“The Value of Game Critics”
In an increasingly data-driven gaming world, the perceived value of game critics seems to have diminished. After all, critics can’t provide comprehensive reviews of long-tail games that are meant to be played for months (or years). And many of those games have decided to go free-to-start, allowing players to get a taste before committing their cash. It makes sense to just check something out for yourself if there is no barrier to doing so, instead of seeking out the guidance of a seasoned critic.
That said, if you prefer traditional console/pc experiences that cost something upfront and have endings, critics are still likely important to you. I love reading reviews, even after purchasing and completing games. It’s a critical part of the conversation that forms around a game. Forums like NeoGaf buzz with questions like: What did IGN think? Did Kotaku, or US Gamer, or GameSpot give the latest blockbuster a decent score? Have any early reviews trickled out? Why did one site decide to delay their review? How do their reviews line up with your own feelings about the game?
I trust game critics more than I trust Twitch streamers (especially in light of the CS: GO scandal). They speak to me in a way that streamers do not. A professional critic’s game knowledge is comprehensive, which makes them picky, and less prone to binary viewpoints (loving a game or hating it). They tend to be better communicators, too.
Every year, critics will shine a light on titles that I would have otherwise passed up. When IGN takes the rare step of giving a game a 10, I pay attention. This is why I chose to download Inside (Xbox One). My first session with the game left me entranced. I love the game’s tone and aesthetic. I have enjoyed every puzzle that’s been thrown at me, which are challenging enough to stump you for a few minutes, but never so obtuse that they send you hunting for solutions online. I love the feel of it, the way the character moves, the speed with which the enemies strike. There’s a high level of narrative tension in the game, even though the hero is not given a name or a word to say. There’s no fight, only flight. Every sequence feels meticulously crafted. This week has been very busy for me, so I’ve had little time to sit back and enjoy it, but if the game can sustain the first hour’s pace and novelty through to the end, Inside will wind up being one of my favorite games of the year. And I’d never had played if I didn’t read IGN. Critics for the win.
“Pokemon GO – Better as Subscription?”
My first reaction to Pokemon Go was one of disappointment.
On May 17, I posted the following on Facebook:
After seeing that, I initially opted not to download at all. But then the buzz on Facebook finally nudged me to give it a spin. Here are my Top 5 thoughts:
- Since I never played Ingress, Pokemon GO feels incredibly unique. It’s more fun and interesting than Miitomo. I am a novelty seeker, and this experience scores through the roof on the novelty scale.
- There are no timers. You can play at your own pace without limitations. This is critical to appeal to traditional gamers.
- It’s easy to calculate the cost of items. 100 Pokecoins translates to one dollar, without a bulk discount. By contrast, most games deliberately obfuscate spending. For instance, Game of War will sell you 660 Gold Coins for $4.99. This weird conversion rate makes keeping track of game costs in real dollars impossible to do offhand. I like that Pokemon GO is not aiming to confuse or mislead players with their bundles.
- Three days in, I stopped reaching for my phone to find new monsters. This was after two days of turning on my phone every time I went to a new location in the real world. That’s not a good sign for retention.
- Though I can easily track the real-world cost of items in the store, I can’t answer this key question: How much does it cost to play? To figure that out, I’d need to know how many items (on average) you need to capture every Pokemon, and I’d have to know how that scales from month to month. Beyond that, I’d also have to figure out if there’s an average cost tied to challenging other players at gyms.
Not being able to calculate what it costs to play the game short-term and long-term is a major pain to me… so I will play it for free until I feel the pressure to pay, at which point I will delete the app. Which is a shame, because I’d be willing to spend money on this experience. If the title had been released under a subscription model ($15/month) I’d have jumped in. But if I can’t figure out what a game experience is going to cost me, and I see $99 IAP bundles in the store, I’m simply not going to start on that spending treadmill. Too risky. Still, I’m much happier seeing this type of product at the top of the App Store charts, instead of Game of War.
- Inside (Xbox One): $0 (Gift Card used)
- Plantronics Headset: $0 (Gift Card Used)
- Into the Dead (Gear VR): $4.99
- Dreadhalls (Gear VR): $4.99
YTD Total: $1,213.98
- Pokemon GO (iOS): 1h 30m (approx.)
- Inside (Xbox One): 1h 16m
- Banner Saga 2 (Xbox One): 48m
- End Space (Gear VR): 34m
- Into the Dead (Gear VR):
- Oculus Arcade (Gear VR): 29m
- Dreadhalls (Gear VR): 27m
- Anshar Wars 2 (Gear VR): 22m
- Gunjack: EVE (Gear VR): 18m
I agree in regards to your view on critics. Some people dismiss critics as pointless since we have access to streamers. To this I say: so? Streams are good for seeing the game in action, but there is a reason I have a book of essays by Roger Ebert, or love reading essays on films of the past, present, and future from critics. There is a reason why I enjoy literary magazines and various writings on music. These are not just critics. These are writers, and most critics of a specific medium do it because of their passion for it, and their knowledge of the subject. Most importantly, a good critic will be an excellent writer that will draw you in or sometimes be outside the box.
There also seems to be a backlash, and questions of journalistic integrity which is hogwash; not only because it’s just not true for the most part, but because people really need to learn the difference between journalism and art medium criticism and theory. They are not one and the same. Roger Ebert, despite some baffling comments towards video games, was an amazing writer, and he never said he was a journalist. Neither does any critic I know in other mediums.
One way to fix this, is to remind people critics and journalists are not the same thing. The second way, is to also remind gaming critics that they are critics and theorists, and not journalists.