Syncaine has an interesting post today written in response to one of Tobold’s, the latest in a series of good-natured potshots. (I insist on seing them as good-natured, anyway.) The argument is over how long it takes to ‘properly evaluate’ an MMO, something which has come up before.
Taking the semantic view and going strictly by what ‘properly evaluate’ means to me… it pretty clearly takes a while, likely more than a free trial period or even a month. I’d say that a complete evaluation takes however long it takes to get to the ‘endgame’ and tool around there for a while, however long it takes to see a good portion (but not necessarily all) of the game and fool at least a bit with all of the major gameplay elements.
But of course Syncaine and Tobold are talking past each other here. What Tobold is talking about, semantics aside, is pretty clearly not the time it takes for a ‘complete evaluation’ but the time it takes to form a personal opinion, which is potentially much shorter.
The main reason I don’t have much faith in MMO reviews, particularly of newly-launched games, is that the reviewer can’t possibly have spent enough time in the game for a complete evaluation. Something like Dragon Age, which takes maybe thirty hours for a complete playthrough… well, I kind of doubt it, but I can at least concede the possibility that a reviewer dropped enough hours in to see at least half or so of the game. Something like… oh, I dunno, Darkfall? Not a chance.
The difference is that if we’re talking about a review, the reader has the right to assume that the evaluation is fair and reasonably complete, and the reviewer is paid to ensure that this is so. If we’re talking about some guy shooting his mouth off on a blog or forum, it’s just his opinion, and it may be well-grounded or not. To form a personal opinion on whether a game is fun or not, it shouldn’t take fifty or a hundred or a thousand hours. It may, but sometimes it’s clear that a game isn’t fun in the first few minutes.
The thing is that while the conscientious reviewer may have more data to back up his views, that doesn’t invalidate the opinion of the hypothetical loudmouth who spent half an hour playing a game before dismissing it as a heap of excrement. The difference is context, where on the one hand you have a ‘review,’ with all the fairness and thoroughness that that implies, and one the other you have ‘some guy’s opinion’, which may have been reached after long experience in the game or not. It doesn’t really matter as long as the reader understands the difference.
Besides, how many games have you read a negative review or opinion of, only to find yourself having fun playing it? Don’t be a robot; form your own opinions. And if naysayers want to claim that your opinion is invalid, shrug your shoulders and move on.
The fact that some ‘reviews’ in the video game industry are in fact softball ass-polishing if not outright shilling is another issue entirely.
Also, as somebody who’s brought up the “competing with 2009 WoW rather than 2004 WoW” thing several times, it’s easy for ‘serious’ players/commentators to dismiss such a comparison, which of course is unfair on several levels as well as unrealistic, when taken in the context of the larger history of MMOs and with a broad knowledge of the marketplace and the various competitors. But consider the point of view of a newcomer to the MMO hobby, who arrives today, without any knowledge of the hobby’s history or of the feature sets and varying levels of polish boasted by the various entrants in the marketplace. For him, the comparison is between a just-launched (say) Fallen Earth and a mature five-years-on WoW. Those people greatly outnumber us ‘serious’ commentators.