Friday, April 1, 2016

Brewmasters Are In: How to Get Back Into Giving Feedback!

It's time to celebrate, friends! We're finally able to start playtesting Brewmasters! There were a couple changes that we've found out with the latest patch but I wanted to take the time to talk about providing feedback in as effective a way as possible. But first, a quick summary of the changes.

Firstly, we got Detox back! So that's cool! Secondly, additional uses of ISB extends the shuffle buff's duration, which is pretty great. Thirdly, ISB and PB's cooldown is now affected by haste CDR. We're expecting to see their base CD rise up pretty high (at least 3 seconnds or so) but that's fine. Right now it's a bit silly. All that being said, onto the main topic!

Learning game design has been an amazing experience in really understanding and appreciating feedback for games. A good part of our first class is actually about learning how to give and receive feedback because it's so absolutely vital to the success of games. I wanted to take some time and go through all the things that in my opinion will enable the best, clearest feedback possible so that as a community we can communicate our worries and concerns with Blizzard with as little white noise as possible. To that end, I made a little list of things that I think we should all keep in mind when providing feedback.

1) Avoid buzzwords

People really love to use words like "clunky" or "janky" when describing gameplay they don't like. The problem with these words is that they are actually really bad at getting at the issue with the gameplay and communicating the problem. What makes it feel clunky? What's the specific problem? If a rotation feels clunky, is it because there's not enough resources? too many resources? There's not an inherent feel of flow in the gameplay? Why? Cooldowns don't match up with other cooldowns / resources? Too long of cooldowns? Too short of cooldowns? Too many cooldowns? Too few cooldowns? Answering those questions for yourself and then communicating feedback based on those answers means that Blizzard gets a clearer idea of what could be improved, rather than just getting a general feel of dislike. This actually goes into point number 2, which is:

2) Communicate what you don't like and why, not how you feel about it.

Being able to say what aspects of gameplay don't feel good and why that is provides much more meaningful information for Blizzard than the mere dislike of those things. Saying you don't like how our self-healing is doesn't really give Blizzard anything to go off of. That could mean a lot of things from the potency of heals to how easy it is to heal to how frequently you heal to how you heal. This is somewhat like number 1, but the core of it is to communicate what the problem is rather than tiptoeing around it by describing how you feel about it. Being direct by thinking about and communicating what you specifically don't like and being able to back that up with reasoning rather than just saying you don't like it will be beneficial for the spec by the end of testing.

3) Focus more on fun, not balance

Right now we're still in alpha which means Blizzard isn't yet done with implementing core content. They are still very much in an iterative phase. So right now, I'd say it's generally better to focus more on whether the spec feels engaging and fun to play than balance. You can make a point of balance, don't get me wrong, but that is mainly what beta is for, when everything's more or less penciled in. We have plenty of time to worry about balancing, since that can happen even after beta... but we do have a more limited timeframe to provide feedback concerning how the spec functions at its core mechanics.

That being said I would argue that mechanical balance (for example, our level 45 talent tier) is also important. Most of what I say here is primarily directed towards feedback on our rotation and our play. Providing feedback on the mechanics laid out in our talents and our artifact traits is perfectly valid. I'm mainly talking about fine-tuning of things like overall damage and defensive power. Like I said though, that's still important stuff, but at least for me, any feedback that I'm going to be giving for a while is probably going to be more related to either mechanics or overall feel of play.

4) Think about the spec now, and not what it was.

I realize this is probably one of the hardest things to do as a tester. Especially for Brewmasters who have had more or less a really fun spec for the last four years. And I realize that this is actually even harder because of something called anchoring bias, where we inadvertently place a greater importance on initial information (in this case, the old version of the spec) when making decisions. However, whether we like it or not, Blizzard has decided to change how the spec works. Feedback in the line of "I like the old version better" is probably just going to be met with "Well... we're changing it... so I mean... I don't think we can really do much about that, sorry." At this point it's a bit cynical to say it but saying that the old spec is better as one's feedback is kind of a waste of energy and a waste of bandwidth for feedback that could be improving what is here now.

Ultimately, if we're going to get something resembling what is currently on the alpha in Legion proper, our priority should be looking at the spec for what it is - not what it was - and ensuring that this is the best it can be. That should be our goal. This isn't to say that the old one is worse and the new one is better, that is purely opinion and I am not touching that, but we should all try and focus on making what is there now the best it can be.It doesn't mean you are wrong to feel the way you do nor that your opinion isn't valuable. It doesn't mean that you can't provide feedback using the old model in some ways but with a focus on improving whats there in the build. But the goal shouldn't be to have feedback that is more or less saying that the old version of the spec was better and that they should just revert it. I sincerely doubt that it would happen. That's just the ugly truth of it.

I realize that's a hard thing to ask of a lot of you guys because you really do love the current Brewmaster. I do too. But it is what it is, and we just gotta roll with the punches (pun intended). As a designer you have to learn this really quick and I think the same lesson applies for testers as well.

Hopefully this has been useful for some of you guys! I'm sure some of this is just reiteration but I don't see much harm in reinforcing good attitudes towards providing feedback. The better we communicate with Blizzard, the easier they will understand what our concerns are and what could be improved, thus speeding up the iterative process and making it much more likely that the final product will be of a higher caliber.

Thanks for reading and like always, if you ever want to chat I'm on Twitter or you can reach me in the comments section below!

See ya next time,

~ The Brewing Scribe


  1. Let's say you've built a nice sand castle on the beach. I come along and kick it & it crumbles. I make some shoddy sand castle on where your castle used to stand and ask you to provide me with feedback. I also remind you to think about the castle now, not what it was. Oh, and do remember, "I liked the old castle better" isn't a valid response!

    See the flaw in your reasoning? I can also summarize this in one short line: "Don't fix what isn't broken"

  2. What's not broken to you might be what's broken for someone else. The problem with that analogy is that it fails to capture the nuance of design and the variable issues players can have due to differing skill levels.

    Like I said, you're free to disagree because it IS contentious. It's saying that a world view is a bad one for a tester. That's a bold thing to say. But ultimately, asking "Why did you break my sandcastle?" when it's already been broken doesn't do anything. It won't bring the sandcastle back. It's better to just rebuild it. The focus on the sandcastle being broken is, in my opinion, the inherent flaw in this way of looking at content changes.

    Ultimately, a tester needs to throw away personal opinion over whether they think the changes from the previous expansion to the next are good or not... and to just make sure that those changes are as positive as possible. Otherwise, I believe they're doing the game a disservice by putting energy into trying to petition for something to come back... that won't.

    I mean ultimately if you feel the iteration is unnecessary and that's a big issue for you, there's other channels to voice that. Testing feedback I don't think is an appropriate one.