Sunday, May 8, 2011

Game Criticism

Danc, over at Lost Garden has a furious criticism of game criticism online. Let me say first that I do hate stupid game reviews as much as anybody. Most prominently, the kind of player-designer perspective mix that goes along the lines of: "If you make me more powerful in the game I'll have more fun".

I also hate all the developers who repeat again and again that they are themselves "gamers" and how much they focus on the gamer point of view. A good game is created by an enthusiastic game designer, not an enthusiastic player! That doesn't mean that you should ignore your customers, it just means to interpret their opinions very, very, .. very! carefully.

Having said this, I do disagree with Danc. For good criticism, you don't need to know how to make a game, organize all the different parties involved, manage the budget, please the investors, write good code, etc. Even if Blizzard has used 7 years on polishing and balancing Starcraft 2, that doesn't make me more fond of it - and it shouldn't. Sure, they might have complete numerical simulations and sophisticated mathematical models to balance the game; impressive. And still not worth more than a single statement in a good review.

Game design is the top level of this art. You don't need to know in detail how stuntmen work to make an action movie - you have specialists for that. I don't need to know how much time and money and effort Blizzard spent on their voice-chat to know that it was a waste of time on the PC platform and why.

I also don't always need empirical evidence. That's not only impossible to get at a statistically meaningful magnitude, but also useless most of the time: 679 of 1000 players like third person perspective more than first person perspective? I bet this would change drastically depending on which was the last game your audience has played!

I also don't need to read all the stuff of the past. Let's face it: Game design is an impossibly broad subject. A criticism of Civilization is a completely different thing than a criticism of Rift. You don't ask a professional boxer to comment fencing, either. Also, the more academic work is mostly quite useless in practice.

Now, I do agree with lots of points Danc brings forward and I really do suggest to read his blog. But this post being a criticism of a criticism of game criticism, I focused on the few parts I wanted to criticize.

On a side note: I quite agree that you shouldn't introduce yourself as a "PhD candidate and a pretty smart guy". That's just silly.


  1. I read his article last night, and could only shake my head. The entire thing can be summed up as: "I want everybody to write for meeeeeee!". Which is, of course, silly.

    There is a place for game critics who write pieces that game developers can appreciate, but they are (and should be!) the minority.

    Game critics should be writing for fans of the medium, not its creators.

  2. I agree, Andrew. There's also a very good comment on his own side about this.

    But it is more in my opinion. The reason I get angry about this, is that he basically criticizes me (among others). And I think he is wrong with this critizism. What I wrote is occasionally useful for game developers. Call me arrogant.

    Take this blog. I have never made a (serious) game. I have no statistics whatsoever. I have read some interesting theory about games in the past, but most high-quality papers are grey theory, in my opinion. Case studies, on the other hand, are usually not abstract enough to be interesting.

    Listening to a game designer about his experience making games is like listening to a politician talking about his life: entertaining and sometimes even interesting, but not high-quality content.

    I fail about 50% of his criteria. And still I think that a post like this one, is very useful for game designers.

  3. Actually I read it and thought rather than "I want everybody to write for me" what he's really saying is "I want everbody who writes to be like me".

    He's silly, agreed. His definition of game designers as the only valid critics seems based on his very tenuous claim to be a game designer when all his company does is re-hash puzzle games from other platforms for the Kindle which lacks them.

    And a consultant? BWA HA HA at anyone paying this guy consultancy fees to advise them how to make a MMO.