Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 27, 2009
Practising what you preach

Syncaine wrote a reply on his blog to yesterday's post on why WAR failed. In that post he argues that 60% of WAR players were WoW tourists, and bases that number on people leaving after only one month. He says: "Because unless you are a believer in the Eurogamer method of MMO evaluation, for most players a month or less is not enough time to fully evaluate a game, especially an MMO, and especially in it’s first month of release." I think that statement is total nonsense. According to Syncaine after playing a MMORPG for a month you are not yet able to say whether that game is fun to you or not? Ridiculous!

Players are not game reviewers. Syncaine cites Eurogamer for comparison, but you'd expect a game reviewer to play a game even if it wasn't much fun, in order to be able to write a complete review. And even a game reviewer will almost never play a game for over a month before writing his review, because he simply doesn't get that much time between receiving a review copy and his publishing deadline. According to Nick Yee the average MMORPG gamer plays over 20 hours per week, nearly 100 hours per month. You can't expect a reviewer to play a game for over 100 hours before forming an opinion and writing a review.

Players form an opinion considerably faster, as they only need to decide whether a game is fun or not. You'd need to be quite a masochist to keep playing a game over 100 hours while hating every minute of it, on the off-chance that there is some redeeming feature at the end of the tunnel. While obviously you can't evaluate a MMORPGs endgame in the first hours you play it, you most certainly can evaluate its basic features, like user interface, graphics, basic gameplay like quests and combat. And if you hate those, even a well designed endgame won't make the overall experience fun to you.

Finally there is the issue of hypocrisy. Syncaine's blog is full of negative comments about games he never played for over 100 hours. I doubt he ever played Wrath of the Lich King, unless he is hiding things from us he hasn't played WoW for years, but still feels qualified to disparage it in every second post. He wrote his Dragon Age review after 5 hours of gameplay, and then boasted that he made the first page of Google with that. He gleefully writes about Aion bleeding out, without having played that game for 100 hours. And the list goes on and on.

I do think that players are completely justified to dismiss a game as bad if they played it for even just 2 hours and didn't have fun. And if those players are bloggers (as opposed to paid journalists), why shouldn't they write a blog post saying that they tried this or that game and hated it? Saying that every player and commenter needs to have played any game for over one month before he is entitled to a valid opinion is just a strawmen argument to belittle the opinions of others. "You don't agree with me? Then I declare you unqualified to have an opinion!"

And as Syncaine doesn't practice what he preaches, I hereby challenge him to mend his ways: Syncaine should play World of Warcraft in it's current Wrath of the Lich King incarnation (or preferably in the upcoming patch 3.3 incarnation) for over one month, over 100 hours actively played, trying out a maximum number of possible different features, before he ever makes another comment on WoW.
Syncaine does talk a fair amount of nonsense but then so do most bloggers. The 60% figure is obviously just something he made up.

I think there is a difference between a blogger saying WoW is a bad influence on the genre (which is why Sync doesn't like WoW) and a professional reviewer pretending to review a game and not doing so.

Ed Zitron scammed Eurogamer and scammed the public. Sync slates WoW, often irrationally, but if you are a WoW fan seeking reassurance don't read the blog.

There are a great many mainstream bloggers who slate Darkfall which has a lot to commend it. It is a small independent game, targetting a niche, and building itself up realistically unlike the dreadful overhype > money grab > bust cycle we are seeing in many other MMOs.

So if Sync has a persecution complex or is overly defensive then it is because Darkfall, although obviously not the game for most of us, gets pretty harshly treated.

If you feel that he treats WoW unjustly do you not also feel that the rest of the blogosphere and Eurogamer particularly are rather unfair on Darkfall.

I'll leave you with Kieron Gillen's words: "If I ever actually find out conclusively that someone was lying in this matter, I will do everything I can to destroy them."

I put it to you that Ed Zitron's boss takes Ed Zitron's behaviour a little more seriously than you do if you feel comfortable lumping it in with amateurs moaning about WoW tourists.
If you feel that he treats WoW unjustly do you not also feel that the rest of the blogosphere and Eurogamer particularly are rather unfair on Darkfall.

Yes, I think the two cases are rather similar. The problem comes from people disliking a certain style of gaming, and then transforming that dislike into a review score or judgement on a particular game.

