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Behind the negative reviews of high score games: Why game reviews can't satisfy players?

Some of the press reviews are facing a problem that is being considered to lose their 'credibility', and the question is, what caused it?

In the 1980s, the early game press that was read by gamers was still in the form of newspapers and magazine articles. At that time the source of information for gamers was quite limited, and there existed few channels for gamers to express their opinions. With the rise of the Internet and social media, gamers now have more information channels and are able to express their own views freely on the Internet social media or game platforms. As a result, more and more players find that those games with mostly positive reviews may not bring them a joyful gaming experience.

Some of the press reviews are facing a problem that is being considered to lose their 'credibility', and the question is, what caused it?

1. Starting from the setback of Death Loop

Black Friday 2021, just two months after the release, Death Loop began its 50% discount sales, mercilessly teasing and hurting the pre-order players.

For the firms, beginning big promotion early is never the good choice, cause it does not only breaks the hearts of those who pre-ordered the game (who are usually the core players of the game), but also reveals a dangerous signal: the sales of the game may not be good, and the number of active players could be considered to be less and less.

And that's quite close to the stage of Death Loop right now.

On September 13, the scores coming in were…pretty stellar, making Death Loop described as a masterpiece, for the Metascore 88, while IGN and GameSpot, the two major platforms in the game field, both gave it 100% in any evaluation. However, after the official release of it, a great number of players found out that it’s not as good as the press described. Frequent freeze, endless bugs, bad performance on PC, and useless anti-cheating mechanisms, all together, killed any advantage in the level design and art style--after all, no one could get a chance to find out the level design is good or bad, since they cannot even enter the game.

Angry players express their dissatisfaction with the game by scores and sales: Metacritic 4.8 from the players, negative reviews on Steam, confront with the previous good press reviews. The game only briefly reached the first steam weekly sales by virtue of the opening press reviews, and then quickly fell to the ground.

The number of daily active players has also dropped from more than 20,000 at the beginning to less than 2,000 now.

By February 2022, Death Loop on Metacritic: 87 points from the press and 5.0 from the players.

2. The puzzle of why the press and players' opinions differ

The problems that Death Loop faced are hardly unusual. The opposition between press reviews and player experience has formed its shape from very early on. But in previous years, it is more concentrated in the field of big franchises, such as FIFA and NBA2K. What actually triggered the confrontation between players and the press was the important event triggered by a golf club. Since then, the crisis of trust suffered by the press has been more and more serious. 'Low scores are the fact, high scores are a lie' 'Don’t even believe IGN' "Famitsu? Moneytsu!" More and more players are inventing such simple sentences just to directly express their dissatisfaction with the press reviews.

The loss of credibility of the game press is ultimately due to the natural limitations of its evaluation mechanism. The long-term operation, performance issues, and paid internal purchases of the games are often the points of disagreement between media reviews and player experience.

The long term operation: Five years for sharpening a sword

The press reviews focus on the basic quality of the game right after its launch, i.e. the short-term experience, while the players' evaluation is based on the whole life cycle of the game, which also includes the long-term operation experience.

Nowadays, most of the game reviews are based on the evaluation version launched limitedly before the game is officially released, but the players' experience of the game continuously forms during the whole life cycle of the game, especially for some online games with the long-term operation. Therefore, the later operation of the game is also an important part of the player's game experience.

It is hardly unusual to find games of high quality but dragged down by its follow-up operations, such as Battlefield V (Metacritic: 81 points from the press and 2.9 from the players), which has stopped updating for a long time. Of course, games that successfully reverse their foundering fortunes by virtue of the long-term operation also exist, for example, No Man's Sky, which is more familiar to most players, got the Metascore 61 when it was first released. The highly repetitive gaming experience, the lack of game completion, and the marketing strategy made the game faced with enormous negative comments made by both players and the press.

However, after five years of free updates, the problems that the developer promised to solve have been eliminated as expected. Looking back at No Man's Sky today, it may be impossible to link this critically acclaimed game with the one that was once mockingly called No Man's Shithole by some players.

No Man's Sky: Increasing positive comments from the early days to now.

Performance Issues: 2077 bugs

When Cyberpunk 2077 was first released in 2020, at least half of the game's negative comments were focused on bug issues and unsolved performance optimization problems. Because of the great number of bugs, it was nicknamed 'Cyberbug 2077' by its player group. As described Cyberpunk 2077 for PC like a game that just full of bugs, the version on PS or Xbox serious can be hardly called a finished product, for it contained enormous frame drops, freeze, texture problems, which made a large number of players ask for a refund only in a week after its release. Even more puzzling was the fact that, such frequent and serious bugs have no influence on the rating made by the press. Cyberpunk2077 got a variety of strong 9/10 (or equivalent) reviews and the Metascore 91, just after the reviews were out publicly.

Perhaps for the press, bugs and glitches are both acceptable, however, for players, a smooth process obviously makes up an important part of their gaming experience.

The press may intend to draw attention to the deeper design concepts and subsequent development potential instead of the bugs. But just as the same problem encountered with Death Loop, it seems impossible to enjoy a game with '2077 bugs' or 'Freeze loop'. The huge impact of these problems on the player's game experience is not something that can be easily saved by excellent game design.

Pay to play and in-game purchases: more money, more power?

When it comes to the in-game purchases in pay to play games, the press tends to be more tolerant than most players.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War, published by Warner, was apparently not seriously affected in comments of the press by the game's microtransaction system. Despite the IGN 90, the MC 75 (the MC score was above 85 when it was first released), the microtransaction system still sparked a lot of anger among players (MC player score 4.2), which caused the game developers to remove the in-game purchase system a few months later.

The pay-to-win system as well as in-game purchase payment is quite common and widely used in recent years, such as Overwatch and Naraka: Bladepoint. For the press, the bottom line for in-game purchases does not seriously affect the balance of the game. The in-game purchase system in a pay-to-play single-player game will not be an important factor for negative reviews, at most losing a few points, to show a kind of discouragement.

But for players, having little effect on the gaming balance can never be a good reason for inserting an in-game purchase system in the game. Any 'pay to be stronger' and disguised mandatory purchases are likely to cause anger among players. So even for a single-player game like Middle-earth: Shadow of War, it was hard for players to accept paying to quickly improve their power, not to mention those online games which somehow slightly indicate an idea of 'pay to win.

The negative comments on Metacritic, about Middle-earth: Shadow of War towards its microtransaction system.

3. Inspiration from the outside

The press is aware of this problem of course, for example, IGN would revise its previous reviews after a major update. However, if the press intends to truly match players' game experience, it will be necessary for them to take a UX turn: listen to players' feedback in the testing process, instead of relying on some of the senior editors of the websites; give more weight to the experience of players, not just passing it by a few sentences; and adopt long-term tracking feedbacks instead, rather than the short time period review after its launch. In this way, the crisis of trust between players and the press may not continue as an insurmountable problem.

For the UX researchers, what needs doing could be specified as follows:

  • Paying more attention to the long-term operation of the game while focusing on the basic qualities. These are both crucial.
  • Thinking about how to establish a more agile and systematic warning mechanism for performance problems.
  • Explore the forms of payment systems that are more acceptable for players.

If you need more information about game UX research, UX design, and game big data, check out our website here.

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