When good feedback isn't


Sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry. Similarly, the most meticulously thought-out and well executed designs can go to mush when met with the wrong user. Enter Dean Takahashi.

A great photo of Dean courtesy of his Twitter

A great photo of Dean courtesy of his Twitter

Dean is a games journalist of 25 years, according to his Twitter at least. He’s currently the lead writer at GamesBeat. With these credentials, you’d expect that he would be a fairly competent gamer, right? Well…

Not safe for human consumption

Dean was in the privileged position of being able to play the game Cuphead at Gamescom (which is looking awesome in my opinion). In his moment of glory, Dean spent 26 minutes getting through the tutorial and failing to beat the first level of the game. I can imagine it was pretty frustrating for him.

We’ve seen this trend in gaming a bit recently; the other notable example was Polygon’s coverage of Doom. This is hard to watch if you’ve ever played a first person shooter. You’ve been warned.

It's like watching someone use a controller for the first time

So, what does this have to do with learning design? Well, I think there’s a pretty obvious parallel we can draw here between poor old Dean and the users of our designs.

When creating anything for any audience, only one thing is certain: No two users will have the exact same expertise coming in. However our assumption is often that if someone is already well versed in something they’ll have no trouble with subtle hints and will be able to move through seamlessly like seasoned vets. If I’ve been playing and writing about games for 25 years then I should be an expert, right?

I don’t mean to be harsh on Dean here, but most people can see the puzzle's solution from just watching the video. A newly-learned 'jump' move. A prompt to 'dash' on the ground or in air. A rock to your left that allows you to get up higher. It’s a simple solution, but for some reason he just missed it. It happens to the best of us. I won’t even discuss the rest of the video (and I also wouldn’t recommend watching it unless you want to tear your hair out) but my point is that Dean, a gamer with 25 self-confessed years of experience, took over a minute to solve this simple tutorial puzzle.

So if this was something you created, and this feedback came in, what would your reaction be?

Dig up, Dean!

Dig up, Dean!

Dean isn’t dumb for missing this. The real question here is should the developers of Cuphead change their game based on a seasoned veteran’s feedback? Maybe they should do a bit more user testing before making a move? Does Dean’s feedback have more weight because of his years of experience, even if all other users can see the obvious solution?

The potential for problems comes in when we start treating the feedback from more experienced users as being more valuable than that of a new user. Determining the importance of different pieces of feedback is one of the toughest things to do in design. When you see something like this the first reaction is often “I’ve failed to teach them effectively”.

But what is it Cuphead wants in this specific example? Does it want to spoon-feed you the exact answer, or does it want you to use the skills it’s teaching you to solve a problem? I’d argue the latter is the answer, and it’s certainly the more effective approach of the two in regards to teaching.

What this shows us most of all is that no matter how well you teach your users, no matter how much prior experience they have coming in, no matter how much understanding of the platform they carry into the experience, sometimes people will just suck at things. Their experience doesn't necessarily make their feedback more valuable than someone who is coming in fresh.

Brenton Sewart