Tobold's Blog
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Does McDonald's make the best hamburgers?

Azuriel argues that things contain a mythical factor called "quality", that reviews should somehow reflect that mythical quality, and that consumers are all idiots because they rarely choose the best thing available. I believe that consumers are quite rational, and that they make choices on a highly complicated multi-factor analysis. Thus McDonald's isn't more popular than other burger joints because they make better hamburgers. It is that in the needs of the consumer the quality of the hamburger plays just a small role. As long as the hamburger is sufficiently good, and not more unhealthy than other burgers, consumers don't put quality of the hamburger on top of their list of criteria. I personally like Burger King more than McDonald's. But as there are no Burger Kings in Belgium, guess where I end up going! I'm not driving to a neighboring country just because the burgers are better! McDonald's is the most popular because they got the MIX of factors that consumers care about right, with location, price, parking, cleanliness, children playing areas, and so on. For many goods consumers care a lot more about price than about quality.

If we want to rank burger chains, we need to look what people care about when choosing a burger chain. If we want to rank books, we need to look what people care about when choosing a book. If we want to rank video games, we need to look what people care about when choosing a book. It is as simple as that. If, as Azuriel pointed out, more people like 50 Shades of Grey than Nineteen Eighty-Four, that doesn't mean that people buying books are stupid and unable to recognize the more culturally relevant book. It means that cultural relevance isn't very high up on their list of criteria of choice. If you buy a book for entertainment, for reading on the beach, the Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades of Grey *are* better than Nineteen Eighty-Four or Ulysses.

In the case of books ranking books by cultural relevance and education value still makes some sort of sense. I was born before computer games even existed, and my childhood was filled with books. A whole lot of my education comes from books. If you put all books on the same list just by sales numbers, you get a mix of books that sell because they are entertaining and books that sell because they have cultural value. So looking at those two factors separately would be a good idea.

I doubt the same is true for video games. Yes, there are cultural / artsy video "games". But they aren't a huge cultural influence. Very, very few people choose their games based on cultural qualities. Video games are nearly exclusively chosen for their entertainment qualities. Games like Mountain or Dear Esther are more curiosities which sell because they are so very different from the usual fare (and cheap). I doubt you can get to the same degree of education by playing video games than you can get by reading books. The overwhelming reason why people buy video games is for fun, for entertainment. And that is why I think video game reviews should look mostly at that entertainment value factor. The "best" game is the most entertaining, most fun game. And what I want from reading a review is that it tells me how likely it is that I will have fun when playing the game, and not regret the purchase.

Then we run into the problem of differing tastes and subjectivity on what is considered "edible" or "fun."

These days, I would much prefer to pay less attention to ranking, and for more people to tell me WHY precisely they like or dislike something.

Then I can use my own knowledge of my own preferences to decide if I might like it or not.

Archeage has open world PvP. To some, that is a selling point. To me, that's a red flag.

And for the record, I hate McDonald's burgers. Why? Because the beef burger patty is ridiculously thin and tastes like cardboard, and they don't toast their buns, which also don't resemble anything near crusty bread, which I like. Then they dare to charge exorbitant prices for that, in my particular country.

Instead, if I can't make a perfectly delicious ground beef burger from scratch at home, where I can give myself a decently sized beef patty, I would be content to pay double the price for this particular burger:

Reasons to like: The bread, while not crusty and like most spongy hamburger buns, is toasted.

The beef patty is not less than a centimeter thin, and can actually be tasted.

The deep fried onions are utterly sinful and go well with the patty.

Oh, and there's bacon on it too.

(If you don't eat beef, or hate deep fried food, or bacon, then I guess you won't rank this as highly as I. Isn't it great that I described it, instead of just using a number 9/10 or something?)
This is true, but then can we talk about video games at all?

