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There has always been an uneasy and invisible tension between the gaming media and the creative industry itself that feeds us. As is the situation with movies, books and music, both the creators and the critics are in a tenable position where both require the other to survive. Without the developers, sites like ours would not exist, and without us, developers couldn’t promote their games, putting them in a state of strange limbo where indie devs are competing on a level playing field. The humanity!

Thus, its no surprise that like in any other industry, that sometimes things flair up and controversies ensue. What’s interesting though, that in this new media landscape, none of this can be hidden in the backhalls of offices anymore. PR agencies can try all they like, but its usually the passionate players on both ends that turn to the general public to decide who is right, or wrong, in the matter at hand. This is what happened this week in the very public fight between Eurogamer and the developers of new MMO Darkfall.

The issues all started after Eurogamer initially published their review of Darkfall on the 5th of May. For a bit of background – Darkfall, developed by MMO veterans and having been stuck in development hell for many years, released garnishing a very large cult following and very open ended gameplay. Being a particularly niche title, most sites and print media didn’t bother to review it, including ours. Many outlets probably figured that the market would be so small for such a title, it would be particularly difficult to publish a fair review. Others may have not have known it was released, but what was easy to know from a quick search was that it was very popular in the hardcore gaming scene.

Eurogamer had given Darkfall a 2 out of 10, the first time it had ever given anything remotely major such a terribly low score. To compare, Eurogamer scored Darkfall lower then such gems as Postal 2, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire 2 and The X-Factor Sing. Drama always immediately occurred. Comments on Eurogamer’s site and the Darkfall forums became especially intense, with people questioning the dubious nature of the review, including its especially rampant negativity, and strong claims against the content and control of the game.

It didn’t take long for Darkfall to officially respond. The developers echoed the same concerns that their supporters had voiced, and, with an extraordinary amount of openness, detailed their communications with Eurogamer and gave regular gamers an insight into how the gaming media works. And at the same time, dropped an enormous bombshell – that the reviewer and MMO editor of Eurogamer had barely logged a few hours into the title, according to server records, opposed to claims by the review in his article that he had logged many hours. Not only that, but that Eurogamer had told Aventurine (Darkfall devs) in advance about the bad review, and refused to allow anyone else to re-review considering such an extraordinarily low score.

Eurogamer also officially responded themselves, the next day, putting up a mixed defense, saying that the reviewer was a contributor, not staff, but that they stood behind him and his review. They did not apologize nor take blame, but did admit some “some lessons can be learned for future reviews”. They did, however, offer to re-review the game, but not take down the original review. This is an important point, since Eurogamer are part of the especially powerful MetaCritic and GameRankings websites, that aggregate reviews and can make or break an entire title. Both sites will only link and take scores from the original review, so a re-review would not help Darkfall in this regard,

Aventurine quickly responded with a couple more, again, very open posts detailing the full story behind the issue and countered some of the claims that Eurogamer had made. They dismissed that the re-review would fix the issue, and said that the damage caused by the negative press and the review in general would take a dramatic toll on the small developer’s bottom line. In any case, they reveal information regarding concessions offered to Eurogamer (including flying members over to substantiate their claims in person, with evidence) and other usually sensitive information to the public. In the era of public relations and marketing, this is almost unheard of.

So what can be learned from this whole situation? Lots. It uncovers the sheer power large media has over independent games, and how such a large blow can almost destroy the creative seams, the basic underlying point behind developing. It demonstrates the arrogance and sheer stubbornness to compromise, to provide checks and balances to make sure that such unbelievably low scores are justified, due to the impact it can have on the developer. Critics already are looked at with some level of disdain in the general industry, perpetuating this hate by logging titles that have obviously been very heavily and passionately worked on is ridiculous.

I have no problem with low scores, and I agree that many games deserve them. But I do have an issue when an obvious mistake has been made and little is done to rectify it. The reviewer did not like the title from the get go, and this shows throughout the entire review. As an editor myself, It is difficult to know whether a person assigned to a title will enjoy it or not, but if one of our review staff mentions that the game deserves a very low score, I will get a second opinion. This has happened before, and it will probably happen again.

I have played Darkfall. It is not a 2 out of 10 game. And, hell, I’ve played a ridiculous amount of games, some of which many of you wouldn’t even pick up to look at in a games store. It’s not my personal cup of tea but its obvious that the game is focused at a certain element of the MMO market, and it does this very well. To lump it in the same boat as games based around reality TV shows and Wii Mini-game throwaways screams to me of creating controversy for the sake of it, and the only loser in this equation is the underdog that cannot do anything but defend itself.

I must say, in conclusion, that I think Eurogamer, as a fellow media outlet, are great at what they do. But we all make mistakes, and as part of a self-regulating industry, we should be the first to admit these and re-assure our readers that there are humans on the other side of these words.

