The signal-to-noise ratio of positive and constructive feedback is ailing, says Gaider

‘Toxic’ fan feedback worsening, says BioWare writer

The lead writer of BioWare’s Dragon Age series has bemoaned a number of fans on the BioWare Social Network for their increasingly toxic and negative feedback.

Addressing the issue in a blog post, David Gaider said a group of passionate fans had become so critical and scalding in their feedback to BioWare developers that spending too much time reading it had begun to make him feel negative about himself and life in general.

He said that while many may say the developers should just put up with it or learn something from all the angry messages, the studio always digested mountains of feedback anyway, from which the developers would have to make partly informed decision on and then move on.

Gaider added that while there certainly was positive and useful feedback, the signal-to-noise ratio was gradually worsening, and likened it to a party full of people bitching.

He also said that the internet in general was full of people who would feel so opinionated about a topic that they felt it justified behaviour that would never be acceptable in real-life conversation.

“We’re aware that the BioWare Social Network doesn’t constitute the be-all and end-all of BioWare’s fans (or simply people who play our games or are otherwise aware of them, if one sees “fans” in a purely positive context). They are certainly a group of passionate folks, and while I wouldn’t say they were all ‘utterly gross’ as you put it I do agree that the overall tone of the forums has become increasingly toxic,” he said.

“I tend to largely avoid them these days, myself. Why? Because spending too much time there starts to make me feel negative – not just about the games we make, but about myself and life in general. That’s not a good feeling to have. I’m sure there are folks there who would bristle at that comment, suggesting that all negative feedback is justifiable and that ignoring it is the equivalent of us sticking our heads in the sand. How will we ever improve unless we listen to their scolding and take our lumps like good little developers?

“That is, of course, ignoring the idea that we haven’t already digested a mountain of feedback – both positive and negative – and there’s really only so much of it you can take. Eventually you make decisions (informed by that feedback, though only in part – it can only ever be in part) and move on.”

Last year BioWare became the subject of a petition from waves of fans who were disappointed with the ending of Mass Effect 3 and demanded it be changed.

A campaign to alter it named “Retake Mass Effect” raised $80,310 from more than 4,000 contributors, and the outcry was so vocal that BioWare eventually bowed to pressure and agreed to change the ending by adding extra scenes.

The situation sparked debate across the industry on whether developers should take such drastic actions in response to the desires of a section of fans.

Valve MD Gabe Newell said last April that developers were in a unique position to engage with their users about projects and said the closeness with customers was gaming’s great advantage over other industries.

“What I think is best for the industry is that games developers used to be very far away from their customers,” said Newell.

“Nowadays you can have a game developer talking to a customer while they’re playing a game and fix an issue, or improve the experience, and do that in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

“Steven Spielberg [by comparison] is pretty much screwed. By the time he gets feedback on his movie, it’s too late. He’s done. Everything he could do to make customers happy, he’s lost that opportunity by the time he can get reactions from his customers.

“The closer developers are to their customers, and the more the line blurs between both, that gives us a gigantic advantage over any other entertainment field.”

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