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Getting Player Feedback

I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I ask my players for feedback it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. Even when they’re clearly jazzed about the game, and they mention having had fun, “I had fun” is often about the extent of the feedback that I get.

I’ve found this to be true with so many groups over the years that I don’t think it’s just me — I wouldn’t be surprised if other GMs have this problem, too. And that’s another thing: is it actually a problem?

Assuming that you, like me, think that getting detailed player feedback rocks, what are some of the best ways to go about soliciting it?

Let’s start with “is it a problem?” and go from there. To be clear, I’m not saying that players who don’t jump at the chance to provide feedback are “bad” players — it’s not for everyone. And at the same time, if you wind up a session by asking everyone what they thought of that night’s game, and everyone says that they had a good time (we’ll assume they’re telling the truth), what else do you need? You set out to make sure everyone had fun, and everyone had fun. For some GMs, that’s enough — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s not enough for me, though. I find that meaningful feedback is one of the best ways for me to make my current game more fun in the short term — as well as to improve my GMing in the long term. If you’re in the same camp, here are some suggestions — things you might consider if you’re looking for a bit more detail than, “I had fun,” or, “that sucked.”

1. Ask Detailed Questions: For starters, don’t just ask how the game was — ask about specific aspects of the game, things you thought went particularly well or poorly. As the GM, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of which bits went well and which didn’t (and you can always jot down notes about this during the game), and by asking detailed questions you’re much more likely to get detailed — and useful — answers.

Edit: As for when to ask for detailed feedback, some folks (like DM T. in the comments) advocate talking about it as soon as the session is done, when everything is fresh in the players’ minds, while others prefer to wait until later on (as Don put it in the comments, “Asking about the game, right then and there, is akin to asking how the sex was while cuddling afterwards.”). If you’re not sure what’s right for your group, try asking a few pretty easy questions right away — if it goes well, chances are you can look for more detail; if not, you know to wait a bit longer next time.

2. Follow Through: If you’re going to ask for feedback, you should use it. This is especially true when a player tells you what they didn’t like about the game, but it also applies to positive feedback. Once your players have seen that you not only want to hear what they have to say, but will actually act on it, they’re likely to be inclined to give you more and better feedback. Most of us have had crappy gaming experiences somewhere along the line, and the more recent or frequent those were, the less likely a player is to think you’ll care about their opinion without a bit of proof.

3. Give Feedback to Your Players: Some RPGs are set up to involve a constant, collaborative dialogue between the GM and the players (many of the games that grew out of The Forge [1], for example), but most aren’t structured that way. In other words, a lot of players aren’t used to giving feedback — which is where providing them with feedback comes in. The idea is to make back-and-forth feedback a regular feature in your game, and getting the ball rolling can go a long way.

This can be a delicate topic, so try to keep your feedback constructive even when you’re responding to something a player did that you’d rather they not do again. Think about what you’d like to hear about the game you just ran, and try to give feedback to your players in the same way.

4. In-Game Rewards: Just like the bonus XP activities I mentioned in “Running a Campaign Website [2],” offering XP, action points and the like in exchange for robust feedback can be a good form of encouragement. Make it clear at the outset what you’re looking for, and what players who provide it will receive for their efforts.

5. Feedback Forms: If asking your players whether or not they enjoyed the game is zero, this is sixty — handing out (or emailing out) actual paperwork for them to fill out. And as you might expect, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you came to game night to blow off some steam and have fun with your friends, often the last thing that you want to do is fill out forms — that sounds a lot like work.

For some groups, though, this might be the perfect solution — it all depends on what your players are like. I’ve seen at least one thread on EN World [3] about this topic, “Do you survey your players? [4],” as well as a product that includes feedback forms: Campaign Planner 3 [5], published by Ronin Arts [6].

Edit: In the comments, Don brought up feedback by proxy — when you ask how things went, one person answers and everyone else just nods. Asking for feedback one-on-one, whether in person or via email, or even through a formal questionnaire, neatly avoids this issue.

Like so many things about gaming, soliciting useful feedback from your players isn’t one size fits all — but with any luck, even if none of these approaches tickle your fancy, they’ll have sparked some ideas that will work for you. I’d love to hear about those ideas in the comments, along with any other suggestions you might have about techniques that have worked with your group.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Getting Player Feedback"

#1 Comment By Anonymous On August 10, 2005 @ 2:10 am

Feedback, yeah, one of the hardest aspects of post gaming rewards for the DM.

It’s indeed a crucial tool for the DM. I listen to feedback from my players with great interest and I made sure it’s as important for them as it is for me, since it would help me to shape and tailor adventures to both sides satisfaction.

Usually, when a session ends, I directly ask my players (those who don’t leave with haste) about the parts they found fun. What made them tick during the session, and how do they see things evolve (this is both feedback and getting to know what the player behind the character thinks about what’s about to happen).

