Rift – the hook is in the name

First, I’m sure you’ve heard it a dozen times by now, but we now have a Rift release date of March 1, 2011 for North America and March 4th for EU. Pre-order and get into the beta as well as the headstart which begins February 24th.

Anyway, on to the business at hand. After reading a post about the Massively staff’s Rift beta impressions I tweeted:

Reading this post @Massively http://bit.ly/h7bYAg and LOLing at how much Jef Reahard doesn’t get it. Yeah, an hour into Rift it is familiar

I wanted to go into a bit more detail here. Now we’re supposed to accept Reahard as a knowledgeable MMO player, right? He gets paid to share his informed opinion with us. We pay his salary by reading his posts. Here’s what his beta impressions were:

I rolled a Pyromancer in the Defiant beta and spent about an hour running around the initial zone (and fiddling with the UI). That probably doesn’t seem like a lot of time to form an accurate impression, but it was more than enough for me to realize I’ve played this game about a hundred times over the last few years.

That’s not to say Trion doesn’t have a serviceable title on its hands. It’s very pretty and runs well compared to most betas, but I’m already slogging through a couple of on-rails quest grinders and don’t really have the patience for another one. Wake me up when (or actually, if) someone dares to spend this kind of money on a sandbox.

Now I’m not saying Reahard has to like Rift and I’m not saying he isn’t entitled to his opinion. But y’know what? After an hour of playing an MMO you generally aren’t entitled to an informed opinion yet. How could you be? And in the case where a game is named after a significant gameplay feature, and you don’t play enough to even experience that feature, you’re really on thin ice. (In Rift, you can pretty much ignore quests and level up by fighting rifts if you want to. In fact fighting rifts levels you faster if you’re in the midst of an invasion.)

The fact is… fact, not opinion, Reahard hasn’t played this game about a hundred times because there haven’t been that many games that feature large scale open world PvE events. Warhammer has it’s public quests but they don’t even approach the scale of Rift’s rifts. A few games have offered very rare GM run events where an epic mob storms into town and all the players have to cooperate to take it down, but few games have that sort of gameplay as a central system.

If Reahard played only Beta 1 of the game for an hour (he apparently didn’t even get to where he could choose a 2nd soul, which used to be level 5 iirc, though that’s changed now), he should have been professional enough to opt out of the article or, if that wasn’t an option, just admitted that he wasn’t interested enough to play into the main parts of the game. Dismissing Rift after an hour of tutorial quests and a few of the newbie proto-rifts is like dismissing WoW after only experiencing the crafting system. You just haven’t seen the main point of the game.

In general I think this was an ill-advised article overall. These experts are complaining about systems that are being tweaked and improved with every beta. When Krystalle Voecks says “Certain things I experienced on the Rogue drove me nuts (only 30 seconds’ worth of stealth, mobs’ seeming ability to see through stealth anyway, the odd ability to shoot fireballs with my daggers, poor-to-meh gear-availability) and utterly killed the fun for me.” how many of her readers are savvy enough to stop and think “Well, it is beta, maybe those issues will be addressed.”

Read the comments on the article and you’ll see people who’ve opted not to play based on the problems the Massively staff encountered during beta.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been in all three betas. These are not “stress tests” and they aren’t just marketing events (and I know, this is what we expect betas to be these days). Trion has adjusted things in response to player reaction between beta 1 & 2 and radically between beta 2 & 3.

Aside from Reahard, I can’t really fault the rest of the staff. This is the problem with game journalism in general. Players are stupid. They’re not savvy enough to differentiate between a preview and a review. Film critiques don’t go watch a movie before the special effects are done and then post previews talking about how shoddy the special effects are, but game players have this need for game journalists to report what they see, but then don’t take personal responsibility for understanding what the journalists are reporting about.

Put another way, if the journalists don’t report on bugs they see, then the players accuse them of being on the payroll of the game developers. But if the journalists DO report on bugs they see, then the players seize on these reports as a reason to slag on the game, swear off buying it and tell their friends how much the game sucks, never mind that those bugs might be fixed already.

The only solution, IMO, is to avoid this kind of article when a game is in flux.

9 thoughts on “Rift – the hook is in the name

  1. I don’t think we should avoid first impressions — either as journalists or bloggers. First impressions are important, but as long as everyone understand that they’re not lasting impressions or permanent impressions. And I think most intelligent people get that.

    But first impressions serve a purpose to give a taste of what the game is about to others, particularly those who haven’t gotten to play it yet.

    One of the things I like about Massively is that we don’t deliver one final review of these games, because we do understand they’re constantly in flux, which is why we do the columns instead. You have to see the bad in the things you like, and the good in the things you’re not crazy about.

  2. I agree with you in principal but in practice I think this is the problem:

    “but as long as everyone understand that they’re not lasting impressions or permanent impressions. And I think most intelligent people get that.”

