Reviews vs Facts

A while ago I had a conversation with someone about reviews. My basic point was that they don’t matter all that much, and that we sometimes think they do because the media that produces and relies on reviews tries to convince us that they do.

I think Metacritic is good for a quick glance, but a score of 82 vs 91 doesn’t tell me much, especially for a niche or ‘acquired taste’ title. If a random gamer reviews Darkfall after 10 hours, I’d expect that review to be fairly negative. Unless of course our random gamer happens to be someone who has been looking for a different take on the MMO genre and is really into exactly what DF does well (combat, competition, etc). Then the review is a ‘hidden gem’ type of deal.

On Steam I’ll often look at the forum of a specific game before I buy it (on sale, usually), but I’m not looking for opinion about details so much as I’m looking for “This game is terrible and lies about having X Y, Z” with 3-4 replies confirming the message. Or “This game is a totally buggy mess”, especially when looking at early access titles. I view those not as someone sharing an opinion, but rather confirming facts.

Most reviews are not about confirming facts, but rather the written opinion of the reviewer. Is the reviewer a gamer in my vein, or is he someone who thought WotLK was a great expansion? Because if it’s the latter, what he hates I might find perfect.

Side note: I think ESO is going to be a review nightmare. On the surface and in the first 8-9 levels, it’s a strange and honestly fairly poor mix of not quite Skyrim, but not quite anything worthwhile as an MMO. But then it really opens up, brings a lot of new stuff to the genre, and does a lot of sneaky-great stuff.

The contrast between ESO and WildStar is of particular note. Many expected WildStar to be the next-step MMO, and have been disappointed, while those same people expected ESO to be a clone title and instead found (assuming they got deep enough) something surprisingly better.

20 Responses to Reviews vs Facts

  1. sid6.7 says:

    Reviews w/ context are valuable (i.e. this is my experience). Review scores are often meaningless.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    There are functional reviews set out to tell you whether something is worth buying or not. There are entertainment reviews that set out to be enjoyable for their own sake regardless of whether you have any interest in the product or not. There are academic reviews that seek to set the thing being reviewed in historical context within a given field, giving no particular guidance on value. And so on and so forth.

    The most useful reviews tend to be those by a reviewer that you have been reading or watching for a good while so that you learn what he or she likes and dislikes. That way you can both calibrate a particular review against his benchmarks and compare and contrast his tastes with your own. In that way even a reviewer with whom you frequently disagree can be very helpful.

    Just reading isolated reviews by people you never heard of or looking at individual review scores isn’t very informative. An aggregate review score like Metacritic offers probably won’t do much more than give you an idea of where the subject on review stands in the generality of the culture – it’ll probably tell you if something is, or is likely to be widely popular but whether you’ll like it is another matter entirely.

    Personally I read reviews firstly for entertainment – if they’re cogent, well-written or amusing then they stand up as worthwhile reading in their own right. If that then also makes the thing reviewed sound interesting I might go on to do further research on it and if a reviewer who I particularly feel in tune with happens to rave about something I might well be inclined to give it a closer look.

    I wouldn’t go to reviews as a buying guide, though. even then, only as an indication that something was worth further attention.

  3. Asmiroth says:

    I like to find a reviewer or 5 that I share interests in on a given game type. Steve Butts, for example, shares the same like in strategic RPGS that I do. He does not on other games.

    There are just too many games out there (looking at you Steam) to get a good idea about without a frame of reference.

  4. John says:

    If 9/10 Bloggers, 9/10 gamers in your guild, 9/10 random guys on the forums tell you that the combat and animation are awful then this is a fact. If they say that X thing is awful then is a fact. I did not read a review about ESO specifically or Darkfall that does not name specific areas of the game and just say that the game is not good…Most reviews are very detailed and spot on.

    Plus, I think most people by now have already tried ESO multiply weekends and they find on reviews only what they know already by themeselves.

    If the 1/10 of bloggers/gamers/random guys try to convince you that 9/10 are wrong and they don’t know how to review a game or they don’t know if they liked what they played or not, then the fact is that they are wrong.

    • Jenks says:

      I would disagree with the tone here. Sometimes you are the 1 in 10. Would you rather play a “better” game that you enjoy less, or the “bad” game that suits you perfectly?

      I can give you a personal example for this. Last generation of consoles, I played The Last Remnant and loved it, although it was a technical mess. It came out on PC later which solved all the technical problems. It’s one of my favorite JRPGs of all time. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stand Lost Odyssey. I bounced right off it, wound up watching my wife play through it and laughed through almost all of the hyper-jappy story.

      If I had listened to the wisdom of the masses, I would have missed out on something I loved.

      • John says:

        I don’t argue on this. I never said that someone should judge a game by reading reviews only. The issue with the ESO here is that 9/10 people tried it and din’t liked it and most of them said the exact same reasons.

        In your scenario, you tried the game and you loved it and thats what matters. No one trying to convince you that the game is crap. In the scenario of ESO, people have tried it and played it in beta. 9/10 had not good opinion about it and 1/10 try to prove that the 9/10 people opinion has no value and the opinion of the 1/10 is solid and have facts.

        Nothing wrong if some people liked ESO and I wish I liked it too. I am not trying to convince them to not play it because I think that the game sucks. But I also cannot accept that my opinion/review has less value than theirs.