It helps me to understand if I have outlined my adventure correctly and the players understood what I meant when the troll under the bridge asked for bridge toll.

Another form of feedback we’re using is e-mails. I send a weekly mail to my players asking for a session schedule and feedback input about the last session, if they have it.
I even let the players roleplay their e-mails, like a semi-PBEM session. I also noticed that after a very fun session, the roleplay mails number are increased, so I try to extract exactly what made it so much fun for the players.

DM T.

#2 Comment By Martin On August 10, 2005 @ 9:02 am

(DM T.) Another form of feedback we’re using is e-mails. I send a weekly mail to my players asking for a session schedule and feedback input about the last session, if they have it.

I even let the players roleplay their e-mails, like a semi-PBEM session. I also noticed that after a very fun session, the roleplay mails number are increased, so I try to extract exactly what made it so much fun for the players.

This is a good idea, and I think it would be neat to see one of these semi-PBEM emails.

Any chance you can post one here (with that player’s permission, of course)? Or if you’d rather not post a response, what about just the email that you sent out? ๐Ÿ™‚

#3 Comment By Abulia On August 10, 2005 @ 10:31 am

Since you’re only running one game (that I know of) I have to presume these comments, and sense of frustration, are directed at your current group. I’m highly opinionated and will give plenty of feedback when asked, with some caveats.

First, don’t *ever* ask at the end of a session. =) We’ve all had a good time, it’s late, we want to revel in the glow of our accomplishments and dream about getting that +1 BAB now. =) Asking about the game, right then and there, is akin to asking how the sex was while cuddling afterwards. Don’t do it! ๐Ÿ˜›

Also, some players (raises hand) don’t like to have the conversation in front of the other players. Perhaps my only frustration isn’t with the game per se, but how the rogue dominates all encounters by requesting 3-4 skill checks while the rest of us look on. (And he gets to take 10 on everything!?!?) There’s also the problem of the hive mind: one person says something and everyone nods their head in agreement. That’s feedback by proxy and not too useful.

Next, ask. To date I don’t believe you and I have had any extended conversations about the game. Many players won’t give you information unless you solicit from them. You want to know what Jaben thinks about the game, you gotta ask Jaben. =)

Reading over the list, I feel inclined to point out that you haven’t done any of the above in your current game. Somewhat ironic, I feelโ€ฆ =)

You’ll notice this is emote-laced. Even so, I’ll wager you took a couple comments the wrong way. Call me. We’ll talk about your game. ๐Ÿ˜‰

#4 Comment By Martin On August 10, 2005 @ 10:46 am

These are great comments! I’ll respond bit by bit.

(Don) Since you’re only running one game (that I know of) I have to presume these comments, and sense of frustration, are directed at your current group.

Nope — it’s a long-running thing, and I thought it was worth posting about. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ve had no frustrations with this group since we started playing, and (as you pointed out) I haven’t really gone after feedback with you guys yet.

First, don’t *ever* ask at the end of a session. =) We’ve all had a good time, it’s late, we want to revel in the glow of our accomplishments and dream about getting that +1 BAB now. =) Asking about the game, right then and there, is akin to asking how the sex was while cuddling afterwards. Don’t do it! ๐Ÿ˜›

This is spot-on, and I’m going to edit it into the original post. I think it’s always good to take the group’s pulse right after the game, though — but you’re right that for a lot of folks, it’s not the time to go for details.

Also, some players (raises hand) don’t like to have the conversation in front of the other players.

There’s also the problem of the hive mind: one person says something and everyone nods their head in agreement. That’s feedback by proxy and not too useful.

IMO, personal feedback (like what you described) should definitely be handled personally. I also view it as an individual responsibility — if the GM makes it clear that feedback is welcome, and a player has a gripe, it’s that player’s responsibility to bring it up. Same goes in the other direction.

Feedback by proxy is also well worth bringing up in the main post, and I’ll be editing it in there. ๐Ÿ™‚

Next, ask. To date I don’t believe you and I have had any extended conversations about the game. Many players won’t give you information unless you solicit from them. You want to know what Jaben thinks about the game, you gotta ask Jaben. =)

Reading over the list, I feel inclined to point out that you haven’t done any of the above in your current game. Somewhat ironic, I feel =)

Right again — but this is deliberate. With only two sessions under the belt, I’m still getting a feel for the group and the game. I’d rather ask for details a bit later on, when there are more to give.

Thanks for the emoticons (you know me well!), but I didn’t take any of this the wrong way. This was excellent feedback. ๐Ÿ™‚

#5 Comment By Mike On August 10, 2005 @ 12:47 pm

I never solicit feedback about the game in front of the players if I GM. I never give feedback in front of other players to the GM if I’m playing. Why?

