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Perfection Games Remove Noise from Developer Feedback

Alex J. Champandard on October 17, 2007

Picture a rockstar waving a guitar right in front of the amplifier. That’s how most people cringe internally when anyone mentions they have feedback. It’s no surprise frankly; most developers suck at giving feedback. If you’ve heard the words “constructive criticism” or “playing devil’s advocate” then chances are your team could use help too.

Last week you learned about the Decider protocol as a tool for development teams to make decisions quickly. This article continues explaining principles of The Core Protocols, specifically ways to improve existing designs by helping developers collaborate constructively.

When Feedback Is Mostly Noise

You’d be surprised how often people miscommunicate. One of the most problematic situations is giving feedback:

  • People just want to complain at you. It’s not really constructive if it’s criticism!

  • But you seem to be required to listen otherwise you’ll get into trouble.

So the discussion ends up being an emotionally draining waste of time! Instead, how do you get information you want? How can you get less noise and more signal from feedback to help you improve a product or idea?

The Perfection Game Protocol

The Core

The Perfection Game allows you to improve pretty much anything by defining productive and (dare I say it) “constructive” rules for giving and receiving feedback.

Here’s the process as defined in The Core version 3:

  1. The person with the object or artifact to perfect presents it to the other person (a.k.a. the perfector).

  2. The perfector gives a score on a scale of [1,10] which indicates the potential improvement of the artifact. A score of 1 means the perfector intends to add 100% value with the following suggestions, and a score of 10 means the perfector can’t improve the value of the object.

  3. Then, the perfector explains why the artifact earned its score: “What I like about X is…” then listing all the things that work well.

  4. Finally, the perfector gives constructive suggestions to improve the object: “To get a ten, you’d have to…”

What’s interesting to note is that it stays away from all the negatives by commitments of the parties involved:

  • No arguments are allowed! Accept the advice but retain the right to act on it.

  • Only make positive suggestions; no mention of “I don’t like this.”

  • The score reflects how much the object can be improved, not how it sucked.

The rules are quite simple, but the results are surprising once you try it. The Perfection Game protocol isn’t used as often as Decider, but far surpasses it in terms of raw contribution to a project.

Extensions & Applications

A great extension to the decider protocol is to set a challenge for the perfectee after point 4. by saying:

“Now to get ELEVEN, you’d have to …”

This gives the perfectee the impression they can to go beyond expectations to match a very tough suggestion. Also keep in mind that you can perfect the perfection game itself and decide whether to apply improvements within the whole team.

You should apply the protocol:

  1. When you want constructive and friendly help improving a design or product.

  2. When someone comes to you with unsolicited feedback; impose the protocol on them.

The great thing about the Perfection Game protocol is that you can use it to give feedback without the other knowing. You can also request feedback easily in that format to avoid common pitfalls: “Tell me what you like, give it a mark out of 10 based on how much you can improve it, then give me suggestions!”

Time to Practice

In the previous weeks, you learned to apply the core protocols by helping design a simple simulation game. Over the next month, you’ll be using the Perfection Game on a regular basis to make suggestions about the AI features and how they get implemented.

Today, however, you can practice with the perfection game in two ways. The first way is by perfecting an upcoming eBook that consists of over 30 illustrated pages about hierarchical logic and finite state machines. Contact me for details: alexjc at AiGameDev.com

eBook Sample Pages

Screenshot 1: Four sample pages introducing hierarchical FSM.

The second way to use your newly acquired knowledge is by perfecting the front page of the site here at AiGameDev.com!

The Perfection Game Podcast

For those of you interested in the thoughs of Jim and Michele McCarthy, who crafted The Core Protocols, here’s a rather typical episode of the McShow. If you enjoy it be sure to listen to the next one about the Perfection Game too.

Podcast: The McCarthy Show, Episode 10 — Aggregating Intelligence

In summary, the Perfection Game is a tool to help people to collaborate on improving an idea or product. It’s hard to give feedback in a useful way, and using simple rules provides a platform for constructive discussions.

Next week as this series on The Core wraps up, you’ll learn about the Ask for Help protocol.

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