Published on March 20th, 2012 | by Jack Patton
Critics Vs Consumers, Who Should We Trust?
In truth I had meant for this collection of ramblings and raving to have reached your monitor before the release of Mass Effect 3 but, much to the chagrin of my editor, we have obviously missed that window of opportunity. Still, the point is still valid as the wiser among us will know that there are two sides to every story, and in this case two opposing opinions over a particular game. The opinion of the critics, the pseudo pompous monocle wearing breed that they are, versus the all might voice of the consumer, which may also wear monocles. Damn I wish I had a monocle.
Let’s start with dissecting the subjects shall we? Logic will have you believe that the critic knows best, it’s why they get paid after all, and their opinions should be the evidence that we, the consumers, should refer to before any and all purchase of games. Yet here, in my opinion, is the flaw. Critics, for the most part, are out of touch with their readers. Worlds apart, if you will. When a professional, monocle wearing, critic receives their review copy of the latest game to hit the market it is an invitation for criticism, not enjoyment. Critics play games to criticise them, and the more prominent voices of gaming journalism will more often than not get their gaming kicks for free. Maybe with a free monocle, who knows! So they get their hits for free and play with the intention of criticising, get it?
Now flip the coin and we have us, the consumers. But before I go any further let me stress this isn’t simply an ‘us and them’ situation, there is middle ground as I will touch on later. We play games because we enjoy them, and I write about games to share my passion for games with other like minded, if not sometimes slightly over judgemental in the comment box, gamers. We play the games we are interested in, sometimes using the opinions of the critics as a means of determining what is really worth having since, if you are like me, you are perennially broke and nursing yourself through university and can only afford the essentials.
So we now understand what divides the two groups, let’s examine why they so often disagree. Its neither groups fault, which is why I condemn developers trying to silence their fan base when things go awry. When you reveal something and open it to the public for scrutiny, you have to take when you get no matter how bitter or sour the — you know what you get it, let’s just stop it there. The fact is there are several things that make these two core groups disagree, and to save time and make the whole she-bang all the more easy to comprehend I’ll just go through them one at a time.
Er, Was This Here Before?
Critics receive their games as review editions which sometimes have restricted content but are essentially the real McCoy without the cover art. Essentially, but not the actual thing which consumers will get when the game is released. So as a critic you sometimes get to miss out on some of the technical issues that will plague the real thing, especially when there is a multiplayer or online feature involved. For example, if critics had been presented with the final product of Modern Warfare 2 to review do you think it would have regaled and wowed half as much? Certainly not, it was broken beyond belief and required a series of patches and apologies to atone for it, and even then it was too late. A rift had been formed, as was evident by its less than stellar user score on Metacritic at the time. I use Metacritic, dear readers, simply because its popular and its user system is fairly accurate when not under 4chan assault. Activision’s devotion to secrecy meant that Modern Warfare 2 was released in tatters, and it’s less than stellar improvement over his predecessor did little to make up for it. The result? A hefty difference in opinions between critics and consumers.
Cousin, Business Is A Boomin’
Disc locked DLC, don’t you just hate it? You spend your hard earned cash for a disc only to discover you’ll need to spend extra just to use everything on it. You already own it, physically at least, so why are you paying extra to use it? Doesn’t go down well with consumers, at all. Critics however have gotten their disc for free, and as such won’t particularly take corporate extortion into account when pinning their final score on the cover for all to see. Mass Effect 3 is the latest, and will not be the last, example of this. There isn’t much else to be said, developers need to make money and they’ll stoop to untold levels to achieve this. It’s business, it’s fiendish and it sad but true. Again, another factor which has exclusive consequences for the consumer and not the person with the more professional and commercial opinion. Yet no matter how much the developers try to spin their day one DLC, the consumer will forever feel betrayed and ripped off. Bad news is bad news, no matter how much you try to flatter it.
Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy
If you spent just five hours on Demon’s Souls, you would hate it. Likewise if you spent twenty hours forcibly repeating the Modern Warfare 3 campaign, you would hate it. It’s an old question, how much time should a critic devote to a game before they inflict their opinion on the masses? Jim Sterling‘s damning verdict on Final Fantasy XIII brought the debate to the front lines when he outright admitted to having not finished the game, finding it too mundane to continue. Personally I found the earlier half of XIII to be as dreary as the next gamer, but will reluctantly admit that the experience improved much later. It’s up to personal taste, I don’t for one second forgive XIII for it’s trudge of an opening but I know many who do. The point is that if you’re reviewing a game then surely you must taste the full menu before passing on the check? On further note; Jim wears a monocle, the bloody — damn censorship! So basically, some games are worth spending the extra hours while others are certainly not and not every critic will spend three hundred and forty hours on Monster Hunter. Still holding out for that PS3 version Capcom, whenever you’re ready. Yet to further stress my point, let’s bring in a second opinion.
“Haze Is Going to be the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread!”
That was an exact quote, from a friend, months before the PS3 wonder flop hit the market. Hype, it can be fatal. Just enough of it is great, it raises awareness of your product and boosts the buzz before release without letting anyone getting carried away. Sometimes, however, it just goes too damn far and seems to last FOREVER only to leave a very disappointed and pissed off fan base scratching their heads and wondering where it all could have gone so very wrong. In the case of Haze its obvious where they went wrong just by playing it, and Duke’s pilgrimage to the Seventh Generation is more than well documented already and really doesn’t need my two cents thrown onto the pile. Critics are somehow immune to hype, and in the cases where long development has been an issue I’ll take the word of a professional review over public opinion, since they didn’t need to pay to have their dreams smashed and will offer a more than honestly damning opinion if one is warranted. Likewise not enough hype can sometimes improve public opinion of a game, with the most obvious example being Binary Domain which got a big thumbs up from everyone who I know has played it, all two of them to be exact.
Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again…
We are all getting pretty sick of Call of Duty, that goes without any supporting evidence. The main reason being that we have seen it all before, in the previous entry to the current instalment, and then some, insert latest DICE release here. Someone once said you can’t get too much of a good thing, well they should be thrown down a well. But it is not just Infinity Ward, ironic choice of name given the primary products, which is being brought before the court here. Assassin’s Creed can also stand accused, beside every other annual release videogame franchise out there that is not tied into sports, which seem to avoid this pitfall somehow. God only knows how. The point is when the actual title of your videogame is starting to look like a football (Soccer) score, Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare 3, it’s time to mix it up a bit. At least throw a subtitle in there, come on! Make the god damn effort. What bewilders me is how critics will often overlook the often evident similarities a game shares with its predecessors. I’ve seen lesser known sequels get the proverbial book smashed across their heads for daring to use similar menu layout as their predecessor while other, more mainstream, sequels get away with completely ripping the arse out of their own franchise. Confusing, to say the least.
Aren’t We All Just Full of Feelings Today?
Personal attachment. To critics, games might just be games. If even that, they could just be a means to a pay check. To some, however, games can mean so much more. Like a great movie or book, some things just stay with you regardless of the medium. Games are, unsurprisingly, no different. Whoever says they stuck with Guns of the Patriots right through to the end and were not on the edge of their seat during the entire microwave ordeal is a damn liar. That wasn’t just a faceless, bland lantern jawed protagonist; that was Solid/Old Snake! To some, a series can be more than just a past time but more like a journey. So say, for example, if the final instalment of said series happened to end, well, poorly. How would you, as a consumer who followed this series religiously, feel? Really, really, pissed. A critic, tasked with putting their emotional attachment to one side for the good of the job, will overlook this as a mere blemish on the face of what otherwise could have been a pretty solid game, and will judge it as such. To others, it can be treason of the highest sort. A bad ending doesn’t ruin a game, it just spoils the experience. The ending can mean everything or nothing, it depends on what is coming to a close.
So there we have it, if you’ve survived my rambling then I commend you on a job well done. So obviously there is a stigma concerning the gaming journalism industry and its approach to critique. It doesn’t mean they can’t agree, as I’ve said there often is a middle ground where both consumers and critics will join hand and hand and frolic through the fields of virtual dandelions while singing the praises of stellar games like Journey. Or uniting to verbally bury dead beat games like Duke Nukem Forever for daring to stand before their judgement in such a pitiful state. Metacritic might not be to everyone’s taste, but its the most popular hub for reviews I know of, even if I flat out disagree with it at times. Yet in this occasion, I will join the band wagon;
So, while there may be obviously flaws in the system itself, in the end gamers of both sides of the looking glass will eventually have to agree to disagree…
…but I still don’t like Mass Effect 3.