26 March 2018 | 34 Comments
I’m 6 years into the business of designing and publishing board games, with 8 Kickstarter campaigns under my belt, and I’m still learning how to consume unsolicited constructive and negative criticism without experiencing a visceral reaction. On a scale from 1 to 10, I’d say my skin thickness is around a 6 on a good day. On a bad day, maybe 3 or 4. More on that in a minute.
For me, I’ve found that having a thick skin is imperative to being in the board game business (or any creative business, for that matter). I need to be able to hear constructive criticism, even from people who don’t give a damn about me or my company. If I want Stonemaier Games to grow and thrive, I need to put myself in the customer’s shoes, even if those shoes are smelly.
I’m writing this entry today because someone recently told me that they’re thinking about designing and self-publishing a game, but they’ve seen how the vocal minority nitpicks and complains and hates on social media, and they don’t know if their skin is thick enough to handle the onslaught.
I can see why they’re scared, and I admire them for admitting that to themselves (and to me). I’m hoping some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned will help them explore this creative outlook without too much fear, and thicken their skin a little bit along the way.
- Don’t take it for granted. It’s pretty cool to have people talking about your creation. This is something for new creators to be excited about (and experienced creators too). Sometimes in the midst of a tough conversation, I find it good to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that it’s pretty cool to even be in a situation where people are talking about my games.
- Choose when to consume criticism. I’ve found that if I’m in a good mood, I tend to be more open to hearing and learning from criticism. The opposite is true if I’m in a bad mood. Due to this, I try to be acutely aware of my emotional state when I’m entering new threads (sometime I can detect the overall tone from the subject line). I write more about consuming criticism here.
- Give yourself a chance to breathe after reading negativity. Sometimes I find myself jumping too quickly from a hateful comment or conversation to some genuinely constructive criticism. As a result, I can too easily lump the constructive criticism in with the unnecessary hate, which isn’t helpful. So if and when you need to deal with a difficult conversation, take a break from social media for a few minutes/hours.
- Differentiate between questions and comments, responding with just the facts. This is a technique I used a lot on Kickstarter. If someone asked me a question, I would answer it, sometimes just with the facts if I didn’t think my opinion would aid the conversation. But if someone simply made a snide comment without a question, I’d often just let it be, as I haven’t been invited into that conversation.
- Don’t read/watch/listen to reviews unless you’re okay with them not liking the game. This is tough, because if you’re like me, you’re a fan of many reviewers. I truly want them to like your game, not just because it’s good for the game, but because it feels good to have someone you admire say nice things about your creation. As a result, it can really burn sometimes when they don’t like your game.
- If you get caught up in a controversy, try saying, “You’re right.” At some point throughout your entrepreneurial process, there will come a time when a lot of people are angry at you for something. I’ve had it happen several times, and my first instinct is always to be fully transparent. That’s a good start, but in a way, I’m using transparency as a deflector shield against criticism. What really helps in those situations is for me to simply tell people, “You’re right,” and not in a dismissive way. If a lot of people are saying something, there is probably some truth in what they’re saying, and it’s up to you to identify the heart of it, admit that they’re at least partially right, and do something about it.
- It’s okay to block people. This is the internet. There are going to be people who are inherently negative, consistently accusatory, and even hateful. It’s okay to block those people on BoardGameGeek, Facebook, Twitter, etc so they don’t drag you down with them.
- When you’re attacked, change the environment. Just the other day, someone said some negative things to me on a BoardGameGeek thread. When I replied publicly with a “just the facts”-style answer, they proceeded to message me privately with an attack on my character. I’ve learned that some people act more sensibly when other people are part of the conversation, so instead of replying privately, I replied publicly in the original thread. I’ve also done the opposite–if someone attacks me publicly, I may take the conversation private.
- Ignore threats. If someone threatens you, they have invalidated your responsibility as a creator to listen and/or respond. I’m not talking about a backer or customer threatening you personally. Here’s the example I use on this blog post: “The stretch goals are terrible. I’m canceling my pledge if you don’t improve them today.” That’s a threat, and you don’t need to dignify it with a response.
- Use your moderating power wisely. I love the control I have in my Facebook groups, and the feedback I get in them helps to build up my confidence. However, these groups can insulate me too much—I can’t just listen to the people who love my games. So while my groups are essentially fan groups, they’re completely open to healthy, constructive criticism, and I try to frequently venture outside of those groups to see what other people are thinking.
- Avoid input that doesn’t help you. I’ve talked about this in terms of filtering pledge cancellations, and another example are BoardGameGeek ratings. Does it help you in any way to see that someone has rating your perfectly functional game a 1 (possibly even before you release the game)? Not at all. So don’t spend your limited energy looking at the ratings.
How thick is your skin? How have you learned to thicken it over time but still let the helpful criticism seep through?
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