Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. As always, I'll be joining you on this magical journey that we call journalistic commentary. And how much there is to comment on. Today is the first day of fall and we are on the cusp of a new influx of "Holiday 2014" video game releases. I don't know about you, but this summer's drought of interesting content has me a bit strung out. Outside of Shovel Knight and Divinity: Original Sin there really hasn't been too much to sink my teeth into. As a result, I've been trying to catch up on my chunky backlog. Maybe you're in the same boat.
This week, the focus of our discussions will be that of changing perspectives — both the general media's and mine. It's been a humbling experience as of late to sit back and watch the sparks fly in the comment sections of most major news stories. I get the impression that either the more militant commenters are more vocal or more soft-spoken gamers are beginning to get fed up with their news feeds. Regardless, we'll start our discussions with this adorable Alex and Crackers video about Kriby:
I don't like cold opens and things are about to get serious.
If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:
- What do you think of the reaction to Destiny's scores?
- Are you concerned about Final Fantasy XV's direction? Combat?
- Would you sell your DLC?
So, as you may have noticed, Bungie's highly anticipated MMO-like FPS Destiny was recently released and subsequently crushed under the massive weight of its own hype. Countless game media outlets have reviewed the highly anticipated title, voiced the same complaints (lack of things to do, poorly told story, unbalanced multiplayer, repetitive missions, etc.), and distributed essentially the same middling scores. Inevitably, this has led to a less than stellar MetaCritic aggregate critic score (77 or 78, platform dependent), the potential loss of a performance bonus from Destiny's publisher Activision, and legions of angry gamers up in arms over the game's apparent quality. It's also sparked a bit of an online debate regarding the relevance and value of video game review scores in a world where all reviews are dryly subjective — which has inadvertently led to a revisal of my previous opinion on this topic.
For the uninitiated, I had never been a fan of review scores. In fact, I would openly question our Editor-in-Chief here at RPGamer about their practical use. My argument would basically stem from the effects of their use: that commenters would occasionally use them as a basis to launch personal attacks against reviewers, that publishers would take their aggregate scores into account when assigning performance bonuses to developers that may have poured their heart and souls into a poorly received product, and that the scales of different websites differed in spite of the fact that readers would inevitable compare numerical values. These arguments still bear some weight, but what I misunderstood was the function of these scores.
In my head, review scores were an oversimplified judgment call on the subjective quality of something that was not only redundant in the face of a fully written review but would subvert the review entirely if readers were more concerned with a judgment than the context of that judgment. To think that a simple number could deter intelligent discussion and turn a comment section into a festival of "hate-out-of-ten." It was a scary thought mostly because that number turns an informed, subjective opinion into a value judgment that is seen as being objective and set in stone. Furthermore, because of that number, the internet often feels as though they cannot democratize their own opinions. But the internet is wrong and so was I.
It took a while to realize, but with Destiny's lackluster reception and my analysis of the various scores assigned to the game it became apparent that the scores themselves were actually innocuous. They are simply harmless facets of a greater subjective analysis. In this case, they were used mostly just to echo the comments made by each reviewer — so well, in fact, that the overall sentiments or tone of each review really jived with the less than amazing scores that were being distributed. This was because the score wasn't the focal point of the review; it was simply a tool used to emphasize what had already been established.
It's important to make that distinction. Tools may only be as good as the person who uses them, but we shouldn't blame the tool because it is used. After all, when a person is stabbed do we blame the knife or the one holding it?
If there is a problem with review scores, it is with the readers and not the numbers themselves. When you hear that Destiny is being publicly maligned by 7/10s, that isn't the scores' fault so much as it is the quality of the game. When you hear that publishers are withholding bonuses that isn't the scores' fault so much as it is the fault of the broken developer-publisher relationship. When online commenters are using a handful of scores to justify their perspective on a game they haven't even played, that isn't the scores' fault so much as it is the vapidity of that particular commenter.
It has become somewhat likely that I will begin publishing video game reviews for RPGamer in the near future. These reviews will include a scoring system which is consistent with the site's score definitions. That scoring system is not being included because it is a mandatory feature that I must comply to. Nor is it being imposed on me by anyone. Scores will be included because I feel as though they will emphasize the finer points I made regarding my value judgments in the body of the review itself.
