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    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    The Price Is Shite (Starring Gillen, Taurus, Porter & Mott)

    Well over a year ago, we were asked to write a piece on how much reviewers should take game prices into account when reviewing and scoring in light of EA taking the piss out the entire country with its pricing for the original Rock Band set. The mag it was going to appear in folded shortly before it was due to publish (they usually have the decency to go tits up after we’ve administered our kiss of death). It seems a shame to see it go to waste before we disappear again, as it had some excellent contributions from Rick Porter (Editor of gamesTM), Dave McCarthy / Taurus (ex-Editor of Edge and current Triforce slacker), and Kieron Gillen (RR Award-winner).

    We also asked current Edge Chief-Editor-In-Chief-Editor-In-Chief Tony Mott for comment, and received some of the finest prose to escape his fingertips:

    “I've just had a look at your web site and you don't seem to have changed your stance on Edge (you still believe it to be a piece of shit, as far as I can tell).”


    Although the focus of the piece was originally concerned with stuff that nobody cares about anymore such as the Rock Band pricing, the original iPhone, Gerstmann-gate and EA being cunts, it now seems relevant again thanks to Activision openly taking the piss out of you with their pricing for Modern Warfare 2, Tony Hawk RIDE and DJ Hero. So here, without the vast majority of our own wittering commentary, is the piece presented in more of an interview style so you can enjoy it even if you hate everything we stand for.

    ***

    Every editor has their own idea about how much price should affect the scores given to games when reviewed. I've had my fair share of arguments with editors who think prices should play no part in the review, as I couldn't disagree more. Our jobs are to tell our readers whether they should part with their hard-earned money for the privilege of playing a game. Some editors get so totally lost somewhere in the yards of intestinal tract they spend most of their adult lives inspecting that they forget this simple fact. They become utterly blind to the notion that just because they get sent everything for free, along with assorted bribes and freebies, and of course the free parties where they play with all their little chums and have a jolly good time, all of their readership will have to pay out to enjoy the same experience.

    Fortunately I'm describing a minority here, as most editors and review outlets do adopt a policy in their style guides that prices should be considered when awarding a score. Fifty quid for Audiosurf? Fuck off – 2/10. Five quid for Audiosurf? Yes please – 8/10.

    But hey, I'm not always right, so I asked some of the mags and review outlets what they have to say about all this.


    Rick Porter (Editor, GamesTM): “How to score titles when the price-tag strays away from the norm? It's something that myself and the team have struggled with plenty over the last 18 months. When a game is more or less free, it is very easy to justify treating the price as a distinctly separate issue. Besides, if pricing were allowed to be a contributing factor to scores then any flash game or title that's made available for free should almost certainly be awarded a perfect ten. Therefore, when reviewing games, the only way is to have a policy that disregards external factors such as pricing.”

    David McCarthy (Former Editor, Edge): “I remember when I was working on Edge, the reviewing policy was to simply assume that Edge readers, being the early-adopting technophiles that we all imagined them to be, would assume that price was no object, and we reviewed games accordingly. And actually, that was fairly easy for me, because, impoverished though I was, price was no object for me when I bought Samba de Amigo, or when, for example, I bought an import GameCube with the money my mum had given me one Christmas to buy a bed. I'd rather play Super Monkey Ball than sleep comfortably.”


    RAM Raider: “Now that's an interesting viewpoint – if your readership are so hardcore that they've learnt Japanese so they can play Final Fantasy "the way it's meant to be played", and think nothing of crashing the Tokyo Game Show whilst keeping a copy of their Scandinavian Game Development supplement with them for the plane journey, then it would be senseless to punish the quality of gameplay through a review just because of its associated RRP. In a way, it's moving away from critiquing the pure quality of the game. Nevertheless, £180 is still taking the piss.”

    Porter: “When something is horrendously overpriced, the conscience begins to nag a little harder. When you're advising a largely young audience to part with hundreds rather than tens of pounds, you feel obliged to take things such as value for money into consideration. Fortunately, being one of the more mature videogame magazines on the market, I choose to assume that anyone reading gamesTM knows the worth of £180, is aware of the risks involved in spending it on a videogame and are, ultimately, sure that they can afford to spend the amount without too much consequence.”

    RR: “So it seems that both Edge and gamesTM are familiar enough with their readership to know what the majority of them want – reviews of the games, rather than their price tags. But this brings us around to the question of whether particular audiences are that demarcated from Mr Average Gamer. If someone outside of the demographic picked up a copy of either mag hoping to see whether the game is worth mortgaging their house for, would it be reasonable for them to expect the reviewer to have considered the price?”

    Kieron Gillen (RR Award-winning journo): “There's some very well meaning people, including several of my friends, who believe that the price shouldn't influence a review. I think they're about as wrong as you can get. A review in a consumer magazine is primarily a consumer guide, and the mark a shorthand for 'Should I get this or not?'. If a game is drastically overpriced – that is, giving an amount of entertainment beneath what a consumer would expect – I think it should affect the mark. It's part of the consumer protection part of the gig, and punishing developers who try to gouge consumers. You deal with everything in the body copy, allowing people to make up their own mind. But you can't give a 10/10 for a game that's ludicrously overpriced, because then people will think you mean 'It's worth it'. And you *don't* think it's worth it.”

