Sunday, July 31, 2011

Listening to Feedback

I recently finished playing through the Dragon Age 2: Legacy DLC. For those a little less video game savvy, that's extra paid download content beyond what comes with the game itself, and what it exactly contains varies from game to game. It could be bonus items, levels, costumes, etc.

Legacy is like an extra adventure which story-wise takes place during the main game. It's also a bit remarkable in that the developer said they took pains to listen to player feedback in what they didn't like in the main game when they crafted the DLC and even now maintain a feedback thread on their forums to get a handle on what people liked or didn't like about this particular DLC.

The reason I find this interesting as a blog topic is because writers, particularly new writers, are often in pursuit of feedback. It's not uncommon to balance reader feedback (often in the form of a critique) with what to do in the next draft of the story. The difference here is that writers often focus on the current project they're working on and that game developers look foward just as often to the next iteration (be it patch, DLC, or sequel).

The result of feedback is quite good when it comes to Legacy. It immediately fixed common criticisms of the main game such as recycled area maps and nonsensical waves of enemies. It is also more story-based than previous Dragon Age DLCs, culminating in a very nice "lore" moment where astute followers of the series can be shocked by the complete identity of the last boss. I quite enjoyed it all.

Legacy is an example of where audience feedback was taken to heart can judging from forum comments, the result was received well. It's not possible to please everyone, but it's a good thing when people who didn't like the main game as much found the DLC to be quite enjoyable.

As writers I've heard there's a point where you want to avoid "writing by commitee." In games "designing by committee" isn't considered much better, especially since the fanbase may want conflicting things, but I think if the target audience is saying something, it's a good idea to listen. They're the ones paying the money.

And here where it gets murkier for a writer. Until we have a fanbase, and a particularly ardent one, it's not likely we'll hear from those who are paying the money.

I can't think of a solution to that, aside from making sure your critiquers are also in the target audience you want your readers to be, so what they're suggesting or asking for as a reader is more likely to match up with what potential readers who've yet to discover you want.