Shouldering the weight of your words

So in the bright sunshine of the morning after the Massively/Rift controversy, I wanted to open the topic up a bit more. Clearly I found it wrong for a pro-blogger to dismiss a soon-to-ship product without giving it a fair shake. Others, like Tipa and Arkenor, thought I was off my rocker. Ark voiced the opinion that anything goes in gaming coverage as long as it’s an honest opinion. Tipa just didn’t care one way or the other.

So I wanted to elaborate on my feelings a bit, setting aside the specifics of this situation.

First and most importantly, we have to ask the question of whether or not (presumably, see below) high-traffic sites like Massively influence buying decisions. If they don’t, then none of what I’m about to say matters. I’m assuming that some percentage of readers come to these sites in order to determine if a product is worth their buying consideration.

Next is the issue of scale. The higher the pulpit, the more carefully you need to weigh your words. Some guy on a street corner preaching about the end of days won’t have much impact, but if a TV network starts saying the same thing it could cause a panic. My assumption here is that Massively has significant traffic. If they don’t, then again, my arguments (and concerns) are invalidated.

So we’re talking then, about a site that has the ability to significantly move the needle when it comes to a game’s sales.

And we’re talking about a game still in beta and still being changed. This is not the game that customers will be paying for. We don’t know what that game will be.

With all these conditions met, I believe it is irresponsible for an author to off-handedly trash a game (and thereby influence sales of the game) in a post on the site. It isn’t irresponsible to say “This type of game isn’t of interest to me.” and it isn’t irresponsible to say “After 1 hour of playing my interest wasn’t captured enough to inspire me to dig deeper into this title” but it is irresponsible to say “This game is just like every other game” when you haven’t played enough to know if this statement is true or not.

As a blogger on a high-traffic site, you need to consider the impact of your words more carefully than, say, I do here on my dinky little blog.

Consider the situation from the other side of the fence. Imagine you’re working for a game developer. You’ve been helping the team make a game for the past several years and finally it’s coming to fruition and then some pundit posts untrue things about your game. Not out of malice but out of ignorance because said pundit never really looked closely at your product. Now you’re taking a hit (however small) on sales because of an off-hand comment.

Consider the situation from the point of view of your audience. They (presumably) trust you. They come to you to learn about a game. Don’t you owe it to them to know what you’re talking about? By stating what you perceive as (but what in fact isn’t) a fact based on incomplete data does an injustice to your audience.

Finally, consider the impact on your own career. By flippantly dismissing a title for reasons that aren’t accurate, you’re blowing your credibility with readers who have played the game and know that you’re stating things that aren’t true. Credibility that is very, very difficult to regain.

I’ve seen potentially good games canceled due to mishandled press coverage. Granted that was back when print magazines existed and the lag time for ‘corrections’ was very long. But damage can still be done, and if you’re a gaming enthusiast, that should matter to you. New games should be given a fair chance to prove themselves, and not be slagged prior to launch because a particular journalist wasn’t interested enough to really look at the game, and instead just made assumptions that ultimately aren’t accurate.

I firmly believe the writers at high-traffic sites need to be held to higher standards than they currently are. They should write about what they’ve experienced, and not what they assume to be true. If they’re writing about things they’ve only heard about, they should cite sources. I’m not saying they should sugar-coat issues, just that they should report accurately, even if what they’re reporting is just their opinion. Opinions based on assumptions need to be described as such.

9 thoughts on “Shouldering the weight of your words

  1. I don’t get your whole take on this situation. He disclosed how long he played, what he said echoes what a dozen other bloggers I’ve read have said about the game. The article is titled “first impressions” which pretty much by definition tells you its not an informed opinion.

    I know you’re trying to move away from the whole massively controversy and I apologize for bringing it back up, but you this is clearly directly related to reahard.

    Unfortunately you take all this time to see things from the audiences side, the developers side, and not his side. He gave his opinion on his first impression of a game.

    In the end all this just smacks of one thing. You disagree with him. That’s fine, but attacking him on a professional level because you disagree with him? No. Attack his argument, not the man.

  2. I am attacking his argument. Or more accurately, I’m attacking the inaccurate facts that he is sharing with his readers. He says Rift is the same as about 100 other games he’s played, and y’know if Rift was all about questing I wouldn’t question that (at least not enough to get all spun up over it).

    But Rift is about…rifts. Rifts are not on-rails quests, they’re open-world large-scale PvE content like we’ve rarely seen in MMOs. For him to ignore that is to ignore the essence of the game. His is mis-guiding his readers.

    And yes, I’ve seen a number of other bloggers do this too. People get in, look around, think they understand what the game is and spout off. But most of them don’t have influence over the game-buying community. Massively authors do (or at least, that’s an assumption I’m basing these posts on).

    The smart thing would’ve been for him to have not said anything, given that he only played for an hour and didn’t even make it to level 5 in that time. I don’t expect someone not reviewing the game to get to level cap before talking about it, but if you don’t even get to the ‘signature’ part of the game, you’re really not adding anything helpful to the discussion.