Because, I can see both sides. I don’t want to tell a GM what I like and dislike or get told by a player in front of other players what they liked and disliked because it can sometimes lead to lying or a consensus answer. I am guilty of telling a GM to their face I liked something when I actually didn’t, and a lot of other players I know have done this as well. It often leads to false or half-hearted responses from everybody.

Secondly, in certain cases, it tends to make the game less enjoyable when the GM is told his adventure or campaign has things in it the players don’t like. From recent personal experience, the GM thinks the players are just going through the motions, so the GM should just do the same, and not put any effort into it anymore.

Lastly, and speaking as a GM here, it tends to sometimes make the players feel like they are running the game. They feel like if they tell you they aren’t getting enough treasure when they really aren’t or too many hard encounters when they aren’t enough times, then the constant bickering will change it.

I personally solicit feedback from the players when I GM on a one-by-one basis, either by stopping by their house, by email, instant messenger, or phone calls. As a player, I never give feedback to the GM unless its in one of the above formats as well.

#6 Comment By Anonymous On August 10, 2005 @ 1:14 pm

One thing I am lucky with is that my wife games at my table with me. If there is one critic who will tell me how she really feels it is her. She is great at reading other people too. Often after a session we will lie awake in bed and discuss the good and bad about how things went and she will also comment about what she thinks other players did or didn’t like. I usually follow up with an email. I would like more feedback though and plan on using these tips to get a bit more out of my players.

#7 Comment By John On August 10, 2005 @ 3:37 pm

I am about to be a huge jerk now. I don’t know you people, so this is going to sound really, realy harsh. I’m not toning it down because we’re adults here and I assume you have some practice in reading a kind of jocular tone into Internet posts. If this pisses you off, you are probably taking me way too seriously. Or, I’m a jerk. Here we go.

—–

Whew! A lot of social baggage going on here. My first answer is: Play with people that actually trust each other and aren’t afraid to speak their minds. Everyone can get all pissy about that comment now.

Cuz you know, that works for me. I game with people that aren’t shy about saying how they feel and are confident that no one will shit on them if they do. It’s a good thing.

Another thing: It’s not a one-way street. Try giving feedback to the players all the time. Like, “Man, your character is so cool! She’s all, flip! flip! Blam! That was awesome!” Stuff like that. Be enthusiastic and engaged about their play. Tell them what you like, right then, when they do it. Create an atmosphere of open commentary by doing it yourself.

Or, you know, continue with the gun-shy, touchy-feely, “cuddling” metaphor crap and be all precious and stifled and self-conscious. Isn’t that the terrible gamer-fallacy? That we’re socially awkward nerds who can’t discuss how we feel and ridicule those that do? Can we, like, stop that crap sometime soon?

We’re talking about a game here. Was it fun? What should we do next? What should we do less of? That stuff. Anyone who plays a sport or has been in a band understands this kind of talk. Gaming is not sex. Gaming is NOTHING like sex. If it is, you’re treating game-play VERY differently than I do. Talking about the game is not talking about someone’s “performance” or rating how well they pleasured you. If it is, again, you’re out in a very different field.

It’s simple. “Man, your penalty kick last weekend was sweet!” Like that. Baby steps.

#8 Comment By Anonymous On August 11, 2005 @ 2:04 am

I see a lot of feedback here about not getting the feedback right away. Some state it might even bother them like the annoying “How was it?” sex-related question.

My game is all about fun. Fun for me (the DM) and fun for my players. If someone’s not having fun, it’s imperative to the whole group to make it better for the future sessions.

We all have our seperate lives, different professions, different roles at our homes, different set of stress. The game is one of our means to relieve ourselves off this stress. When the feedback is delayed, the daily stress might already kicked in and would cloud any remark that one (player or DM) has to say about the last session.

I’m all for honesty in my gaming group (not enforcing game-cheats though). If someone is silent but carries a burden about the session, it’s bad for them and me. If I have to remark someone about their lack of roleplaying in the session, I do it right there and then, maybe they had a rough week? Maybe they are not satisfied with their characters? maybe the encounter wasn’t to their satisfaction?

That’s what immidiate feedback helps to resolve.

DM T.

#9 Comment By Anonymous On August 11, 2005 @ 2:12 am

Regarding the semi-PBEM offer I give to my players…

When a session ends, I give my players the options of letting me know what their characters wish to do next. It can be via an e-mail to the group, and have them use Reply-All if it’s something for the whole group, or if the rogue for example wants to check out things with the local guild without letting the paladin know about it, I get an e-mail stating that the rogue wish to sneak out in the middle of the night and “gather some info”.

The e-mail is sent IC only, depicting the exact actions in 1st person.

There are no dice involved in this manner of game-play.

It’s then up to the player to let the party know what has transpired.

In my group it’s quite easy, as we all have internet access at home or at work, a thing that not everyone might have.

DM T.

