On MMO Reviews – Why I Think They’re ‘Mostly’ Pointless

May 13, 2010

I remember when Assassin’s Creed 2 came out, I was hesitant to give it a shot. The hype surrounding it made me curious, but I had found the original game a little too tedious for my tastes. It was the many glowing reviews I read on gaming sites, saying that the second installment was in many ways better than the first game, that finally led me to pick it up for the Xbox360. And I’m glad I did. It rocked.

But that was a single player game. Everyone who plays it gets to be Ezio Auditore da Firenze (you, sir, win first prize in the sexiest name contest), we’re all taken through the same story where we all essentially make the same decisions, solve the same puzzles, kill the same targets, yadda yadda yadda, get the same ending. I can read any reviewer’s take on AC2 and have a general idea of what to expect, and know right away if it’s a game I’ll like or not.

MMORPGs, on the other hand, are another story. To be honest, I don’t care much for reading MMO reviews on the big game sites, though I’ll still scan them from time to time just to see what IGN or Gamespot etc. thinks. On launch day of the Age of Conan Rise of the Godslayer expansion, I went to check out the Eurogamer review only to see that they had already decided to withdraw it because they were “not completely satisfied that it meets the standards expected of MMO reviews.”

I wasn’t sure what happened exactly, but seeing that message did bring back memories of their Darkfall review scandal last year and of the more recent Global Agenda review snafu by GameSpot. The reviewer for RotGs may or may not have played enough to give a fair review and there were allegedly a few tidbits of misinformation in the article, but the fact that I don’t know what the deal was makes me feel a little conflicted on this. So someone on a game review site has a negative opinion on an MMO, why all the rage in the comments? I would take it with a grain of salt.

First of all, it takes a lot of time to properly explore an MMO. GameSpot for one has a “30 hour policy” but I personally don’t think that’s enough either. I would argue that a true experience takes days or even weeks. But maybe that’s a bit of an unrealistic expectation from a game site, and as such I wouldn’t read too much into any MMO review article.

More importantly though, I think the variety of MMORPGs on the market have given rise to many types of online gamers all seeking ways to satisfy their different play styles. Whether you’re a PVPer, raider, explorer, achiever, collector, solo-er, casual, hardcore, crafter, RPer, or whatever, the fact of the matter is, no one is going to have exactly the same experience in an MMO, nor would they have the same expectations. That’s the beauty of the genre.

And that’s why I personally won’t rely on a game site review to decide whether or not I want to try a particular MMO. Single-player games, fine. But for MMOs, it’s not like I’ll be familiar with some random reviewer’s play style and preferences, or know from which angle they’ll be looking at the game features. For those kinds of insights, I prefer to turn to personal blogs. Generally, I find my fellow bloggers’ personal experiences with their MMOs over time to be more revealing in terms of what to expect.

Still, in the end, everyone is entitled to an opinion, even a Eurogamer reviewer! I could care less if he gave RotGs a negative review, I’d still have liked to see another person’s take on it, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. It would have been a shame if the review was taken down solely due to the backlash in the comments. Rabid fans can just get any bad review retracted if that’s the case, and that’s no good. On the other hand, if it was indeed taken down for legit reasons…say, if they had tried to rush the review by only giving the expansion a go for like, two hours…then I say, boo to him.


  1. Yeah I have to agree, it’s not about how much time you put into a review of an mmorpg. How do you measure the main content of these games, other people?

    that said, when did this guy find time to play it? did he have early access? I thought the servers were down for hours upon hours.

    • Good question. I looked at it Tuesday afternoon and it was already down, and that’s when the game servers weren’t even up yet. I guess the review was based on beta? I didn’t even care if it wasn’t a good review, I really did want to look at it and see what he had to say.

  2. Check out the comments, particularly #24. It looks like their review of RotG was exactly like the snafus mentioned in your post.

    • That’s probably true. And apparently, according to some of the comments the reviewer doesn’t even like AoC and made that very clear. So letting him write the review for the expansion was probably a poor choice.

      But still, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He may or may not have played a lot during the beta. At least for Darkfall and Global Agenda, they were able to back it up with logs to show that the reviewers didn’t even play the game at all.

      I guess it’s a moot point though, because I also see in the comments some people pointing out the fact the author wrote some inappropriate and unclassy things. They’re right in that case. Quotes like “They should have rolled with it and made Age of Conan: Conan vs. Communism” are asinine and have no place in a game review.

