Zaric Zhakaron: Bethesda is not lazy

Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 1:56 pm

Zaric Zhakaron has just released a video I find interesting.

I agree with his premise that the simplification of the Elder Scrolls series is not due to developer laziness. It is, as he puts it, "...not on the creative Todd Howard level but above him on the executive level, possibly on the Zenimax level."

I'm interested to know what other people think about this.

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Shannon Lockwood
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 9:37 am

I normally have a good deal of common ground, at least in broad strokes, with Zaric, but i almost entirely disagree with his position on this one.

First, i don't see the trend in TES to be towards simplification. Has it changed? Absolutely. But is it simpler than it was? Not really. You can, in most aspects of the game, do more now than ever. The choices you are presented with are functional different, rather than being largely superficial or redundant. In many aspects, the number of possible choices may have dropped, but the impact of those choices has been reinforced, making them more meaningful. Some things have been lost in the shuffle, sure, but i would say the games have grown more varied (though just as poorly balanced) over the years rather than be simplified.

Second, i don't think passing blame onto Zenimax or Bethesda (as opposed to BGS or Mr. Howard) really explains what we've seen. When you have executive intervention, it's usually pretty obvious. From Blizzard firing half the Diablo 3 staff to Activision's knee-jerk reaction to the Infinite Warfare trailer, to EA's cancelling of an entire years worth of sports games. When the higher ups start to meddle, it's almost always in response to some sort of backlash, and almost always in broad strokes.

But there's been no movement on the Bethesda front in this regard. No restructuring, no response to criticisms, no half-assed attempts to resolve issues. Even Ubisolf pushed to address issues with Brotherhood, responding to the technical problems by pushing back Black Flag so it would be 'done' despite the team saying it was ready for release. Destiny has undergone huge changes because of Activision's meddling (for the better, frankly... the game was a steaming pile on release) which included re-doing all the lines even in the release version for one of the ONLY speaking characters. Even if a game sells well, even if it pushes or breaks records, Executive intervention isn't something that goes unnoticed.

And we've gotten nothing. None of the public's main criticisms have... EVER been addressed. The game worlds are still the same size (shrinking, actually) the graphics are still barely middle of the road, and the animations have been janky since Morrowind. And yet, BGS is still left to do it's thing. They haven't dramatically expanded, haven't been shown to have tighter deadlines imposed on them. They haven't even been shown to have the usual 'Why doesn't our game do that' game-play elements tacked in.

If anything, i think the problem is that Mr. Howard is given TOO MUCH freedom. He's not being forced to pay attention to competitors (or possible competitors). He hasn't been forced to use better time management or increase his workforce. He hasn't had deadlines or schedules imposed. He's been allowed to stay in his comfort zone, doing what he wants, because so far it's been working. It's definitely not served to allow them to make the best games they can, but it's making money and so the executives haven't had a need to meddle.

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Sara Johanna Scenariste
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 3:50 pm

I really never considered Bethesda "lazy", just building for the largest fanbase, as shown by each TES title's rise in sales. I disagree with Lachdonin about the "ease" of the series, but that's nothing new :)

Skyrim is a walk in the park compared to the depth of Morrowind for me. Others may differ in opinion and that's cool. One player's "cakewalk" is another player's "tough road to travel." Remember all the complaining about Morrowind and needing to use "spreadsheets?" That alone tells me Morrowind was more complicated. And some may feel that is a "bad complicated", and that's cool. I just know I felt connected to my Morrowind characters whereas my Skyrim character's all lack that connection.

But, this is what "the masses" want, I believe. This simplification is why Skyrim sold so many more copies than Morrowind or Oblivion. So I don't think Bethesda is "lazy", but rather putting out games that sell better. I have no clue where that decision comes from (Mr. Howard, Bethesda, or Zenimax) :)

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Emily Jeffs
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 12:15 pm

Part of Zaric's complaint, as I understand it, is that executive meddling does not have much to do with what fans want. At one point he speaks a lot about focus groups. His point is that it is focus groups, not fan feedback, that exerts the greatest influence over the decisions made by executives. The findings of these focus groups and the conclusions that executives draw from them may have very little to do with what the majority of existing fans want from the series.

I guess I agree with Zaric that, in general, the games have become simpler, more streamlined. But I disagree with Zaric in that I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. This isn't a knee-jerk issue with me. I'm not one to cling to complexity for its own sake. Skyrim - in my opinion at least - is "simpler" than Oblivion. But I prefer Skyrim. In fact I almost prefer Skyrim over Morrowind. Some days it is very close.

