RE: Mistakes

I’ve been thinking more about what I wrote earlier this week, on Quintin Smith’s pulled Eurogamer review. A few things have changed, granted: the actual review has been reposted elsewhere, Kieron Gillen commented on my blog and challenged my opinions (in a good way!), and the baleful gaze of RPS turned toward my humble little site.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that what I first wrote about Smith’s piece was unfair. I straight up accused Smith of not understanding the context of his subject material. Having not read Smith’s full review, my stance on the subject can be summed up as “ironic” if you’re generous, “hypocritical” if you’re not.

Because, in context, Smith’s comments make alot more sense. He admits that he’s not a current AoC player and that he knows little about the franchise. He sums up alot of the bewilderment a new player who has suddenly been forced to play a max-level character – just what do all these rows do? I’ve also heard that writers don’t get the chance to make the captions for their articles, so that those asinine “Conan vs. Communism” and “East is Worst” comments might not have been Smith’s doing.

But this isn’t a mea culpa on my part, because the fact is, I’ve still got issues with how the review was handled.

No editor in their right mind would assign a review of a World of Warcraft expansion to someone who has not seriously played the game before. Why, in God’s Green Earth, is it acceptable to assign an AoC rookie to cover the game’s expansion?

There is one good answer, and it’s one that Smith calls on: alot of people with little-to-no Conan knowledge are currently thinking about (re)subbing to Age of Conan. In this regard, Smith comes across as the Everyman, the “I’m-new-at-this-too” reviewer.

The problem is that what Smith has been asked to review isn’t new player content – he doesn’t make a new character and play them through Tortage, and into the new Gateway to Khitai zone, and then into the level 80+ zones. He’s given a pre-made level 80 character and told to run around some. On a beta client, for that matter. No wonder he found the game simultaneously boring and confusing.

Repeating my sentiments from the first piece, I think that MMOs should be reviewed in a significantly different way than other video games are. The best analogy I’ve been able to conceive is the difference between movie reviews and television reviews.

Movies are short, self-contained and discrete experiences, not unlike most video games. Granted, videos games can run anywhere between twice to ten or more times as long as a movie, but I think that’s a difference of degree, not of kind. Sometimes movies, like video games, have a sequel; sometimes they develop into a franchise.

When compared to movies, television series are long-term affairs, and their viewing experience is spread out over months. When a new show is released, alot of attention is paid to the pilot; if that pilot fails to entertain, that’s a black mark on the show’s record. But shows undergo change over time, getting better (or worse) with each subsequent episode. And when an individual episode is reviewed, it’s discussed on two different levels – its own merits, and how it can be integrated with the experience-at-large of the television show as a whole.

A new season premier offers viewers and newcomers a chance to come together, to start things over – just like MMO expansions. But the one thing a good newsite definitely should not do is have a novice viewer review the second season premier, a novice whose only knowledge of the show was its crappy first pilot.

And I think that’s what happened here, with Eurogamer and Rise of the Godslayer.

One last thing, before the comments of “tl;dr”. I don’t know why Eurogamer took the review down. The review has problems, sure (IMO, obviously) – but they are problems endemic to trying to release an MMO review the day before the game goes live. I disagree with Smith’s opinions, but at the end of the day, his opinions make sense and can be argued for.

Is it censorship, like Mário Figueiredo states? Well, in so far as it is Eurogamer censoring itself, yes. But I think Figueiredo’s wrong to say that the article was taken down simply because of a page of comments calling for its removal – it’s the internet, guys, and people say mean things on it all the time.

I think that Eurogamer was burned by its coverage of Darkfall, and is understandably wary of claims that a reviewer didn’t “do his research.” But that isn’t the case here, and it’s unfortunate Eurogamer ended up making the news the news when they pulled it down.

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24 thoughts on “RE: Mistakes

  1. Here we run into another problem with reviews in general. How the reviewer feels about the subject of the review, regardless of their experience with past versions, has little bearing on how the reader of the review will actually feel about the subject. Works that are praised by “critics” frequently (most of the time?) fail financially, while works panned by critics prove wildly successful. And whether they are successful or not, the individual may feel the work well worth playing or watching.

    I’ve rambled. Sorry. I guess ultimately I think it it’s much ado about nothing.

  2. Regardless of who wrote the caption, it still turns me off. Personally having family (my grandparents and mother, namely) who escaped from the horrors of communist China, I can’t find humor in any flippant joke about the subject. Joke or no joke, any publication should realize those things can undermine the content of their article. But that’s just me personal opinion, and I’m well aware of that. Others can defend it all they want, or think it’s a riot, and that’s their prerogative.

