An upcoming interview with game designer Simon Strange on Gamasutra quotes him as saying that player’s opinions are crap.
More specifically, he says that while people are able to point out what they like and don’t like, it becomes usable data points for tweaking gameplay. But it’s when they want to tell you why, where you have to be careful.
“When someone says ‘I don’t like this,’ that’s really important and you have to believe them. But when someone says ‘I don’t like this because-,’ you can often kind of ignore their ‘because,’ because they often don’t have the data to understand what’s going on,”
This is how I feel about almost every single game reviewer, professional or otherwise, out there. I just don’t think that many gaming enthusiasts out there have ever tried making a game before, which would make them oblivious to the finer points of game design, so their opinion becomes pretty worthless because they don’t have the full picture. I remember last school quarter, a game Cameron and I made featured no health bar, but rhetorical reasons. Playtesters didn’t like it saying that it didn’t make them feel invested in the character since he couldn’t die, even though there was another, more experimental mechanic, that punished the player for taking damage. I racked my brain about how they couldn’t feel invested in the character, even though you received a lower score everytime you got hit.
Looking back on it now, I realize what I did to finally stop being a game philosopher and start being a game designer again. I literally through out their reason and just addressed that playtesters didn’t like it. Cameron and I implemented a quick solution of a regenerating health bar and everything continued as normal. In the end, I should never have cared about why and just focused on how to make it better.
Also, read the comments on that article, a lot of good agreeing and disagreeing points.