I guess, to me, the total experience is what I find most important. Some things may be cut, some things may be added. But if I enjoy a game, it doesn't matter much to me. I tend to react to the total package that is presented to me. It is the overall experience that carries the greatest weight with me, not the particulars.

I'm afraid I don't agree with this. I have a feeling that the increased team size we have seen over the past decade was not his idea. And I have a feeling that the Montrreal studio was not his idea either. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that these changes were forced on him and that he opposed both.

I suspect the infamous 11/11/11 Skyrim deadline was not his idea. I have actually never thought that was his idea, from the instant I first heard about it. It has always struck me as the kind of idea an executive would dream up. So I wouldn't be surprised if that deadline was forced on him.

It is my hunch that Howard's influence over deadlines ended with Oblivion. If we go back a few games we see that Morrowind was postponed from 2001 to 2002 and we see that Oblivion was postponed from 2005 to 2006. These strike me as the kind of decisions a developer would make, someone who wants to polish a product to greater perfection. Since Oblivion, however, all deadlines have been rigidly adhered to. That strikes me as the kind of decision an executive would make.

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Marlo Stanfield
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 12:40 am

At one point, that may have been true, but more and more over the last decade executive decisions have been driven more by knee-jerk reactions from the playerbase rather than either focus groups or even calm discourse on Forums. Few companies have managed to do what Blizzard has accomplished in regards to player feedback, true, but the last 10 years have been a long string of companies scrambling to react to the consumer. This is in part, i think, because in the 'good old days' you couldn't really DO anything once a game was released, but now with the ability to patch, expand and generally tweak games well after launch, companies can actually react to the praise or condemnation of their communities. Admittedly, I have no links to the inside of the gaming industry, but i see far more reaction to the complaints, criticisms and praise of the playerbase now than anything i would consider the product of a focus groups input. Many companies have even started pushing the Open Beta model for online games, or sponsoring Lets Plays on Youtube in order to get this kind of input before release.

Admittedly not knowing him, and basing my knowledge of Todd Howard entirely from interviews and a few statements from people who either know him or have worked with him, i'm inclined to think he had more to do with the 11/11/11 release date than not. He strikes me as a very "It'd be cool if" sort of personality which is prone to that sort of gimmicky thinking. This can be great, but it can also be horribly detrimental (as we've seen recently with No Man's Sky).

I do tend to think that delays are almost universally from the Developer end, though... But i think it's rather important to note that there was a rather significant shift in how Bethesda engaged with the public following Oblivion. Skyrim was, apparently, mostly done when they gave it a release date, and we know that Fallout 4 was practically finished when they announced it. The greater degree of completion we've seen upon announcement is, of course, going to make delays less common, which makes it more difficult to gauge whose responsible for it.

I definitely do get a vibe that things are changing a bit. The mobile success of Fallout Shelter is definitely what spurred the Montreal Studio's genesis, and i highly doubt it was Mr. Howard that encouraged that. But overall, the lack of reaction to criticisms, general lack of media grandstanding, and continued unwillingness of Bethesda to match competitors in terms of development cycle and workforce don't scream 'Executive Involvement' to me. Unless, of course, Zenimax doesn't even want to be seen as a significant player in the industry, in which case i suppose they could be directly holding things back...

I definitely don't think this is on Bethesda's or Howard's radar, though. No Elder Scrolls game, or Fallout game under BGS's control, has eve been polished or perfect. At best, they're playable, and its a miracle they haven't been laughed off stage every time they've shown a game.

Ultimately, i see more in common with a Developer given too much freedom, like we saw with Daikatana, Duke Nukem Forever, and No Man's Sky, rather than executives being overbearing. Admittedly, Mr. Howard seems to be far more competent than those involved in said other projects.

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Fiori Pra
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 1:17 pm

The idea of Todd Howard having too much of freedom can be funny - I imagine him having not enough of free time to read RPG books, but to have only a free time to play mobile games. He said that in some interview, that his favourite games are mobile and card games. So or they should give him more of free time to be able to play something more complicated, or he shouldn't have any free time at all, so he wouldn't get bad inspiration ;-).

