Friday, July 21, 2017

The Chrysler Effect and Gaming

For those of you outside the US, there is a consumer publication called Consumer Reports that tests and evaluates products. They do not accept advertising dollars, and the entire enterprise is funded by their subscriber base. Their testing is considered top notch, particularly with household appliances and cars.* If you end up looking for a new (or used) car in the US, odds are very good that you'll have at least one Consumer Reports magazine with you as part of the process.

As part of the review process, Consumers Union (the entity that publishes CR) not only covers the specifics of how an item behaves, but also provides clues on how well an item will last. They send out annual surveys to their subscribers to provide input on items they own, as well as whether they would purchase that item again. This last one gives CU a decent idea as to whether people are happy with their purchase decision, which when we're talking about cars is a multi-thousand dollar purchase that people may own for over a decade.

This brings me to Chrysler.

Chrysler, the US manufacturer now owned by Fiat, has had a checkered history. Chrysler created the minivan**, and were among the first car manufacturers to add standard airbags. At the same time, Chrysler has been in bankruptcy more than once, and that last bout of bankruptcy ending in the purchase of Chrysler by Fiat.

Why, you may ask? Partially it is due to the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, but also because Chrysler cars have a reputation for poor quality.

Both word of mouth and data acquired by CU point to Chrysler having --by far-- the worst quality results of all US domestic automakers. Even when Chrysler makes a well received vehicle, such as the newly released Chrysler Pacifica minivan, in the new car issue of Consumer Reports CU hedges their bets on the quality of the new vehicle, saying they expect it to have poorer than average quality. Essentially, it's a "until you prove to me otherwise, we'll assume that this is going to be a car that will be in the repair shop a lot."


When I posted my review of Rift the other day, I knew peripherally about how Rift had gone F2P and how it had burned through its fanbase's support by moving in the direction of a more "pay to win" cash shop. Still, I decided to post without dredging that up. However, Shintar's comments about how she felt that Trion had turned Rift into a cautionary tale about how to destroy a fanbase's goodwill, I felt that it is important to address the elephant in the room.

Should a development house's or game's reputation/behavior have an impact on game reviews? I'm not talking about specific posts about a company, because I've got tons of those over the years that are critical of development houses, but rather a review of the game itself. In other words, should the previous actions/reputation of a development house be reason to dismiss a game, or at the very least give the player pause before deciding to play?

In a way, this is the Playstation/XBox debate in a nutshell, where people take sides and sit in their glass houses, lobbing grenades at each other. This could also describe how people respond to EA or Ubisoft games*** with the "burn it all down!!" or worse. (Much much worse.)

But at the same time, a development house's reputation can't be ignored, because there's frequently a reason why a company/dev house has that reputation. If a coworker has a great reputation, you're likely to cut that employee some slack if they screw up. And on the flip side, if you've a coworker with a reputation as being a screw-up, you're thinking "yep, expected that" when things don't go well.

Look at Blizzard. When Cataclysm launched, it got a lot of nice reviews. I distinctly remember one review saying that the only real drawback to Cata was that you had to subscribe and have the previous expacs. But now, looking back on it from a 5+ year distance, Cataclysm was the expac that began the slow descent of WoW.**** It broke the story continuity, it had several meh major content patches that didn't excite the base, and the changes to the guts of WoW disappointed many who complained that WoW was being "dumbed down." Blizzard's reputation was such that it took a long time to admit that Blizzard could still lay an egg.


So what to do about Trion, and these reviews in general?

In this case I believe it is best to separate the game from the development house, and examine the game on its own terms. I can't control what Trion does and how the community reacts, but I can report on what I find in the game. If the game feels empty, I'll report that. If the community is toxic, I'll report that. And if I find bugs and crashes in what ought to be basic stuff, I'll report that too.

But I shouldn't let dev companies off the hook for their product, either. So another series, examining the dev houses behind the games, would be a good idea.

As for my statement about Rift being a survivor, I still stand by that statement. A six year old game still getting expac releases is not a small feat. I work in an industry that considers three year old equipment "ancient" and "in need of replacement", so anything that lasts six years is an impressive achievement.

Shintar, however, is also right in that Trion Worlds made some bad decisions that will likely jeopardize Rift's ability to be around another six years, which is a shame because the game right now is pretty darn good.

The review of the game still stands, but a study of the dev house... That still needs to happen.

*Back in 1988, it was their review of the Suzuki Samurai that exposed the rollover problem of the Samurai during certain avoidance maneuvers, and their "not acceptable" rating of the car helped kill the Samurai in the NA market.

**I know that minivans are not well liked, but I like them. They work and they get the job done. When our old minivan died last year, I missed it.

***Think of the reaction to the buggy Mass Effect: Andromeda or Assassin's Creed Unity (or Syndicate).

****To borrow a Boromir quote in Fellowship of the Ring, "WoW wanes, you say. But WoW stands, and even at the end of its strength it is still very strong." WoW still likely has more regular players than the #2-#10 MMOs put together. MOBAs, on the other hand, are a completely different thing.


  1. Fair point - MMOs are not cars and don't have the same stakes. Where buying a car that's more likely to be faulty could potentially put your very life at risk, getting an MMO where the developer keeps making bad decisions might just... ruin your fun?

    It also depends on how deeply invested you are. I think that if you are playing along fairly casually, you're less likely to notice changes in direction unless the devs actually mess with something very core to the experience, such as suddenly making the combat a lot harder or easier. As a more "hardcore" player on the other hand, your experience can be affected quite severely even by decisions relating to fairly "niche" items, such as changing the rewards for raids (or deciding to not release any more raids at all).

    1. And to extrapolate, progression raiders and arena/rated PvPers are the hardest core of the lot. They're the ones that scour every update looking for what tweak might change their output.

      Which does make me wonder just how many of that hardcore left MMOs for MOBAs when DOTA2 and League came along.