Cast your mind back to the Dark Ages before the internet.
Back then, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centuri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuri…
As young lad with a love of video games, I would clamber to buy the latest Amiga Format/PC Zone magazine whenever it was released. As soon as I arrived home, I would start installing all game demos, blast through the humorous latter pages thrown together by Charlie Brooker, have a quick glance through the Eye Candy section with screenshots of the latest titles, before finally settling on the Reviews.
The Reviews section was always the most important. Without this information, you did not know whether a game was worth buying. Sure, you could wait for several months and play the demo when it came out, or hope that a friend would buy the game, but playing the game at someone’s house with them watching over your shoulder was never quite the same. Plus then THEY were the cool guy who had the foresight to buy the game in the first place.
Today we have Metacritic, the crowdsourcing review website that aggregates all scores from professional reviewers and average run-of-the-mill players like you and me. Or perhaps just like you.
As I mentioned in my previous post on Diablo 3, Metacritic is one of the stomping grounds of fanboys and haters, using the rating mechanism to shout down the other side and attempting to produce a critical consensus around a game.
Why go to all that effort?
Fanboys feel vindicated that their game is the best, while haters get a sense of Schadenfreude from seeing a negative press storm. In addition, they typically are fanboys of other games and have a zero sum vision of the game market: either my game is good or your game is good, but both can’t be equally good.
Professional reviewers should in principle offer a more objective vision of a game’s merits. However they are under their own pressures – publisher advertising funds the majority of these sites today and producing the right tagline in your review can earn your site additionally publicity. It can also be argued that rubbishing a big budget title is bad for the games industry as a whole. So it is difficult for these sites to maintain the objectivity of 1990s PC Zone, which from what I could tell, didn’t really give a damn what anyone else thought of it.
Meanwhile, through all of the noise, there are some people on the internet who want to give genuine advice. But the system has its own inherent challenges. For example the widespread use of the 100 point scale as an indicator of the relative worth of a game.
Tobold proposes that Diablo 3 feels more like a 70% scoring game than the 88% Metacritic has for the game at time of writing. But what do these numbers actually mean? I would argue that it is at least 5% more fun to play than 2009’s Torchlight. But what about whether to play Diablo 3 or Diablo 2? The current system suggests that the latter is more fun game.
And if we can’t agree on a scoring system, then isn’t the whole activity of reviewing games a waste of time?
Yes and no. Whilst yesterday’s gamers relied on PC Zone and similar titles to advise them about their purchasing decisions, today we have far more perspectives on a game than ever before. My recommendation to people seeking advice is to find voices (websites, blogs, mates) who share similar tastes with them.
And if you can’t find anyone with the same tastes – start your own blog! I look forward to reading what you have to say…