But anyway I was thinking about it too - who is in the charge there and Howard was executive producer of Fallout 3 and Skyrim - Fallout 3 had attributes and complicated dialogue system, Skyrim didn't have any of it. So I guess it is sadly more about personal focus and also about them trying different systems, what works and what doesn't.

And about the director's focus on what is cool - I'm afraid, that it should be, otherwise really - the games would be boring. I did experience when someone without that cool feeling was in a charge in one MMO and a lot of players left.

My hope is that they will realise that it went too far - the more simple games are really only mobile games. Well nobody did open world mobile game, so maybe they can be first - in VR :P

But generally - it is strange - there are so many games with the same mistakes - like Ubisoft Tom Clancy, then Mafia III few months later did the same mistake, between Bethesda with Fallout 4 - the same flaws with repetitive missions.... It looks like corporation decision, I don't know.

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lillian luna
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Post » Fri Oct 28, 2016 11:34 pm

Oblivion was the lazy 'walk in the park' Elder Scrolls game for me. The world looked like a parkland rather than a naturally formed environment.

I believe it was procedurally generated, whereas Skyrim is a handcrafted world - and it shows. No signs getting lazy there

On top of the bland world design, the sound direction and production of the Oblivion voice acting was very poor

I could hear that the actors were sitting in a sound booth - not in the game world.

In Skyrim the actors sound like they are in the game world. Again no sign of laziness there either

At the same time I think Zaric is probably right about the influence of the suits. When $80 million plus is involved you can be damned sure the bead counters are looking on

i think saying Bethesda are lazy is just silly

I think it comes down to this - is any one of the Elder Scrolls games perfect?

To answer that question one would have to know what is a perfect Elder Scrolls game.

i would estimate there are approximately as many answers to that question as there are players of the game

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Jamie Lee
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 6:51 am

Oh no, there is no perfect Elder Scrolls game. I love them all, but they each have flaws that drive me insane. Daggerfall's combat, Morrowind's cliffracers, Oblivions speech game on a wheel, and Skyrim holding you hostage becaise a courier shows up while you are getting killed by a baddie.

And everyone of them have CTDs.
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sara OMAR
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 11:25 am

we need tes 6, lazy or not, make it happen bat!!!!

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Mandy Muir
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 3:42 am

Skyrim doesn't have spellmaking or the ability to turn spells into enchantments, or real attributes, but it has a sizable perk system, smithing, cooking, potioning, the ability to dual-wield weapons and magic, and an entirely new magic system in the Dragon Shouts.

The ideal TES game has spell-making, levitation, the ability to turn spells into enchantments, real attributes, a sizable perk system, smithing, cooking, potioning, clothes-making, mining, farming, the ability to play as a bog-standard dry goods merchant, dynamic quests, dynamic and responsive AI behaviour that drives the world, the ability to not only run your own guild but to found one, carpentry right down to the ability to make your own house, and a staff of about 20,000.

So yes. Of course the game is better after you add mods. ;)

And, of course, it can run on a potato. ;)

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aisha jamil
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 12:11 pm

The games haven't had levitation since Tribunal. I can understand why they made that decision; but it was a really nice touch in Morrowind.

Apart from using it to explore and get to awkward spots, I also used it for 'as the crow flies' long distance travel.

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james tait
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 11:53 am

I started playing with Daggerfall. I know. :) Yes; I imagine it makes level design easier.

I mostly used it to get over mountains. Or city walls. Depending.

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jesse villaneda
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 6:21 am

Now, something that IS the product of executive decisions? Bethesda has apparently announced that it's no longer sending out early-access copies of games for media review prior to release. This type of behaviour usually reflects either a dissatisfaction with the product but an unwillingness to let it be refined, or are trying to delay public knowledge of a product by stalling reviews and hinging on early buys. While this type of policy doesn't necessarily reflect on the development cycle, it's definitely anti-consumer behaviour from a marketing standpoint.

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Sheila Reyes
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 3:21 pm

....either that, or maybe somebody leaked the pre-release copies of the game to outsiders or competitors.

It's not a clear-cut "anti-consumer" move, but it's quite possible that Bethesda or Zenimax has decided that they don't want any possible negative comments spoiling early sales. Once you've bought the game, then criticism is fine, since they've got their money. Of course, there's plenty of latitude for interpretation of their motives, and plenty of rabid haters seeing it as hiding a problem until you've paid for it, as well as rabid fans seeing it as being done solely for the benefit of the consumer. We'll just have to wait to see how things pan out for the next game.

