the card in the context of my run.

Jinx’s treasure card was ultimately redesigned into the Loose Cannon. This card also helps you empty your hand to level up Jinx, but it does so in a way that lets you play all your expensive cards in a big burst of insanity. It solves all the issues I was having with the previous version and is definitely exciting to play with.

The Most Useful Feedback

Negative feedback gets a lot of attention, but frankly positive feedback is even more useful. This isn’t because it feels good to read (though it does) but rather because it lets us do something called ‘clone the bright spots’. It’s a problem-solving philosophy that focuses on identifying what is working and doing more of it, rather than looking for problems to solve. After all, theoretical solutions to problems might work but also might not. Something that’s already working… Already works.

A great example is Jerry Sternin’s work in 1990. He was sent to rural areas by Save the Children to find ways to reduce child malnutrition. When he looked for problems causing the food shortages the list seemed endless, including extreme poverty and a lack of shipping infrastructure. The literature was overflowing with suggestions for how to solve these problems, but all were huge issues that had defeated many people with far more resources.

Instead of focusing on a long list of problems written by distant outsiders, Sternin asked the local villagers to identify bright spots in their communities – were any families managing to raise healthy kids despite all these problems? Was anything already working?

The answer was yes. It turned out that the families with healthier children were doing some things differently. For example, they were feeding kids the same amount of food in smaller portions spread throughout the day. They were also taking brine shrimp and mixing them into their kids’ diet. Soon the villagers were teaching other villages their home-grown solutions, leading to a significant improvement in child nutrition.

Sternin didn’t know any of this, he didn’t bring in any outside ideas, he just encouraged the villagers to explore what their neighbors with healthy children might be doing differently. This is why cloning bright spots is so powerful, there’s a defined recipe for success.

In game design feedback, we focus a lot on moments that delight us and look for ways to replicate them in the future. Often I’ll pitch dozens of cards at the start of a new iteration pass, then ask other designers to note any that “spark joy” in testing. Once we highlight the subset of cards that someone particularly enjoyed playing with or against, we often throw out the rest and focus on replicating those successes.

However, we don’t always know what you’re enjoying! While we do our best to understand what all our fellow players enjoy in LoR, it’s incredibly helpful to hear it directly from you. Let us know what you’re enjoying and why. What moments spark joy for you? What would you like to see more of? Let us know!

Looking Forward

Player feedback is critical for a healthy game, both positive and negative. We all want to make LoR the best it can be. We read Reddit, check app reviews, send out polls, go through community podcasts and videos, and more. With that in mind, here is a quick recap of what kind of feedback helps us the most when designing the game:

  • What you’re feeling
  • When you’re feeling it
  • What you enjoy a lot (and would like to see more of)

Thanks for reading. If you’re curious to learn more about how we approach design problems, Steve Rubin wrote a great article on some of our Runeterran Truths. It’s definitely worth checking out.

See you in Runeterra,

– Dan Felder