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  • Cindi Knapton

Game Trailer Feedback: Make it Actionable & Supportive

Updated: Feb 2



Through my experiences in game writing, set designing for the Star Wars & Matrix franchises, and designing cities in Abu Dhabi, I have given and received heaps of feedback. One thing I've learned, if the feedback is not actionable and supportive, it's at best disappointing, and at worst, destructive to the creative process.


In the last year I've combined my game narrative + filmmaking +architecture skillsets to provide feedback on game development trailers. I've also provided notes on the story, design, and environmental elements of game pitch packages.


To deliver the best feedback possible, I try to stick to four concepts: Blank Slate, Take Me as I Am, Feedback Sandwich, and Ask a Crowd.


Blank Slate.

I used to think that in order to give or get great feedback, I needed to know everything about the project before I did a review. That way I would be verifying the intent as I immersed myself in the project. Makes sense, right? But... that also means that I would have an inherent bias in my mind.


Currently, I feel that the best way of getting objective feedback is to keep your reviewer/tester/player in the dark about your intentions so that you don't bias their first impression. You can fill them in on your intentions after that initial round. Allowing them to receive your work with no preconceived ideas keeps their feedback pure. You can never get that unbiased pure first impression again. It's precious and should be valued.


You can never get that unbiased pure first impression again. It's precious and should be valued.


I learned this from one of my screenwriting teachers, Corey Mandell. He taught us to hand our script to people with no biasing information. Let them read the script with out any prior knowledge. Then ask just one question. "What is the script about?" You're not asking if they liked it, what they didn't like, or any other analysis, just "What is the script about?"


You can use the Blank Slate technique with Game Demos & Trailers, Artwork, Character Mock-ups, Levels, etc. "What is the game about?" "What is this character about?" etc.



In the initial round of feedback, don't provide additional information that will bias the review of your work.

This Blank Slate impression can be eye-opening. It's the same feedback a potential publisher, financier, or game buyer would have if they randomly found your game promotion materials online and didn't know anything about your project. It can be quite shocking to hear what people think your project is about. If it aligns with your intention, fantastic! You have a winner. If it doesn't, you got solid feedback that you can use to take action on your next iteration.


It's hard to get an unbiased opinion. Your family and friends probably have already heard you talking about your project. Think about joining a discord group of game devs who don't know you. Be brave and ask qualified game industry strangers for feedback on your work.


Think about joining a discord group of game devs who don't know you. Be brave and ask qualified game industry strangers for feedback on your work.


Take Me As I Am

I have had the pleasure of providing feedback to a variety of people. They range from teaching swimming to neurodivergent kindergartners at the California School for the Deaf and Blind, teaching 3D thinking, drafting and design as Interior Architecture Faculty at the Academy of Art University, and providing feedback to my fellow game writers, screenwriters, and narrative designers.


Everyone is different, and everyone wants to be recognized for what they have achieved and wants help to get to their next level.


These young athletes excelled in their level!

I try to take everyone as they are right now. I believe that they are a B+ student -- in their current level. Whether that's novice or expert, I want to help them get to an A.


If they are a beginning swimmer, getting them to put their face in the water and blow bubbles is a praiseworthy step forward in their confidence. If they are a prize-winning writer and they want to be the best in the business, then they and I hold their work to very a stringent standard.


When giving feedback, see where the person is at, recognize their achievement and offer opportunities to step up to their next level in accomplishment.


When giving feedback, see where the person is at, recognize their achievement and offer opportunities to step up to their next level in accomplishment.


Feedback Sandwich

This is my take on the classic three-layered technique to ensure the project creator has a balanced experience when hearing what I have to share. I offer something delicious, something healthy that might not be as tasty as they were hoping, and a yummy wrap-up.


I begin with a compliment. There is always something positive to say -- even if it's "Congratulations on creating something new and being brave enough to ask for feedback." Again, take the person where they are at. Simply ideating a project, bringing it to life, and asking for feedback can be a monumental achievement for some of us. This is particularly true when venturing into a new field. So... be kind.



