I'm telling you it was THIS BIG....

Why do people love to exaggerate and how does it influence the way that we communicate?

Ok, this is going to be one of those philosophical debate type of posts about an element of community communication and talking with your players from my perspective as a developer and an ex community manager. So consider this the disclaimer, I tend to think quite a bit about how communication works and how it might work better, and that means I occasionally have the odd topic that sticks in my mind and prompts a question or two I think worth exploring further.

Let's get one thing out in the open first, we almost all exaggerate sometimes. Many of us I am sure do it every day in one way or another. Sometimes it is for comic effect, sometimes it is to show off, sometimes it is to labour a point, sometimes it is to try and win an argument. We have been doing it for as long as we have been recording history, and probably long before that as well.

In the context of community communication though it can have some fairly polarising effects and lead to some very negative feedback cycles. What does this mean on forums? Do we as developers even create scenarios and settings that prompt, or even worse, encourage this behaviour in our communities? Let's take a look...

So why is exaggerating bad for feedback?

If we accept that we exaggerate all the time, why does it create issues for communication and forums?

There are two main impacts of exaggeration that I see regularly. One effects the general atmosphere of forum environments, the other directly effects the feedback that we as developers get from public channels like the forums.

To take the more obvious one first. If you exaggerate, and in particular if you take it to extremes, then you only serve to make yourself sound foolish and anger other users, and prompt them to either respond in kind or to attack your logic. This usually leads to a downwards spiral of negative comments. People generally I think do accept that there are other opinions, outlooks and preferences, but one thing they hate is being spoken for by someone with an opposing opinion. So when you use phrases like 'everybody thinks' or 'everyone knows this is true' you are immediately going to put those who don't agree with you on the defensive. You can't possibly speak for everyone, you probably even can't speak for any kind of a majority, and that is something that many forum addicts seems to struggle with.

The main issue is that when you exaggerate you immediately belittle your own opinion by casting things in absolutes that people know aren't true. They might be willing to accept that something debatable happens now and again, or under certain situations, they aren't going to accept things if you try and claim something that they know isn't true because they have experienced the situation themselves. This happens a lot in class and balance discussion in particular. It collides here with the different play-styles as well, especially the min/max type of player who will gladly say that any given template is the 'only' way to build to a character, and from his purely scientific assessment of numbers that might even be true. That approach will instantly aggravate other players though who don't only assess the worth of a character by the math of their build, or might have different opinions as to what should be min/maxed, the point is that by using the absolute state and coming across as trying to say yours is the only valid opinion you will instantly invite people to disagree even if they might not have originally cared to wade into the debate. People always like to correct other people on internet forums, so when you give them obvious ammunition you are just asking for them to respond.

Secondly, the inclination to exaggerate can honestly have a very negative impact on the developers ability to analyse your feedback and identify the cause of any possible issues that are reported.

If a user is reporting an issue and says 'The issue is happening all the time' and when asked for details actually exaggerates the frequency of the issue it can actually make it less likely the issue will be identified. The user might think that if they are exaggerating the issue and it is seen as serious then it must be fixed faster and prioritised right? Actually it sometimes ends up being very counterproductive. The user may have a valid issue, but if it is only happening once every hour for example or less, and they exaggerate and complain it happens 'all the time' or 'every few minutes' or 'lots of times an hour' and that gets reported back to the code or production team, they will start looking on that basis. When they then don't see anything with that frequency it means they have to down prioritise or dismiss that users feedback or that specific report, or hope someone else provides better information. The frequency and circumstances of an issue is one of the most important factors in helping to identify when something might not be right. So giving exaggerated feedback can actually really damage the quality of feedback.

Likewise, as in the previous case between players, you also have the fact that if you exaggerate, in particular into absolutes, and the coder or designer looking at your report knows that it isn't the case then they either will presume it might be an issue with the user misunderstanding the game mechanics or they will dismiss a possibly valid issue as not being able to be reproduced because it didn't turn up in X attempts when the report indicated it happened a lot more than that.

It is understandable when encountering an issue that people can get frustrated, and trust me, the developers get just as frustrated and want to resolve issues as they occur. The need to get your point across shouldn't be more important than actually making the point accurately!

Do the developers contribute to players feeling the need to exaggerate?

You will often see players and members of your community acknowledge that they are quite possibly exaggerating, but feel that it is the only way to get attention. Sometimes there is definitely a validity to this. If we as developers don't communicate with our users regularly and chose to only respond when there is a forum 'fire-storm' that you can't afford to ignore then we are setting an expectation that people have to create a lot of noise before a subject will be responded to.

It then shouldn't surprise us when people skip the whole 'give constructive feedback' phase and go straight to the shouting.

While it isn't ever really feasible to answer each and every question or topic on the forums. It is possible to have a good balance and try and maintain a level of visibility that means people don't feel that only the 'hot topics' get an answer. If we don't answer some of the constructive questions and subjects in the first place, or ask the users to not exaggerate when they do it, then you really can't blame people for trying to out-do each other in the first place.

Now the challenge is that we probably aren't able to resolve or answer all the possible questions, queries, issues or disagreements that can come up. Indeed some of those solutions will probably even be mutually exclusive of each other. We can still ask people to be constructive though! If you try and maintain the communication, even when some of the users might be exaggerating, I firmly believe we can keep the channels more open and more constructive. It definitely requires a little more patience, and a thick skin on occasion, but to me that effort is worth it if we can get better and more rational feedback without as much exaggeration.

So what can you do?

The main thing that you as a player or part of a community can do is to not exaggerate as much. Be more accepting of the fact that there are other opinions and that things are rarely 'black or white' and accept that someone's opinion can be different than yours and still be valid. In effect exaggerating usually only serves to make you sound unreasonable anyway. You can't possibly speak for 'everyone' and something is rarely the case 'every time' or for 'everybody'.

Just think about it when you post, maybe acknowledge yours is one of many possible opinions. Be accurate when you report issues. If it isn't happening all the time, don't say it is, try and be as constructive as you can.

It is definitely something that is many ways deeply ingrained in forum culture but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't discuss it and understand why we do it and actually come to see that there might just be better ways to achieve what we want to achieve, from both sides, with a slightly different approach to our posting.

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