  3. Here is a fun exercise for you Pete:

    1) Write down the names of everybody who criticized you, and defended Massively
    2) Wait some time until people have forgotten about the controversy (shouldn’t take more than a week)
    3) Publish a post saying you played some sandbox game, e.g. EVE, for one hour, and that you think the game sucks
    4) Make a second list of the names of people who will savage you, telling you that you can’t possible judge a game like EVE in 1 hour
    5) Compare the two lists

    My bet would be that the two lists will mostly the same names on them. Basically people aren’t criticizing YOU, or defending MASSIVELY. They are just bashing theme park MMORPGs in general, and defending anyone in favor of sandbox MMORPGs in general. I know that at least on my blog the same people who defended Massively have in the past told me that my opinion of EVE wasn’t valid, because I hadn’t played it enough or explored all the options. It’s just the usual turf war of the pseudo-religious nutters defending their favorite games by bashing the other side.

  4. Thanks for the link! Always appreciated!!!

    As I tweeted yesterday, I suspect that if Mr Reahard had said that he only played for an hour and loved Rift that nobody would have had much problem with that. Certainly he would not have people across the Rift forums and sites burning him in effigy.

    Either having an opinion after an hour for an impressions piece is bad or it is not. It should not depend on whether or not we agree with the opinion.

    I’m frequently infuriated by Massively posts, and indeed Mr Reahard’s, but this was not one of those times. I’d be saddened if the outcry over all this made them less willing to be honest about their feelings.

  5. @Tobold – I don’t really feel criticized, just questioned, to be honest. But yeah, we gamers do get emotionally attached to our games pretty easily, and yeah, I’m sure if I shared my opinion based on an hour of a game they loved, I’d be burned alive for it.

    @Arkenor – Saying you “love” or “hate” something is subjective and hard to pin down without reasons. If he said “I played an hour and can tell you that Rift offers innovative quests from level 1 to cap” then he’d be just as much in the wrong, and I suspect he’d be in the same hot water, just with different people.

    All I’m arguing for is that pro-bloggers who’re wielding measurable influence need to think twice before posting, really. I’ll admit I’m being fairly literal in my interpretation of what he said. He could have conveyed the same sentiments (“Played an hour, had no desire to play any more”) without conveying misinformation.

  6. Do you trust these people to give you insightful, relevant information if they can’t be bothered to do the things we expect them to do in order to earn the credibility we’re willing to invest in them?

    I really don’t care if they pro or con the game, and I know that despite his personal leanings regarding Rift that Pete doesn’t either when he is making these arguments. It comes down to trust. I don’t trust a faceless, random person on any forum who can’t be bothered to give a game a fair shake before rendering an opinion, so why should we give a Massively writer with a far larger pulpit a pass?

    I visit Massively because they have a collective vat of man-hours in the MMO genre, have access to industry people, and I would hope that they’re using their resources to strive for credibility, knowledge, and respect as a high profile site that people can rely on. Opinion has it’s place, and everyone — even people you may violently disagree with — has the right to voice their opinion. Jef’s is not an argument; it’s a huge letdown by a staff member of a site that I respect, which colors my opinion of the site overall.

  7. Two comments:
    – Though I have yet to play the game, your opinion that players who play Rift without doing Rifts are probably missing the point matches my expectations. In the event that our shared opinion is true and Trion fails to convey this information in the first hour, the failing is theirs (much as Mythic failed with Warhammer open RVR). In either case, I don’t think that third parties (such as ourselves) can (or should) dictate that others must agree with our opinions (e.g. on the central role of rifts in Rift) as a prerequisite for being allowed to post.

    – I strongly disagree with the argument that the size of your readership creates an obligation not to post anything that could harm sales of a game that might theoretically improve later in testing. If anything, I think that Massively shows more deference than I would prefer towards posting PR materials (press releases and interviews) without substantive comment.

  8. If Trion threw players into 100 strong chaotic groups against mobs that were killing quest NPCs within the first hour, they’d be crucified for having a difficult starter experience. They’ve already taken heat for the newbie experience being too fast and frantic, and that’s without rifts. Some things take time; I realize we’re a society of ADD addled individuals who want everything RIGHT NOW NOW NOW!!! but sometimes there’s no alternative to being a tiny bit patient.

    As for the rest, you’re welcome to disagree.

  9. It is all but impossible to form any sort of informed opinion outside preconceived notions in the first hour or so of an MMO. It’s akin to a tutorial, so for veteran MMO players it’s going to feel familiar. Even so as Pete has written it’s more honest to say “The first hour didn’t hook me and I decided not to play any further” than to paint a game with broad strokes based on extrapolation and assumptions -in point of fact a published piece doing so doesn’t really differ from a ‘troll’ post on a forum somewhere.

    For myself I don’t take it personally if a review doesn’t agree with my opinion, but at the least it should be an honest and objective one. What’s worse is forming opinions about the game without even trying it – then pointing to said reviews and claiming “See I’m right!”

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