Then I highlight the opportunities for improvement (OFI). This should be balanced with the compliments above. In my screenwriting group, each week we gave three compliments and three OFIs. If you could only find one complement, then you need to limit your OFI to one!


What defines an OFI? It could be something that bumped as confusing or inconsistent with the rest of the work. It could be an opportunity to further develop something intriguing. Or, if at this phase in the feedback you know the creator's intention, it could be an element that does not align with that intention. Ideally, it's not "I didn't like____" When I give feedback, I am there to support the creator's intent, not change their work to my suit my taste.


When I give feedback, I am there to support the creator's intent, not change their work to my suit my taste.


If you need to, you can say "This genre/gameplay mechanic/NPC quest just isn't for me." That lets the creator know that you may not be the right person to offer unbiased feedback on an element of the game, or even the entire game.


Think about why something feels wrong to you? Is is inconsistent? Confusing? Undeveloped?

If there was something that you didn't like, check yourself. Is it your taste? Or is it actually unclear, inconsistent, not in keeping with the creators intent, etc. What is the technical reason that it doesn't work? And be specific. "I didn't understand why the gameplay mechanic changed in the Ogre's lair." The more you can hone in on exactly where the issue is, the more actionable your feedback will be.


Unless it is part of your agreed scope, do not make suggestions on how you think the OFI should be fixed. That can feel insulting. At this point, you are simply pointing out what you noticed. The creator may want to digest the input, determine if it's valid, and try to solve it themselves. Or they may want help. Let them ask for that specifically. You can offer that in a follow up session.


Unless it is part of your agreed scope, do not make suggestions on how you think the Opportunity for Improvement should be fixed.


When providing game trailer feedback, I use my film production skills and create clip-by-clip, second-by-second, detailed analysis of each segment. A few of the questions I ask are:

  • Is the player fantasy clear?

  • Are the game play mechanics unique and aligned with the world building and story arc?

  • Is the trailer visually, aurally, and thematically consistent?

  • Is the feel of the game consistent and clear?

  • Does the game appeal to the target market?

  • Are the NPC quests compelling?

  • Can the NPC design and dialogue be strengthened to better convey their needs and backstory?

  • Can the player see themselves as the avatar?


My work is covered by NDAs. So... to show you what I do, I created a theoretical example of one of my analysis tools. I chose the amazingly cinematic and intriguing Alan Wake 2. To be clear, I was not hired by Remedy, nor am I affiliated with AW2 in any way. This is me creating an example of analysis that I can show you without violating my client contracts.


Gallery View of Notion clip by clip timecode analysis

Table View Notion clip by clip timecode analysis

Not surprisingly, I did not find any OFIs in the Alan Wake 2 trailer. Remedy have created a masterpiece in marketing, storytelling, and world building. With my clients, I create a table to summarize the OFIs and offer possible solutions with varying degrees of scope revision required. I highlight quick fixes, and list deeper changes as options. This makes the feedback actionable.


The final layer of the sandwich is the wrap-up compliment. A lot of this part is simply to remind the creator of where our conversation started. Our brains definitely have recency bias. Reiterate those initial positive compliments. Hopefully you did enjoy the work. If you were only able to articulate limited positive feedback, then at least give the creator praise for trusting you with their work.


If you were only able to articulate limited positive feedback, then at least give the creator praise for trusting you with their work.


Leave the creator with positive encouragement. They did a thing! They should be proud. Support them to continue their creative growth.


Ask a Crowd

Super simple. Don't just ask one person for feedback. Ask at least three. Make sure that those three people are all looking at the same iteration of your work. Ask people you trust. Ask people who know how to give actionable and supportive feedback.


If all three people have consistent compliments and OFIs, you can feel good that what is said is probably true for a larger unbiased audience. If it's not consistent, then ask more people.


Bonus Tip

When giving feedback on a game vertical slice, capture initial play-through emotional reaction-face-play and cursor movements by using software like Loom.com or it's crop of competitors. https://clickup.com/blog/loom-alternatives/


Recording your play-through will capture your initial unbiased "blank slate" reaction to the game. You can't hide your emotions of frustration or joy when you are concentrating on playing a game for the first time.


Be brave. Ask for and offer to give feedback. Your work will get better.


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