Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rebel Rousers

Have we all played the new AvP yet? Good, so we all know of its mediocrity. Everybody who has played the thing has been able to figure this out instantly. It must go without saying that the UK developer Rebellion, who presumably have played the thing more than anyone, must also be more aware than anyone of just how mediocre their game is.

That is why a Gamespy article about Rebellion and AvP really caught my eye. Actually, it caught my eye in a few ways. First of all, in the UK AvP is now the fastest selling game of 2010, despite having a Metacritic rating of 65 (for a little bit of context, Xbox Live Arcade game Polar Panic has earned a Metacritic rating of 69). That is worth a double take right there.

But if that is worth a double take, what came next is worth a spit take. When confronted with the clear evidence of the not-so-great critical reception of his game, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley counters with: "The reviews have been mostly good."

...Buh? On the outset this seems to fly completely in the face of the facts. Maybe he clarifies his statement, so we read on: "We've had three totally shit reviews by some Americans, which is a bit odd. Some of them were inexcusably bad. If you discount those poor reviews AvP is averaging high for us."

Ah, I see. So basically, if you ignore all of the shitty reviews for your shitty game, the game is actually a critical success. By that logic you can say that if you ignore the 5 bad reviews for Polar Panic, then Polar Panic is actually a contender for game of the year.

Now, I have to admit that my initial reaction was to get all pissy at the way he seems to try and play the victim of the bigoted anti-Brit, American game journalists. And to be fair, he really does seem to be trying to do just that. But if you look a little closer, you can see what is really happening. I mean, even IF you discount those three reviews, the average only goes from 65 to 68 (and yes, I really figured this out by finding the average of all the reviews with the exception of the three worst). You can hardly call a 68 average a "critical success", and Rebellion knows it. So why would they say otherwise?

This is when I remembered a little something that happened in the gaming community just a couple of years ago. FASA had just released its Xbox 360 game Shadowrun to tepid reviews (66 on the Metacritic). That is when the head of FASA jumped on a gaming podcast show and started ranting about unfair reviews. In particular, he was bothered by the way so many reviewers touched on the $60 dollar price tag. For my own part, I loved Shadowrun as a Counter-Strike clone with a twist on the 360. Yet there truly was not enough content in the box to justify a purchase. How can you not factor that into a review, which primarily exists to help consumers figure out if they want to buy the game or not?

Anyways, what happened next is that the game undersold, and then FASA was liquidated by Microsoft. The whole "these reviews are crap" thing was just FASA trying to justify its existence to Microsoft. FASA was blowing smoke and trying to stay alive as long as possible.

Fast forward to the present day, and we see developer Rebellion trying to tell everyone that everything is a-okay despite bad sales in the US and bad reviews everywhere. Blaming bad American game journalism is just Rebellion's way of spinning the situation so that SEGA won't liquidate them in the same manner that Microsoft killed FASA.

Is it deceptive? Yes. And annoying. But I guess I can't blame them much. They are just trying to hold on to their baby. With that in mind, I'll even root for them a bit. Rebellion doesn't have a terrible pedigree (they made the first AvP, after all), and maybe they have a good game left in them if they are given the chance to make it.

As for the initial double take, the game outselling all others in the UK. This stat is just as bewildering as ever. If I had to guess, I would say that this doesn't so much indicate that the game is flying off of the shelves in the UK as much as it indicates that nothing is flying off of the shelves in the UK. The total game sales numbers must be crap, and AvP has just managed to become king of that extremely small hill. But since I can't find any total sales numbers anywhere (and I barely bothered to look), I can't really back this up.

But I'm probably right. As always.

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