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January 23, 2006

(partly) Constructive Criticism

It seems I've recently gone through the writer's rite of passage of having someone take issue with something I wrote.

Now this is cool and all, especially since the critique was written by Matt Matthews (a.k.a. jvm) of Curmudgeon Gamer.

And in general, I always welcome constructive criticism, especially when I miss something, which I freely admit happens on occasion (e.g. when Kim reminded me about the Xbox's parental controls, which I had missed in my comparison of current-gen consoles).

In this case, while some of jvm's points are valid, others are less so. So let's get to it, shall we?

1) In the spirit of blogospheric brotherhood, I'll start with the point I agree with (though it was the last one in jvm's critique, which explains the "finally"):

Finally, I think the huge, huge flaw in GameTap is never touched on in this GameDAILY piece: you can't buy the games through the service. It would be great to own a playable version of Zaxxon, but you have to pay GameTap for the privilege, and that's what really stinks about their service. I'd rather pay more and get a permanent copy that I own than have to shell out more money every month I want to get my Zaxxon fix.

Yeah, good call. I missed that one, which is a significant hole in GameTap's value proposition. My bad.

See, not so bad, right? I got tagged and took my beating with a certain level of charm & grace (and don't forget humility). Now, on to the more questionable stuff.

2) First, here's how jvm starts off his post:

Shorter version of GameDAILY's take on GameTap (by Dan Matkowsky):

I want every game ever made playing bug-free on my PC for less than $15 a month. And I want it now.

Good luck with that, buddy.

Thanks, pal. ;)

...and a continuation of the same point later in the post:

Why isn't it obvious that some games simply demand a premium to play them? Isn't this true of other goods and services? Food, cars, furniture, even sporting events and theater performances. What's the disconnect here?

So to answer your question, Matt, it is obvious, and the only disconnect here is between what GameTap promises and what it delivers. The customers already are paying a premium - to GameTap.

Even if GameTap doesn't explicitly promise "every game ever made playing bug-free on my PC for less than $15 a month" to the customer, then their marketing certainly implies something pretty close to it.

Look at their slogans:

"Expand Your Playground" & "New World of Videogames"

There's a huge implied promise in them thar words.

The issue seems to be that while jvm is looking at it from a tech standpoint, my critique is written from a consumer's point of view.

Should the non-tech-savvy customer (or any customer, for that matter) care why GameTap doesn't (yet) live up to its promise? Surely not. What may be a perfectly reasonable issue for an IT professional is simply an excuse for an unsatisfied customer. Just ask the Xbox fanboys whose favorite games have yet to be ported to the Xbox 360.

3) And now, for something completely nit-picky:

And I don't know what to make of his non-denial denial of ROM mongering. This bit strikes me as a bit of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge:

As you can see throughout this review, GameTap has some definite shortcomings, but if you're a parent who's absolutely jonesin' for some old school gaming and you want to stay on the straight and narrow, you don't have many legal options.

Oh, sure, you could drive around, searching for restaurants and bars that have a few old arcade cabinets collecting dust in the corner. Or you could head back to your favorite high school hangout to see if your initials are still at the top of the Frogger leader board. Strictly your call.

I'd rather point out that Frogger is available for about a dozen platforms, one of which you probably already own. And the games that he can't get? Here they are:

However, as much as I love Zaxxon, it would also be nice to see some of my other favorites like Star Wars, Tron, Track & Field, Time Pilot and Dragon's Lair.

Other than Zaxxon, which he got through GameTap, all of those games are available in emulated or (excellent) ported form legally. Just check here, here, or here. Granted, you have to shell out for the hardware and software, but that's how the world works, people.

First, I'd rather point out that I wasn't saying that I couldn't find a copy of Frogger to play. Have you not seen the famous "Frogger" episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry & George head back to Mario's for one last slice, only to find that GLC is still atop the leaderboard?

