Giving feedback on game writing

It happens.  Sometimes, when you’re least expecting it, someone’s work — maybe even your own — needs a bit of guidance.  Feedback, or “notes” as it is called in Hollywood, is an integral part of the creative process.  Some may consider it a necessary evil, but no matter what you think, remember that it is always necessary.

Ever heard of the feedback sandwich?  This hunger-inducing term describes the ideal structure for giving feedback.  Positive feedback is the bread, while criticism is the meat.  Feedback should be quite specific and relevant to the matter at hand.  “You’re a friendly person.  Your writing needs work, but overall, good job” will only serve to confuse your writer.  The feedback sandwich for this paragraph so far might be: “I like how you start out with a question to engage the reader.  You do tend to use passive verbs like ‘to be’ a bit too much.  Overall, it looks like you’re on track.”  Simple, straightforward, and honest.  Why don’t more people use the feedback sandwich?

  • “I don’t have time to tell them what they’re doing right.”  Well, do you have time to hire a new writer after this one quits? 
  • “They know I like all the work I haven’t specifically criticised.”  Oh, really?  If your writer is half as neurotic as most, your writer may think you hate everything, but only had the time to critique the most serious gaffs.  This scenario rings even more true in game development, when you often don’t have time to critique everything.
  • “I don’t want to step on the writers’ creative toes.”  Unless you will lose your job because of it, step on those toes!  This may come as a shock to you, but the game industry occasionally suffers from a lack of good writing.  This problem may very well stem from the fact no one had the guts to say “The emperor is wearing no clothes.”  If the story or writing isn’t working, airing your thoughts earlier rather than later will save everyone a lot of time and anguish.  If the story is working, your writers need to know that as well, or else they may change things for the worse.

What’s the worst excuse you’ve heard about not giving feedback?  Tomorrow I’ll give you a warning on what NOT to do when giving feedback.

Question Mark Last week’s line of game dialog came from GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS.  Did you guess it right?  More Guess that Game Dialog to come this week!

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Filed under Collaboration, Guess that game dialog!, Writing

5 responses to “Giving feedback on game writing

  1. Pingback: How not to give game writing feedback « Writers Cabal Blog

  2. Courtney

    I’ve only been involved with game writing for a fairly short time but writing for over ten years has given me a lot of time for giving and receiving feedback. I’ve seen many as many ‘cool’s as ‘this sucks’, and neither are particularly helpful in my not so humble opinion.

    I think the worst excuse I’ve seen would have to be from a supervisor of mine when I was working on an interactive novel project as a team lead. He was somewhat in the position of being equivalent to a creative director with me as a writing lead, and two writers working under my directive. We were posting the collaborative ‘game’ to a website and a week before the deadline I asked him if he wanted me to write up a detailed feedback report for every writer. My thought was that if they had it in front of them, they could see it and learn from it, and it would be documented for future use and growth as a team. He told me something along the lines of…

    “Nah, I don’t care about that. If it’s good, cool. If not, nobody’s going to notice anyway.”

    And this was for a project that was entirely backed by its writing and aimed at fellow writers! I was completely at a loss for words. And later I typed up the reports anyway.

    I usually default to the sandwich method. My feeling is that it starts with a positive, carefully introduces the negative, then ends with a positive to make the writer feel as though they’re not doing it totally wrong. Anything other than constructive criticism is completely pointless and entirely destructive. And that includes empty praise.

  3. I hear you about your supervisor. It’s normal to find people in games not that enthused about the writing, though we’re definitely trying to convince developers that good writing is the fastest and cheapest investment you can make in the grand scheme of game production.

    I think the lesson you learned here is a week before deadline is not the time to give feedback. Giving feedback at a time when the writer can still do something about it is the better option. Frequent feedback also saves time. My partner has been training me 😉 to give feedback daily on the sections we’re working on, and it does make turning in the final, polished product that much easier.

  4. Courtney

    Oh yeah, I never appreciate receiving feedback so close to deadline, though it seems to happen to me more often than not. Fortunately in most cases it’s only cost me my time to be able to go in and fix it, and not the time and resources of the studio.

    Usually when I have some position of leadership over other writers, or in a peer group, I’ll have them send me daily updates or section updates, whichever one is most practical.

  5. Pingback: Giving feedback: Successful TV producer agrees « Writers Cabal Blog

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