I mean if game quality isn't relevant, than what can we write besides the useless "I had fun playing it"? (It's useless, since no one cares about MY fun)
Words fail me. Literally. I typed a long, emotional response but on reflection there's simply no point posting it. If you believe what you posted here then our fundamental wold-views must be so different that meaningful communication would be, if not impossible, certainly more arduous than I am prepared to undertake for the sake of commenting on a blog.

Suffice it to say that in over four decades of discussing art, culture and society, at home, at school, at college, at work, in the pub, at parties, conventions, pubs and during social gatherings of all kinds, I have never heard anyone seriously espouse the argument you appear to be making here; that "quality" does not exist. There may have been people present who held similar views but if so they kept them to themselves, probably for very good reason.

As for your a priori postulation that "The overwhelming reason why people buy video games is for fun, for entertainment" I would contend that that no more than supposition. What's your evidence for the motivation of others in this regard? I can affirm that I, personally, have often bought (or downloaded for free as is so much more common nowadays) video games for reasons other than "fun" and "entertainment" and will undoubtedly continue to do so.

Working as I do in a bookshop I can also tell you from experience which, if only anecdotal, is at least actual and extensive, that book-buyers, when asked (and where I work we do often talk to our customers about their buying decisions) have many other motivations than "entertainment" for buying books, from 1984 to 50 Shades.
There are plenty of people who's fun I care about. If historically I find games fun that they find fun then it's worth checking out a new games that they find fun.
I am a scientist, I believe in things that can be measured. How do you measure the quality of a book? Which one is the better book, Nineteen Eighty-Four or War And Peace? Nobody can answer that question objectively!

But I don't think that means that we can't talk about video games: Fun isn't all subjective, it depends very much on how gameplay works, whether the interface is any good, and the like.
One of the quirks of living in Australia is no "Burger King". The chain did come to Australia but it had problems due to a preexisting business with that name. By the time they had got over that hurdle another name was entrenched so we know have "The Burgers are Better at Hungry Jacks". Oh and by the way there are a great many places to get a better burger than what you will find at either Hungry Jacks(Burger King) or MacDonalds.
@Bhagpuss: I think you misunderstand the point. It's not that quality doesn't exist, it's that quality doesn't matter.

McDonalds food is scientifically proven to be unhealthy. This is why it's a perfect example for low quality, yet popular products.
This is a continuation of the Relevancy of Video Game reviews. People using quality to mean Is it artistically good? Is it profitable? Will I like it?

People also tend to use them to advance their argument: if you like WoW, then its success proves it is good. if you don't like WoW, its success proves it is just mass market junk.

How a food critic, movie critic, PhD in game design rates a product is not irrelevant, but as Tobold points out it is not the only or even main factor. Much to the annoyance of said critics.

BTW, during my MBA my Operations Management teacher pointed out the formal but counterintuitive definition of quality: performance to specification. A Rolls-Royce has a much more impressive design spec than say a Fiat 500, but if they average 1.1 initial customer defects and the Fiat averages 1.0, then the Rolls is of lower quality. A lightbulb rated for 8000 hours that lasts 7997 is lower quality than one rated for 780 than lasts 799 even though the former was ten times as good.

I would say that quality is determined by price. But I don't think it's fair to compare food, which is a basic physiological human need, to video games - which is not.

If I got to a doctor for surgery and I see a sign on his office door that states "discount surgery services for $25", not only am I going to turn away, I'm going to turn and run away as fast as possible. The same holds true to me when I see "free to play" associated with ANY video game, because there has to be a hook hidden somewhere in the game that is designed to get me to pay for something that doesn't necessarily offer any guarantees as to what my ROI will be. This is why the subscription model works so well for me, in that I can most likely judge what the quality of my experience is going to be based on reviews and word of mouth feedback from friends, plus I can unsub at anytime the game ceases to be "enjoyable" - an entirely subjective response. The same correlation cannot be made with food because I am required to eat and sustain myself, and I'm fairly certain Mazlow would agree with me on this. We eat because we are required to eat. The same cannot be said of playing video games.

