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7 Nov 2014

Indie Dev Tip: How to Respond to Unfair Criticism

A few days ago, I wrote a post discussing holding your tongue when criticized – which is easier said than done. However, there are times when you can’t – or shouldn’t – simply hold your tongue when being criticized. As you know, there’s a difference between being passive and letting others bulldozer over you. When the latter happens? It’s time to stand up for yourself as an indie developer and fight back – but fairly, of course.

Below is the right way to respond to unfair criticism.

Know that your reaction could have a significant impact on your career

How many times this year have we seen instances in which indie developers lash out at a critic – or heck, even an entire demographic of people? We all know the Phil Fish story: by not having a leash on your emotions, it could lead to the downfall of your indie development career (such seems to be the case with Fish). There are people out there that want nothing more than to get under your skin and cause you to sweat, but you know what? You can’t let them do this.

Take a few minutes to collect yourself before responding to criticism. While the criticism may be unfair and even bullying, by taking a few moments to collect your thoughts, you will definitely be able to come away with responding calmly and most importantly, professionally.


Repeat their point in your own words

Mind Tools suggests repeating the point of the criticism back to the criticizer in your own words:

“The goal here is to take the focus away from any personality clash, and place it squarely on substantive issues. And if what he’s saying is truly ridiculous, this tactic may shine a harsh light on his critique. Be very careful to be factual and avoid the temptation to exaggerate.”

That last sentence brings us to the next point:


Don’t exaggerate

If someone tells you that your indie game is borrows a lot of elements from the classic arcade game (let’s use Galaga as an example), don’t respond with a line such as:

“So what you’re saying is I stole the source code of Galaga and made a 100% perfect copy of the game. Yeah, that makes sense.”

Now, if you want to use a comeback like I can’t blame you because it’s satisfyingly snarky. But we’re professionals here: you can’t do that. Besides, the comeback only makes you come across as someone who is defensive and asking for a fight. Instead, use this retort:

“While certain elements were inspired by Galaga, our game has these other features that make it a truly unique game.”

Then you can spout off a few features that makes your game original.

This could make the criticizer backtrack a little, and from there, the both of you can come to an agreement of the type of criticism they are trying to make. For example:

“Well, yeah, those things are different, but I just found that the way the enemies fly toward your character and attack was very similar to Galaga.”

Which will give you the opportunity to repeat the point you made earlier:

“Like we said, Galaga was a great inspiration for us. We’re sorry you found this element a little too similar, and if you have any ways to improve this, we’d be more than happy to listen.”

If this is happening on social media? Believe me: you’re blowing your customers away by how professional you are coming across to criticism.

But if all else fails…


End the conversation politely

Sometimes, a critic is just a troll and wants to complain. If this happens, you need to end the conversation with class and ignore the rest of the conversation:

“I hear your plea and we understand your criticism; however, we have nothing left to add to this conversation. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

And that’s all you have to do. If the party continues to lash out at you and criticize your indie game/studio, it doesn’t matter! You’ve ended the conversation, and if he/she continues to talk to you, they kind of come across as a crazy person. After all, they’re practically talking to themselves at this point.

Handling criticism – especially unfair criticism – is as simple as taking a few moments to collect your thoughts. The worst controversies that have sprung up surrounding indie developers lashing out at others and ruining their careers is because they didn’t take those mandatory few moments to think about how to respond properly. If they did? Well, maybe a few of them would still be respected in the community.

Do you have any tips/comments about responding to unfair criticism? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: Mind Tools

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