For the Cats: the joy of receiving feedback

For the Cats

I’ve made For the Cats mostly for one reason: I wanted feedback. My previous (and first ever) Interactive Fiction game, Snowed In, was played a few times, but never reviewed. I had no idea if it was hated, loved or received with a lukewarm shrug. I wanted to know if my IF games are any fun to the audience. Am I on the right path? Is my effort worthwhile? Or am I wasting time and should move on to some other hobby? IFComp, the annual Interactive Fiction competition, seemed to be a perfect place to get judged.

And judged I was! My game was played by 67 people. 8 people quite liked it, giving it an 8 out of 10, and 2 people didn't think much of it, giving it a 2. The other judges were more restrained, rating the game between 3 and 7. As a result, I was 37th, which, I think, is really great. But what’s more important, there were reviews.

Shortcomings of my game were listed: the fonts (a valid point – I never cared about the typography and if I want to make games where text is 90% of the display, maybe I should start), the game mechanics (also valid – this may improve once I learn the basics of coding), the blurb, the title card… The one thing where there was no consensus was the writing – some really liked it, while others thought it’s not very memorable. The kindest review was one by Felicity Drake, and it seems that the review by Iris Colt is on another end of the spectrum.
I’m really grateful to all the great people who took their time to play my game, think about it for a moment and give feedback, whether review or rating. Thanks to them, I now know that my small games are good enough to improve upon and try again. Next year, I hope to do better.

In tabletop RPGs, the feedback loop has a lot more bandwidth. You usually play face to face, live or via Skype. The groups consist of people who know each other, or get to know each other over multiple sessions of roleplaying (except for one-shots with strangers, but that’s another story). There are so many opportunities to receive feedback on your GMing or playstyle, during the game or afterwards. And yet, it’s not unusual for a player to grind their teeth waiting for a scene/arc to be over, or for GM to hope that the PC changes their ways or gets killed so they can stop being so annoying, as many threads on the Internet dedicated to awful GMs and problem players demonstrate. Getting feedback about the game, brainstorming what’s fun and what’s not should be as common and normal an end-of-session activity as awarding experience.

For our duet games we've got a basic questionnaire to go through post-session:

  • What setting element (NPC, location, monster) was the most fun today?
  • What mechanics do you like the most?
  • What you would like to see more of/less of?
  • Was there anything that made you uncomfortable or uneasy?
  • Was anything that made you exciting and you want to focus on the next session?

There are other approaches, such as Roses and Thorns, which we've seen in an actual play and tried out ourselves, but decided it's better for large groups.

Tabletop RPGs are unique in that we make the game as we play. There are game rules, but the social rules of the group are at least equally important. There is a setting, but we can add and remove its elements as we please. Nothing stops us from improving our experience, session after session, game after game. We just need to ask the right questions. And listen.