Darkfall does what it wants to do reasonably well. And a good part of what it doesn't do well can be explained by the difference in budget. Darkfall's problem is not that it is a bad game, but that it is a game targeted at a rather small niche audience. The *average* player is likely to be not part of that small niche, and thus dislike Darkfall.

As I've written before, Ed Zitron's review would have been rather unremarkable if it had been posted on his own blog. I do think a blogger who plays Darkfall for two hours and doesn't like that particular niche would be both likely and justified to write something very similar to the Ed Zitron review. The "unfairness" of the review was to dress up a rather personal first impression and dislike of a particular niche as a review of a major games site.

But Syncaine is exactly the same. Syncaine hates mass market games. He hates games being accessible to a wider audience. He hates games that you can just log into and have some fun, without suffering. What he says about World of Warcraft is very much a reflection of his hate of that style of gaming, and has very little to do with the actual qualities of World of Warcraft. I'm not saying he isn't entitled to that opinion, but I do blame him for not making that distinction. And I do blame him for repeated instances in which he was spreading falsehoods about World of Warcraft, whether knowingly or out of ignorance I don't know. In short, Syncaine is exactly like Ed Zitron, and only the fact that he doesn't work for a major game site somewhat excuses his unprofessional behavior.
Syncaine is just a blogger, though. Does he ever claim to be more?
Syncaine is just a blogger, though. Does he ever claim to be more?

What he claims is that neither a blogger nor a player can judge a MMORPG in a month or less. I'd call that balderdash, but if he claims those standards he can hardly complain if he is judged by them.
Don't know about you guys but after playing quite a few MMOs and sticking long term with 2 so far, I can tell within a month whether the features of the MMO I'm trying are going to be sufficient for my tastes. The only exception is if the developer leaves out a key feature in the early game play that only ever appears in end game. If they do that well, doesn't say much about their marketing strategy since that simply pisses me off and tells me clearly they don't want you to know something and I'm better off avoiding that game in that case anyways (queue Conan and it's crafting drops but no crafting till level 20 - I left that game before the first month was up).
"I do think that players are completely justified to dismiss a game as bad if they played it for even just 2 hours and didn't have fun"

Truthfully, a player doesn't have to justify her opinion to anyone. If it isn't fun she won't play it. End of discussion.
Tobold's right. Players don't need to play more than one month to decide if they enjoy the game.

Sure, maybe they don't hit the endgame and the endgame is where the real fun is (probably not in War's case), but that's a design flaw in the game, then. Why make a player wait longer than a month to get to the fun part?
I think Keen put it best in the comments of his recent blog post about Aion:

"We don’t drive cars until they reach 100,000 miles before deciding if we like them. We don’t eat the entire plate of food before deciding whether we like it. We don’t drink an entire glass of a beverage before being able to say whether or not it’s any good. Reality is, we only need a little taste of anything before we can speak to it."

You do not have to play the game to the maximum to decide your enjoyment for it. There have been MMOs in the past that have had certain features that after 5 minutes, I have decided I cannot enjoy the game.

If you cannot grab people within the first month or even more so within the first days and week, that is not the player's fault.
BTW, Syncaine equally doom-casts games that he has played for less than the "Eurogamer" timeframe he so loves to quote and then plays it off as "I'm just a blogger". Its a tired approach.
Bloggers think way too much of themselves. We're not journalists and we certianly aren't important in the grand scheme of what we call the news.

If you make some money blogging, or even a lot of money, you'll find that as long as you put up great content it's a very small minority that will care how you monetize your blog. Syncaine knows this and may or may not purposefully write with his monetary goals in mind. It doesn't matter though, as long as the content is appealing to the average reader. If I were him I would openly state that the ad gives him 20% of the sale, as it will actually help him in the long run.

You can take me as a prime example. I received one negative email after I was portrayed in such a negative light to the wow blogosphere. What's more, I sold far more guides than I thought I would from the negative articles and made more money than I predicted Gevlon would from endorsing my guide in a positive light. People just don't care why someone does something, all they want is the end result. Not saying that's a good thing just throwing in my two copper.
@Tobold: "And I do blame him for repeated instances in which he was spreading falsehoods about World of Warcraft, whether knowingly or out of ignorance I don't know."