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Nice one
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 2:38 am

Apparently they dont like leaks and they have a blacklist of journals and journalists who dont get a review key...

or any responses to requests for information or interviews

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Khamaji Taylor
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Post » Fri Oct 28, 2016 11:46 pm

Which is clearly an anti-consumer move. If someone isn't going to like a game, for consumers it's preferable that information be available before purchase so they can make an informed decision, and avoid wasting money on something they don't like. gamesas doesn't care if you like a game or not, they care if you buy it. And this is clearly an attempt to get more people to buy before finding out they may not like a game. Yes, ideally people shouldn't preorder and should wait for reviews regardless of how long it takes for them to get made, but they don't. The majority of a game's sales happen early after release, and it's actually a publisher's job to get people excited enough for the game to want to buy it ASAP. But to then also prevent people from getting information before release from third-party sources (i.e. information that hasn't been filtered through the publisher's PR team, or through people who have a clear pro-Bethesda stance and don't know how to look past their own bias) smacks of an attempt to dupe people who wouldn't have bought it if they had a more honest look at the game.

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Allison Sizemore
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 2:21 am

Doesn't matter to me. Bethesda has not let me down in over 20 years, so I have no problem with them not having an early release for reviews.

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El Khatiri
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 4:05 am

Ditto for me. ..

I have no gripes with Bethesda; on the contrary, I am grateful for the incredible games they make and for their open-source policies and support of modding and Let's Plays and streamers etc

This is from their own policy statement:

" ...While we will continue to work with media, streamers, and YouTubers to support their coverage – both before and after release – we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time.

We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision, and if that’s the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts."

I dont understand how anyone who is a customer of Bethesda could have a problem with this

They make it clear - if you are not sure, dont buy, wait
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Andy durkan
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 11:47 am

Wat. Have they open sourced anything? AFAIK, id Software has even stopped open sourcing their engines since Bethesda bought them out.

So then, will they also stop hyping up and enticing us to buy early? It's a two-way street. If they want us to wait for reviews, then they need to stop enticing us into preordering and buying early before reviews. It's a horribly hollow (and incredibly hypocritical) statement to say "wait for reviews" while simultaneously trying to get you to buy ahead of reviews being available.

It's the marketing department's job to make you want to buy a game so they can make money. They know most potential customers don't wait, as the vast majority of a game's sales happen through preorders and the first little while after release. It's difficult to blame consumers for not waiting when these companies dump millions of dollars into campaigns designed to make you want to preorder and buy early, sometimes even against your better judgment. Independent reviews are one method with which consumers can try to counter-balance this. They give a better chance for consumers to realize they may not like a game, and avoid wasting money on something they won't like. But by withholding review copies until the day before release, it forces reviews into one of two camps; either 1) rushed reviews that don't give an accurate assessment of the full game experience (and being among the first to review an anticipated game that's about to be released is a strong motivation as it brings in more clicks/revenue for the reviewer), which will likely make them miss a lot of the problems or nuances that aren't immediately obvious to them but may turn some people off, or 2) more complete and accurate reviews which show up days or weeks after release, at which time the majority of sales have already been made. Neither really help a consumer make an informed decision about a game they're enticed into buying early.

If you're set on buying a game before getting any information that hasn't been PR-approved, that's your prerogative... but having early reviews doesn't hurt you in any way. You're going to buy it anyway, so those reviews won't change your mind (you don't even have to look at them). But it can help people who are about to get a game that they may not actually like. From a pro-consumer point of view, there's no good justification for withholding review copies like that. It's an entirely profit-driven motivation, which preys on people who wouldn't want what they're offering if they were better informed, but were taken in by marketing and won't wait to be informed.

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Jack Bryan
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 1:20 pm

I do note that the most "interesting" and hand-tweaked dungeons in Oblivion (with some hand-placed armor items) were those close to the sewer exit where your character starts. That gives the hasty reviewers a false sense of what the rest of the game will be like.

At this point, I don't buy games upon release, and generally read player comments and criticisms for at least week or two before making a purchase decision. I trust those first-day reviews about as much as I trust the political promises of presidential candidates: some things need to be taken with a grain of salt, those need the entire shaker.

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Connie Thomas
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 8:21 am

I also never pre-order and never buy on release day so the Bethesda review policy does not affect me personally.

I dont understand the impatience that grips so many; and I dont support pre-ordering either in principle or in practice.

