To the best of my recollection, it has been at least five years since I last reviewed an MMOG. In addition, I believe that I never wrote one where I assigned a score, whether numerical or alphabetic. To summarize my reasons, I was never a fan of the entire system for any genre, but my concerns were more and bigger when it came to MMOGs. Eventually, I became dissatisfied enough to opt out.
When I saw Jon Wood’s piece last Friday, it definitely struck a chord with me. I basically agree with the various issues he brought up; aside from quite possibly having grown in magnitude over the past half-decade, they seem pretty much the same. Sadly, I don’t hold out much hope that they’ll be fixed or even significantly addressed – maybe by this site, but does anyone out the really think the entire review system will be meaningfully better any time soon?
Furthermore, I’m of the opinion that the status quo works even worse for free to play releases. The reasons are mainly of a practical nature. One is simply that reviewing any MMOG in a reasonably thorough manner takes a substantial amount of time. There’s no universal agreement as to what constitutes “reasonably thorough”, which obviously affects duration required for a particular game. So does the nature of the play; in the same number of hours, you can get much better pictures of some than of others. Oh, and did I mention that other factors like play styles, class choice et al that can introduce even more variance?
To make thing easy, let’s arbitrarily say 50 to 70 hours is enough. Okay, all those who are knowledgeable enough to write reviews and willing to put this much time into a game that probably isn’t very visible, raise your hand. In case it hasn’t occurred to you, staff tend to get first choice, and unsurprisingly, they’re inclined to pick the higher-profile titles, which means many an F2P isn’t reviewed because no one suitable wants the assignment.
What’s that? You’d like to be paid? Sure. How about $25? Or maybe $50, if you’re lucky? How much can you reasonably expect to receive for a review of a F2P that doesn’t have a particularly wide interest base? At some publications, the going rate is apparently $0. Although they may occasionally get pieces from people willing to do a couple for nothing to get the proverbial foot in the door, this approach is likely to be highly inconsistent.
The snapshot nature of even the best reviews is another issue. How accurate can a one-time picture be when it’s of a game that continuously evolves and grows? While it’s certainly arguable, a case can be made that this is larger concern for F2Ps because they’re easier for players to leave – no waiting for paid-up time to end. If they feel a greater onus to evolve at a pace offering fewer obvious exit opportunities, this could mean static snapshots go out of date more rapidly.
Community represents another possible problem area. I’ve never seen anyone make a credible argument that it isn’t a highly important aspect of the overall player experience. Indeed, its significance is very widely recognized, even so far as to be taken for granted. To my mind, that means it’s a critical part of the game, including the portion that’s actually external. But how many times have you seen an MMOG review provide an in-depth look at it? About the most you’re likely to see is a brief mention of guild elements, if that.
F2P communities can be harder to assess consistently because most are attached to games with smaller player populations. That tends to mean they have fewer leaders, which opens the door to the possibility their respective personalities can change more and faster; all it takes is a small number of influencer departing and/or arriving. This may be further compounded if, as some believe, F2P user bases are less sticky; i.e. that they have higher turnover rates.
Unfortunately, I don’t see any remotely practical solutions that would ma ke the review situation much better for MMOGs in general or F2Ps in particular. That said, finding more capable reviewers would be a step in a positive direction. Is anyone out there up to the challenge? If so, Jon Wood might be interested in hearing from you. A quick word of warming though – reviewing games isn’t nearly as easy as some people who’ve never tried make it out to be. This is especially true of MMOGs, and even more so if your goal is to raise the bar above the current industry standard.