Have you ever shown someone something you’ve created, only for them to tear it to shreds? You put your heart and soul into something and instead of praising the good, they pick fault with every little thing. Don’t you hate those people? Well I love them.
Now there’s obviously a time and a place for everything and they should perhaps reign in detailed criticism more often than not. However, there’s one area where you really want someone to be as picky as possible: proofreading.
I’ve been producing the rulebook to Doomsday in collaboration with the graphic designer over the past few weeks. I finalised the ruleset over a year ago so why has it taken several weeks to produce the rulebook? Well, the process typically goes something like this:
- I send the rules to the graphic designer.
- They send me a rulebook with all the rules laid out nicely and lots of fancy pictures.
- I go through the rulebook looking for any errors and send a list of corrections back.
- They send me a revised rulebook.
- I go through it again looking for issues and compile a new list.
- They revise the rulebook again.
- And on it goes until I can’t find any more problems.
We were on version 4 of the rulebook by the time I was happy with it. I then gave it to a proofreader and they came back with a page worth of corrections. I was delighted!
The thing is, artists and creative types tend to be more focussed on the big picture – the essence of a thing. Whereas task-oriented people are more focussed on accuracy of details. Of course, we need both types of people.
If you’re looking for support and encouragement in your creative endeavour, then you want a big-picture person. “Ah, I can see where you’re going with this! That’s really imaginative!”
However, if you’re writing a rulebook, the last thing you want is someone who cares about your feelings. You want someone who won’t pull any punches and will highlight every little mistake.
Why? Do a few spelling mistakes really matter? Being a maven, I’m of the opinion that it should be as perfect as is humanly possible. Not just the spellings, but the clarity of iconography, the layout, the ease of reference. I think there are a number of reasons for this…
Ease of Play
For most people, games are a means of relaxation. They should be fun and enjoyable. If your game is difficult to learn due to the rulebook, this is going to negatively impact people’s experience of it.
Not only that, but if they end up playing your game incorrectly because they misunderstood something, then they’re not really playing your game. Presumably you’ve playtested your game and you’ve tweaked the rules to provide maximum enjoyment for everyone. If they’re playing with the wrong rules, that’s going to reduce the fun!
Good writers take their time crafting sentences in an effort to make it as easy for the reader to read as possible. Their exact intent – every nuance – should be conveyed effortlessly as the reader reads. They put lots of work into it to reduce the work required by the reader.
Bad writers are selfish writers. They don’t care if people struggle to read what they’ve written. “Oh, they’ll figure it out.” A bad rulebook with lots of mistakes requires an awful lot of effort to figure out. Many people will just give up.
The onus in comprehending written communication should be on the writer, not the reader. After all, there may only be one writer, but possibly thousands of readers for one piece of writing.
Many publishers over the years have had to reprint rulebooks or components, sometimes at great cost, due to errors that weren’t picked up when the game was originally manufactured. The more errors you can find now, the less it will cost you later.
At the end of the day, mistakes in your game just look bad. They leave a bad taste in the mouth and give people a poor impression of your game and/or your company.
Everybody makes mistakes; it’s human nature. Taking the time to find those mistakes and correct them though – that stands out. If you find someone who seems overly critical, bear them in mind when you need something proofreading. You’ll honour them by asking, and they’ll relish the chance to prove how exacting they can be.
Don’t take the criticism personally though. You don’t want people to be concerned with hurting your feelings. And remember, you don’t have to implement all their suggestions. Sort the wheat from the chaff and you’ll find nuggets of gold in their feedback.
Do you think you would make a good proofreader? Or are you a big-picture person?