    RR: “Three reviewers, three different perspectives. On one extreme, we've got Gillen who thinks reviewers should take pricing into consideration. On the other, we've got McCarthy who thinks the dead opposite. Somewhere in between the two, albeit closer to McCarthy's camp, Porter thinks pricing should only minimally influence the reviewer when it's extraordinarily high. Are you following all this?”

    Porter: “Could there be confusion? Almost definitely. When we gave Wii Play a fairly low score, there was a cry from many forums claiming that we were wrong to score a game that essentially cost five pounds in such a harsh way. It was agreed that it wasn't a great title, but all were willing to pay the asking price due to the Remote they received in the package. A shrewd piece of marketing by Nintendo who were obviously aware that all who purchased a Wii also owned Wii Sports – a title that near demanded a second Remote to be fully enjoyed. In the case of Rock Band, we awarded a high score. The game is excellent. Would we have come under fire from the same people who didn't agree with the Wii Play score had we marked it down to a four simply because of its high price? Definitely.”

    RR: “So what about import reviews – can mags really be blamed for reviewing foreign code for the sake of an early review?”

    Gillen: “Imports isn't really relevant to what I mainly do – a lot of mags re-review when it gets a UK release, like the lovely NGamer. What may be relevant is when I get sent a boxed copy of a game which is available much cheaper online, like many casual games. In that case, yeah, it affects the mark – as I'm reviewing the package I was sent and I'll actively point people in the direction of where they should get it from in the text.”

    RR: “There's a lot of sense in that argument. To describe the job of the reviewer as being to review the game purely on its merits to the exclusion of all else would be misleading semantics. The real reason reviewers exist is to allow the reader to vicariously experience the game through them so they know if it's something they need to buy. In this sense, wouldn't ignoring the price be effectively ignoring the fact that in the real world, people have to pay for stuff?”

    McCarthy: “I don't have a massive amount of sympathy for people complaining about the price of Rock Band. If you don't like the price, don't buy the game. Or move somewhere better than Britain. I mean, it's not just games, is it? As for the general point: if reviewers want to review a game based on its price, that's up to them, as long as they make it clear that's what they're doing. I'm basically in favour of reviewers reviewing a game however they want, as long as they make clear the basis upon which they form their judgements.”

    Porter: “Wherever there is room for confusion and complaint, you can be sure that some will be confused and complain about it. I doubt there's any real solution to the problem. All that can be asked is that each magazine team is aware of the readership it has and points out issues where they see fit.”

    RR: “The most important point underpinning McCarthy and Porter's argument is that there has to be clarity when it comes to the magazine, or the reviewer, getting the approach they're taking in the review across to the reader. But in an age where people will log on to MetaCritic to view a list of scores, or will happily just flick through to the last paragraph of a mag's review in WHSmith, what are the readers expecting?”

    Gillen: “I suppose it's a natural conclusion of 'Some People Just Read The Mark'. If that's all they read, you need to actually carry the message, 'Not Worth It', in there. People who read the review will make up their own mind. And – frankly – publishers should be punished for trying it on.”

    RR: “As compelling as the well considered and largely well-meaning viewpoints of fine journalists such as McCarthy and Porter are, particularly the attitude of reviewing the “game” rather than the “product”, it's hard not to ultimately agree with Gillen on this one. At the end of the day, we're not just here to tell the readers what's worth investing their time, and nothing more, in. Some other reviewers really do need reminding occasionally that their readers, those people they write for (remember them… anyone?), don't generally get sent stuff for free.

    Gillen: “I suppose the central point is, 'I think that games journalists should remember when they spent thirty quid on a game and felt ripped off'. It's a good general rule.”

    5 comments:

    1. It seems to follow this dynamic: If the game is cheap, the review score is bumped up because it's "...a great game for only £20!" or whatever.

      If the game's expensive, it's ignored. That dynamic is obviously broken.

      Also, everyone writing about games likes it when they're cheap, as it makes their weekly CEX bonus all the sweeter.

      ReplyDelete
    2. i think the answer is fairly obvious - review the game as an experience, and then comment upon commercial value.

      this could then be summarised as a ratio of score to cost, so that a brilliant, dirt cheap game gets a high ratio and a lacklustre, expensive game gets a low ratio.

      hmmm - maybe reviewers should consider replacing scores out of 100 with scores in terms of currency. then you could correct them for inflation &c.

      ReplyDelete
    3. david7:19 pm

      Interesting...

      In my opinion, price definately affects the experience. I just bought Mirror's Edge for £5 on PC - had I paid the usual £20-25 I would have been left feeling a bit disapointed - but for £5 it's a 9/10 for me

      ReplyDelete
    4. Your Mum's Fat Arse5:30 pm

      Rick Porter is a rodent-faced cock muncher.

      ReplyDelete
    5. Anonymous10:54 pm

      Personally, I like to score games based on the amount I'd be willing to pay for them. The idea being that if you can find it for that price or less, then I would consider it a worthwhile purchase.

      Rhythm Tengoku - £40
      Dragon Age - £20
      Torchlight - £5

      And so on.

      ReplyDelete