I felt as though I needed to address the purpose of review scores in this industry as well as my new stance on them before I could actually review content for all of you in earnest. Had a hyped game like Destiny not been released to sub-excellent scores, I may not have had this revelation. Hopefully, if the time comes, you may appreciate my opinions and their associated scores. Regardless, I hope you can see things from my perspective and choose not to condemn a reviewer or a website for its use of scores in the future.
I'm not going to lie; I'm not a huge fan of Change.org. It isn't because I have problems with the concept of petitioning against things that are unjust. I've certainly signed my fair share of petitions against the tar sands' pollution, Walmart construction in light of the destruction of small local business, and of course the horrifying absence of the God's drink known as Crystal Pepsi since the hazy days of 1993. But those were all fights for the betterment of humanity itself. Moreover, I didn't get spammed by Change.org in my fight for liquid clear carbonated goodness. And yet, there is now a Final Fantasy XV petition.
After last week's TGS showing, many fans were apparently concerned with the shape the game has started to take under Hajime Tabata's leadership. Sure, there have always been those who expected more traditional RPG combat out of a numbered Final Fantasy. Some of those people are our forum members. But a new group of concerned gamers has formed since TGS, and they're collecting names.
Launched by a Japanese group called "Men in their 20s" (I can't make this up), a recent Change.org petition is attempting to appeal to Square Enix for gameplay that more closely resembles that of the Kingdom Hearts games. The group's argument is that the move from PS3 to PS4, removal of character switching, and implementation of a combat system based more on holding down buttons than rapidly pressing them (a la Kingdom Hearts) has distanced the game from what was originally promised when Final Fantasy Versus XIII was announced. They expected the game to be a more familiar action RPG and are not pleased with what they have seen as of late.
As of this moment the number of signatures is well under 1000, and I'm not sure their collective voices are enough to change the trajectory of a title that has been in full development for the past two years. For that matter, I don't think they should. In fact, had they 10,000 signatures I still wouldn't think that the development team should alter Square Enix's or Tabata's development approach. Out of principle.
This is really the core problem with platforms like Change.org: uninformed people who happen to be extremely opinionated will use them to further their own agenda without any regards to the creative process or the interests of others. I have no idea if Final Fantasy XV will have a satisfying combat system. At this point, no one seems to. However, for anyone to condemn something that they have never really experienced is so frustratingly ignorant that I felt as though it should be highlighted. Online petitions like this are the equivalent to the knuckle-dragging temper tantrums of a toddler. They are outlets for short-sighted and close-minded negativity — not constructive or informed criticism.
I advise you to check out the petition, translate the page with Google's mostly-awful translator, and read some of the harsh comments left by the petition's signers. If you're anything like me, you'll likely end up shaking your head and sighing heavily.
GameStop doesn't have a great reputation among most gamers. In fact, I feel like there is an almost audible groan heard throughout the internet whenever the company announces a new initiative or incentive — especially when it pertains to DLC, an already maligned concept in modern gaming. However, the most recent GameStop/DLC news article I read actually has caught my interest. There is something to the idea of selling used DLC. At least, I think there is.
Selling used digital content (weapons, armor, etc.) is a regular thing in some MMOs and MOBAs, but it might someday become a regular thing elsewhere. GameStop Executive Vice President Mike Hogan recently mentioned the topic at the third annual GameStop Expo. As reported by IGN, "[Selling used DLC] would require a partnership between retailers and publishers, but absolutely, it could go that way," Hogan said. "We're absolutely interested in pursuing that. There are lots of examples where people have taken digital content and made it transferable from one consumer to another." And while he noted at the time that GameStop was "very bullish" regarding anything to do with digital sales, I seriously think this could happen — if not at GameStop, possibly elsewhere.
As a minimalist, I appreciate the ability to trade in games that are collecting dust. To the same token I wish that I wasn't stuck with digital content that I'm not using for all of time. There are some types of DLC, usually story-based, that I'll go back to again and again, but do I really need to hold on to Oblivion's horse armor? The thousands of skanky DLC costumes from Dead or Alive 5? Anything related to Resident Evil: Raccoon City? Seriously, if there was a way to exchange this stuff for even a little bit of credit I would do it in a heartbeat.
That's it for this issue of Currents. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.
Your dork from the Great North,
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