    But that one silly caption aside, now that I’ve read the original review too, I’m glad I didn’t jump to conclusions. Like I said in my post, I could care less if RotGs got a negative review, I like seeing other people’s take on it. I’m a fan of AoC myself, but I would be upset if the review got taken down because of the backlash in the comments (calls for “bloodletting” as a comment put it in your other post). I knew most of the comments came from angry AoC fans and as such, that’s why I didn’t think it was fair to judge the review without reading it based on them alone. I always like to get both sides of the story straight before I judge.

    The review, I think, is fine. Not all that fair, maybe, but fine nonetheless (it’s an opinion piece…there’s no right or wrong) Maybe leading in telling people he didn’t know much about AoC in the first place wasn’t the best idea, because opinion or not, I expect a reviewer to be at least informed of the game they’re reviewing.

    Despite the general dismal tone of the review, he did throw out a few good points. His comments about the AA system and disapproval of the lack of new levels is understandable too. As you know, it was the AoC community that decided no new levels would be a good thing, and I believe Funcom listened. However, someone new to the game or unaware of the wider gaming community out there would probably have thought the same thing as the author. With so many expansions out these days offering new level caps, it’s not unfeasible that someone somewhere is asking, “what’s the deal with no new levels?”

    Anyway, I was glad to have been able to read it. I was neutral about the issue before, and I remain neutral about it still.

    • I forgot to add — I am still curious, however, how long the author played the expansion (beta, I assume…not ideal, but I guess it had to do?) before writing the review. If i knew that, I think I would have a better idea of where I stand.

      • Wow, I wish I’d just kept my mouth shut and let you post about it. You said everything I wanted to say, with less words, and were smarter about it. And nicer.

        • I don’t know about “smarter” lol, looking back at it I felt like I was rambling a little. I was trying to give all sides the benefit of the doubt.

          Thinking about your post, I also want to mention you brought up some fantastic points. The review was on the expansion, and admittedly the bulk of its content is for level 80s, but one definitely should not discount Tortage or the lower levels. After all, anyone looking to play RotGs content would have to go through that first. He reviewed the expansion as a person getting an instant 80 to play around Khitai during beta and that’s fine…except he’s trying to inform people who are going to be new or returning to the game, who obviously will not have that same opportunity in the live version. No, their experience in Khitai will come after starting over or continuing where they left off, and that’s the way it should be. The joy of any MMO is in its journey, the progression from a puny level 1 to level cap.

          And now I’ve gone and rambled again…

    • I’m sorry that I’m going to have to argue this – especially when you stress it’s a personal thing – but while I respect the right for you to take offence, I’m going to stress that the joke was so mild that I can’t see any publication I’ve ever written for having a problem with. And if any did, I wouldn’t write for them again.

      Its point is that it’s a ludicrous juxtaposition. When communist China features in so many videogames – usually as an antagonist – it’s even on topic. Referencing a regime doesn’t automatically disrespect its victims.

      It’s the difference between making a joke about Nazi Germany and making a joke about the holocaust, the difference between making a joke about Communist Russia and the Gulags, the difference between making a joke about the American West and joking about the slave trade and Native American genocide, the difference between making a joke about Imperial Britain and the Opium Wars or any of the colonial violence we wrought.

      There is a line here, and whoever wrote the caption was way on the acceptable side.

      KG

      • Whoever wrote the caption forgot to think that feudal China that is a basis for RotGS wasn’t Communist China that came about after the Cultural Revolution in 1966. No matter weather its offensive or culturally insensitive or not its still a dumb comment no matter how you look at it.

        • I was thinking about why that line seemed really off, and I think you’ve got it right there — the fact it really has nothing to do with the game, seems really out of place when you consider the context of RotGS, and as such, the joke falls flat.

          It’s kinda funny that we’re looking at one little caption on an article and debating the crap out of it. I’m ambivalent towards Eurogamer myself, but I’ve seen no shortage of negative opinions directed at them or people taking them less than seriously…and I have to wonder if it’s because of stuff like this.

      • If you looked at my comment, I didn’t say I was offended, though afterward I was 100% sure someone was going to interpret it as such. It was just unfunny. And I think many can agree that it doesn’t add to a review piece. On the other hand, if I was on a dedicated fanfic site reading a story of Conan versus. Mao…I’d probably laugh my ass off.

        I assure you, I’m a lot more thick skinned 🙂
        Sorry for misleading you or anyone else.

        • And I guess to clarify to any future readers of my comment…I was more “perplexed by the presence of the caption than I ever was offended. Ah, ain’t that the million dollar word! I hope that makes sense!

          • No, I understand entirely now. You talking about your family’s history made me surmise you thought the gag was entirely beyond the pale. You just didn’t find it funny, which is fine.

            KG

            • It was simply me trying to explain how growing up a certain way under certain influences can affect how I view a joke as either funny or unfunny, confusing or witty, a turn-off or a golden moment. I didn’t realize injecting a particular bit of my personal history would have thrown interpretations of my comment completely off, but in retrospect I should have, especially given the topic and the way I said it.

