Friday, January 13, 2006

Reviewers: David Perry doesn't care what you think

Here's an interview with Shiny Entertainment's David Perry.

It's not entirely worth reading, because despite what David Perry thinks, he's about as relevant as I am. Which isn't much. Well, he's a little more relevant. But you get my drift.

I'll save you some time. Here's the best part of the article:

"The thing about the video games business is that the reviewers who critique your games are very hardcore gamers with very strong opinions that don't necessarily reflect those of the mass market. When we did 'Enter The Matrix,' we wanted to sell as many copies as we possibly could and, in fact, we made something like $250 million. In order to do that, we did focus group tests and made many changes in the game in order to make the average gamer happy. You'll find that, with most games today, the people who buy your games give higher marks than the reviewers. And that's something that you have to watch out for in our industry. You can't judge whether your game is successful based on what the professional critics say."

Note this: "When we did 'Enter The Matrix,' we wanted to sell as many copies as we possibly could..." Not, "We wanted to make the best Matrix experience we could." I think that's significant.

I think I've talked about the Enter The Matrix situation here, in which Atari released "review copies" in the form of boxed copies during E3, at which point even the quickest online reviewers couldn't have a review posted until the game had been on shelves for approaching a week. So folks had no info on the game other than "All the magazines seem excited about it" (which we were, because back then the Matrix was cool, and we didn't know much else about it ourselves) and "It's the damn Matrix," which was enough to sell games back then. The game went on to sell, according to Atari, 4 million copies in the first week. Then the reviews came out and almost universally (I believe Game Informer gave it a good review, but they couldn't have possibly reviewed a final build) panned the game. I'm not sure what happened to sales at that point, but I like to think they tanked. That game was a blight on the industry, buggy and poorly developed.

So Dave Perry doesn't care what critics say. He only wants you to buy his damn game. Here, here's some more:

The Hollywood Reporter: The gamers' word of mouth is more important than the critics' reviews?
Perry: Yes, that's what really matters. If we put all of our attention on making the reviewers happy, we'd create a game that would be for hardcore gamers and would please only a very small percentage of the mass market. That's not why we're in business.

It's clear he's in business to make tons of money. That's assumed. But it's another sign that the industry is leaving hardcore gamers behind. Good or bad, who cares? But the trend is that games are leaving behind the audience that made them popular in the first place. And here, David Perry, He Who Brought Us Enter the Matrix, is announcing his intentions, not to make a good game, but to sell tons of copies to people who don't know any better.

I give reviewers a hard time, and they do deserve it most of the time, but to dismiss them as hardcore gamers who have nothing to add is irresponsible, and it's clearly the words of a man who got burned by poor reviews. "Oh, they gave it a bad review because they're out of touch with what the average guy likes," is the traditional comeback of a developer who gets a bad review. What people fail to realize is that game reviewers aren't academics in an ivory tower; they're GAMERS. They do the job because they love and know games, for the most part. Some of them can't separate their frustration with playing so many games that are exactly alike from their honest sense of what's good and bad, but some can. If you want to know what a gamer will think, they're the best source. Not the developer.

I know. I have sat here in the bubble, working on one project at a time, unaware of what goes on in development on other titles. Even ones in the same company. I've also been out there, a journalist, seeing development teams working on things they think are innovative but are also being worked on in parallel at other companies, who also think they're being innovative. You want to say, "You do realize that this is the sixth RTS we've seen this week with that hotkey system?"

Perry is basically saying, "I don't care about advancing the art of games, I just want to sell copies, and to do that, I will find out what the 'average gamer' wants, even though there's no such thing." Which is fine, and even ballsy to admit, but it's sad that that's the state of the art for the industry. Any true artist or designer who cares for his work would feel gut-punched to know that the person really making the decisions for the project is some kind of non-existant "average gamer."

I want to kick Dave Perry in the head. But come to think of it, I've wanted to do that for some time, so I'm not sure if this article caused it or not.