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OK, we started a new campaign yesterday and I really want to take quality feedback from my players. When I ask, "How was it? Do you like it?", I generally get some vague answers like "It was good, I like it" in response.

So, how can I take better feedback from my players? What can I ask and how can I ask?

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11 Answers 11

up vote 21 down vote accepted
  1. Ask them about their experience. People are hesitant to criticize both friends and authority figures (and as a GM you fit into both categories). The answer to "how did I do" is always "fine." The answer to "did you have fun during the session, what did you enjoy or not like" is always much more evocative (and frankly casting it as about them indicates that you care about their experience, not just "making yourself better"). Similarly, ask proactive and not just reactive questions like "what would you like to see more of/less of in the campaign?" That is framed as campaign planning and engages forward thinking, not as retroactive fault finding, which is more helpful to you and less threatening to them (except for the very negative folks who love to criticize, in which case you need to divert them from every picky little thing they didn't like to "what should we be doing instead" anyway).

  2. Surveys. A way to avoid squeaky wheel syndrome (one or two people who are willing to speak up get their stuff in, but others who are quite and may have very different experiences don't). Make sure and ask for degree and not just yes/no, just like any real survey you ever take - "How much do you enjoy the romance subplots, fill in the appropriate bubble - o Greatly o Somewhat o Indifferent o Not much o Dislike strongly." This will get you everyone's opinion and you'll know how strong it is - in casual conversation it can be hard to determine whether someone's more "well I don't really get into those but don't mind them" or "I really hate those and wish they'd stop."

  3. Take feedback well. Inevitably when a GM asks for feedback, someone will say "I didn't like it" and they'll get upset, and then everyone learns not to tell them what they really think. You will have to be thick skinned if you really want feedback. And you'll have to act on the feedback, if people tell you something a couple times and you don't change, they will assume you're not listening. And it's hard to balance that because any good campaign isn't formed by focus group (sorry indie-game narrativists), it requires a good driving vision. You can help yourself by framing questions not directly about yourself, but indirectly about "things in the game" and "techniques I used."

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A general rule of thumb is that people will answer specific questions with more detail than open ended questions or questions that imply potential for personal conflict (i.e. "how did I do" is unlikely to get honest answers except from your really closest friend - but instead something like "did you like the balance between roll playing and role playing?" or "what could we add to the table to make combat go more smoothly" etc.

i.e. ask specific questions that solicit input (which you can act upon)

Then after you act upon suggestions - especially relatively minor ones, it becomes easier to get answers (in the future) to questions about bigger items (i.e. after you fix little things about the scheduling of the game or the house rules or the layout of the table for combats then you can more likely get input about bigger items like game style, your DMing style, whether you should stop trying to do multiple voices etc.)

Another suggestion - though this depends on the relationship(s) you have with players is to set aside time to talk with each player outside of the game session about their feedback. At the end of the night as people are packing up to leave may not be the best time to get detailed feedback - but grabbing coffee later in the week, chatting over Skype or even just some one-to-one emails or a quick phone call could get you far more detailed feedback.

You may also want to start the next session with a short (emphasis on short) group discussion about what is working/isn't working and quickly make adjustments that might help with the flow of the game - i.e. fix physical setup, talk about the time of the game, breaks, whatever.

With any game it is also important to keep in mind the expectations of the players and make sure that they match with each other and with your expectations as the DM.

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Maybe give it a little time before digging for detailed feedback - if the campaign is new (and especially if the game group is new), people need a little time to find their voices.

With that in mind, an open discussion about everybody's goals and enthusiasms can go a long way. If you find out why they are playing, that will help you give them what they want. If one guy is all about the fighting, you can feel more confident in your GMing if you take a little time to create interesting and challenging combat situations he'll enjoy. Then, later, you can ask if you are giving them what they said they want, and also if what they want has changed over time. That's much easier to respond to.

You might have better luck one-on-one as well. Try inviting somebody out for coffee to talk over the game.

