Quite an eventful week as far as blogging arguments go, with the mud-slinging being flung as hard as possible, mostly by me of course. With all of the hoo-ha surrounding whether bloggers should attempt to be honest with their readers and hold to some form of integrity, I was pondering yesterday over a number of rounds of excellent Australian beer whether or not it is possible for the videogame industry, and the MMO genre in particular, to have a vibrant and critical journalism attached to it. Consider some other popular forms of entertainment that have risen over the last century. Film, television, and music all have two common attributes which encourage the written critical form: they are easy to digest, and they are released in a complete form.
If you wish to review an album, a film, or a television show, you will at most have to invest a couple of hours of your time in what is a passive involvement. All you have to do is sit and watch and/or listen, and while doing so you can begin to formulate your response to the material. A video game is a different beast, however. The reviewer cannot approach the material in a passive way. They must learn the game, and progress to a decent level within the content in order to be able to write a fair and satisfactory review. Single player games were a little easier in this regard in the past, as the game was released in its complete form, and reviews could be written with the first two hours of gameplay in mind. But today’s games are released incomplete with a barrage of patching waiting in the months following to fix and form the final product. Is it even worth reviewing Civ V now when the game may look completely different in 12 months time?
Which leads us to the MMO genre. Here are games which evolve by the month, even by the week, with continual changes and patches, both driven by the developers and also at times by the players themselves. How does one write a traditional review with its accompanying 5 star or percentage of 100 rating system to a product whose development never ends? A game could begin badly and then get better, it could begin well and then get worse. At which point do you write your review, and at which point would it be more relevant? The technical aspects of the genre itself limit written appraisal and criticism in the traditional way.
The preceding years have not helped very much either. Some of the gaming magazines with the biggest circulation are written by the game companies themselves, such as Xbox magazine or PS magazine. Imagine if this was the case in the music or film industries. I can’t imagine that there would be many bad reviews. On top of this it appears that the single most important factor with an MMO in determining its worth as a game is by how many subscribers it has. If we take this across to the film or music industries then this would mean that Titanic is one of the best movies of all time and that Whitney Houston is genius incarnate.