Tobold's Blog
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Featuritis and Sid Meier's Starships

Any genre of PC game accumulated features over time. If you make a new game you are expected to have all the features of the classic games of that genre, and then some. As a consequence modern games often suffer from featuritis, with too many features making the game overly complicated and susceptible to bugs. Less sometimes would be more.

I am playing Sid Meier's Starships on my iPad. It is a fun little 4X space conquest game which has been seriously slimmed down of features compared to classics like Masters of Orion. As a consequence the PC version of the game got a horrible Metacritic score of 71. The iOS version of the game, which is identical and costs the same, got a great Metacritic score of 93. Basically the PC version got unfairly downgraded for not having all the features of a genre which is well established on PCs, while on the iOS Sid Meier's Starships is basically now the reference for the 4X space genre.

I believe that Sid Meier's Starships is a better game than a hypothetical new 4X game with far more features and all the bells and whistles of the whole history of the 4X genre. It is more likely to attract new players to the genre, and more adapted to the needs of people who don't have all day to play games. And I can think of several other genres who might well need a similar "reset" of going back to basics and less features. Which is why I am finding myself more and more playing mobile games or indie games. And there is the financial advantage of a simpler $15 game often being more bang for your bucks than a $60 triple A game.

I don't think the Metacritic score difference is necessarily wrong, given that both the platform and the audience are different.

The platform difference probably means that it is harder to present the same informational detail or require the same detailed control on a tablet compared to a full-fledged desktop computer.

And the audience difference is probably more significant. Neither side is wrong, they just tend to want different things out of a game. In this case, the game satisfies one audience, but does not greatly appeal to the other.
Why is 71 a horrible score on Metacritic? If a movie averaged three and a half stars out of the traditional five on a basket of reviews it would be considered a good film, well worth seeing. Why is the bar set so much higher for video games?
The scale for video games is weird. A horribly bad movie gets 0 stars, a horribly bad video game 50 out of 100.
The dreaded 4-point scale. (

I think I'm getting to the age where I want simplified games. A 40 hour game is too long. Give me a simple game I can complete in two couple of sessions with ample opportunity to replay and experiment.

I wonder if price should factor into the score. Starships is a stripped back 4X. It has half the features but it is also less than half the price of a standard PC game.

I think you have to compare against the alternatives. The PC 4X genre has depth against which Starships is lacking. On the tablet Starships is best in class.
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