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Every game which builds a community while still being in active development will soon be confronted with players who post suggestions for new features on its forum. Most of these suggestions, however:

  • Go into a completely different direction than where you want your game to go
  • Would require far too much effort for the benefit they could have
  • Are just plain awful

What's a good way to deal with such suggestions?

Should you tell the players honestly what you think about their suggestions so that they learn to make more constructive ones?

Should you always try to maintain a positive and encouraging attitude towards player ideas, even when you secretly think that there is not a chance in hell you are following them?

Should you just ignore any suggestions which you don't like?

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+1 so you don't feel rejected ;) That and I like seeing questions like this that aren't about specific libraries, math problems or other such "hard" topics. –  Tim Holt Apr 4 '13 at 21:24
Obviously –  Byte56 Apr 4 '13 at 22:35
This is an interesting read, and somewhat on the topic. It's not necessarily about bad suggestions, but about general hate from players and how you, as a developer, could react to it. Sometimes, it might be a good idea to add an extra layer between you and the community, so that only what matters gets to you. This can be applied to bad suggestions too. By Avernum's creator:… –  Alex M. Apr 4 '13 at 22:43
Just adding a comment here because I do not think I have an answer for you.No matter what you do or how you deal with these, your audience will not agree 100%. If you ever read the World of Warcraft forums and how the developers have to reiterate constantly that the game is not "Design by Popular Demand" people will think it is and feel insulted when you do not go with their ideas. –  UnderscoreZero Apr 4 '13 at 22:59
@TimHolt Personally I think that should be primarily about non-technical questions. Any programming-related problems should rather be posted on stackoverflow, in my opinion. –  Philipp Apr 5 '13 at 13:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 60 down vote accepted

People who make suggestions are often fans or critics, who are invaluable as they help you know how well you are doing. Therefore you should treat these people with respect. Be gentle, firm, and most importantly, honest. This means you tell them exactly why you think their idea is bad, whilst being as understanding as possible.

  • If the idea is technically difficult, tell them so, and explain how it is technically difficult. Stick to the facts, stick to established wisdom. Address the difficulty as a shortcoming of the current system, rather than the impracticality of the suggestion, and never suggest that the player lacks technical know-how (even though that is often true).

    Good: To support 100 billion players, we'll have to move to some server cluster solution, and we just don't have the resources to do that in a reasonable time.

    Bad: That's not even physically possible; the algorithms involved have not even been discovered.

  • If the idea has merit but goes in a different direction, tell them so, and explain how the idea goes against your direction. Try to be diplomatic, and keep in mind that design is subjective, but at the same time be firm in stating that you have control over the artistic/design direction of the game.

    Good: I believe lasers will look out-of-place with the medieval theme of this game, and we want to be faithful in our rendition of a medieval society.

  • If the idea has flaws or lacks merit, tell them so, and explain its shortcomings. Keep in mind that for whatever reason (limitations of the medium, difficulty in expression, lack of forethought), the player may not be aware of the flaws, so kindly but clearly point them out. You'll find that players often come back with refinements, clarifications or just drop the idea, which are all much better outcomes. Remember that with a lot of ideas, players are dying to get a whiteboard and explain their idea face-to-face, but instead have to resort to a crappy text-only medium, so do not assume that just because the idea comes off as flawed that it is actually so. Also consider that a lot of great games started from ideas that don't seem brilliant at all, and it was execution that made them great.

    Good: Dishing out a 1-hit-KO spell may be fun, but I think it would be very annoying to be on the receiving side.

  • If you just don't find the idea good, tell them so, but be careful how you tell them, and always suggest alternatives. This type of response is the hardest to give, so see if you can treat it as one of the previous cases instead - eliminate the technical and obvious flaws first. In forming your response, assume that the idea is actually good, and ask why did the idea come off as bad? Does the player need to sell it a bit more? Would examples, sketches, or demos help? Would getting more community support help? Always give them a realistic out - what would convince you, and how could they go about it? Try to see the idea in the best possible light, don't be defensive, and look for that hidden kernel of wisdom that is often there.

    Good: I don't think a half-elf-dragon-devil-samurai-ninja would look good and be balanced, could you please show me what it might look like, what its stats and abilities might be?

Another way of looking at the problem is: these people may not be game development experts, but they could very well be experts in other areas that you are not - they could be doctors or lawyers. I'm sure you've said things that your doctor/lawyer would consider hare-brained, so ask yourself how you would like them to respond in that situation.

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I like the idea of never suggesting the player lacks technical know-how, but going easy on someone who thinks your servers should support fourteen times the world population, may not be well-received among the sane in your community. –  Marcks Thomas Apr 5 '13 at 23:13
+1 I like the reasoning/experience sharing, and how you wrote it. To my bookmarks. –  Hatoru Hansou Apr 10 '13 at 0:25
@MarcksThomas I think Cong Xu point is: Even if the idea looks insane/bad/stupid, you need to answer in a polite way. You are not going to sound insane, neither not well-received just because you are being polite. –  grprado Apr 11 '13 at 19:44
In an arcade style game, there is also an option to grab a bunch of "bad ideas" and put them into a new, custom game mode. –  joltmode May 17 '13 at 14:16

Tell people things like, "Hey that's an interesting idea. Thanks for the feedback!" That is making no promises nor making any direct feedback on the quality (or lack of) for the suggestion. Of course if you really really think it's a good suggestion, do say so. The catch is, don't clearly gush over the good ones and say, "yea thanks for that (NOT!)" for the ones you don't like. People can subtly sense your mood there whether you think so or not.

