It's OK To Criticize The Games We Love
Part of any journalist's job is to be opinionated. We have opinions, we want to share them and we believe that we’re always right. That doesn’t mean that we are in fact always right, but anything we put out into the world wide web is with our own personal stamp of approval. Does that mean you’re free to challenge that decision? Absolutely and we hope that you do. But what always amazes me is how personal players in the communities of the games you’re speaking about take criticism. I’m not suggesting all do, but there’s a vast majority (I really don’t like the word fan boy) who will, to their dying breath, defend the game they hold dear.
I’ve written a couple of articles recently that involved WildStar and Guild Wars 2. Neither were particularly positive issues with the former involving WildStar’s current status as a subscription game now that 60 staff have been removed (as well as a few other issues) while the latter involved its #Gemgate scandal (a phrase I didn’t coin) and how ArenaNet are encouraging further spending through manipulation of the trading post. Both of these issues I felt were important enough to editorialise and both of these issues personally affected me. They affected me, not because of my job, but because both games fill a great deal of my recreational time.
What I found interesting about the fallout from these two articles was the fact that several people felt I was "cashing" in on the issue. My favourite reply being: "TenTonHammer have always followed the flow and posted articles in order to gain as much clicks as possible." These comments are frustrating because it’s a no-win situation for those of us in this industry. We have to fall on one side of the argument, especially if we have a particular fondness of the product in discussion. If we don’t, we’re called out on it for being too neutral and if we avoid something as serious as #Gemgate, we aren't current. In the circumstance of WildStar and Guild Wars 2, I’ve invested a significant amount of time and money in both games. I purchased both games out of my own pocket and certainly in the case of WildStar, have probably spent well over £150 in total if counting the box, 4 months subscription and 5 CREDD. Similarly with Guild Wars 2, I’ve lost count at the amount of money I’ve spent on two boxed copies (one for me and my brother) as well as Gems over the course of two years. I’d like to think that that gives me as much of a say about either game as the next person. This isn't about following the flow, it's about being the first on the scene discussing game issues that affect us.
Investing in a game doesn’t make ones opinion any more right or wrong in comparison to the next person and I’d hope that many of the editorials I’ve recently spawned don’t come across in that way, but the reason why I’m so willing to throw criticism at the games I play is because I care. It might be my job to pull games apart and criticize them where necessary but it’s also part of my job to praise them when it’s due. More annoying than anything however is when a playerbase fails to embrace an idea or point of view and instead of discussing it rationally, they’ll go for the jugular (abusively) because it’s the easiest thing to do, rather than sensibly defend the game they love.
Whether you work in the videogame industry or not, we all have a responsibility to hold developers to account and give an honest opinion of the games we play. I always imagine myself as a new player to a game when I join a sub-Reddit or forum (even if I’ve played the game lots) and find the slant of certain communities fascinating. To stick with Guild Wars 2 as an example, it’s sub-Reddit is frighteningly negative to the point where any prospective buyer would think the game is the worst in the world. In contrast, the WildStar sub-Reddit is surprisingly positive and upbeat. Neither, in my view, have the correct consensus on the product and they both fail to offer an objective viewpoint for anyone new or researching a possible return.
If the genre is ever to progress from where it currently is, I feel strongly that we have to remove the kid gloves and be as honest as humanly possible. While I won’t point out specific websites and their coverage, there are some in the industry that would never dare truly criticize the products they cover for fear of being cut off by the developer. I’m of the opinion that any developer worth covering should embrace such criticism (as long as it’s valid rather than baseless). In a recent discussion with ArenaNet, Bobby Stein asked me what my opinions of the Living World story were and, being my usual self, I was brutally honest (I do really love the new Season). He said he really appreciated that I was still willing to do that because it allowed ArenaNet as a company to improve (Bobby and I began to talk professionaly after an editorial I wrote about the games acting and lip synching). After all, no company is ever going to get better if everyone always tells them they’re perfect.
I can fully understand why certain individuals feel the need to defend their game because for many, it might be their one true love. I know if I ever heard a bad word said about Neocron, I’d probably flip-my-shit and I’d do so because I have incredibly fond memories of the game that are (likely) clouded. But when I look at certain games receiving so little criticism that’s both deserving and obvious, it does frustrate me. Players are free to look past those flaws (I did so with many of the issues in WildStar) but individuals also shouldn’t be quick to blindly defend them.
Fortunately for me and our readers, tower Hammer will always criticize and praise. Whether or not people agree is a totally different matter.