A big part of being a game designer, on 'Egg!' or any other game, is accepting feedback and criticism. The first round naturally comes from the team and others in the company, especially during the early stages of development. As the game gets further along it’s helpful to reach out to friends and family for input. And finally, once it’s out in the world, we get to hear from you, our wonderful fans. The other half of the process is what to do with all this feedback we receive. After all, everyone has different opinions and the responses aren’t always as direct and easy to interpret as you might imagine.
Internally, we always have to remember that people in the company rarely play the game the way real players do. When you have to go through the introductory tutorial 200 times in a day, you will definitely get sick of seeing Mr. Peeg. But many new player need and enjoy his guidance.
Co-workers are great guinea pigs for other kinds of design and balance changes though. From our first iterations to the version you’re playing now our balance guru, Tracie, was able to implement and fine-tune really major changes with the help of data and reviews from people in the company. The interface, art style, systems, and features all change dramatically before anyone outside the company ever sees the game.
The company is a small group though, and often too familiar with the game to test many things that we designers need fresh eyes on. This is where friends and family and a select group of players invited to test the game come in. They help us get a fresh perspective and look at the game through the eyes of people who are playing for the very first time, free from biases formed by earlier versions of the game.
One of many changes that came out of our focus tests was in how you can drag items from your inventory to your Egg. This is an action you will repeat many, many times while playing 'Egg!' Early on, you could only drag items while viewing them in the main list, and not while looking at the specific item details. This was a behavior that we had carried over from our previous game, Egg Baby, and because everyone in the company was so accustomed to it, no one had ever tried doing it differently. In the focus tests, however, every single player tried to drag the item from the details panel. Luckily it was an easy enough behavior to accommodate, but we wouldn’t have come across it without the external players.
Live User Feedback
Focus testing is great for catching specific behaviors and interactions like that, but of course once the game is out in the world, reviews and feedback from our players gives us a much broader view of issues and sticking points that might not have been problematic when it was just us and our friends and family playing the game.
One update that we had planned but then decided wasn’t a high priority was displaying a timer when the Egg goes to sleep, so you know how long it will take. What wasn’t a high priority for us turned out to be very important for our players – many of you left reviews confused and requesting that exact feature.
Putting It All Together
These examples are all pretty straight forward, and there’s not much question about one option being better than another. Most of the time, though, the feedback that designers receive is anything but direct.
Everyone has different and often conflicting opinions about difficulty or balance or how a system should work. People have many different play-styles and care about different parts of the game – the collecting, the progression, the social aspect – and a big challenge for designers is how to appease all these groups.
And, sometimes, the best decision is not to appease them at all. Players don’t always know what they want – they know what they don’t like, but the solution is rarely as simple as they think. Beneath the surface, the systems that drive the game can be very complex and intertwined, and seemingly obvious “fixes” can have cascading and wide-reaching effects.
As designers it's our job to take these opposing opinions, our own knowledge of the game and of how our players interact with the game, feedback and criticism from many sources, and figure out what changes to make or features to add to improve the game in the best and most meaningful ways. The information we gather and the choices we make with it trickle down to everything we do in design, and certainly makes for a better experience for everyone!
And that's just considering feedback from individual players. We also gather data on a much larger scale, looking at the big picture of what and when and how players do different things in the game. But that’s a larger topic for another post…