Who should a game creator listen to?
Which criticisms of their game should they most take to heart?
When I interviewed "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" producer Haden Blackman recently about the game's upcoming downloadable content, I asked if we could chat about the reception that game has received. The game has sold more than 1.5 million copies, so it's popular. It's reviews were okay.
The game's story has been widely praised in reviews and among all the gamers who've played it that I've spoken to. Its gameplay hasn't been as broadly well-received, though it has fans as well.
But with the feedback being so mixed, which responses can you trust? This is what Blackman has decided:
"We're trying to be balanced when we look at the feedback. We're definitely taking everything from the reviews and writing it down -- and talking about how much we might address it. But, at the same time, we're putting great stock and heavy emphasis on the feedback that's coming from the consumers. And where there's overlap there, those are the things we want to focus on if we ever move ahead in the future."
So gamer feedback means as much as critics' does. Fair?
If you're detecting some skepticism on Blackman's part of the reviewers' reactions to the game, you're correct. What would make him so skeptical? Well there's this:
The story. Everyone loves it. And yet, as far as Blackman can tell, it didn't help review scores. He and I discussed some of the complaints gamers like me had with the controls. I told him the jumping felt a little off and that, once in a while, the combat could be frustrating.
He admitted the game isn't perfect but thought the overall package was strong. And yet this is what he saw in the reviews:
"We were surprised by some of the negativity in some of the reviews and how much some of those [gameplay complaints] dragged down the perception of some of the reviewers and how little, to be honest, the story seemed to affect the reviews in reverse. The games industry and reviewers, in particular, talk about the importance of story, but at the end of the day it didn't count much in the reviews we got. There would be one paragraph that would talk glowingly about the story but it didn't necessarily move the needle in terms of scores. That's definitely not what we're seeing in terms of consumer feedback."
Regular non-reviewer gamers out there, understand what Blackman is saying. Your feedback matters as much to him as reviewers' does. Just try not to send mixed messages like reviewers do, okay?
(As we discussed feedback to the game, Blackman and I chatted about the game's signature action moment that was telegraphed in advertisements for the game: a Jedi pulling a Star Destroyer down from the sky. Check back later today to read my exchange with Blackman about that controversial gameplay moment.)