#10 Comment By Abulia On August 11, 2005 @ 9:09 am

“My game is all about fun.”

And ours isn’t?

“Fun for me (the DM) and fun for my players. If someone’s not having fun, it’s imperative to the whole group to make it better for the future sessions.”

That doesn’t mean it has to be done right then and there at 1:30 am. This isn’t an issue of trust, it’s an issue of civility.

Like most theory discussions, there’s no one right answer, no matter how hard people believe there ought to be.

Oh, and John, switch to decaff. =)

#11 Comment By Jonas Karlsson On August 12, 2005 @ 10:20 am

I think it’s a lot worse as GM to not get feedback at all than to get negative feedback. If the players just shrug when I ask them if they had fun, all my energy goes away. It’s even worse if you’re told that they had fun, only to hear two months later that they actually didn’t enjoy this and that at all. That sucks.

So I’m always looking for feedback, but one thing that has made it a lot easier is realizing that it’s the responsibility of the whole group, not just the GM. I’m not playing the social games anymore, and I know that if I have something to say regarding someone that I can’t say in front of the person, he’s probably the one I should be talking to.

My Master of Science education was very heavy on problem-based learning, and each term we were divided into groups of five to eight students that met twice each week to work on problems. Feedback was very much emphasized, and we always had fifteen minutes at the end of each meeting where we talked about what could be improved and if there was something we didn’t like. It wasn’t something that was forced on the groups, we could skip the feedback if we felt it didn’t give us anything, but I can’t say I didn’t need it in any of the groups. I’ve seen all kinds of feedback people, ranging from people like me who feel more comfortable getting feedback in front of the whole group to people who insist on solving problems one on one away from the group. What you have to do is find out early on how people like their feedback, and this you do by asking them. Ask the group of players if they want to talk about stuff during or after the meeting, or if they want to sort things out between themselves or what.

Everyone likes feedback, if they get it on their own terms. That’s another thing that’s very important. It’s difficult both to give and receive feedback, especially if you don’t know how the other one wants it. If someone says that they don’t want to talk in front of the group that’s fine and you have to respect that. Do the feedback on their terms.

I think switching the responsibility from the GM to the group can work wonders. Make everyone understand that they have to help each other play better, not just give feedback to the GM so he can entertain people better the next time. I would never want the group to use the GM as a middle man if someone is uncomfortable with someone else, as it’s always better to talk directly to the person. If I think that this other player take up to much time of the session with boring stuff, tell the GM and he goes to the other player, there’s a great risk that the other player will want to know what things are boring and what he should do instead. Now the GM will have to somehow figure out what I find boring and do the work of being constructive instead of me doing it. It’s my problem, not the GM’s, and therefore the whole group’s.

Oh, one last thing. I think point #2 is extremely important. What’s the point in giving feedback if nothing changes? It only makes the person giving the feedback feel like no one cares about them and that they’re just whining, and that’s not good. But to be able to follow through the feedback has to be in a form that can be applied to future gaming sessions. If someone says “I thought the part with the sewers was boring” that’s some kind of information, but you can’t really use it in the future. You have to keep asking questions until you get “Don’t make the players spend time guessing which way to go if all the ways lead to the same place” or something like that. This you can apply to the next session. I mean, it’s good if people tell you what they think, and they don’t have to give you a complete solution. But saying what you like or doesn’t like is only the start, and the group will have to find something concrete to change the next session. It’s only by changing things you can improve.

#12 Comment By Martin On August 12, 2005 @ 1:03 pm

(Jonas) I would never want the group to use the GM as a middle man if someone is uncomfortable with someone else, as it’s always better to talk directly to the person.

I think this is spot-on, Jonas (and welcome to TT!). There’s politeness, and then there’s pussyfooting around the issue: just address it directly, like you would a problem in any other area of your life.

The GM can be a useful sounding board, as she’ll usually have a different perspective — and if it’s a balance issue brought on by a house rule, for example, the GM is the right starting point. But as you said, if you have a personal issue with someone in the game it’s best to resolve it directly with that person.

But to be able to follow through the feedback has to be in a form that can be applied to future gaming sessions.

Also right on — this is exactly what I was getting at with item #1. ๐Ÿ™‚

#13 Pingback By Treasure Tables » Write Your Own Naughty List On November 14, 2005 @ 4:32 pm

[…] Figuring out what your faults are can be tough, though, because your players won’t always tell you about them. I explored that problem in Getting Player Feedback, and received some great responses. […]

#14 Pingback By Treasure Tables » 5 Steps to Encourage a Player to Roleplay On November 23, 2005 @ 7:24 am

[…] Play this one by feel — if it seems better to do this as a group, run with that; if your gut tells you to solicit feedback outside the game, do that instead. (For more about soliciting feedback, check out Getting Player Feedback here on TT.) […]