I don’t often blog about the world outside of WoW, since this is, yah, a WoW blog.  But I do watch other games closely. And yes, that includes STWOR. I guess it’s assumed that the main reason I don’t want to play it is because I have never heard of George Lucas and his progeny. That’s a negative, Ghost Rider.

Anyhoo.

In an interview on Eurogamer (as pointed to by Massively), the Game Director for STWOR, James Ohlen, had this to say.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Game Director James Ohlen isn’t surprised that the game’s received the flak it has from a segment of reviews and fans. In a candid interview with Eurogamer, Ohlen addresses both the issues of being a "big target" for critics and the claims that SWTOR’s lacking innovation.

For the most part, players and critics have praised the game, Ohlen shares, and BioWare is seeing an "exceptionally high" desire among its playerbase for continued subscriptions. But was BioWare prepared for the backlash as well? Ohlen says it was: "We knew that there was going to be people who wanted us to fail. But that’s just the nature of the game. If you’re going to build a huge game and try to go out to a lot of people, you’re going to have people who just react poorly."

Basically, he seems to say, if you have something bad to say about the game, you’re a hater. 

In one fell swoop, he attempts to reduce any criticism – legit or not – to just plain "haters gonna hate, bro" and thus, in his mind at least, can move forward about talking about how wonderful the embroidery is on the next tier of armor or whatever.

I’m not going to address the concerns expressed elsewhere either collectively or individually. Not my concern. But when I see a video game company handle legitimate criticisms in such a cavalier fashion, it really annoys me. It’s a sleazeball move and it just paints the whole development team in a bad light – and usally they don’t deserve that.

Well, sure, he works at EA, and we all lower our expectations whenever we talk, shake hands with, or generally share space with someone at EA these days1. But that does not excuse the practice, any more than if it were someone at Blizzard2.

If I ever have a critique of a game, it will be based on the game and not on nature of the players within or the nature of the content.  The fact is that the "franchise" does not interest me, but that is not a critique of the game itself.  What I’ve heard of the game itself has been largely positive. I’ve heard more negative about the community around the game than the game itself. That doesn’t make the game a bad game, any more than LFR makes puggers into bad people.  They are mechanisms only, and should be judged on that basis.

When you try to insinuate bias without proof, you come across as a sleaze, plain and simple, and when you do that, you inch closer to losing a sale from those that care about that sort of thing.

Now, do I actually believe this guy meant things that way?  At the moment, I’m on the fence. As usual, reading the full article embellishes things a bit. But this is the bit getting the widest exposure, and it so far hasn’t been walked back too briskly, so I don’t know what to think about this guy.

What I DO know is that this is a practice I have seen over and over again, from game makers at all levels (including Zynga, ew). So if it’s gonna quack and walk like a duck, I’m going to lay down the duck-like attributes on it.

The practice itself is just not cool, it shouldn’t be pandered to, and "reporters" on the scene should call it out when it happens instead of nodding and smiling and holding on to that free pass for one more quarter.


  1. More’s the pity, I remember when EA was a known mark of quality and excellence. []
  2. Has that happened? I’m sure it has, and there’s still no excuse for it. []
6 Responses to “Don’t be this guy”
  1. In Ohlen’s defense I will say this. The signal to noise ratio at the moment is really hard to separate. A lot of people have made legitimate critiques of the game, but when you look at what is being said you often have to ask “who is saying this?” Before launch during press plays or special media events you often had these game journalists writing pieces talking about how horrible it is, but what becomes apparent isn’t that they dislike SWTOR as a bad mmorpg, they hate mmorpgs at all. It would be like the guy who’s bread and butter is RTS or sports games being asked to play a game that realistically you won’t fully get for 40-80 hours of game play and even then you haven’t gone through 5% of the content. So when “haters” show up are they mmorpg+star wars fans who have legit complaints about community tools or game mechanics or are they people outside the circle who are unhappy it isn’t KOTOR 3 or Call of Duty: Sith Edition or Star Wars the Old Peggle?

    That circle of inside and outside I think matters to a great degree. I’m not a big fan of FPS. I know that so I don’t voice an opinion about which is better COD or MW, because even if I had played the games for a bit, I know they aren’t for me. I am a fan of MMORPGs as you know so when I say I found EQ2′s launch to be clunky and some aspects of group combat didn’t seen to work right, that has some weight. And those opinions are from 2004-5, from what I understand they made lots of improvements, but I never went back because of WoW’s draw.

    So back to Ohlen, he is promoting a product he is very proud of and the question posed to him seems kind of vague. If you agree with the idea I espoused in the last paragraph about critiques from inside or outside the circle having merit, then I think you have to agree he can in some sense dismiss people who don’t like mmorpgs at all who don’t like the game. But if you gave him a specific critical review to respond to I’d hope he’d be more nuanced in it.

    • Grimmtooth says:

      I think largely it will depend on where one thinks a person’s responsibilities lie and how good he is at doing his job.

