Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm The Best Friend You've Got

Let's make no pretenses; board games are a business. Although most people involved do what they do out of passion for the hobby, most cannot do so for free, or worse, at a loss. And being a consumer business, the evaluation of the "quality" of the product is not up to "the professionals" to decide. It is up to the consumers.

The problem is that we are all different. We all have different requirements, different tastes, different degrees of tolerance for choices made by the publisher, the designer, the graphic designer, etc. Do these creative people really want us to "quit whining"? If they only sell half as many copies of XYZ as expected, don't they really want to know why? It's not just about the one game; it's about their future.

W Eric Martin did an excellent job listing many of the tough decisions that publishers must weigh when producing a game. But by what criteria are they to make these decisions? It should be based on customer feedback. If you lean towards higher quality bits, then, yes, some customers are going to complain about the cost. The only way to handle the situation is to take all feedback, and use it to make future choices. As long as customers know that the publishers are listening, they will understand. This does not mean they should "quit whining".

Let's put something in perspective. If player A doesn't like something about a board game, and player B doesn't mind, then player A is a whiner. If player A wants a clarification on an ambiguous rule, and player B "knows" what it means, then player A is a rules lawyer. Everyone is a "whiner" or a "rules lawyer" when put into the proper circumstances. Stop being hypocrites.

What about the common "vote with your wallet" attitude? I don't think anyone wants that, certainly not the publishers. There are games that are too awful for me to buy, and games that are within my tolerances. I assume the publisher would rather that I buy the game and give them feedback, than not buy it at all.

I want all publishers to succeed. When I make negative comments about their games, it is with the intention of helping them to improve (this time or next time).

So who the hell am I? I'm no one in particular. I am not a trend-setter. I am often in the minority in my opinions. But I am always honest, straight, and speak in good faith. I am not out to harm or even disrespect publishers, designers, or others. And, no, telling someone you don't like something they spent months working on is not disrespectful. Lying about how you feel--or equivocating--is.

Knizia said, "When playing a game, the goal is to win. But it is the goal that is important, not the winning." This is true of publishing as well. The goal is perfection. Is it important that you strive for perfection, not that you reach it. That's what I want to see more of.

So who the hell am I? I'm the best friend you've got.

I don't care who you are, I will always tell you what I think. I want you to succeed. I want your games to get better and better. And I want to buy them. If I stop caring about you, I will stop talking to you. Don't get too comfy with your fanboys; they will be the ones standing on your shoulders as you sink into the mud.

10 Comments:

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Habes said...

Couldn't agree more, great post Jim.

 
At 8:36 PM, Blogger ekted said...

You're just a fanboy. ;)

 
At 1:01 AM, Blogger Brettspiel said...

But by what criteria are they to make these decisions? It should be based on customer feedback...The only way to handle the situation is to take all feedback, and use it to make future choices.

As you say, publishers should continually strive to make the best possible games they can.

As consumers, the most important thing we can do to contribute to the process is to provide the best possible feedback we can give.

There is a difference between complaining and criticism, between disparagement and disagreement.

If player A doesn't like something about a board game, and player B doesn't mind, then player A is a whiner.

If player A doesn't like something about a board game, and bitches and complains about it to no end, then player A is a whiner.

Player A can dislike something and criticize it and talk about it without being a whiner-if he chooses.

 
At 3:29 AM, Blogger Seth Jaffee said...

Just wondering if I missed something... what sparked this post? I don't disagree, it just sounds like it's in response to some event or exchange that I must not have read about.

 
At 8:04 AM, Blogger ekted said...

"If player A doesn't like something about a board game, and bitches and complains about it to no end, then player A is a whiner."

It's all relative. I've seen people who simply say "the board is too small" being called whiners. I've given very thoughtful and detailed feedback only to have the over-sensitive "victim" go ballistic.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger ekted said...

"...what sparked this post?"

Nothing specific. Just the general attitude that one should either give lavish praise or shut up. Threads like:

This game rocks!
Can't wait to buy this!
You guys rule!
Drool!

Anyone who posts "the board is too small" will get assaulted. But guess which post is the most useful.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Brettspiel said...

It's all relative. I've seen people who simply say "the board is too small" being called whiners.

Yes, and anyone who posts, "This game rocks!" is dismissed as a fanboy.

If you say its all relative, I say its all relative in context.

If your goal is really to provide feedback to the publisher, is the publisher more likely to hear and address your concerns if you contact them directly, or if you post your opinion in a noisy public forum?

Now, if your goal was to have your complaints heard by the gaming community or to gather support for your cause, then a public forum is the obvious choice.

Of course, in a public forum there will be people who disagree with you and some of them will dismiss you as a whiner.

But, I've never heard of a publisher calling anyone a whiner after receiving "thoughtful and detailed" direct feedback.

 
At 9:38 PM, Anonymous w. eric martin said...

I have no problem with criticism of games; heck, I post plenty of it in the reviews that I run on Boardgame News. One of the points of my "Publishers Can't Win" column on Boardgame News, which brettspiel seconds, is that all too often criticism is ineffective (and comes across as whining) because it's not directed to the intended target.

A writer needs to have his audience in mind and write accordingly. My reviews on BGN are directed to those who are interested in the game, so I try to identify problems that other gamers might have. My comments to publishers (you should post a FAQ online to address these questions, I had a problem with damaged components, etc.) are sent to those publishers directly. That's the best way to potentially influence future releases or get a problem resolved. Posting on a public forum like BoardGameGeek is good for sharing information with other gamers, but criticism aimed at publishers in such a forum comes off as a grandstanding soapbox speech that will have no effect in the long run because the publisher won't see it in the tidal wave of daily posts.

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger agent easy said...

I hate to say this, but I don't think most people can articulate what they want. When they don't like something, they come up with reasons, but that doesn't mean they are the right reasons.

If you walked out of The Dark Knight and said "I hated it, it was too long" I bet a million bucks that making the film shorter wouldn't help.

In other words, I think that there is no answer to this question. Publishers need to have a solid vision for their product and avoid falling into the trap of diluting it by trying to be all things to all people. Similarly, they have to be savy enough to recognize valid criticism when it comes along and take corrective action. If those two points sound at odds, it's because they are. Listening to customer feedback can be just as misleading as not listening to it. That's why it's hard.

A successful creative endeavor is usually more than the sum of it's parts. Discussing the parts themselves can be entertaining, but also likely misses the point.

 
At 3:22 AM, Blogger Fellonmyhead said...

brettspiel said:
If your goal is really to provide feedback to the publisher, is the publisher more likely to hear and address your concerns if you contact them directly, or if you post your opinion in a noisy public forum?

I think this is exactly the way to do it, for three reasons:

1. A publisher with any sense will be reading what customers say about their product in a certain popular public forum.

2. The collective discussion will weed out those complaints that actually are just "whining".

3. While some publishers make it easy for consumers to raise issues about their games, none of them really have a means of dealing with anything other than direct complaints (pieces missing, product defects and so on). The exceptions are companies like FFG and Days of Wonder who have forums for each title; something small publishers generally can't afford to run.

Let's face it, if one person thinks the board is "too small" then it probably is, from their perspective. If everybody thinks the board is "too small" then it definitely is.

It should be fairly easy for anybody with a grasp of their product to know which posts are actually meaningful. But let's not kid ourselves here; if the majority of consumers are happy with a product then no matter how much one persons complains about their board being "too small", the publishers will go on using that self-same board.

 

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