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ACE1918

Why Game Journalists Need To Be Competent

6 posts in this topic

That a lower skill level of game journalists (which isn't really true either as I've seen them play or played with quite a few of them over the last 12 years) lead to easier games is a poor assumption that ignores the wide variety of reasons why difficulty and game design changed so much after the 90s. No longer needing to create short or simple games where difficulty had to be increased to keep people playing or paying in the case of arcade cabinets, a wider demographic playing games looking for a wider variety of experiences, the previous demographic now aging and not having as much time to spend or being as good at games, the way companies and people running studios do business and create games changing throughout the 90s, changes to mechanics that naturally lead to easier games due to their popularity among gamers, the improving technology leading to developers wanting to create worlds or stories they want people to see all of rather than have to struggle to get through, even the timeline would still mean that the people writing about videos games during the time you say they were getting easier would almost entirely be made up of people that started playing games when they were more difficult. The marketing trends are going to change how games are made and when the average player from their teens to their 30s were almost all praising an imagined in depth RPG customization of Mass Effect 1 or the amazing plot and dialogue choices of Fallout 3 because they had never seen anything else before you're naturally going to see a decline in the complexity of games no matter what journalists say. The guy who recorded this particular gameplay isn't even focused on game reviews or gameplay previews in general, I think he's only reviewed one game this year out of the 100s of articles he's written. His focus is on the tech and business side of the industry, with the technical side being what got him covering the industry in the first place. He even said the only reason he was the one who played the game for their recording in a genre he is so bad at was because he was the one who was in Germany for the convention.

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 No longer needing to create short or simple games where difficulty had to be increased to keep people playing or paying in the case of arcade cabinets

This depends greatly on the game.  In terms of sheer map size some of the largest maps of all time came from games in the 90s like Daggerfall or even Frontier Elite 2 or early 2000s like World War II Online.  On console what you say may be somewhat true though.

 

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a wider demographic playing games looking for a wider variety of experiences

While it is true that more people play games now than ever, I wouldn't say that the games that are available offer more variety to the late 90s or early 2000s.  There is no denying that FPS games for example have become more samey in comparison to the 90s.  I can provide all kinds of examples of classic games from the 90s that we do not have a modern equivalent of.

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changes to mechanics that naturally lead to easier games due to their popularity among gamers

This is true, but I have found that games from older eras often were designed around some mechanical limitations.  Starcraft is a classic example where the game is balanced in part by things like it's path-finding limitations.

 

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the improving technology leading to developers wanting to create worlds or stories they want people to see all of rather than have to struggle to get through

You may have a bit of a point here, it would make sense that devs would want us to see as much of their work as possible, but even in the 90s we had impressive worlds and stories, some of which are still considered legendary to gamers like Final Fantasy VI and VII.

 

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The marketing trends are going to change how games are made and when the average player from their teens to their 30s were almost all praising an imagined in depth RPG customization of Mass Effect 1 or the amazing plot and dialogue choices of Fallout 3 because they had never seen anything else before you're naturally going to see a decline in the complexity of games no matter what journalists say

While these games are solid games, I am reminded of games like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Morrowind.  Both of which were praised and still are praised for the same things and instead are products of the early 2000s.  With regards to what you have said in the end, I would argue that while AAA games have gotten less complex as a whole, the same cannot really be said for the Indie market.  There is a reason why ultra-realistic and complex games like Squad (and its Project Reality mod predecessor) are so popular.  There is a reason why Paradox (one of the very few publishers that still has ultra complex games) is doing so well.

 

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The guy who recorded this particular gameplay isn't even focused on game reviews or gameplay previews in general, I think he's only reviewed one game this year out of the 100s of articles he's written.

This is true, but some of the reviews he has made are still ridden with issues.  A good example would be the fact that he did a review of the first Mass Effect where he gave it a low score because he forgot to use the Talent Points the game kept giving him.  When people called him out on this he did man up and apologize as well as change the review score.  The question is how many games got similar treatment from him and nobody caught his mistake?  I've certainly found reviews where a critic was outright mistaken on certain mechanics, and it impacted the score in a negative way.

 

Now I am not going to say that Journalists are the only cause of this, there are plenty of reasons why games have gotten simpler, but I will say that they did indeed have a hand in it.  My main concern as said in the video are game critics who outright think it is bad for a game to be made for a niche audience.

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So, some more evidence that bad game journalism can lead to changes in game design.  Mr. Takahashi has come out on Twitter and admitted that the folks at Bioware personally told him that they were changing some of the mechanics of the Mass Effect franchise because of him.  I've got a pic of the tweet, but here is the link to that specific post:
 

https://twitter.com/deantak/status/906768747720974336

 

Seems what I've suggested is looking less and less theory and much more plausible.