Don't say "I'll look into it" (unless you really are going to), nor say things like "What a dumb idea!"

The key here is to acknowledge to the person posting that you saw their feedback, and that you appreciate their involvement in the community. That's what they really want to hear and see.

Think about how it is on this site. Suppose you post a question or an answer. It's very human to be curious how the community will respond to it. Get an upvote? That's great! Get NO votes? That's kind of a bummer because maybe nobody read it, maybe nobody cared. Get a down vote, and it's hard not to feel a bit rejected.

Also, be open minded. Good suggestions will come up in your forums. And with every suggestion, try to look beyond the specific idea and see if you can identify the root motivation to the suggestion. Maybe the aiming system in your shooter is actually not easy to use, and someone makes a suggestion about a change. It may be their idea really stinks, but their root issue with the aiming system is legitimate - and that's what you need to know. So you could turn that into a, "Hey thanks for your idea for a change to the aiming system" type response.

Lastly, this is why you need a person familiar with community management to handle such things. If you don't have such a person or aren't the person to do this, consider just not having an online forum. They can be more work than you think.

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"And with every suggestion, try to look beyond the specific idea" - +1 for this part. –  jco Apr 4 '13 at 21:27
+1 also for not giving promises or direct feedback. Can seem bureaucratic or sucky to the user, but it's better than saying anything else as a lie just to get people to give more feedback. Users are smarter than that. –  AlbeyAmakiir Apr 5 '13 at 3:59
As for looking at the root suggestion, it could be even more subtle. "The steering sucks! Try these controls instead!" could actually mean that your levels are poorly designed for the current steering, rather than the steering being the issue. –  AlbeyAmakiir Apr 5 '13 at 4:01
comment +1 to Albey - users are smarter than you think. Amusingly I just added something to that effect, then noticed your comment! –  Tim Holt May 18 '13 at 1:59

Telling your community that their ideas are bad is a sure way to make your community hate you. The most important point here is to make your community feel like they are contributing something to the game even if their ideas are not remotely feasible. Good responses would most certainly be "Thanks for the feedback!" or "We'll take it on board!". However I feel that those response are just standard responses that make you think "blah, blah, blah".

The best kind of response to this is something that...

  1. Encourages further input
  2. Ensures player that their suggestion will be considered
  3. Provides a positive human response

All of these points will go far in building your community. Best example I can think of would be "That's a really interesting idea - jetpacks could add a whole new mechanic to the game! We'll present it to the rest of the team."

That being said, you should jump on good suggestions, and use them as examples. That way, you can turn it to your advantage and report back to the community - saying "PlayerX suggested this improvement - and we thought it was such a great idea that we'd add it in! Take a look at this screenshot/video etc!" That kind of feedback will do wonders for your popularity.

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Your points are good but I feel your example doesn't match; the best "thanks we'll look at it" response will still seem like boilerplate evasion unless you show that you've actually looked at it. For example, politely pointing out flaws demonstrates that you've at least considered it, which shows the community that you are receptive to ideas. IMHO this is more important than trying not to offend anyone. –  congusbongus Apr 5 '13 at 0:48

You shouldn't be handling feedback by yourself. Eventually, you'll spend all your time responding to it, and nobody wants that.

Direct feedback to forums, a trustworthy assistant-designer, or a ticketing system. Aside from the assistant option, this allows you to ignore ideas outright and comes across as impersonal.

I'm still a fan of the forums system because it allows your fan base to discuss the idea. The first few times, tell them why it doesn't fit in with the system. Once your fans understand the direction of the game, they'll repeat your answer to future similar suggestions.

If it is a good idea, then simply acknowledge and respond to it.

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I like the idea of having a list of suggestions from the users but first the other users of the forum had to approve it by voting. Then, since the list would be small because a fairly large (your choice) amount of users would have to like it, you could read the suggestions yourself or have someone you trust do it easily.

These suggestions would be good or at least not crazy so you wouldn't have to say to anybody that their ideas suck. From here, you can just tell them if it's hard to do, if it isn't fit for the game or ask for more details.

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Dwarf Fortress actually prioritizes development democratically. Sometimes the creator ignores these if they're technically difficult or don't suit the situation, but it's a really good way of highlighting what's really popular. –  Muz Mar 26 '14 at 15:00

In forums where I participate developers rarely address fan suggestions. You are amazing to even consider addressing them. If they are completely flawed then it is probably best to let other fans engage with them (somebody is bound to have a different opinion). Unless you are in the unlikely situation where everybody agrees with an idea except you (in which case perhaps you should give it a second thought), it's probably safe to just ignore it.

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