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How Poor Game Design Devastates Communities and What to Do About It

Posted by Charles Owen-Jackson on Sep 25, 2018 9:50:00 AM

3 minute read

poor game design affects communities

Game developers and publishers commonly assume that bugs are behind most bad reviews. While game-breaking bugs are certainly a deal-breaker for your players, the most common complaints come down to game design issues.

The reason for this is that unlike bugs, which can be quickly patched, game design issues are more difficult to fix. Problems with the actual design of the underlying mechanics of a game, may cause players to wonder whether the game is doomed. This is a common criticism of titles that are released too early.

Most bugs can be fixed– and provided you patch them quickly – most players won’t bat an eyelid. In fact, a study published on ResearchGate found that nearly half of the time players referred to bugs when reviewing a game on Steam, the reviews were nonetheless positive.

Game design problems are quite another matter. They can quickly lead to people abandoning your community in droves and demanding refunds. For example, when the No Man’s Sky launched in August 2016 with a great deal of fanfare, there was an immediate backlash from a player base who felt they had been betrayed when the game failed to meet just about every expectation.

Bad News Travels Fast

Even developers Hello Games cannot deny that the launch of their highly-anticipated procedurally-generated space exploration game was fraught with issues. Most of the problems came down to the game design not living up to the hype. Several months of near silence on the matter certainly didn’t help.

Players from their once-thriving pre-launch community marched away in anger and vented their frustrations on Steam. Bad news travels alarmingly fast –, and within 24 hours, thousands of refunds had been requested and player sentiment was summed up on Steam as ‘overwhelmingly negative’.

A Breeding Ground for Trolls

Not everyone was satisfied with getting a refund and being done with it. Some people went the extra mile to vent their frustrations by trolling. Making matters even worse were the death threats they received from an infuriated players – one of which who was infuriated by the absence of butterflies in the game, which had been present in the trailer.

While there’s absolutely no excuse for such behavior,  it illustrates how serious game design issues attract the worst kind of people – the kind who can bring your entire community down with them. Once the disappointed (yet more reasonable) players have given up and started looking for their entertainment elsewhere, you’ll be left with an angry mob.

Listening to Your Players

Despite the disastrous consequences of its rocky launch, No Man’s Sky eventually rose from the ashes and made a virtually unprecedented comeback in the unforgiving world of video games.

By using what was left of their community to gather more constructive feedback, they managed to turn the tide. After nearly two years of major updates, No Man’s Sky was a new game, with many hailing the July 2018 launch of the Next update as No Man’s Sky 2. Best of all, it was free, and completely overhauled the gameplay and the mechanics behind it.

Although Hello Games made some serious blunders  when launching their first game, they earned forgiveness and even praise for listening to their players. Now with recent reviews on Steam reflecting a more positive sentiment, it’s the perfect case study of what a developer can do when it listens to its community and focuses on improving its game in line with player expectations.

On the other hand, the developers would have undoubtedly saved themselves a whole lot of trouble had they not overhyped the game and simply waited until it was ready for release.

Topics: Gaming

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