Calling out the Game Reviewers

Jeff Minter‘s Unity Space Giraffe comes out this week. It’s a highly anticipated game in some circles. OXM got its hands on it early and reviewed it, giving it a 2 out of 10. As expected, some people in those circles of anticipation cried foul. That’s fine.

What isn’t fine is having the game’s creator, Jeff Minter himself, out the reviewer as a “rubbish” player.

In short, the leaderboards show that OXM Dan was playing the game in about the most shit way possible, and being absolutely crap at it. The leaderboards also show a lot of other people playing the game rather well, so we know it’s not the game at fault here.

Clearly the reviewer was just “shit” as the game was faultless. There is no criticism to be taken here. The game could never have been counter-intuitive or too hard. It could not have a bad user interface or a lousy tutorial or a steep learning curve. It’s all the fault of a shitty game player and his review is instantly voided because of it. His opinion has no merit. This kind of ego stroking serves no one and makes Minter out as an arrogant prick.

The whole thing reminds me of the Gamespot “Savage” review controversy. Greg Costikyan wrote about that saying:

Personally, it rarely takes me an hour to decide a game sucks. Or rocks. It’s only the ones in between that might take more time for me to judge. Albeit, if I love a game, I’ll play it for a long time, both because I love it, and because I want to figure out why. And that might make for an informed review–but reviews inherently aren’t informed. There isn’t a zine (or website) in the field that publishes intelligent informed game criticism; bare reviews are all we can expect. (A rant for another time, perhaps.)

So… I almost don’t care how long this guy took to form his opinion. He formed his opinion, he wrote it up for whatever pittance Gamespot pays, and that was all that could reasonably be expected of any professional in this field, given what a pittance they are paid.

A review, in the end, is opinion. If a game is too hard for the player, they can complain about that. If a game is boring and dull in the first hour, they shouldn’t be expected to continue playing until “it gets good” around hour twenty. That’s ludicrous. If it takes an hour to get a sense of a game, then it’s valid. And if a review is opinion, then the criticisms that Space Giraffe is Too visually noisy to figure out what going on. and Actually made us angry when we played it. are as valid coming from someone that sucks at the game as they are coming from an expert.

Calling out the reviewer for “sucking” is childish and immature and, worst of all, sets a bad precedent. Would Minter have called out this reviewer for “sucking” if, having played the exact same way, he gave the game a 9 out of 10? I doubt it. It’s a deliberate attempt to undermine a negative review and to discredit the opinion of a reviewer. Nothing more.

Tracking reviewer habits in an online game opens up a whole new can of worms and raises a lot of questions about trust, anonymity and opinion. It’s just more to consider in the quagmire of PR/media, PR/developer and developer/media relations, media exclusives, and all sorts of issues regarding games journalism. I really don’t know what the answers are, especially since I’m an outside observer, but I can say that I’m clearly in favour of less whining by developers when a review doesn’t suit their biased views. It lowers my opinion of the developer.

It’s about as bad as hyping a game for years and then canceling it unceremoniously.

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