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The Top 7... Things we hate about modern gaming

2 %26ndash; Microsoft%26rsquo;s abandonment of the PC

Guest entry by Evan Lahti

The PC is in the midst of a renaissance. StarCraft II is the current apex of competitive gaming and e-sports; top-grade hardware is cheap; digital distributors like Steam host insane sales several times a year; indie gems like Minecraft blossom into two-million selling sensations; mods like GoldenEye: Source wow us as passionate expressions of user-generated content.

But it’s baffling that we’re living in a world where the people that make the PC’s operating system—Microsoft—not only has a non-interest in being a platform holder and carrying the banner, but takes every opportunity it can to muck up the PC with half-hearted initiatives.

Games For Windows Live is a disaster, and it continues to be rejected by consumers and developers alike. Initially a paid service when it launched, Microsoft blundered by porting over an aesthetic, payment scheme (Microsoft Points) and functionality that mirrored (a neutered) Xbox Live. More recently, a leaked video revealed Microsoft’s one-time vision for the service to be a microtransaction-laden, avatar-driven Frankensteinian horror that only a crew of out-of-touch marketeers could’ve hatched. Today, the service continues to be plagued by connection problems, lacks dedicated server support that PC gamers demand, and sees games like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution, Fallout: New Vegas, Kane & Lynch, and Red Faction: Armageddon abandoning GfWL as their matchmaking or DRM solution on PC.

Above: Two horrible ideas, in a single, years-late package!

Other sins: in 2009, Microsoft shuttered ACES studio (responsible for the long-running Flight Simulator series) and Ensemble Studios (creators of the acclaimed Age of Empires franchise). Prior to that, it closed FASA Studios (MechWarrior) after the developer’s final product, Shadowrun, “failed” when Microsoft launched it in the midst of the Halo 3 multiplayer beta, and with mandated cross-platform functionality that made Xbox 360 players easy targets for anyone playing with a mouse and keyboard. Halo 2 released on PC nearly three years after it did on Xbox—even then, it was used to promote Windows Vista, the only OS on which it could be played. Fable III was promised as a day-and-date release on the PC, but will be available seven months later through the Games For Windows Marketplace and—in an interesting admission of who’s taking ownership over PC gaming—Fable III will also be sold through Valve’s Steam store, the PC’s current closest thing to a platform holder.

It’s a testament to the platform’s health that the PC doesn’t need millions of marketing dollars to be successful as a gaming platform, but we can’t help but think that it would be an even better place to game if Microsoft hadn’t abandoned the PC—the gaming platform that put it on the map—like an unwanted bastard child when the company began to pursue the Xbox.

1 %26ndash; The obsession with Metacritic

Metacritic does not want you to read words or contextualize opinions, or think for yourself. It has no respect for the human element of gaming, either on the side of the player or the reviewer. It wants to break down all the little quirks, idiosyncrasies, personal tastes and subtle predilections that make interactive entertainment such an eclectic personal joy, and replace them with nothing more than a cold, meaningless number. In short, Metacritic wants to make you and your game-buying decisions stupid.

It’s the seething epitome of that idiotic “screw the review, just look at the score” mentality that proliferates through the gaming community. Not only does it put the emphasis even further upon what is only ever, let’s face it, an arbitrary subjective number used to support however many hundred words of insight and context, it utterly devalues that insight on a grand scale.

Every score (if placed by a competent and talented reviewer) has a whole stack of carefully reconciled pros, cons, nuances and niggles, deftly argued and appraised, sitting right behind it. In Metacritic’s world though, you can fuck that shit. Every opinion is grouped together into one big voiceless, homogenized mass, reasoning and perspectives be damned, behind one big dubious number made up by a primary-school-basic maths equation.

Of course Metacritic will tell you it weights review scores based on publication relevance when calculating its over-simplified mathematical appraisal, but doesn’t doing that make a mockery of its own review-averaging system, given that doing so openly admits all reviews are not created equal? And when you then consider that Metacritic converts non-percentage-scored reviews (and even those without scores) to numbers of its own choosing, it’s just plain hilarious. And rather disturbing. Who the hell’s opinion is really reflected in these numbers, once they’ve gone through the Metacritic mangle?

And worst of all? Most dangerously, damningly, hatefully of all, Metacritic makes it easier than ever for the unimaginative, non-creative corporate bean-counters of the world to stick their oar into the developmental greenlighting process. Metacritic, you see, makes it painfully simple for them to appraise things in the language they understand. Basic, isolated numbers, given a sense of officialdom and a falsely definitive aura based on a woolly, lumpen, shoehorned mechanism that serves no-one well, reviewer, developer or gamer. But those guys love numbers, so they view the Metascore as the word of God. But they’re wrong.

The solution? Screw Metacritic. Just find writers you trust, read their words, and decide how those words relate to you. Numbers are just the garnish.

Apr 25, 2011

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