Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I was playing the demo of Dawn of Discovery, aka Anno 1404, and then started reading some reviews. One review basically said "this is the best city building / economic simulation game we've seen in a while, but because it doesn't have violence and big explosions we downrank its rating to 7 out of 10". Which serves to show why using a numerical rating system is bad in the first place, if you end up using it to compare games of different genres. But it also shows that we all have certain "knockout criteria", where if a game has certain features, or doesn't have certain other features, we automatically downgrade it.
I'm certainly not immune from that, although I don't give numerical review scores, and always make it clear what exactly I didn't like in a game. If a game has for example non-consentual PvP, I automatically like it a lot less than if the same game had a PvP flag you could manually set. I also dismiss games that can't be played with the reflexes of a gamer in his mid-40s; note that most twitchy single-player games can still be played by us old foggies by using normal or easy settings, while that option obviously is missing in multiplayer games like team shooters.
The smaller the game, the more likely it is that the developers had to save money somewhere, and that in consequence the game is missing features that are "must have" for some. If you absolutely require 3D graphics, half of the Free2Play MMOs are already eliminated. If you can't stand any microtransactions, all of them are out. Me, I do have knockout criteria for Free2Play games that include that the game must have some sort of auction house, and not just personal shops, which are horrible if you are searching for something. On microtransactions I'm more flexible, but I do stop playing games where things bought with money make a major part of the game obsolete, instead of just speeding things up or adding convenience.
Of course the result of dismissing games due to some personal knockout criteria is usually somebody shouting "not fair!". To which I'd say that it is only not fair if it leads to some bad review score. The statement "I didn't like this game because of this feature, or because that feature was missing" isn't unfair, because everybody can judge for himself whether he thinks that criterion to be so important. If somebody tells me "great game, but lousy graphics", I might still be willing to try it, as I don't think graphics to be *that* important.
Nevertheless you have been warned about my criteria, so don't be surprised if I'm somewhat dismissive of your favorite game, because of one feature which is a red flag for me. Usually I at least test the game anyway, and only completely count it out when it has other flaws. For example while unlimited PvP is certainly a major reason for me not to play EVE, I also didn't like the extremely boring mining, and endless voyages where if you weren't ganked nothing happened. EVE also goes beyond my personal RMT threshold, with "I can make all that mining and flying around obsolete by buying ISK via a PLEX". But then, unlike others, I have no problem with EVE playing like a spreadsheet, and I would wish more games would have EVE auction house's buy order feature.
On the other side of the coin I am fully aware that the game I'm currently playing and like, Luminary, is full of features that are knockout criteria for quite a lot of people: 2D graphics, a requirement to participate in the economic game to be really successful, resource gathering / quests that require you to kill hundreds of mobs, and limited microtransactions. I'm not telling you that this aren't valid knockout criteria, they just aren't for me. You don't have to like Luminary, I can totally understand if for some reason you don't like this or any other game, especially if it is a niche game. Just don't tell me that I can't write about the game I like and have to write about your favorite game instead, because it is "better" or "bigger" or something. Especially don't criticize me for lack of coverage of your favorite not-yet-released game, I only cover major news on those, or when I played them in a beta and am not bound by an NDA. I leave the major pre-release hype, followed by the discovery of personal knockout criteria a month after release, to people like Syp and Keen. It is very difficult to say if a game doesn't have any knockout criteria for you hidden somewhere unless you actually played it.
We can argue until our faces are red about how valid any given knockout criterion is. Why do I accept microtransactions that speed up the game, but not those that skip it completely? Why do I insist on PvP having to be consentual? I have my reasons, and I could write long explanations (and often already did), but in the end there will always be people who disagree, because their personal criteria are different. Which brings us back to the statement that descriptive reviews are better than review scores, because if you have a list of pros and contras as a review, you can always weigh them with your personal preferences in mind. A score tells you much less, and might simply be the result of the reviewer preferring very different games than you, in which case the score is totally useless to you.