This is not a rant about scores themselves, or even the fact that often a reviewer barely even plays the game for more than half an hour before sitting down to write their 'review' of it. It's something a little different, and it's about how not all games are created from an equal footing.
My gripe is about the way reviewers treat smaller games and game developers. Both professional reviewers, and user reviews, I feel that they are missing the point when it comes to this, and it's such a shame, because these people have such a huge amount of 'power' when it comes to steering people away from and towards certain games. These reviews can have a huge impact on the success or failure of a game. So it's a major issue when one or more of these reviewers give a review with a negative spin. They have great responsibility, but in some cases, are not using it responsibly.
So what I'm getting at is that these reviewers are completely missing the point and are being completely unfair when judging/reviewing games made by small development teams. It's one thing to be a harsh judge of a big budget game like Crysis for example, but it's another thing to do that to a small game. The kind of games I'm talking about are things like Age of Wonders, Darkfall Online, Sins of a Solar Empire, Mount & Blade, Gods: Lands of Infinity, Minions of Mirth, Space Rangers, etc. Even to some extent, games like Call of Juarez too. There are quite a lot of these games which are made by smaller companies. Sometimes it's thirty or so people, but sometimes it's 3 people... This is in relation to the big development companies who massive budgets which afford them all the latest technologies and tools, an almost endless amount of time to develop and then polish their game, and enormous teams of the best staff they can get.
Now I'm not suggesting that anyone gives a biased review, what I'm suggesting is that these people at least use their brain a bit before they blurt out their review. The "user reviews" show a real lack of any kind of sense. Most of them show the typical child like response to something. This game rulez or this game suckz. There is not much in between and there is absolutely no thought behind their opinions. With professional reviewers, many of them are so up their own bums with self admiration at their own writing skills, wit, and impressive vocabularies, that they forget that they have an important job to do.
So time for examples, lets start with Minions of Mirth (or MoM for short). It is a MMORPG that you can also play offline, and it has some very unique features that are a real breath of fresh air compared to the other 99% of MMORPG's on the market. I've played almost every MMORPG on the market, big and small, korean/jap or western, and everything in between. Minions of Mirth is in my top three for providing me with the most fun, even compared to games like World of Warcraft.
The thing is though, this game was made by THREE people. Not 300, not 30, not even 13, but 3 people in total... A husband and wife partnership and their friend. Their budget was around $20,000 US dollars. This is in relation to big MMORPG's which have a budget in excess of $40 MILLION dollars. That's two thousand times more money....
So when I read reviews of these games and they talk about "dated graphics" and "lack of polish" it really annoys me. It's not a fair comparison, and it's stupid to judge the games against each other. It's the equivalent of a PE teacher, telling a 13 year old kid with really promising football skills, "You suck mate, Ronaldo would run rings around you".
Admittedly it's hard to review them because everything is relative and you have to describe the game and it's bound to come up somehow that it's a cheap little RPG and not in the same league as something like Oblivion for example. But there should be a way of doing this objectively and not making it seem so negative. Sure if it's got some really crappy design decisions or just isn't fun at all, then call it out, but that just isn't true of most of these games. I've seen people complain about some of these games having primitive animations, not enough music, and limited facial customisation for example, and I have to question people's intelligence when they start doing that. They make out like the developers made an oversight, or they are not talented enough to make it or something. It's missing the point.
The point I'm really trying to make here, is this. Most of these big uber games today, the likes of Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights etc, they all have massive budgets and it's because they started long ago when a game could be made relatively cheaply and it would still be a triple A title. They made good money and had more to spend on their next title, which afforded it to be bigger and better looking so made even more money, and it escalates to the point where today we have incredible games like Fallout3 etc, with cutting edge graphics and masses of content and polish thanks to the massive teams working on the games. These small companies that start up today, with just a few people and humble budgets, if they keep getting shot down by narrow minded reviewers AND gamers, they will never succeed and they will never get to show you what they can really do! So us gamers are getting screwed out of some great games.
Many of these games have far more promise to me at least, than the big games. Yes Oblivion was pretty cool, but it's combat system is pure arcade action and barely has any depth or strategy to it at all. Compare that to some of the ones I mentioned above which have full on AD&D or Final Fantasy style combat systems, I find them far more enjoyable to play. I would MUCH rather play games like that, and so would many other people. We are screwed though, because these low budget games have a hard enough time... and then shallow reviewers and gamers come along and judge the graphics and lack of polish on these games, and spread it all over the internet for the entire world to see. Half their potential sales get pirated, and the other half gets shattered by these damning reviews. As a result, some of the great games I mentioned above, will never have a sequel. The few that will, will have less of a sequel that they could have had otherwise. Just the other day I was reading a preview of the new Call of Juarez game. I loved the first game and thought it was a real breath of fresh air compared to the usual mass produced FPS's. But the previewer went on and on about how the first game was unpolished and had some features that weren't too great and so on. Yeah smart ass, if you gave the tiny Polish developer the same budget of FarCry 2 for example, they would have been able to afford another 6 months of development time to polish all these rough edges to a high sheen, and it would have been a far better game. But because of reviews like that, it probably scared away countless potential customers who would have all been paying for it and allow their next game to be bigger and better and more polished. I suspect Call of Juarez 2 will be another good game, and like the first one, I'll probably find it far more interesting and memorable than the likes of Crysis... but I also suspect it will have yet more rough edges because they are simply pushing the envelope of what is possible on their kind of budget. At least they are surviving and progressing though, they are lucky. Many of these smaller games are shot down early and were never given a fair chance.