How Not To Complain To A Developer

How Not To Complain To A Developer

As Vlambeer, the studio I work at, has gotten bigger and our community has grown beyond our biggest fans, I’ve noticed a shift in the way people interact with us. Where we used to mostly get messages of support and understanding, the ratio of messages that treat us like two guys making video games versus those that treat us like a giant corporation that makes small games has slowly been tilting towards the latter.

That’s not a surprising development per se — with the release of Ridiculous Fishing we’ve reached hundreds of thousands of people who have no notion of Vlambeer beyond a quick logo at the boot of the game. While I’d much rather be treated like a human being who’s trying his hardest to make everything work out, I can understand that for many people an email to a support address means assuming a certain expectation to a product that perfectly fits their wishes. As a developer, I find that even the most hostile responses tend to be defused by just showing that you care — and we do care — so Vlambeer has steered well clear of extreme hostilities quite often.

I can understand that for many people an email to a support address means assuming a certain expectation to a product that perfectly fits their wishes.

But I can’t help but be surprised at one comment people continue to make when they’re upset about something in an independent game. It is a comment that goes along the lines of ‘if you don’t fix this, I want a refund’ or variations thereof threatening with online hate campaigns, low ratings, piracy and some creative way of costing us money.

They claim that without the fans, we are nothing.

I’ve often said the same thing at developer conventions around the world, but there’s a difference between saying that to emphasise our thankfulness for and dependance upon people who love our games and literally implying we are not worth anything beyond the opinion of somebody on the internet who happened to play a game we made. We could literally decide to stop making games tomorrow and find a better paying and stable job — but we don’t, because we love making games and we care about the people who invested money and time in our work.

Dear players, we really care about your opinion. You’re not quite the reason why we make games — we make games because we want to — but you’re definitely the reason we can make a living doing this. You’re the reason why we get to watch Let’s Play videos and can interact with feedback. We want you to like and appreciate the game and the months of hard work we put into everything we make, because a game without players is an icon on a screen and nothing more.

What surprises me, though, is when an unsatisfied gamer takes their argument the route of ‘do this, otherwise I want a refund’ or ‘I won’t buy this game.’ Those people are literally saying ‘please treat me like a number.’ They are expressing the assumption that a studio would always treat people in the worst possible way unless there’s the threat of monetary or reputational damage. Essentially, making that statement is saying ‘you shouldn’t listen to me because I have a thought, just listen to me because of my money or the way I can impact your ratings or your reputation.’

Making that statement is saying ‘you shouldn’t listen to me because I have a thought, just listen to me because of my money or the way I can impact your ratings or your reputation.’

That’s not how I want to treat people that play our games, and I know a lot of independent developers struggle with finding a balance between treating people the way they indicate they want to be treated (like a number) and the way we’d rather treat them (like humans).

If a game is different from your expectations, or you can’t find a setting you’d like, or you feel that you should have an option to turn off the music, or maybe you expect customisable controls — realise that the job of a developer is to make choices. Games are absurdly complex creations, but nothing in a game is by chance. Even the way dice roll in a game is designed, tweaked and iterated upon. Someone spent days tweaking the walking speed in every game, or on the way text bubbles are animated. Sure, sometimes something is literally an oversight, and in that case, developers love to hear about it.

Chances are if you just make known that you’d love to see something different in a game, you’ll either get a confirmation that they’re working on it, a question about why you want what you propose or a response as to why it is not and probably will not be the way you request.

Most developers want to hear your feedback, not because of your money or your ratings, but because people reaching out to us are our players.

Developers are people who tend to be really curious about the way people interact with their work. They want to know what you think, and why you think that way. In fact, they spend most of their development cycle figuring out what a player might think and how they might react. Most developers want to hear your feedback, not because of your money or your ratings, but because the people reaching out to us are our players. You are the thing that makes our work whole. That’s a pretty amazing relationship.

But it is your choice. It’s either about the game or about our bookkeeping. It’s either about your enjoyment of the game or about your money. Of course developers will answer either approach, but our passion is with the game, not the money. If we wanted to earn money, we’d take our skills to a job that actually pays well. But we definitely want to talk about our game.

You prefer to talk to a human being, not a corporation. We prefer to talk to a person, not a number.

Rami Ismail is the developer and business guy at Vlambeer. He also created Presskit() and travels around the world to speak about game development and culture at events, schools and in emerging territories. Follow Vlambeer on Twitter or like them on Facebook.


  • While it’s a very valid point, and people jump to the ‘Fix it or ill get my money back’ mantra way, way too quickly, it is essentially the only way someone can make it heard that they aren’t happy with the game without spending hours wildly posting on social media.

