29 Dec 2011

Questions To You: On Criticism

As we move into the new year I wanted to take some time to pose a handful of meta-questions. Instead of doing my usual role of talking about MMOs, I wanted to get some feedback from you on some broader questions. I’ll have a handful of these over the next week, with the first one about criticism – what is its role and when does it start becoming excessive?

There’s a great many things that I like about the current crop of MMOs, the community that surrounds them and the culture that they promote. By the same token there’s a whole bunch of things that I’m not a fan of – behaviour, poor design and unengaging content being a few. That whole edge-point should provide great critical blog-fodder for years.

This is a bit of a tricky topic that I’m trying to handle carefully, so I apologise in advance if I mess up slightly on this one. One of the easiest and yet hardest things I find as a blogger is about being critical. When is it right to be critical, what’s the right level to aim for? Am I being harsh or unfair? Are my claims defensible?

Am I being fairly critical of a game, or am I just bashing it relentlessly?

My personal definition of bashing is being unreasonably critical of a game, ignoring all the positives that it also has to offer. This would be like a reviewer only focusing on the negative aspects – it would be completely one sided. It’s also something that I try to avoid doing.

This leads on to another problem.

Most of the stuff that I write about is a close-up on a particular part of an MMO, such as how a feature works or what the impact of a particular change is. I’m usually fairly critical about the subject, occasionally offering my opinion on how I’d fix the issue it presents. The trouble is, unless I provide some context to my criticism, it sounds like I’m just having a dig.

And if most of my articles cover the game I’m currently playing, it sounds like I’m bashing it. So how do I make sure that I’m fair and balanced in what I write?

Should MMOs get a grace period of a couple of months post-launch to work out any kinks and get their house in order? My own view is this is what beta testing is for – collecting feedback and refining the game instead of using it as a publicity stunt just before launch. That said, I do think that there’s value in giving a rounded first-impression post NDA, as well as a balanced review one month after the game goes live.

I don’t like to whine about the games we play (unless it’s March 17th). I want them to improve, for the MMO genre to evolve and continue to amaze us in unexpected ways. I love it when developers and designers respond to player criticism, and it’s one of the motivations behind what I do. But if I’m being unfair or unreasonable then call me out on it. I’m not trying to bash games into the ground.

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