        • SynCaine says:

          To me early ESO ‘reviews’ are like AoC reviews only in reverse. If all you played of AoC was the 1-20 game, you loved it. If all you played of ESO was the 1-8 game, you likely hated it. Neither accurately represented the ‘real’ game. AoC was a total bait-and-switch, ESO worried too much about easing people into an MMO.

        • John says:

          syn that would be true if people complained about “endgame” or “small world” e.t.c. I don’t think that characters, character movement, combat animations will change after level 20..

          My personal problem is the combat and the animations. It does not feel fluid, I feel like I am hitting the Air and magically the mob loses health. Animations are not paired with button presses making the game feel clunky. You can understand this immediately. The character movement is worse than lotro.

          These are all things that you don’t need 20+ levels to understand and flawless combat is very important for me. Even in skyrim, the combat is better..you feel that you hit the opponent and the animation is happening along the button press. And no I did not had lag issues…

          Add to these the CE bonus and the pre-order bonus…while I admit that if I liked the game I would buy it, these bonuses just add another con in the list.

        • SynCaine says:

          I get the combat/animation preference. I’m not as bothered by it I guess because I had Darkfall as my reference for combat; everything is below that, and a good ways below IMO.

          That said the last beta combat felt much better in PvE, and overall I still think the combat in ESO is better than GW2 or similar games. It’s just pretty low on my list of importance when it comes to themepark-like MMOs.

        • John says:

          I did not played Darkfall because of the pvp focus, but I have seen videos of it. The world seems very immersive and the combat looks very good from the videos. Also the character movement seems flawless and natural.

          That said, I did tried ESo and GW2 and since they have similar combat (Hybrid of action and tab targeting) I think is fair to compare those too. Although I personally find GW2 combat way much better. Fluid, responsive and good animations. If ESO had GW2 combat I could overlook the “ugly” characters and enjoy it.

    • sid6.7 says:

      If 9/10 Bloggers, 9/10 gamers in your guild, 9/10 random guys on the forums tell you that …

      What bothers me about your comment is that I wouldn’t weigh each of those groups equally and I don’t think you would either.

      If 9/10 of your close friends/guildmates tell you something, it has more weight than if 9/10 bloggers tell you something, which in turn, has more weight than if 9/10 random guys tell you something.

      Very rarely do we see such uniformity and the opinions of those most similar to you (presumably your guildies who like to play the same game as you) should and will have the most weight.

      That said, I appreciate that you called out something specific (combat and animation) because it’s takes it’s so specific that creating a composite score/opinion built from several opinions is likely a strong indicator of the truth.

      A review that scores a game — not so useful. A review that scores a game in several categories (such as graphics, combat, etc) is vastly more useful. And you are right, if 9/10 random gamers say something specific sucks — the odds are that your experience won’t be any different.

      • John says:

        Sid I totally agree and I do weight my friends opinion much more because we played years together and I know them very well and from multiply games we play together I know in what aspects of the games we share the same tase/liking. For example if my friend Bill tells me that characters are awful, 99% I will think the same too, cause the last 10 years we never argued on this :)

        From the other hand, if Kostas tells me that this movie is great i save myself precious time by not seeing it :)

    • Galien says:

      “If 9/10 Bloggers, 9/10 gamers in your guild, 9/10 random guys on the forums tell you that the combat and animation are awful then this is a fact.”

      No, it really, really isn’t. See: pareto distribution, among other things.

      And that’s leaving aside the fact that 4/9 of those random guys are repeating opinions expressed by the remaining 5/9 because they are fearful of being seen as wrong. See: Asch conformity experiments, among other things.

      The majority of my gaming social circle are stoked for ESO. If I invited you to our VoIP conversations, you’d be surrounded by people for whom the (legitimate) problems you have with combat fluidity rank very low in importance. Would that invalidate your opinion? Certainly not. They’re not a random sample, they’ve aggregated for a reason. But neither is whatever circle you’re polling.

      Majority blog opinion is tepid on the game. Tobold is downright schizophrenic on the question of whether the game demands too much or allows too little exploration. However, a few non-themeparkers like Syn and Ripard are giving it a cautious shot, which scores high in my book.

      In the end, you have to look to your own taste and priorities, and as you point out the betas allowed most people who care to do that. But arriving at ‘fact’ by way of focus group just rubs me the wrong way.

      • Damning With Faint Praise says:

        At first I thought that was a great reply, Galien, and I agreed with you 100%. But then it struck me: What if someone managed to strike all the important points you’d raised, but in less words? Would that mean I would agree with this new person 150%? So I did a little experiment, and tried to include only the key points in your comment.

        “Fact[:] …4/9 of those random guys are repeating opinions expressed by…Syn and Ripard.” “Tobold is downright schizophrenic…because [he is] fearful of being seen as wrong.” “…Look to your own taste and priorities…they’ve aggregated for a reason.”

        Mission success, I agreed with this new version of your post 195%. That’s a 95% increase!

      • John says:

        “Asch conformity experiments”

        I ve seen many Documentaries on this subject. The favorite part of it was the Elevator where people siding against the door while it was obvious that you will look at the door to be ready to depart :) It was funny. I do not doubt that there is a x% of the random guy that will just follow the masses, but I don’t believe this apply to bloggers or friends.

        From the other hand there are people who always want to be different from the masses because somehow this makes them feel unique/superior and I have seen Documentaries for this too. So there is also a x% of the random guy that liked the game for that reason…to feel unique/superior or part of niche population.

  5. Anonymous says:

    ESO BLOWS GO WILDSTAR

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