I'm shunting my planned entry for now because I want to talk about criticism, both how I think we should take it as creative people and how best to give it. This is brought on due to a twitter exchange I had tonight and I want to make clear right away that I'm not putting this dude on blast. He was civil and cool.
He tweeted me out of nowhere saying that he was dropping Abject Suffering because it wasn't enough about the game. At first, it seemed like it was in a jokey way but it became clear that it was a serious criticism and he compared us unfavorably to Roderick on the Line, a podcast I'm not super familiar with but I know Kole really enjoys. His point seemed to be two fold:
1) We advertise the show as about bad games but it's really not. 2) There's no point in doing a RotL style show when RotL exists if you can't be as good.
That first point seems pretty fair to me. I can certainly imagine a listener tuning into Abject Suffering expecting something that it's not. The second, however, gets in my craw a little bit. First, I'm not a huge Roderick fan, which you can take however you want but it proves that comedy is subjective. But even if RodLine was objectively funnier, that's not an argument against doing a similar thing. Partly because I didn't even realize we were doing a similar thing but also because many people have room for more than one "two dudes shooting the shit" style show. Two even! Or three! And if you don't, that's A-OK. I don't listen to much in the way of two dudes shooting the shit either.
But I had to question his decision to let us know. It doesn't feel like it's actionable criticism to me. If he wants it to be just better than RodLine, well, I don't know what to tell him. If he wants it to be off topic but different, again, I don't listen to that show. If I'm emulating it, it's not on purpose. And if he wants it to be more tightly focused, that's so far from what the show has turned into that it'd be completely different.
Something I was trying to explain to dude and something I think is important to realize is that whenever I hear criticism like this, it's impossible to act on because at the same time we hear from people who really like the show for the exact same reasons this guy doesn't. This comes up when talking about the sketches. Someone says they're stupid and we should just ditch them. Well, OK, but we like them and people say they like them. It'd be weird for us to go against our instincts and completely reinvent one of our projects or an aspect of one in order to please one guy.
It'd be different if people were complaining about AS in droves. Honestly, we do care about what our listeners think and we want to hear your criticism. But it is impossible to act on one person saying "throw the whole thing away" when many people really love it.
I hope I handled talking to this guy in a way that didn't make me sound overly defensive or like a d-bag. I did feel a little insulted, to be honest, fair or unfair. But what I would want him to take away from this is that, as a creator, there is a way to approach critiquing me that I will respond better to and a way that I will respond worse to.
Here are some guidelines that I feel are broadly applicable. These are things I try to do on the rare occasion I feel the need to criticize a creative person I don't know.
1) Do it via email! This just seems like courtesy to me. We're very open to feedback via www.duckfeed.tv/contact. Expressing yourself via that form doesn't limit you to 140 characters, doesn't limit our response either, and doesn't make either of us look bad. Unless making us look bad is your intention, if so a guide for constructive criticism probably won't help you much.
2) Treat me like a stranger or at least acquaintance. Twitter gives us incredibly high touch with the people we like and with that the illusion of intimacy. Podcasts double down on that intimacy. But keep in mind that even though you've maybe listened to me for hundreds of hours, I may or may not know you at all. If there is nuance to your tone, there's a good chance I'll miss it. So, though you might bust your buddy's balls or level some harsh truths at him because you've known him for years, that sort of directness can come off as discourteous to a stranger.
3) "Your thing is bad and you should stop doing it" is never valuable because we obviously disagree. Our shows take a lot of work to put together and they're not something we do lightly. We wouldn't do them, even something as stupid and tossed off as AS, if we didn't think they had value. This "criticism" puts us at opposite ends of a spectrum and there's no room for compromise.
4) If the show is just not for you, that's OK, but you can simply not listen. I'm flattered people like our stuff and I'm happy people give our weirder projects a shot, by and large. But I'm the very first person to say that they're not for everyone. That doesn't inherently hurt my feelings or anything. But there's something vindictive about going out of your way to say, "Hey, this thing you really like doing? I think it's bad, I'm going to stop listening and I wish you wouldn't do it." This rolls in the final point which is...
5) And this is going to sound harsh but creators don't owe you anything. Remember when people were making white house petitions because of Mass Effect 3's ending? That's ridonkulous. We live in a huge marketplace of art and we're all free to consume the art we like and reject the art we don't. The sense of entitlement in doing something like creating that petition is Herculean.
Another example: on the SA podcast thread recently there was a lot of talk about how the Idle Thumbs guys really missed the mark in talking about the Peter Molyneux debacle. A lot of people were saying they lost faith and that the Thumbs really "dropped the ball." What fucking ball? They're just guys doing a podcast, talking about a subject. If you disagreed with them, that's fine. If you wanted them to have approached it from another angle, also fine. But they didn't slight you by not doing what you wanted them to do. And Abject Suffering being rambly doesn't slight anyone either. It's not our duty to adhere to what our listeners want. We do the things we want and have been lucky enough to find listeners who want the same thing.
That doesn't mean that what our listeners want isn't important! Especially to you guys, our patrons, the relationship isn't quite so cut and dry because you are paying us, in both time and money. But if you are to influence us, I would want it to be more of a collaboration and less of a demand. "Have you considered this?" is a great way to throw us an idea. "I really like this part of this thing but I think this other part could use some time in the oven." "I think doing things this way would make them better." Those are all ways to criticize without coming off as entitled while being simultaneously constructive.
I hope this didn't come off as overly combative. Twitter dude is a good guy and was polite and is of course free to comport himself however he likes. This is just my two cents about how I best receive criticism and how I like to issue it. Hopefully it's helpful? I want to reiterate again that we really do value feedback and I am VERY open to communicating with you guys. I talk to many of you on twitter all the time and I love doing it. The "community manager" part of this gig is one of my favorite parts. But I think there's something to the adage about the fly getting the honey or the early wheel getting the grease or whatever.