But if a corporation decides to do it and people choose to go along with it then - caveat emptor.

The main suffers are the review outlets and journalists and I can understand their frustration. However I think their posturing about how this is an attack on customers is disingenuous. It is they who feel attacked and they are using customers as a shield.

At the end of the day it is a policy and it may be changed at any time - so by all means let the ranting and the debate Continue.

Perhaps I was exaggerating somewhat when I wrote "open-source policies"

What I mean is they allow their games to be altered and even provide the tools to do it

And they allow their content to be freely used by Youtubers and streamers etc

There are companies who do not permit these things

One large company I will not name even lodges copyright strikes against people who review their games positively if they use any game content

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marie breen
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 4:48 am

I have never pre-ordered a game. In fact, I'm not even sure I would pre-order TESVI when it comes around, and that is the most likely game I would pre-order.

For the most part, I am also generally satisfied with Bethesda's products that I have played, although there is a lot that they could do significantly better. That being said, this new policy of not allowing early reviews strikes me as awfully shady. It also doesn't really make much sense to me for a couple reasons. 1) Does Bethesda think this is not going to rub people the wrong way? Surely they have to realize many consumers are going to see this as a underhanded tactic, right? 2) If they are saying that you may want to wait for your favorite reviewers to get a hold of the game if you are still unsure, can't you apply that logic to early reviews too? It is the same thing as when somebody was on the fence about the product until one of their favorite or trusted early reviewers played it, except in the case of the former (i.e. no early reviewing) there would be many more sales as a result of people who can't wait and chose to already buy the product.

Personally, I don't see how the reasoning for no early reviews is anything other than a PR stunt.

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Emma Pennington
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 11:48 am

In regards to this... well, i've been doing some reading, and apparently we (those who use reviews to decide if we want a game or not) are an extreme minority. based on a few studies over the last few years, only between 3 and 5 % of people buy games based on reviews. They're more often used as confirmation bias after someones made up their mind. The mass-consumer discourse of the internet has, to many, apparently rendered reviewers obsolete.

I suppose i can understand that, because it's exactly how i feel about Movie Reviews. After Inglorious Bastards came highly recommended by a local reviewer, it became apparent to me that personal taste, rather than actual critical evaluation of the writing, characters and plot (god how i hate Tarintino...). So, i can sort of see where the decision is coming from, despite personally still using reviews a great deal.

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Reven Lord
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 6:46 am

Reviews range from intelligent and balanced to completely inept and skewed. There have been some hilarious plonkers even in leading journals.

I remember when Skyrim was first released watching a Gamespot broadcast with Kevin Vanord (whom I rated very highly) and some of his colleagues.

One of them was going on excitedly and the more he said the more obvious it became he did not know what Skyrim was or even what an RPG is

He finished up blurting out something about dialogue and what a nuisance it is and what's it for anyway and I just want to kill stuff

Vanord had this look on his face of utter astonishment - it was a bizarrely funny moment in a Monty Python sense

I agree there is a lot of confirmation bias among readers. I see it iin myself

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Ian White
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Post » Sat Oct 29, 2016 2:54 am

Part of it is that you can't just look at reviews for a 'yay or nay' result. You have to be familiar with the reviewer's tastes, and take that into account when weighing the positives and negatives they bring up. If a reviewer tends to have a distaste for open-world games, for instance, and they talk negatively of it in their review, I know not hold it against the game. Or if a reviewer tends to like open-world games, and they talk negatively of it in their review, it may be cause for concern that something's wrong. Similarly, if a reviewer really enjoys linear narrative-focused games while I don't, and they speak highly of a game's narrative and structure, I won't take that positivity as a reason to get the game. A good reviewer or critic will also know of their own biases, make them clear, and try not to let it get in the way as best they can.

And that's ultimately the issue. A review isn't supposed to be for getting a recommendation, it's supposed to be used to convey information that a consumer can use to make their own decision. By withholding review copies, they're effectively withholding information people can use to make a better informed decision about the product. Combine that with Steam's poor return policy, and you create a problem.

Hype is a powerful thing. As is peer-pressure. I can understand feeling impatient when you're really excited about something and the possibility it offers. I guess I'm just one of the lucky ones that can hold myself back from making a rash decision I end up regretting... most of the time *looks dejectedly at his copy of Dragon Age: Origins*.

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Vicki Gunn
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