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+1 a new campaign takes a couple of sessions to get used to; ask them after the third session or so. They've gone through some combat, some social encounters etc... They'll have a better feel for your campaign and will hand out better feedback regardless of which technique you use. –  Ruben Steins Feb 7 '11 at 9:27
    
I know the group for a long time. 3 of them are from my former party (where I was a player), and the other is my S.O. So, I know them, and they know me well. Thank you very much for one-on-one technique. Will try. –  Gokce Ozan Feb 7 '11 at 16:21

In my experience, the input you want on your sessions is almost identical to the suggestion I made over on the What can I learn from playtesters? question... [excerpted here:]

  • What was the most fun (event or mechanic)?
  • What was the most complicated?
  • What did you think was the most clever or surprising thing?
  • What was the most boring?
  • What do you remember most from the session?
  • If you could change one thing, what would it be?

I like to watch body-language and facial expressions for signs of boredom, confusion, distraction, surprise, delight, and especially for game events that cause a radical shift in a players emotional state (either direction).

Note that nowhere do you ask "how did I do?"

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One way is to offer moderate in-game rewards for comprehensive journal entries about the sessions. Hand off a bit of extra XP to those willing to take their time and write some kind of a decent summary about what happened, either from an in or an out of character point of view.

Handle this with care, though: don't reward writing style or word count, for not everyone's born a writer (and you don't want the group's writer to advance way ahead of the others.) Set a minimum entry level ("at least five proper paragraphs", for example) that qualifies a journal entry for the reward... and thank/honor each contributor equally.

Once (and if) the journals start coming in, you may get back to their writers with a few specific questions.

Edit: An additional tip: You may want to start an invite-only, multiple-author blog (at blogspot.com, for exmaple - I think it can be done over there), and get your players not only to post journals there but to comment on others' journals as well. This has the additional advantage that you can post resources (images, descriptions, downtime summaries etc) as well, asking for player feedback (and perhaps declaring, in some cases, that the story won't roll on until a number of players haven't left comments on a post.)

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Hmm, but especially if it's in-character it will be hard to suss out the kinds of things he wants to know... We do loads of mostly-in-character session summaries but they only very indirectly reveal even whether people are having fun or not, let alone specific details of how to make things better. –  mxyzplk Feb 5 '11 at 17:15
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It has worked for us most of the time: paying attention to what the writer focuses on (even if seen through the eyes of their character) gives a lot away, and tactful questioning based on the journals can reveal even more. Of course there's no guarantee for this method, but it's definitely worth giving a try, imo. :) –  OpaCitiZen Feb 5 '11 at 17:52
    
@mxyzplk: Not necessarily. If one player doesn't like romances he could always describe the significant others of the other characters as annoying or disturbing from an in-game pov (e.g. "I'm happy that Thorak has finally found a girl, but I just wished she'd leave me the hell alone. Having her around all the time is giving me headaches!") I think that with only a little breaching of the 4th wall you can describe almost anything related to the game from an in-game pov. [continued] –  user660 Feb 6 '11 at 15:22
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IMO that's a very imprecise way of going about it that is only going to work on people that don't separate player and character enough. If a DM took my in character dislike of a NPC or situation as a metagame statement of me not enjoying that content, I would be aghast. That's just wrong. –  mxyzplk Feb 7 '11 at 2:25
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I was thinking about creating a blog/wiki for the campaign already. Which, of course, the players will be invited as authors. I also asked my players to write logs of the game. Yes, it is nice but it is not as effective for feedback purposes if you ask me. I know that from personal experience. Also giving the journal writers more XP or such creates a "positive feedback spiral" for the writer(s) and "negative feedback spiral" for the non-writer(s). This is a game and people just may not have time for this kind of extra work. But thank you very much for your contribution. I appreciate it. –  Gokce Ozan Feb 7 '11 at 16:34

I recently gave my players a survey on how they felt about the game. When I was asking for verbal feedback they kept giving one word answers, so I had to try something new.

Anyway, I listed a bunch of things from the game and asked the players to cross out those they disliked and circle those that they liked. Kinda like StackExchange's upvote/downvote system.