But enough about Frogger. If I wasn't aware of the several places to find legally emulated or excellently ported versions of some of my favorite games (albeit by shelling out for the hardware and software), then I missed it, but that was hardly one of the major points I was trying to make (a recurring problem in this critique).

4) Speaking of which, here's some more nit-pickery:

And his PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller didn't work with the PC version of Splinter Cell. Heavens!

First, I notice that jvm didn't refer to the entire sentence here. This is what I wrote:

For Splinter Cell, my DualShock 2 controller isn’t recognized, and for Robotron 2084, a game that legally requires the player to use the right joystick/thumbstick to shoot, that functionality is sadly missing.

I've yet to come across anyone who can say that Eugene Jarvis' futuristic tour de force is the same game without the double joystick controls.

But even putting aside the omission of my point about Robotron, what about the fact that my controller didn't work with Splinter Cell? Just because something is included in a review, does that necessarily make it the crux of the review? Clearly not. Should I have just ignored it? For me, it was a minor issue, but to someone else, it may be a major one. But if I left it out of my small "Glitches" section, then shame on me.

5) Lastly, the critique that misses the point entirely:

He complains about download times. As someone who's dealt with load times since the Commodore 1541 floppy disk drive, I can tell you there are worse things. (Those who dealt with the C2N tape drive are hardened even further. Poor souls.)

Allrighty, then. Here's the thing. While I tend to inject some of my own likes & dislikes (and Marsha-Brady-esque innermost thoughts, hopes & dreams) into my GameDAILY Family columns and GameFam posts, everything I write about is ultimately about my kids, and by extension, my readers' kids, too.

So while I did take issue with load times, I'm not saying that it is unreasonable for several-hundred-plus MB files to take a while to download. I've downloaded my share of 500MB - 1GB+ demos, so of course I realize just how asinine and irrational it would be for me to make such a statement. But since when are kids rational or patient when they are waiting to be entertained? They're not. That was my point. As I wrote in the "offending" paragraph:

Are your kids cool with delayed gratification? Didn’t think so.

Think about it; my review was in the FAMILY section of GameDAILY (and here at GameFam). That should have been a tipoff right there.

*) Can't we all just get along?

In general, as I wrote up top, I'm more than happy to accept constructive criticism, especially from those more knowledgeable than I, but please don't take my comments out of context (or as former Chicago Bear WR Curtis Conway used to say, "tooken out of content").

Once I put something out there in the public domain, then it is absolutely fair game to be critiqued, even mercilessly so. Point out something legit that I missed (like #1 above), and it's all good.

It isn't my style to go around spoiling for juvenile flame wars with other bloggers, and I apologize (both to my readers and to Matt) if some of my more sarcastic responses sounded like just that. But all I ask is that when you do take issue with my writing, please make sure that you're addressing the point I was trying to make in the first place.


  • After reading the review, it's clear he doesn't really get it. His core assumption is that 'I mean, DUH, Everyone' rips ROMS for MAME.' I can tell you emphatically that NO, everyone does NOT. I know some who have and some who haven't...but that my sister-in-law or my brother aren't going to use ROMs to play games with their kids. They MAY use GameTap or a service like it.

    I COULD use ROMs, it's true...but as you pointed out, many classic games are out in converted form (and more are coming out). Companies like Retro64, Popcap and others are producing games that are in the spirit of those classic games or are unique twists on them.

    And pointint out their game selection failings is IMPORTANT. We're not talking 'missing a few games' here, we're talking about some odd choices. 350 games sounds like a lot, until you review how they've padded the list: Columns? Good. Columns 3? OK. Crystal Castle? GREAT! Crystal Castle for the Atari? Huh? Why would we want a lousy port of the original? Same idea for Gravitar, Missle Command and Millipede.

    Don't get me wrong...there's some great games in there. But there's a lot of repetition and some odd gaps.

    By Blogger WizarDru, at 6:12 AM  

  • Good call on the "inflated" numbers. Sure, they have the quantity, but they do have a lot of the crappy early console ports of arcade faves.

    By Blogger Dan, at 12:55 AM  

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