    I think you’re giving a good percentage of your readers too much credit, sadly. But I can’t claim to have a better solution, either.

  3. Well, as with game forums, who tends to post comments — happy people who agree or irritable people who disagree? Just what percentage of the nerd rage that goes on actually represents the MMO community?

  4. A fair point.

    My inner sense of justice and fairness still is having trouble coping. For instance Krystalle says “When fighting, I kept losing tap to nearby casters” and I’m not sure what she means. If she means casters were beating her to mobs, then fair enough (but that happens in every game, right?) but if she means she’d tapped a mob and then a caster was able to take that tap away from her…well that was a bug in, I believe, Beta 1. It was fixed by Beta 2 (maybe even during Beta 1) so to be talking about it weeks later just seems unfair.

    But I’m not 100% sure that’s what she was referring to, either.

  5. OK, look. I like a lot of people on the Massively staff. I generally DO NOT have issues with the stuff they post (I even respect the Soapbox posts!). Unlike the usual commentators on that site, I don’t question their integrity or anything like that. They’ve all been super great folks, and I respect the difficulty of their job (dealing with the frothing hoards at their gates day in and day out), know that they can’t please everyone, and that they’re a blog and are often times called upon to express opinion of a product.

    That being said, this post annoyed me for reasons that have nothing to do with Rift itself. Sections of the article might as well have copied and pasted from any run-of-the-mill, beta-impression forum troll post, and that DOES bother me.

    I don’t fault people for giving their opinions; it’s one of the reasons we go to Massively in the first place. However, opinions are a dime a dozen around here. I personally refer to Massivley because I always felt that they took an even handed approach to the MMO genre. They’re staffed with people who have played MMOs for years, who have picked them apart to the molecular level, and who have interacted with designers, developers, theorists and scholars to talk about MMOs from all kinds of angles.

    What we have in parts of this article are examples of what we expect to see posted to game forums by people who cannot concieve that there’s a scheme larger then themselves. The overtones of “I was promised X but only got Y” are comicly tragic; haven’t we ALL been through this wringer enough times to take “promises” with a grain of salt? Are we new at this? Is this really a surprise anymore? Is it worthwhile to take a product to task — during beta, no less — for our expectations not being met? And does it really lend weight to one’s argument to swagger into the room, tossing off a blaise “it’s nothing I’ve not seen a million times before”? That’s a comment cribbed from the oldest of forum troll’s handbooks, and is NOT what I’d come to expect from the folks at Massively. I accept that Massively does post some divisive opinion pieces from time to time, but I really think that the choices in WHAT the commentators are talking about, the framework in which they’re talking about it (beta), and even the choice of words that are used in some places are far, far below the reasonable standards that draw me back to Massively, while ignoring other, more sensationalistic MMo network sites (fill in the blanks there).

    Of course, now that I have gotten that out of my system and have straightened my waistcoat, I think the article is positive overall, from a 10,000 foot perspective. I agree with your assessement that opinion pieces from trusted sources can add or subtract users. I agree that for whatever perceived flaws or personal affrontery anyone has experienced in this case thus far, Trion has done a stellar job in an arena where most gladiators don’t even get to suit up before they’re eaten by the lions; I think that should count for more then a lot of people are giving them credit for. Whether people feel that the game is “for them” or “not for them” is absolutely A-OK; I like to take an egalitarian approach to my hobby which I feel I can attribute to my “20+ years of gaming” and realize that one size does not fit all.

  6. One more point — this wasn’t our first first impressions piece. We already posted that, and it was pretty positive. Shawn just likes to include the rest of the staff as much as possible if we wanted to add to the discussion.

  7. Impression pieces are good, for the reasons you mentioned above. I like Rift, so I’m partial to opinions that align with mine and squint at opinions that differ, to be sure, but I can accept that people do have different opinions.

    My beef isn’t about the subject matter — the overall pro or con leaning of the article — but that it seemed that some of the opinion was less then the usual Massively quality that draws me to the site, and was more along the lines of the quality that drives me screaming from game forums XD

  8. I actually found a comment on the Massively piece that kind of sums up my thoughts nicely. It’s from Tilula (http://massively.joystiq.com/profile/4367002/) and it says:

    I’ll just have to say, respect the work of developers who spent years creating their game and don’t offend them by just running one hour and logging off, then saying it’s deja-vu and boring. This is not speed-dating and this is unworthy of an editor on a professional mmo site. And if you don’t like theme-parks or whatever they are called beforehand just don’t log in and let instead your unbiased colleagues share their *fair* impressions (negative and positive, it’s not the point). Seriously i’ve read enough posts on forums from shallow players starting like “this was so boring, uninstalled it after 30 minutes”… refering to fleshed-out mmo’s, but i’m not expecting this from editors.

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