  1. I completely agree man. If you are reviewing a game you have to go into it completely neutral, if you start playing a game with a negative attitude all the little insignificant bad things about the game are going to seem like huge deals; and that will be apparent in your review.
    As for Eurogamer, if he hasn’t played an MMO for at least 15-20 hours he shouldn’t be reviewing it. You have to play those games for a while to get the big picture out of them, it goes for any RPG.
    Its disgraceful that he believed he could review such a huge game with only a couple of hours of playing. Even Fighting games, the most basic of games, need 5 or 6 hours of play AT LEAST to review.

  2. avatar ChrisW

    IMO, even if a game is broken (as stated by this dubious reviewer), nice graphics always have a tendency to raise the score by at least a point or two… despite the reviewer’s claim that “Old-School EverQuest has better graphics.” Which by judging from screen shots (I know, they’re not exactly a reliable source) seems false.

    It also seems like he lacks validity! Sure he throws in some bruha about Ever Quest, WoW, and Star Wars Galaxies, but all of these games have some of the same things that he’s complaining about; the grind, the graphics, the interface, and the intricacies (where I think he means idiosyncrasies). And adding the fact that he’s only logged a 5 or 6 hours (whereas I’ll log about 20 hours before I decide I don’t like an MMO) he definitely lacks validity for most of his statements, even if they are only his opinion.

    As a final note: I haven’t played it yet, thus I don’t know how it really is. I’m waiting to see what other reviewers give it. But nonetheless, from what I’ve seen of it, it “looks” better than some of the other MMOs that I’ve played. AND another reason for waiting, I’ve got another MMO on my plate right now (a free to play one of course).

    BTW, his only other MMORPG review is LotR Mines of Moria, which he gave a 9/10. Regardless, I don’t see where this guys has enough qualifications to make such a quick and penitent review.

  3. avatar Confused

    According to the logs the reviewer spent just over two hours over multiple sittings playing the game, they also showed that over 1 hour of that time was spent in the charecter creation facility.

    This review was a complete disgrace only overshadowed by eurogamers pathetic handeling of the situation.

  4. avatar c0nflikt

    The reviewer sounds like a douche, i personally think LOTR is crap and i’ve played at least over 40 mmos and logged at a minimum 30-40 hours on each. Darkfall is a good game for those who want what it is offering. Tis a shame what one reviewer having a bad day can do to a small company, but hey its the internets.

  5. avatar DiffusionE

    I feel sorry for both Aventurine and Eurogamer. They had to save face in front of the public because of a half-hearted review by someone who is obviously bored with his life and decided to vent his frustrations on a helpless indie game.

    Really? Two hours only to write a review for an MMO, and half of it spent on character creation? What was he? A fashion designer? This ain’t Tom Clancy’s Dress Up or Barbie Dollhouse. Maybe he thought any MMO not coming from a big company like Blizzard is automatically bad.

  6. avatar Jordan

    I hadn’t heard of the game before now. I’ll have to take a look.

    Drama isn’t always bad for business.

  7. avatar Dan

    If the reviewer is lying and the lies hurt them monetarily, Adventurine can consider a libel lawsuit.

  8. avatar IMHO

    Actually a lot of people who DO NOT follow EuroGamer didn’t even know they had published the review. However, it was Tasos’ seeming childish reply that raised hell. Regardless whether Tasos was right or wrong, the fact is that (as I read it) his rebuttal to the story sounded unprofessional. Placing the whole fault of this fiasco solely on the reviewer and EuroGamer is not far either. Also, judging from reading forums everywhere it seems Tasos has a PR problem of his own (completely unrelated to the review).

    Please note I’m not passing judgment on the game (as I have not played it); I’m simply commenting on this situation from a neutral perspective.

  9. avatar Hamad

    If you ask me, Eurogamer, like other big gaming websites really smell.
    I have doubts about Eurogamer now, I was a big fan.

    The review was unprofessional, period.

  10. avatar Minerva

    I had some friends in silimar situations in 2001 during the .com downturn. Their stock options were offered when the stock was riding high, after the tech downturn the options were for more than current stock price. Not only that, but the IRS was taxing it as a benefit and only took into account the original value, not the current.The thing that amazes me is that they would try to write and pass off a forged goodbye letter from Richard.Re, MMORPG review, if that is true then it would make me wary of using EuroGamer as a trusted review source. I would tend to believe Adventurine since they have the sever logs to back it up. It sounds like a lot of complaints are with the mechanics. He didn’t like having to open your inventory bag and drag something to it when you are looting a corpse. To me, that makes sense, it’s what would be required in reality. The Take All button in most MMORPGs is more expedient though. He complained about having to stop moving to interact with the map or inventory. WoW lets you keep going but many other games do not. I get the impression that since the game doesn’t do things the same way as others, it’s no good. That’s why developers don’t want to innovate, any change to the status quo is going to be met with resistance from somebody.So far, the only Metacritic and GameRanking reviews are from Eurogamer, so we will see what the other say. On MC the user ratings are 6.2

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