Syncaine/WoW sounds very much like Tobold/EVE.
Can't you two boys just get along? =P
I always find your tet-e-tets with Syncaine fun to read. I don't often agree with him, but at least up until now his theories were clearly personal and he supported them well enough. But this 60% figure he pulled out from under a rock completely destroys whatever credibility he had in the debate.

I do not need a month, let alone longer, to determine if I'm having fun or like a game. And as I personally believe that the MMO market acts exactly the same manner as the larger economic market, I believe we can simply point to the "market" and say that the players evidently don't need a month or more either. They say all they need to say with their pocket books.
Well, that was a bit of a rant, Tobold. This MMO blogging thing is looking more and more like 1980s comics fandom every day...

Brings up lots of interesting points, though. For example, the frequently reiterated statement that blogging is something less than journalism and can consequently be discounted. Actually, professional journalism appears increasingly to be adapting to and moving towards the standards and conventions of blogging. Traditional fact-based, researched journalistic methods are increasingly being replaced throughout the professional broadcast and written media by opinion-based, personalised content.

Bloggers are now routinely invited onto national broadcast media as experts, their blogs are being collected and published by mainstream publishers, and professional journalists are falling over themselves to establish themselves as Bloggers. Blogging is a young form, but a strong and vibrant one, and the dismissive attitude of "who cares, it's only a blog" is already becoming untenable.

Of course, one of the reasons blogging is making these inroads into the territory that used to belong to professional journalists is precisely because blogging doesn't demand the same journalistic standards. You can say what you like, short of libel, and you have no obligation to back it up with evidence. You simply move on to the next unsubstantiated claim. Your only obligation is to attract and hold an audience.

I wish Syncaine would stop moaning about WoW. I think there's plenty of room for both Darkfall and WoW, and I can't see any reason why one person couldn't play and enjoy both. When I point this out in comments, however, he makes the not unreasonable point that WoW warps the MMO gamespace by its dominant market position, and that since he doesn't want more games to be made that ressemble it, or that use its tropes, it is in his interest to see WoW fail.

I'm of the view that there is more than enough room for themeparks, sandboxes and every imaginable variation inbetween. It's a competetive market for producers, but not for consumers.

As for whether you need to play an MMO for more than a month to be able to review it, I took that to be hyperbole. Syncaine's a game designer, isn't he? I'm sure he's as well aware as the rest of us that the average time a player who doesn't become a subscriber spends logged in is less than an hour. Most subs are lost in the tutorial. Reviewers need to reflect the reality that their readers are likely to be deeply impatient people with very short attention spans. The controversy over Ed Zitron's review wasn't so much whether 9 hours was enough, more whether he ever spent 9 hours, or only two. In fact, two hours is probably double what most of his readers would give any MMO.
Once upon a time I was MMORPG-less after my first WoW burnout and didn't follow the MMO blogosphere. One day I was bored at work and I was craving to get back playing an MMO. I searched my memories of titles I could play, I remembered EVE and got excited at trying it out.

I proceded to install the trial and login into a game I knew nothing about. It didn't take me 1 hour to determine that this was crap (in my eye, remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder ...) and uninstall it.

I then started to read around and in the process found the Zero Punctuation review of EVE. Say what you will of Zero Punctuation, but that review hit home, I was EXACTLY the experience I had with the game ...

When the shoes don't fit it doesn't take long till your feet hurts.

I played WAR extensively and read/listened to everything Warhammer. I also played many other games in the last years.

What's special about the downfall of WAR was people didn't quit because it wasn't fun, it was out of frustration.

Just read the last blog entries or listen to the last podcasts about WAR made by people who truly played/loved the game, they quit out of frustration.

Main reasons why people were frustrated:
- some might say because they were bored of endgame, but in reality it's the being bored for so long WITHOUT light at the end of the tunnel, the devs had other priorities
- stability problems
- stupid solutions to server crashes like teleporting away low-level players from a siege
- population unbalnces in a PVP game
- class balance in a PVP game
- AoE/CC balance in a PVP game
Well, it took me all of 20 minutes to decide WAR wasn't for me. I knew there was no way I could put up with the absolutely amateurish animation (played Witch Elf, Swordmaster, and Warrior Priest, just to be safe). Same goes for Aion. One look at the character creation screen was enough for me: I loathed the art style.

