Does criticism and inviting feedback lead to better designed games?

Does criticism and inviting feedback lead to better designed games?

The subject of criticism in game design is a hotly-contested one. Whereas some people believe such feedback helps to shape a product, particularly those for the commercial market, others feel game design borders on art, and is therefore subjective (and easily disregarded) in nature.

Platforms and the format of a game must also make a difference. For example, would a player expect more of a highly polished game, such as Call of Duty, from one of the bigger publishers, than a free app in development on an open platform?

And what should constitute grounds for criticism? The enjoyment a player gets from the game, the educational quality, whether emotions are evoked, navigation and ease of use, how a game’s ideas are conveyed, etc.? It’s easy to see how critique can be undermined if games are compared that have little common ground.

Some criticism is professional, not user-driven, and written by journalists working at game magazines, as they direct their readers to best-sellers and the ‘best to play’. But is this kind of feedback more worthy than that from actual customers? Both are looking at the product from completely different angles.

It’s also hard to give overall criticism of a title when it has such varying elements, i.e. technical vs. design vs. theme vs. commerciality vs. demographic. How can you summarise or compare?

A designer doesn’t have to be a critic to design games; however, just as in any industry or discipline, it’s always a good idea to play other people’s games for new ideas, and to see what works and what doesn’t.

Review vs. criticism

As mentioned above, magazine hacks are reporting from a review aspect, helping readers to make buying decisions based on their opinion and research. Criticism, on the other hand, could still come from the same journalists, but may focus on dissecting the game and evaluating its make-up and what it represents. For example, is its portrayal accurate to real-life situations and human interaction? If it offers escapism, is it easy to use and can it hold players’ interest whilst they progress through its levels?

Review scores/stars can prove powerful tools that influence game buyers. Whilst some reviewers don’t use them as they fail to offer accurate reflection, others do. As a piece of fun, or to offset a review article, they may be seen as harmless by the reviewer, but they’re rarely used by critics, who’re more likely to believe their feedback is too complex to simply award two, three or four stars.

The critic philosophises, knowing that their opinion is only one, but with a desire to improve the game. Feedback is therefore constructive, never nasty, with this end goal in mind.


It’s unlikely that experimental titles/games/apps would receive such scrutiny, as commonly, a certain demographic writes reviews and offers critique; they therefore tend to single out games they would play. This leads to a skewed, blinkered view of the game industry by an outsider, with only player feedback serving those games that fill a niche.

There’s no doubt that criticism, feedback, or review – however you want to refer to it – can be valuable. However, it can also have its downsides in such a constantly changing industry. What are your thoughts?

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