Now, if the playing of video games is considered so important that it is placed on the "self-actualization" level of Mazlow's pyramid, then food for these individuals probably consists of Ramen noodles and high sugar/caffeine drinks....and we all know the long term physioligical effects of that. =)
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I don't think anyone argues that all taste should be measured by objective quality.

It is instead something that distinguishes the high from the low--and I'm speaking directly to the arts, here. The reason why "popular" art got its title was because the word "popular" historically referred to the general public, the commoner (middle to lower class). A thing's function is far more important to a lower class man because there isn't enough money to consider quality. This is but one of the factors that made Fast Food a thing. A very popular thing.

Popular art, as well as other popular mediums, are looked upon as functional entities. The value comes from the purpose it serves, which kind of gives rise to the idea that you could measure popular food like McDonalds with objectively.

But then there's the purist. The foodie. The chef. The simple hamburger is not enough if not perfected or "elevated" to a higher class. These types of consumers do and will base their purchases on quality of the food as opposed to its functionality.

You look at a hamburger's functional value. Another person with higher tastes in hamburgers will look at it with qualitative value.

I don't eat at McDonald myself because they don't offer vegetarian burgers (functional value) and because I've had far superior burgers at other restaurants and at home (qualitative values that distinguish a person's taste).

You can use this same principle to judge books and other pieces of art, and it's definitely applicable to video games.

I'm also pretty sure a lot of people play specific video games based on cultural relevancy. World of Warcraft permeated mainstream culture in the U.S. by using cultural icons (Mr. T, Ozzy Osborne, Chuck Norris, etc.) in advertisements to get more people interested in playing. And a game's popularity can reach cultural relevance by how often it's discussed on the internet. League of Legends and ESV: Skyrim are constantly on the Front Page of Reddit--a website that millions all over the world see on a daily basis. It becomes important to a culture, and curiosity often leads people to try out the game.

Although this purely anecdotal evidence, I tried out Limbo purely for its artistic value. I wasn't interested in its fun--I wanted to see the visualizations and atmosphere that were rumored on some forums I frequented.

I disagree that video games should only be looked at by the "entertainment factor". Take a game's soundtrack, for example. An incredible amount of work goes into some the soundtracks for some games, and some soundtracks (like the ones for Silent Hill actually got me interested in playing.

tl;dr -- Saying you can only review a video game for its "entertainment value" is reductive and ignores taste distinctions.
If your measure of quality is just as subjective as popularity, then why would it be a better measure? Isn't popularity the more democratic measure of how good a game is than an equally subjective quality determination by some elite group?

Why do we elect politicians by popular vote and don't determine the highest quality politician by a committee of elite experts? And if the method by which we select the politicians that rule us is the best, then why wouldn't it also be the best method of selecting games?
@Tobold: But I don't think that means that we can't talk about video games: Fun isn't all subjective, it depends very much on how gameplay works, whether the interface is any good, and the like.

How is what video game reviewers do any different than what you're talking about here? Or even more pressing, why does it matter whether video game reviewers "critique" or "measure popularity"? Why must video game reviewers try to be relevant to everyone, and not just people like them?

You have an answer in search of a question, and I'm not sure where that question is.
I thought McD's was popular because it had very low variation. On a good day, Burger King is way better for me as well, but I'm hesitant to even drive across the block for it just because it might be a bad day. Expectation has an extremely large factor on satisfaction.
Quality is somewhat subjective, but certain objective elements can be teased out. Consistency, utility, lasting value, and a high degree of customer satisfaction can all be measured to a degree.

The problem with a review of a new product is that none of those long term measures are available.

Quality of a product can only be measured over time IMO. You can only attempt to predict quality by past performance or an expert's opinion.

Democracies exist not so we can best choose the highestt quality candidate, but so we can REMOVE officials that don't represent us.

Use a review to try to predict the quality of a product, move on if it sucks. That's how democracy works to improve things.