    Now, I totally don’t agree with it in many instances (people threatening chargebacks because of a change in balance in a multiplayer shooter, for instance), but where people have a game that simply doesn’t work, or fails to meet advertised features or standards, and they have tried to communicate with the developer – which usually ends up being shuffled into their forums to talk to other users and wallow around until a developer makes a vague post addressing the issue – I think that voting with your wallet makes the most sense.

    • Voting with your wallet is the best you can try, but sadly there is always a world of idiots who do end up paying them.
      Look at EA, some of the worst practices in the industry and yet people still buy their games while being angry. EA doesn’t care since you already brought the game and all the DLC’s
      People are basically saying, “Go right ahead EA and squeeze me for every cent. Because even though I say I don’t like it, my spending habits would say you are doing the right thing”

      • I think everybody is optimistic and are under the belief that the next game won’t have any of those problems since people complained about them before.

      • Pretty sure EA is the only major publisher who offers refunds on digital games. The fact that you can return your game if it doesn’t live up to your standards proves that EA doesn’t have the worst practices in the gaming industry. But hey, blind hate is cool right?

        • It isn’t blind hate. Most people just aren’t willing to forget about all the bad for the small amount of good they do.

        • Pretty sure they don’t offer refunds until the ACCC tells them they have to because someone complained…



          • If that were true, why doesn’t valve, the biggest online retailer in video games do the same? The ACCC investigation was about SimCity, this refund policy is all EA games from origin.

        • Sorry, but this isn’t blind hate or general internet distrust for EA. EA has one of, if not the largest library of hoarded IP’s in the industry. Remember that great PC title you loved as a kid? Chances are EA has the rights to them with no intention to develop a game. They simply keep it to stop competition.
          Thankfully courts have been pressing the issue of IP hoarding in other industries as unethical, so hopefully it will trickle through to games.

          Are you aware how many small developers have been destroyed by EA? So many let EA fund their title only to fall short of expected profits because EA begins to cut the funding and demanding unrealistic time frames and profit return.
          When the company inevitably falls short then they are brought out and disbanded, EA absorbing the talented members in to other projects while the rest are out of work.
          You could argue that the developer was at fault for taking on a work load they couldn’t handle, but there in lies the evil part.
          The contract may seem legit on the surface, but it is filled with so many twists and turns that EA wins out in the end every time.

  • At the end of the day, the majority of people who play video games are not experts in what makes a video game successful. A complainant might say “listen to my criticism or I will stop buying your product” but unless such complaints are a reasonable amendment that will improve the game for the majority, or represent complaints held by a large proportion of the audience (if not a majority) then the dev can reasonably argue that that change is not in the best interests of the current install base and ignore that one lost sale in favour of continuing to please the majority.

    • At the end of the day, the majority of people who play video games are not experts in what makes a video game successful.

      Nicely said.

  • Problem is, even if you are talking to them like a reasonable human you’re comments are buried under massive piles of complaints and arguments.

    Sometimes even then it doesn’t work. Talking to someone at PAX AUS he told me how the developers act over certain areas and that getting comments through to them is hard.

  • Dear Dice, Don’t release games in Alpha just to beat a shitty CoD rehash. Cheers Annoyed Gamer. <— how its done

  • If terrible writers don’t listen to criticism then why would anyone? We’re just in a ridiculous age where people dismiss things for no reason. That might sound simple and ridiculous – because it is – but it’s totally happened. We just need EVERYONE, not just consumers or developers or publishers or writers etc. EVERYONE needs to just have a longer look at what they have in their hands. People have chosen to protect themselves by assuming everything that comes from them is true, just and immovable by outside criticism. When someone says or writes something, read/listen, evaluate as it relates to you and act. That’s it. It seems it like people are just forgetting the second step nowadays.

  • I find the best way is to be articulate and respectful. I wrote on Respawn’s forum about the lack of Australian servers and I made sure to be respectful and polite, asserting my concerns and previous similar experiences. And I informed them that my decision to purchase the game would be based on how enjoyable the game would be and I took the time to try to explain what it’s like playing online games in Australia.

    I got a nice honest reply from one of the devs who grew up in Australia and told me how he could relate to our plight.

    If you just speak to people with basic respect, even when complaining, you’re more likely to get a result.

  • I need to work with developers on a daily basis. Developers and end-users have a wall in-between.
    Our feedback from clients when gone to developers will highly stress our developers out. That’s how developers are. They are highly stressed over small matters.
    So learning how to communicate with them is the only way to send feedback to them in order for them to fix it.
    They think in logical ways, step by step thinking. If it’s out of the box, they will stress. That’s what I learnt.
    I’ve dealt with a lot of developers who don’t listen, they want to test what they think is right first on users, which IF fails, then they will listen, IF testing works, they think they are right.
    Tough day at work.
    Anyway, good luck. It’s all about communication.

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