Recovering from bad reviews

Hi there @AgentV,

Feel your pain (I was pinged by a link to a very similar thread I made). Yep my first game got ripped to shreds in the initial reviews. (Oddly enough it still sells better even now than Oedipus which rates quite a bit higher and is a more recent release, but that’s a completely different discussion :slight_smile: )

One (of many) of the reasons I do advocate writing “short” (sub 100k) games as a first effort is that many writers do show inexperience which results in a backlash in the reviews. If you know where the problems lie, you can try to improve on them next time. Or not. If you really don’t want to go there, the choice is yours and you can branch into a different area of writing. In the end the decision is yours, do what makes you happy.

That thread that was linked Gower worth reading. Lots of good advice in there. @Eiwynn is one of the reasons I’m still around, her posts on separating constructing from unconstructive crit and the nature of how and why people are reviewing (which she’s stated many times on the forums) is good advice. I get it, it’s super easy to take crit personally and see it as a reflection on yourself, but in the end it’s aimed at the work not you as a person. If you’re putting writing out there, you’re going to get critisism of both helpful and unhelpful kinds and need to develop enough objectivity to deal with it.

Ok onto your game specifically- just a note, I haven’t read the whole game (I’m still working though Floating city from the last lot of releases because I need more spare time.) This is just general advice and first impressions. I’m trying to be constructive and helpful so please don’t take anything I say personally.

  1. This is your first game and although some authors hit a home run with their first release, many don’t. The audience for CSG often has specific likes and dislikes that take time on the forums and reading other CSGs to get a feel for. Inexperience with coding, formatting CSG stories well (including things like balancing linear sections to branches) and general story writing inexperience can all play a part here.

Also remember that a lot of people don’t know that HG does contain work from a lot of amature authors (in fact some readers think it is the same authors responsible for all the games). Your game WILL get compared to fan favourites which are often written by more experienced and sometimes professional authors. This can’t be avoided. People are paying for a product, and if they find it not to their satisfaction they’ll leave negative reviews. (Even highly rated games get 1*'ed by some readers for not being free.)

  1. It’s short. I know I said I recommend short for a first work, there’s a lot of pros to doing this and I don’t think you were wrong to do it (at least you know where the problems lie now instead of writing a 500k epic and getting this sort of feedback), but the audience out in the wild doesn’t know this is your first work… neither do most of them care. You’ll get stars taken off for shortness as there’s been a trend towards CSG readers wanting longer and longer games over the years.

  2. I saw a comment about no RO’s? Although personally my experience isn’t broken if a story doesn’t have RO’s, a lot of the COG audience really likes them and will take stars off for their abscence (also happened in my first game.)

  3. Coverart. Although you can get away with coverart which isn’t eyecatching if the game is rating highly enough to attract people in, it still really helps. TBH your coverart doesn’t draw me into clicking on your game and as such you’ll probably get less traffic and following on from that less reviews. There are stock sites around where you can buy (or sometimes even get for free) images which are free for commercial use which you can use as is or edit. It’s cheaper than hiring an artist for games where you’re not sure if they’ll make back the cost of the artwork or if you enjoy making your own covers. Highly recommend checking those sites out. (Try here for starters: Stock art sites )

  4. Ok, so this is where most of the reviews seem to be coming from- spelling and grammar. One thing to note is that bad reviews will often feed on themselves (can speak to this for my first game). People read the bad reviews and go in expecting the things that are outlined in the reviews so it can become a highlighted piece of critisism.

I actually didn’t see your WIP thread when it was active, but it doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of feedback. Feedback from CSG readers is invaluable. They’ll pick up heaps of things you haven’t noticed that could be improved. One of the things that makes it really hard, especially for a first time author here, is to get people interested in your game. There are so many WIP’s that getting attention for your work in particular can be difficult as everyone only has so much free time to give. I’d suggest leaving feedback on other “less popular” WIP’s and just generally hanging out on the forums and talking to people. Make some friends and you could end up with people who would be willing to work on your games because they like you and want to help out if they have the time :slight_smile:

Re: Grammerly and other “text fixing” programs. They help, and at a minimum I’d use one as a tool, but I don’t rely on them completely. I use the spelling and grammar function on MS word and it picks up a lot of things but it isn’t perfect (it missed some things and recommends the wrong corrections quite regularly) and doesn’t replace people actually reading your work and providing feedback. For example, in your demo screens there’s a sentence that contains the word “of” instead of “for”. That kind of thing can be missed by electronic correction programs. If you haven’t run one of these programs through your current game yet however, I’d do so. (COG will likely allow you to update.) Hiring a professional copyeditor would be nice, but for a game like this would be very expensive and unlikely to make back what it costs to edit it. (I’ve looked into it for my own in the past and for a 100k game it can be thousands of dollars.)

When proof reading your own work, change it up. I’m terrible at picking up my own typos. My brain auto corrects what I’m reading to what I think I’ve written and I’m not alone. (Studies have shown this is common.) So change the screen colour from white to black, change the window size to move the text around, change the font and size of the text etc. Basically trick your brain into thinking you’re reading something different. It does help to an extent.

The way you write your forum posts is very good. Some of the text in the game is a bit stilted in places and there’s a fair bit of telling instead of showing. (For example you talk about seeing a blast but don’t describe what the blast looks like- What colour is it? Does it give off heat? What sort of sound does it make when it hits? etc.) I suspect this comes under lack of experience with writing choice stories more than anything else. Just needs practice.

What can you do?
Entirely up to you. The fact that you’ve made this post instead of rage quitting has earned a +1 in my book. One extra thing I’d recommend is to do some friendly game jams. Good experience, no pressure, short turn around for finished work and you often get feedback/reviews from readers. There’s a Halloween one currently running on the forums here. Ectocomp is coming up on the interactive fiction forums. I think you’ve missed introcomp which would be another good one for getting feedback on short games you can action. Spring thing is probably a bit far away, but maybe in the future. Itch.io frequently runs free game jams. They’re good for practice although the amount of feedback you’ll get is variable on them (sometimes you get lots, sometimes none at all). I’d try out one or more of the above jams/comps I listed as they generally have good helpful reviewers.

Read a lot of modern text games. Especially ones published here as this is the style you’re going for, but there’s years worth of IFcomp entries available as well for free and you can see what sorts of entries did well and did less well and take lessons from that too.

Anyway good luck. Try not to take the reviews to heart and write what makes you happy. Just pick out any useful elements in reviews to help improve games in the future.

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