Game Review Meetings: Don’t Push the Big Red Button!

Every game maker will eventually find themselves in a game review meeting or a game design review meeting.

If you’re fortunate, the people doing the reviewing have enough experience to actually help you improve your game.

Often though, you’ll likely be presenting to people without game making experience, who for various reasons, are in charge of commenting on, directing improvements for or in some significant way “approving your game”. What could go wrong in a situation like this? Trust me. Plenty.

Gone bad, game review meetings can be as frustrating as trying to explain calculus to an angry 5th grader.

If you ever find yourself facing such an audience at a game review meeting, my best advice is something I learned Lucy Bradshaw (GM of Maxis) about 12 years ago.

Lucy was presenting the latest version of Sim City at an EA Franchise review. After giving a short presentation on the state of the game, I watched as she was peppered with unanswerable questions and bullied to make a final commitment to a launch date (even though that wasn’t possible to do). She kept her cool; sometimes in silence and other times with a simple answers refusing to succumb to the bullying.

After the meeting ended and I asked how she did it, she simply said “Just don’t push the big red button” and went on to explain. Her analogy was that when a game review meeting turns antagonistic, it can seem like they are holding out a big red button, just daring you to lose your temper and push it.

The secret she said, was to never give in, no matter how big and enticing that red button looks.

I took her lesson to heart during a post-launch game review of “C&C:Generals”. The managers conducting the review had no experience making RTS games and nor any experience playing RTS games. This didn’t stop them however from declaring the game a failure and directing me to go back to school to learn how to be an EP. Beyond frustrating, Lucy’s advice helped me keep my cool.

(BTW – C&C:Generals went on to become the best selling PC game in North America for EA that year and won the “Best Strategy Game” award for the AIAS.The game spoke for itself).

Hopefully you’ll never face such an audience at a game review meeting, but if you do, my advice is the same as Lucy’s, “Don’t push the red button”.

It’s not worth it. Losing your temper won’t teach them a lesson and it will only make you look bad. Better to keep your cool and spend your energy finding someone who can actually help you become a better game maker.

(Years later I learned another saying to express the same sentiment, “Lose your temper, lose your testimony.” Whatever you call it, just don’t push the red button).

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