  3. A very cool games journalist mentioned on Twitter that they got beta access plus a NPC that could level them up to each level they desired and possibly other things as well. But he made himself the rule not to review a beta. Even if this means the review takes weeks longer. Which is a problem in this business. People want a thorough review, but they also want it on the day of release.

    My personal take on games reviews is that I gave up on them some 20 years ago. I dropped print magazines first and then focused on Gamespot.com, but dropped this one as well. They made a AoC launch day event and had no clue about the game at all and got constantly hints and corrections from fans on IRC or on their forum while the show was broadcast! 😉

    The multiplicity of the blogosphere with fanboys, haters and all the shades between and their commentators are simply ideal to get an impression of a MMO. But Community Managers noticed this as well, the courtship of dedicated and always positive fanboy blogs is a direct result.

    I don’t need any of that. It is enough for me to read what people like you blog or tweet about the game.

    I often think games magazines should not so much focus on reviews but rather on providing game related news, like where to get this or that bonus offer, what new mechanics this or that game seems to offer and all that.

    Interestingly, I have talked to some games journalists, and many would like to drop the “scores” of 6/10 or 60%, A+/A/B, Stars, etc.. But guess what, the stupid noob gamer fanboy wants them. Young gamers often tend to have such a phase, and if you bash or only slightly underrate their favorite game, the reviewer gets eaten alive by a Kindergarten of cannibals.

    • That’s what I figured this reviewer did, get beta access and leveled to 80 to check out the new content. That’s a very smart move on behalf of that game journalist you mentioned! Not reviewing a beta when things are still incomplete or up in the air, I gotta respect that.

      Overall reviews on MMOs are also usually too general for my tastes anyway. I’d rather see specific details or information on certain features, which similar to what you mentioned.

    • I agree Longasc. Who need reviews?! and LOL “eaten alive by a Kindergarten of cannibals”

  4. I personally get a lot more out of previews from bloggers than most reviews. That said, PC gamer tends to have pretty informative MMO reviews.

    • You said it. And I’ve never read a PC Gamer MMO review, I’ll look into it next time. They’ve always been a pretty reputable source though, so I could believe it.

      • PC Gamer has started to include more MMO coverage the last few issues. I think they finally figured out they were missing half of the PC gamer scene. 🙂

        The articles and reviews have been decent. I still prefer blogger reviews since I can get a better idea of how their tastes line up with mine and therefore how accurate a review is to what I’d enjoy.

  5. The problem is that not only are the experiences of a MMO player very subjective (depending so much on whether or not you have a good guild or server or play with or make new friends) but also that 30 hours is still a drop in the pond. For instance, it takes 10 hours just to get out of Tortage in AoC! It’s nothing.

    • Hear hear. I’ll read any reviewer’s take on any game, even when it comes to MMOs, but I’ll take what’s said at face value. A proper MMO will have too much content, there’s just no way to get all the information to make an informed decision.

  6. […] thinks MMO reviews are pointless. Shhh, don’t get Eurogamer […]

  7. I think 30 hours is more than plenty. The way I see it, there are four possibilities in the matrix:

    Game is flat-out bad: review will be bad, and will be correct

    Game is great: review will be good, and will be correct

    Game starts out bad, but gets better: review will be bad, and will be somewhat unfair. But I don’t care. I don’t want to play through 30 hours of bad game to get to the good stuff.

    Game starts out good, but gets worse: review will be good, and will be inaccurate. But you’ll still get 30 hours of good gameplay out of the game, which is not unreasonable.

  8. A bit of zombie posting here, but I’m catching up on my RSS reading after being off to a conference for a week.

    The solution to MMO reviews is simple, but labor-intensive: blogs. Have the reviewer write a blog about their experiences in the game. This gives you a good feel for the game, especially the early content. This is what one of my favorite game review sites, GamersInfo.net, has done. (Caveat: I’ve written reviews, and a few MMO blog reviews, for the site.)

    The problem, as I said, is that this is more labor-intensive. It’s uncertain how to make it so that the extra effort this requires results in enough income. Perhaps if you had a really good review that people kept returning to, you’d get a lot more ad views, I guess.

    A thought from an MMO developer.

    • Sorry, for some reason wordpress marked your comment as spam and I didn’t see it until just now.

      Reviewing a game as a blog would be a fantastic idea, it would be like an online diary of the reviewer through the world of the game, every activity he or she partakes in would be on record with their experiences and thoughts outlined in context. If only things could be like this, but like you said, it’ll be too labor intensive, too much work for the amount of pay one would probably get for doing it. Oh well, no matter what I guess we’ll still have personal blogs 🙂

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