It seems like you're stuck on this idea that both popularity and quality are entirely subjective. They're not, and I've already explained why that is.

And you're making a false analogy fallacy with your comparison to democratic elections.

That comparison only works if either: you only played the first 5% of the video game before writing your review (which doesn't seem like an honest critique) or democratic candidates are time travelers with records showing all the work they did in the universe in which they were elected. You can't really compare a finished product to an ongoing project (congressional candidates).

Like I said, this whole argument is reductive.
I'm with Bhagpuss in that this revelation makes it difficult to even know where to begin; I'm not sure meaningful communication is even possible (if anything can be said to be "meaningful," amirite?).

I am a scientist, I believe in things that can be measured.

Okay, measure the fun you are (presumably) having playing whatever it is you are playing these days. How many fun units did you have compared to The Sims 3 or in the latest D&D session. Which is more fun, 4th Edition or 5th?

That last is a trick question: 3rd Edition is "objectively better." Although it could be that the Red Box takes that cake instead.

Isn't popularity the more democratic measure of how good a game is than an equally subjective quality determination by some elite group?

That a bit circular insofar as there is no particular value associated with "democratic." Who cares how many people bought FIFA (other than the stockholders)? Popularity measures one thing: popularity. There might be some correlation with quality, but it's clear that such a correlation doesn't always work the other direction, e.g. an otherwise good game that doesn't sell well.

Flappy Bird was downloaded 50 million times, by the way. Clearly a high-water mark in the history of gaming.

Why do we elect politicians by popular vote and don't determine the highest quality politician by a committee of elite experts? And if the method by which we select the politicians that rule us is the best, then why wouldn't it also be the best method of selecting games?

Are you seriously suggesting that the elected leaders in your country, or the United States, or in any democratic country are the best possible leaders?
Azuriel, I'm with Churchill on that one. Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. And I think the same is true of video game reviews: Elitists trying to measure quality give consistently worse reviews than what you could have learned by measuring popularity.
Oh god, this is a joke right?

Ok, let's say democracy is the best government out there. Then who is to say that video games aren't a democracy already? As they say, consumers vote with their wallets, and video game reviewers are certainly not in control of our wallets. At best, reviewers are no different than pundits on TV preaching to their own choir.

And please don't try to assert that video game reviews affect video game sales. You have to prove a causal link that video game reviews affect sales and not the other way around (something which is impossible, since no two games are alike). And evidence like Destiny which started this whole kerfuffle, with it's "low" score and yet extremely high video game sales, certainly doesn't help.
McDonalds as an analogy for anything regarding quality annoys me. McDonalds succeeds because it is the most ubiquitous franchise out there; they position themselves for accessibility and price, and with a few exceptions they are the fastest in terms of fast-food versus the quality (among other like types of fast food, that is). So if consider: speed, ease of access, quality in the face of both prior elements, price, and visibility then that's why McDonald's is top dog.

I'll take a home-made burger any day of the week, but you know what? When I'm traveling from Albuquerque to Las Cruces and need food on the run, there's really only a couple easy options, and McDonalds is the best choice.

Anyway, the same problem crops up with other things such as games. If the reviewer exclusively focuses on the abstract and ethereal "this is the ideal the game must live up to" elements he will miss the ease of access, pricing, speed of enjoyment/persistence of play and other elements which are all factors in the value of the game, not to mention the typical critic usually, actually almost always misses looking beyond his own subjective analysis to determining who the product is actually for.

If Destiny had been a nice and complicated hot mess like X-Com Enemy Unknown, I wouldn't touch it with a 20 foot pole, is what I'm saying.
In my opinion, video games, like the subtitle of my 9th grade geometry book, are for "enjoyment and challenge."
Individuals have widely different views on what is enjoyable or challenging, which is why there are so many different game developers who have been successful.
I'm still looking for someone who thinks geometry is enjoyable, however.
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