Dean boasting about the effects of his bad review.png

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This depends greatly on the game. In terms of sheer map size some of the largest maps of all time came from games in the 90s like Daggerfall or even Frontier Elite 2 or early 2000s like World War II Online. On console what you say may be somewhat true though.

I'm talking about the majority of the old industry in the 80s leading into the early 90s. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, arcade systems or arcade style games that would have had a larger demographic and the design and thought process behind those games. Obviously the PC had Arena, Daggerfall, Elite, CRPGs, etc and consoles had JRPGs but the vast majority of the games were typically ones that if you were good enough at the game you could beat in minutes or under an hour and because of that a lot of developers increased the difficulty or put in system that would require you to replay games to keep people playing them or replaying them, most weren't designed as a story focused experience to finish but as a thing to get high scores in or ones most people would never finish as opposed to developers creating story driven experiences that they wanted you to reach the end of. Fighting games or beat em up games with massively overpowered bossed unless you happen to know the exact strategy after dying 500 times or watching someone else do it. Even story driven adventure games frequently had multiple fail states or nonsensical puzzles made more difficult than they had to be to create a longer experience or score systems, even upsetting some of the most hardcore players at times, and a lot of players were happy to leave those kinds of systems behind.

 

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While it is true that more people play games now than ever, I wouldn't say that the games that are available offer more variety to the late 90s or early 2000s. There is no denying that FPS games for example have become more samey in comparison to the 90s. I can provide all kinds of examples of classic games from the 90s that we do not have a modern equivalent of.

With the large number of Doom and Quake clones I wouldn't say modern FPS games are anymore similar to each other now than they were in the past, even less so in the last couple years, but I don't mean different ways to shoot things as a different kind of experience. I mean playing games purely for story, to relax, to explore an environment, to play titles that explore real world issues rather than something to offer challenging gameplay, a more emotion focused experience. I don't mean that no games that offered those things existed in the past, I mean you are more likely to find more of those games and people looking for those games compared to the majority of old titles and looking for a wider variety of coverage on the subjects.

 

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This is true, but I have found that games from older eras often were designed around some mechanical limitations. Starcraft is a classic example where the game is balanced in part by things like it's path-finding limitations.

I'm referring more to Halo releasing in 2001, everyone loves Halo, it gets huge sales and awards, so developers and publishers want to give everything some kind of regenerating health system. Killswitch and Gears of War has a cover system where you can just hide behind cover and wait to shoot at enemies, Gears of War sells well and gets awards, so now publishers want cover systems. A large number of even oldschool gamers were sick of "moon logic" adventure game puzzles so Telltale starts mostly removing those elements to just leave the story in, everyone loves The Walking Dead, it sells well and wins awards, so now that becomes the main way to design those games for a lot of studios. Why don't console games have quick load and quick save features and ways for people to save their progress when they might need to leave in their busy lives, now checkpoints are around every corner. The features people wanted and the games that ended up becoming such a major part of game culture or even culture beyond games naturally pushed features that would make them easier.

 

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You may have a bit of a point here, it would make sense that devs would want us to see as much of their work as possible, but even in the 90s we had impressive worlds and stories, some of which are still considered legendary to gamers like Final Fantasy VI and VII.

Right, but I'm talking about why things like that would lead to easier games and how that relates to an idea of journalists leading to a decline in game complexity make sense. We had things like Planescape, Baldurs Gate, Betrayal at Krondor, Fallout 1 and 2, other CRPGs and those games typically offered a challenge (obviously not Planescape) and more complex mechanics, but those went away more because of publishers, loss of the companies that created them, and lower sales until they started making a comeback but we had a large number of modern journalists frequently talking about those kind of games and including them on lists of being the best games ever made and recommending them so.

 

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While these games are solid games, I am reminded of games like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Morrowind. Both of which were praised and still are praised for the same things and instead are products of the early 2000s. With regards to what you have said in the end, I would argue that while AAA games have gotten less complex as a whole, the same cannot really be said for the Indie market. There is a reason why ultra-realistic and complex games like Squad (and its Project Reality mod predecessor) are so popular. There is a reason why Paradox (one of the very few publishers that still has ultra complex games) is doing so well.

That's true again, but those are games that modern journalists and ones during the time where you say things were getting easier, were praising (I think I only really read one preview of Squads where the guy got himself involved with a very series group of players who treat it in a more real military fashion and he talked about the game being enjoyable and working really well for the niche kind of group).