              On another note, Mr. Gillen, I admit I hadn’t heard of you until Adventurer Historian mentioned you in his other post. But I found your comments on reviews in the Darkfall article he posted to be very insightful…and then I went to your site and realized you are the current writer for Thor. I haven’t picked up that title since 2007 when Straczynski was writing it (or many comics for that matter, ever since I realized they were becoming too expensive as a hobby) but I have a friend who continuously raves about it and recommends that I consider picking it up again. Just want to throw my congrats to you for success on the comics front.

              • No – with retrospect, understand what you were getting at – and also why I took it the way I did. All is well.

                And thank you. Stepping into JMS’ shoes was an enormously intimidating thing to try to do, and that people seem to be enjoying what I’m up to is is both surprising and gratifying. I’m having far too much fun with it.

                (In fact, I’m only awake now as I’m compulsively flicking through the first eight pages of Thor 611.)

                KG

              • wow. The more I find out about Kieron Gillen, the more I realize that he’s pretty much The Most Awesome Dude Evar.

              • I have an unusual dual-classing, shall we say.

                (I’m phenomenally lucky, it seems. I’m expecting a meteorite to strike me to even it out.)

                KG

  3. I wonder too why the review was pulled. I didn’t play the expansion, but I did try Age of Conan when it launched, and, based on my admittedly skimpy knowledge of the later game, I can find no particular red flag sticking out of Smith’s review. A few sore thumbs, yes – “Conan vs. Communism” – but nothing that could justify taking down the review.

    What’s more, that contentious review of Darkfall by Ed Zitron is still up; Eurogamer just added a brief paragraph to point out that the game had been re-reviewed, and in that case, it was Zitron’s own dedication to playing the game and, yes, his credibility, that were questioned. It was about how long he bothered to play, what he did in the game, and so on, and, even though I never played Darkfall, I don’t think that his answers, or Eurogamer’s, have ever been satisfactory. But the review, in spite of all this, is still on the Eurogamer site.

    In Smith’s case, I don’t have such doubts. He said precisely when he played, how he played, and what were his initial thoughts were about the game. I also saw nothing in that review that could have justified taking it down. Libel? No. Plagiarism? Not to my knowledge. Those embarrassing captions? If Eurogamer is run in the same manner as most publications, I’m pretty sure that the captions were not Smith’s work – something for which the website itself could have been held accountable. If this is the case, Eurogamer has covered its own tracks and Smith ends up as collateral damage, because that short note places the blame on the quality of the review itself. But I don’t think the review is of inferior quality; I’ve seen worse, far worse.

    Another possibility: In the aftermath of the Zitron/Darkfall fiasco, Smith decided to play with all his cards on the table: I don’t know much about Conan, I did not play the original game, Funcom handed me a level-80 character, this was beta, etc. Perhaps, in his striving for transparency, he exposed a little too much of the symbiosis between the gaming press and game publishers to Eurogamer’s liking. This would also imply that Eurogamer did not bother to read Smith’s review before posting it.

    However, I suspect that the real reason is the one suggested by Figueiredo: Eurogamer censored itself to placate its vociferous readers. A short-term gain that will prove harmful to the site in the long term: How can Eurogamer ever be expected to have a backbone when a truly contentious issue arises?

    It would clarify matters a great deal if we knew what “further investigation” Eurogamer made before deciding they were “still not completely satisfied” that the review met “the standards expected of MMO reviews”, but I’m not expecting any disclosure from them.

    • whoa, fantastic response there. I’m really happily surprised at the quality and mature of responses my blog is getting – thank you.

      Yeah, you’ve hit the nail on its head. The Darkfall review is still up, and Smith’s piece was much less controversial. It’s a sad, strange state of affairs, and one we’re probably not going to get more info about, unfortunately.

  4. I think the real question is “who really cares about eurogamer?” Before the darkfall fiasco i never heard of them and now that i know them I still don’t read them. Why do they matter and why do we validate them with this attention?

    • Why do people care you that American film critic saying games cant be art? People care for a variety of reasons and lets be honest its a big name site for reviews.

      • I don’t care what film critics say thats the point. Know it all film critics are no more valid than a site like Eurogamer. Does that make either one of them right? No. Reviews are just a singular persons opinion; especially Eurogamer where i cant see any quantifiable method for reviews. At least film critics go to school and get a degree in the finer aspects of film and all those subtle nuances we may glaze over; what does a gamer reviewer need as credentials? They played WoW?

    • whoa, I did use that word alo… many times! I should, uh, get better at that.

      And I also know that it’s suppose to be two words, but I had a fight with a second grade teacher over its spelling, and so on principle I’ve continued to spell it wrong.

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