Here's the survey: https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1qLAvhgbA7uyK2iTF7jYvYXIIWP-zPAiu5Nt6vEW4dYg No, I don't expect the names of plots and NPCs to mean anything to anyone, but you get the idea. (Although I will point out that "fishrape" is what the players have elected to call the Aboleth plot I'm using, that's not the name of the plot as I've conceived of it.)

This was more interesting than the other forms I've encountered because it was so specific. In my LARPing days I answered a lot of questions about how I feel about romance in games. Or if I feel I need to win. Or if I mind being a jerk. But without context I can't always say how I feel about those things. So instead I gave the players the context and let the players vote to place themselves there or not.

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Thank you for sharing your google doc and the advice. It is really a neat document. I was thinking making a google docs form. This might be my first step for that. –  Gokce Ozan Feb 7 '11 at 16:24

As you already pointed out, "How did I do" gets vague answers. I just finished an adventure, and got pretty good feedback with the following 4 questions:

  1. What did I do that was fantastic (either mechanics done right, plot twists that you think were spot on, etc.)?
  2. What did I do that sucked (wielding the plot hammer a little too forcefully, etc.)?
  3. What rules did I appear to stumble on and need another read of the rulebook (or 20) in order to get the procedure in my head?
  4. Suggestions for improvement not mentioned already?"

You may get 1 word answers, or you may get pages of response per question. Keep a copy of the first 3 questions, and if something comes up in-game, jot down a quick note to yourself. I would also jot down any rule I couldn't find in about 2 minutes, and then hand-waved. I'd suggest you only ask the players once per adventure/Chapter. Otherwise it will start to annoy the players and the will give you "it's fine" dodge/cover.

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Thank you for the questions and for the suggestion of interval of the survey. Nice nice. –  Gokce Ozan Feb 7 '11 at 16:42

One way that serves a dual purpose is to get one player per session, at the beginning of the session, to do a summary of last session. The things they focus on and the way they tell it should give you an idea of what they did and didn't enjoy and what they focused on mentally.

And, of course, it reminds everyone what happened last session.

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I would like to add as an addendum to previous posts involving surveys:

While you want to give the players more than just simple "yes/no" questions on them, remember that your players have lives (work, family, friends, school) and try to keep it as concise as you can. If you keep your survey manageable and try to get as much as you can to each question, they're much more likely to answer it, in my experience.

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Welcome to RPG.SE, have a look at our FAQ when you get a chance. You raise some good points here. –  wax eagle May 23 '12 at 12:35

I usually approach this is a round about manner I guess. I have all the player in hat submit who they thought role played the best, and if and situation they would like to take offline, or effected them in a specific way. We tally votes award xp. I also tend to encouraging players to develop a large back story and submit it to me so I can make the campaign more fun for them, and add story the would like to see develop. In essence your getting your feedback, encouraging role playing, and not really having to straight out ask.

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Thank you for your answer. Yeah, asking for a long back story might give you about what they want before the adventure, but it really doesn't give you any feedback after the adventure starts. I like back stories too, but not long ones, rather, I ask people a few things (which I could use as hooks). –  Gokce Ozan Feb 7 '11 at 16:44

I think the World of Darkness rule for end-of-chapter experience is excellent into indirectly getting a feedback from the players.

At the end of each chapter, each player gets:

  • automatic (1xp)
  • learning curve: ask the player what his character learned during this chapter, give him 1xp if his answer is acceptable
  • roleplaying: if he roleplayed well, give him 1 or 2xp
  • heroism: if he committed any heroic act, give him 1xp (no reward if it was more of a stupid/needlessly suicidal act, rather then heroic)

while they all provide insight, especially if you discuss them with the players, the "learning curve" one helps them a lot to focus on what actually happened, what they did, why, etc. While they tell you about that, you can understand the game from their perspective, and that's a feedback way better than a plain "did you have fun?".

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Thank you for your answer. Though I do not think what a CHARACTER learned in a chapter/story doesn't really gives a lot about players' expectations. –  Gokce Ozan Feb 7 '11 at 16:48

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