      The two choices he faces are (1) defend the brand at all costs or (2) focus his skills on dealing with the legitimate issues in a fair manner without elevating the trolls. Throwing the former in with the latter erodes the brand, IMO. Understandably, one wants to defend one’s way of life, but even stormtroopers working under the Palpatine administration want to do that. Tarkin probably didn’t go home to his wife each day and exclaim “We really struck a blow for evil today, honey!”

      (And yes I just painted a program manager with the same brush used on the guy that ordered the destruction of Aldaraan)

      But let me point out something here. He has plenty of background on what the critiques are. That interview was not the first trip to that well. It would be plain unprofessional of him to pretend otherwise. Again, I think this is a side effect of the parasitic nature of the tech journalism field as much as anything, but, still.

      His defense of taking old tropes and improving them is legitimate – heck, that’s one of the things we LOVED about WoW when it came out (zoning, for example). So he certainly has awareness of where the critiques are going. (I personally was surprised that that even came up, but I suppose the Syncaines of the world are always going to bitch about every little hair out of place.)

      • Defending against the critiques on the lack of innovation by pointing out where they have was good. But how was he supposed to respond to the metacritic situation where the critics give it an average of 86/100 while users give it on average a 6.1/10. But when you start reading the user reviews many of the negative reviews are 0s and 1s and the complaints read off like they are disappointed it is an MMORPG or that it uses standard mmorpg things. Or they are fans of other MMOs and just want Guild Wars 2 or WoW to be MMORPG king. There seems to be a strong disconnect between teh critic reviewing community and mmo fans. I looked and similar things happened for WoW and Cataclysm ie the gap. What you don’t see at metacritic is the same drop in single player games like TF2, Skryrim or Portal 2. You see something similar in the COD and MW franchises which leads me to believe the issue isn’t the quality of the game so much as the rivalry between the fanbase bringing negative reviews way beyond what one would reasonably expect.

        So a similar situation would be to have sports writers and fans rate a baseball players performance. The sports writers would probably all say “oh he did well” but a yankee fan might say that a red sox players “sux balls and can’t play his way out of a wet paper sack 0/10″. Should the Red Sox player have to answer to 50,000 screaming yankee fans saying “you suck?” or should he just focus his attention elsewhere?

        Or more to the original point how should Ohlen have dealt with the Metacritic issue in your opinion?

    • Lyraat says:

      The signal-to-noise issue is very real and a great comment. I think, though, the noise is coming less from mis-assigned journalists and more from trolls. EA and SW are well-known and have their fair share of haters. There’s a difference between legitimate, honest, constructive criticism and “u suck lol”. I don’t think Ohlen hates everyone who doesn’t like the game, but rather he doesn’t want to be bothered by those who hate his product because it has Electronic Arts and Star Wars on it. Look at Blizzard: they took an RTS franchise and morphed it into the most successful MMORPG of all time when nobody thought they could. Gotta have a thick skin.

  2. Sean says:

    I agree this comment comes across as excessively defensive and sleazy. He can’t possibly be unaware that many of the complaints lodged against this complaint are real and easily verifiable, like the tiny, illegible fonts used throughout the interface. There were numerous complaints about this in the Beta and beyond, but nothing was done about it or likely ever will. There are tons of problems like this that are in-your-face obvious.

    As to the disparity between user scores and critic scores, the simple answer is that these reviewers are biased and always overrate games like this. Failure to do so can lead to loss of ad revenue or blacklisting from big name companies like EA, so these guys are about as objective as one of Stalin’s yes-men. Even the user scores may be inflated by the fact the volunteer moderators on these sites tend to be fanboy types and delete negative reviews of the games they like. For example I found it impossible to write a negative review of the Witcher 2 on Gamespot and corresponded with several other people who reported the same. One guy had to raise his review score to a 6 from a 2 to get the review to go through. There is an interesting post on MMORPG.com about this phenomenon, and the author went to considerable effort to prove his case and does so successfully, IMO.

    http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/thread/337825/Game-reviewers-busted-Thanks-Bioware.html

    • Grimmtooth says:

      I think I touched on the co-dependent nature of game reviewers, but never really explicitly extended that to user reviews as well. Still, I can see that being probable. Heck, I know I have no faith in “open beta” to provide useful information (outside of server load testing); Blizzard practically offering access to beta for money just reinforces my opinion of that.

      (There. I said something mean about Blizz. JUSTICE IS SERVED.)

      But yeah, the review scores are pretty effectively usless until you start looking at sites like NewEgg or Amazon (and Amazon less so since they’re well-known troll hives) and see what people that bought it actually have to say. And even then, a ‘score’ is about as useless as you can get without some sort of standardized grading scale, which none have and none agree on.

      Deal with actual issues, is the way to go.

      Someone wants to appear “transparent”, they can share their bug database.

  3.  
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