Conversely, it took me about a month to decide I liked LOTRO (and about six months to burn out on the crafting), even though levelling is way too fast. But that was the exception. Most of the time, if I'm not going to like a game, I'll know that very quickly. If there's no major deal breaker (art style, bad animation, bad voice acting, etc.), I can pretty much guarantee I'll get at least a few months' entertainment out of a title.
You're sure making a lot of promotion for Syncaines blog. Even bad promition is promition.

It's true, you can not properly review a mmorpg in a month. You'll never get to see the endgame pvp or raids in that time.

But you don't have to. If the games leveling stinks most people will not even get close to the maximum level. Even if the endgame is godlike you can't recommend the game.

As for reviewers needing more time? The magazine I read sometimes don't put a score on their review. They give general impressions of the game. And a score follows one month later.
To be fair to Syncaine's position, I played WoW for well over a month and hated it. The only reason I continued to play was because my wife and friends were there.
I really didn't begin liking the game until I was well into lvl 40's or 50's.
For many players, after a couple weeks of happy levelling, they realize Mythic is trying to put too much PvP in their PvE. Then they read up a bit, find out the end-game is just more PvP, and reach for the cancel button.
I'm always dubious of the claims that you need to play a game for X hours before determining whether or not you like it (I was quoted 20 or so levels in WoW before it starts to be fun when I told a friend I quit playing after level 5). After 20 or so (or 40, or whatever) levels, or 100 or so hours, how can you be sure you've genuinely come to like it as opposed to simply becoming accustomed to it and all its quirks?
I disliked certain things about WoW, yet I still liked playing it.

There are far too many bloggers who tend to have ideations of "the perfect game", yet very few can put into words just exactly what they dislike about a game. It grows tiresome when all I see are comments such as "the grind sucks", or "feature X is broken".

There are proper methods of backing up ones opinions when reveiwing games, but resorting to the PNOOMA method like Syncaine did with his 60% statement is a blaring example of how Bloggers take themselves too serious in this medium. Throwing out numbers like that and thinking that every reader will just accept it shows a lack of regard for ones readership and is highly insulting to say the least, and while blogging doesnt demand the same journalistic integrity as mainstream gaming sites, you can expect that a certain percentage of your reader base -will- bother to do some fact checking of their own in an attempt to see if you are trying to mislead or misrepresent facts to support the overall message of your posts.

I read all manner of gaming blogs, and I dont read a majority of them to come away with factual knowledge as a well read subject matter expert. Instead, I read many of them to come away with a better understanding of how players perceive the games from a laymans point of view. Very few blogs go beyond this ability, and few are able to analyze in great detail why certain games are more or less successful than others.

It's perfectly ok to say "I just dont like feature X because of Y", but when you are trying to make the same point supported by facts that are obviously rubbish, the damage you do to your credibility can be quite severe.
Hey Tobold,
I sense some hostility from you and I would like to give my .10$ on your issue with Syncaine and the mmo blogosphere as a whole.

My feelings on amateur writing is just that, it's amateur. I don't take it to heart unless it's an issue I can identify with, then I like to add.

I cannot take some ambiguous and anonymous person seriously because most of the time it's one random persons random opinion. And what they say about opinions is that they are like "a--H----S", everyone has one and they usually stink.

Why WAR failed, very simple:Lack on ingame economy. And that came from a developer himself, email me if you want the articles link, it's too long for here.

Ingame economics is the one of the secret ingredients that bind's mmo communities together. What do I have to back up that statement: 12 years in finance, a license and college education (current). Now some might take that to heart and many won't, it's just my opinion.

In closing I don't know why you care so much about this person. Maybe you know them personally, maybe you have an axe to grind. But I read you post because it's honest and insightful. I won't read this persons because just not for me. And like games I play, I have a choice and I speak with my choice of patronage.

I don't pay too much attention to negativity, I just keep it moving.

Tobold, please don't use your blog as a gun to fire lobs of anger and hate to someone elses field. Another blogger we all know did that pn his podcast and I don't even look at their stuff anymore.
Give mt 15 minutes with a new MMO and if it can not grab my attention I will not play it.

I tried FE, CO, Aion, EvE, and all of them had their ups and downs. However I could just not stand to play them? Why? Because it was either to much of the same or something so different and vast I would have had to join a guild to understand (EvE).

When I was first playing WoW I quit around level 30-40 because I got bored with the game. Came back a few months later, got to 60 and enjoyed raiding until TBC came out.

