|Neil Spicer RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor|
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So, it's certainly no surprise that I've followed along with the various threads here in the RPG Superstar forum (as I do every year), just catching up on some of the differences and nuances of this iteration of the contest, and it's always heartening to see a lot of newcomers and first-timers announcing they're giving it a go. It's also cool to see the eligible veterans returning to take another crack at it. Trust me, that kind of perseverence can pay off big-time! Just ask Mike Welham and Steve Helt. And yet, it's also possible that someone totally new to RPG Superstar (or even Pathfinder) can go pretty far, too.
But, before we see who makes the Top 32 (plus alternates!), there's the public voting round to help sort the better items towards the top of the list, and this is a necessary step which eases the burden on the primary judges who go on to select the actual competitors for the Top 32. As such, I think it's important to share a bit of carefully considered advice I have for everyone...and this comes both as a former-competitor of RPG Superstar, as well as my time serving as a judge for a few years.
If your experience while voting is anything like prior years...or, if it's anything like what the main judges went through when we sorted the submissions on our own...you're going hit a wall at some point which I like to call "The Wall of Voter Fatigue and Frustration." It's that point where you've seen a certain item you've downvoted time and time again, and you just lose patience with it. Or, it'll be an item which--from a design standpoint--just isn't quite ready yet. It may have mishandled certain rules or use of the submission template. It may be a joke item or an ill-considered one. Or a seemingly blatant rip-off of some intellectual property. And so on. Bottom line, it'll be situations like that which will continually try your patience and your sanity. But here's my advice...
Take a deep breath. Soldier on. Vent if you have to, but carefully consider how and where you do it.
Because it's as important how you conduct yourself during the voting process as it is in how you conduct yourself as an RPGSS competitor...or how you conduct yourself as an RPGSS judge...or how you conduct yourself as a future freelancer...or how you conduct yourself when representing a company you work for (like Paizo, hopefully). If you vent too harshly...apply too much snark...or simply fail to convey the wit you thought you were giving versus the venom it was interpreted to be...you risk reducing the esteem which others might have felt towards you, the contest, and themselves. And, perhaps more importantly, you run the risk of absolutely walking all over someone's dream with a total lack of sensitivity.
Now, some will say that's sugarcoating things for would-be designers who ought to learn here and now that they'll need some seriously thick skin if they intend to work as a freelancer in the RPG industry. However, consider this: Not everyone who enters RPG Superstar does so with the intention of becoming a freelancer. Some do it for fun and to feel a part of the Pathfinder/Paizo community. In addition, even if they do have aspirations of becoming a paid freelancer, you're not necessarily doing them the favor you think you are by blasting your feedback at them via a medium like the internet which does very little to carry any emotive content behind your words. What you thought was cute may be received as harsh, and not just by the one you intended to receive your commentary. Onlookers will develop an opinion of you, as well.
So, carefully consider how you conduct yourself during the voting process when you feel that urge to rail against a particular design or design choice. Even when veiled in as much vagueness as you hope to muster with your comments, there will be people out there who will endure a tremendous amount of stress wondering if your negative feedback applies to them or their item. And, even if you yourself are ready to take that kind of criticism, it doesn't mean you can assume everyone else is by extension. What's more, you run the risk of fostering an environment where others feel emboldened to take the criticism to an even higher level. And, unlike the judging forums where we used to hide that kind of rage-venting in the past, the voting public tends to air their views in plain view and in greater numbers. So, it can start to drain the life and enthusiasm out of the participants.
Therefore, if you take this contest (and your own design skills) super-seriously, you may want to start emulating that which you want to become...i.e., a professional freelancer...by demonstrating a professional demeanor in how you conduct yourself in the various feedback threads, voter frustration threads, and so on. Last year, we had a "Voters' Incessant Ramble" thread which kind of got super-negative and deflating for some contestants. It was eventually offset by a "Voters' Incessant Praise" thread, but not nearly to the same degree as the piling-on which took over the prior one. Eventually, there was even a "Critique My Item" thread which the voting public helped host as a nod towards the same kind of forum the primary judges used to host in the past. All three of those discussion threads are good places to practice the professional demeanor I'd like to encourage. And, if you can conduct yourself in that manner, believe me, people will take notice. And, if you don't conduct yourself in that manner, people will also take notice.
That's how life works. It's always easier to tear down something than to build it up. And people are always watching and judging you by your own public behavior.
So, it's my hope that, as people go into the public voting round, and as the judges put on their judging hats, and people start offering feedback to the competitors in whatever forum, that everyone goes into it with a commitment towards being as supportive as you can afford to be. Not to sugarcoat or handhold or give someone a free pass on a poor design. Rather, in spite of those things, to carefully consider the feedback you give so it doesn't damage the feelings of the receiving party in a way that totally ruins their ability to enjoy and participate in the contest and the hobby. Educate and build people up where you can. Bite your tongue and remain silent if you're completely unable to find anything positive to say alongside your critique. Basically, just focus on helping this contest continue as one of the best things going in the RPG industry right now.
And that's my two cents,