Obviously, examples can be found of industry trends starting at earlier times or applying to older games but the least true that the few examples I listed could be is being just as true now as in the past, and if those are listed as a reasons for why the industry would naturally shift to games that are often more easily completable then I don't see how listing products that journalists frequently praise is any kind of example of poor gameplay skilled journalists being a cause of easier games to the extent that it makes sense as an issue to call out or to worry about.

 

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My main concern as said in the video are game critics who outright think it is bad for a game to be made for a niche audience.

If anything after all the sites I frequent and other content I see I would look at that as less of a game critic or journalists problem and more of a Youtuber one with a large number of the more popular Youtube channels looking at entire genres, story types, and mechanics as a thing to be ridiculed. Total Biscuit was just saying the makers of Hellblade were stupid and anti-consumer for making a choice that fit the game for their audience and narrative and that's the kind of thing that gets a hell of a lot more attention and leads to a lot of angry people complaining about a developers vision for their game than a Venture Beat video posted as a joke. 

 

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Seems what I've suggested is looking less and less theory and much more plausible.

Of course game journalism, reviews, criticism could lead to changes in design decisions but making games easier over an assumption that a lot of them are bad at games is still a major stretch, even more so when so many companies have people testing games in house identifying these same kinds of problems for larger studios. In this case we don't even know what they changed, the logical assumption would be menu layout/tutorial/popups information/system to automate level ups/etc. Then when you consider that Mass Effect 1 was a mess mechanically, with a pointless loot system, upgrades that did almost nothing and wasted time, guns that all behaved the same just with different stats and some color changes, grenades that a lot of people (including me) didn't even know existed until the part where you got that gas to knock out infected people, game breaking overpowered skills with Lift and Throw. Since the later games ended up increasing character, weapon, and enemy variety over time it would be very unlikely that they removed features or useful complexity over one lone reviewer missing things, even more unlikely with all the positive reviews and sales.

Even that aside, the developers need to be given more credit than that, whatever they changed was clearly something they wanted to change or that they thought they could improve on. Some reviews and criticisms developers are going to think makes sense or highlights an area they can improve and some if it is going to be ignored. Arkane said they noticed their poor portrayal of women in Dishonored 1 based on criticism and wanted to change that, Lionhead got death threats and demands to remove gay relationships and black characters in letters and magazines and Peter said he went out of his way to do the opposite. Bioware isn't going to hear one guy say they didn't bother to navigate their menus and remove features people enjoyed because of it. If Cuphead was earlier in development they would likely change their tutorial based on this too, because it lead to developers and testers talking about how and why it was a bad tutorial outside of the conversation about Dean.

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I'm going to be honest here and I do think that this expectation of game journalists being good at games is a wrong one, (I'll explain why later) this particular example is an issue and why I feel it is case dependent.  For example Life is Strange is a story based game where the gameplay is based on dialogue choices, there is clearly no skill involved at all and its still an engaging and even challenging experience.  A reviewer may like this game or not but the skill level is totally irrelevant.

 

Nevertheless it is definitely worth noting that someones opinion about a game is influenced by the difficulty and that can be a case by case scenario.  For example I HATE shadow of Mordor because I played the game a certain way.  This being the seemingly intended way by interrogating enemies, finding out weaknesses and exploiting them. As a result my experience was a piss easy bore fest where is was much more fun for those who chose the more "difficult" route by charging in like Idiots! In that game it was the ones that played smarter that got punished.....  It got rave reviews...... but at least for me it fucking sucked.

 

I would expect a game journalist to be competent at the game they are playing at the skill level that the game requires in order to beat the campaign.  For an online competitive game you should check more skilled players who know more about balance and so on.  This is one particular game where the critic didn't get a hold of how the game is supposed to be played and that should clearly be taken into consideration.....  but shouldn't that be taken into consideration for ANY game review in that case?

 

A game journalists opinion is no more or less relevant depending on their individual skill, it's their recollection of the gaming experience.  It's whether that particular journalist's opinion based on what they are telling you as well as their skill at the game in question is ACTUALLY something you consider relevant as a consumer and for me this varies greatly depending on the game.  Would I expect a critic to have at least an average amount of skill when reviewing something Overwatch....  Yes.  Since that is the competitive market that it plays to and other aspects like the non-existent story and the lacklustre graphics are much less relevant.  The relevant aspects of criticism applied to something like Rise of the Raider which an offline action RPG designed to feast the eyes and immerse you it's it's world, story and characters and so on are elements that are not relevant in Overwatch like the skill level of the critic much less relevant here.

 

To sum it up, read/watch MULTIPLE reviews!  Never take just on or even two journalists word for it and look for consistent patterns.

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