As for reviews? They are all just personal opinion, our likes and dislikes and really you can not have a sent amount of time.

I could write a review on Aion and say sure the game looks nice, runs great, but it is just more of the same. I could have told you that in the first 30min of game play.

A game review should be more like a movie review. Do not do it until you have seen the whole thing. However with MMOs that is very hard and lets face it, people want to know about the game now, not six months down the road.

That is why we have such short reviews times like you mentioned. Since deadlines and cut-off dates happen all the time, it is just another business.

I take reviews with a grain of salt, weather it be from a blogger or a "professional" site.

That is just me though, again it is all personal taste and no review can play the game for me.
I've been playing EVE a lot of hours lately, and I really *want* to like it. But so far I don't think it'll happen. But I've got 4 weeks of playtime left, so who knows...
The skill system annoys the crap out of me. And I hate the waiting. I'm actually playing WoW while waiting for stuff to complete in EVE.... (I went for a manufacturing/trade career straight from the start, cba with gathering or pve content)
But the gameplay is fine and the UI is pretty decent as well, which are the most important factors for me to stick around longer than 15 minutes in a game.
When Warhammer Online was released, many people were very excited. Most of those people were past and present WoW players who got bored of WoW and hoped that Warhammer Online would give them something fresh.

Most of those people, myself included, even bought the Collectors Edition to show our enthusiasm. If we were tourists, why even bother spending the extra cash on the Collectors edition instead of using the money for another 2 months of WoW subscription?

One month was enough for me to tell that Mythic was trying to become the improved WoW instead of something new. Public quests were unique and fun but it was a feature that became useless once you past the levels range which was not good for a MMO.

In conclusion, most of us were disappointed that Warhammer Online failed. I REALLY wished it would succeed but it was so crappy that I could not bring myself to stay any longer.

Long server queue, annoying crafting system, lack of incentives for players to interact and the list goes on were major turn-offs for me.
Tobold, please don't use your blog as a gun to fire lobs of anger and hate to someone elses field.

I think you're imagining things. Just look at the previous post, which by chance also started with a Syncaine quote, and where I fully agree with him.

The thing is this: Besides being a blogger, I'm also a blog reader. So when I read somebody else's blog and find something interesting or outrageous, I use my blog to react, to write my own thoughts on the issue.

I was outraged by the silly statement from Syncaine claiming that 60% of people who played WAR erred in their judgement, because after one month you still don't know what a MMORPG is about. Not just that the number is obviously pure fiction, but the idea that a player could play a game for 100 hours and still not know whether the game is good or whether he likes it is ridiculous. And that coming from somebody who isn't exactly well-known for pronouncing carefully balanced and well researched judgements of games. So I reacted. And that's all there is to it.

I don't even think blogs would work if bloggers didn't react on each other's posts.
Tobold, asking syncaine to try WoW now is like asking you to try LOTRO now. There's just no way he can appreciates WotLK until he hits Northrend. All he will experience is the same game he left, minus most of the population in those areas (much like your post about Mirkwood, and why you would not be able to appreciate it).

Then again, according to Syncaine he should spend at least 100 hrs playing a mmo in order to decide whether it is any good.
And that is plenty of time to reach Northrend.
T: I am not imagining anything. I just made a request, maybe you assumed I said you were making lobs. Meanwhile I was just making a statement.
"Finally there is the issue of hypocrisy. Syncaine's blog is full of negative comments about games he never played for over 100 hours."


It gets old to see a crack at Zitron at least once a month whilst at the same time contradicting his own stand on Ed Zitron style reviews in a different post.

I had to stop reading the blog after I quit Warcraft. For someone who dislikes the game so much he spends an awful amount of time blogging about it and the people playing it. Just move on if you don't like it, don't beat a dead horse over and over and over and over...
Yeah, this sort of claim is pretty silly. While it's possible for a game to be horrible initially and recover later on, it's just ridiculous to expect players to accept that.

If it takes a month of boring gameplay or technological failures to get to a functional game that's fun to play, then that's a design flaw and the market shouldn't tolerate it. Players are customers, and we have a right to demand products that work when we buy them.

In an ideal world, a reviewer would be able to relate every aspect of the game - it is, after all, their job. But for an actual consumer, a month is plenty of time to evaluate the product. Heck, I knew everything I needed to know about Aion after the first hour.
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