So! It’s been a long time coming, but the Nintendo Switch has finally emerged from the shadows, finally revealing its secret after months of speculation. That secret, of course, is that it’s a weird hybrid of a home console and a portable device, with a joypad that you can split in two, and then take those pieces and slot them on to other things… And it’s only when it comes to writing it down now that I realise how weird that all sounds. Anyway, the initial reveal has left many a thought pinging around my head, some positive and some negative. It’s a long journey ahead, that’s for sure, but join me as I break down my thoughts, and try and work out whether this is something that can ‘switch’ Nintendo’s recent fortunes…
You know, I’m an open minded kind of guy when it comes to video game. There’s pretty much nothing out there I won’t at least try, even if it belongs to a genre or franchise I’m completely apathetic too. I’ll ponder away at a puzzle title, command an army in an RTS until they all inevitably die in gruesome ways five minutes later, and (despite being the least athletic person on the planet) I’ll even play a game of FIFA or two given the opportunity. Yet there is one game out there that I refuse to approach; one experience that I dare not sample, for fear of what the dark and twisted results may be. That game is…
I’ve written about the Steam review system recently, and how improvements could be made to encourage its brightest and best content to come to the forefront. Yet in my opinions I never really focused on the fact playtime is shown alongside a player’s review with fairly due prominence, and the simple reason for that is as follows… It’s way more complicated on a matter than I first anticipated. Allow me to explain.
My initial thoughts on the matter where that is simply shouldn’t be there – after all, it only seems fair that everyone’s opinions have equal value. Yet the more I considered it, the more I realised this doesn’t work in practice – after all, someone with a massive amount of time logged into a title is logically going to understand more about that game than someone who has just picked it up. Naturally, there’s no way of telling if someone has just left a game running on idle to clock up a bunch of empty hours, but a reasonable assumption can still be made that the player in question knows the game’s strengths and weaknesses, and has uncovered all the secrets and subtleties that it may have to offer. Of course, this doesn’t mean any review they post immediately becomes gospel – perhaps it even adds an increased pressure for them to clearly mark out what makes the game in question so compelling – but it can add some extra reassurance to a well voiced opinion, therefore justifying the existence of playtime being there in the first place.
The question can therefore be asked as to whether reviews with a much lesser playtime (Perhaps bordering on the minute) actually lose their relevance. This isn’t the case all the time, but it’s difficult to say when it is true and when it isn’t. For one, the matter of playtime becomes entirely subjective based on the game in question; A quick arcade style game isn’t going to require many hours to truly understand, for instance, which a massive RPG style game set in a large open world might take a bit more exploring before someone can form an effective opinion.
The above is pretty much a given, but it gets even more subjective when you start taking into consideration the nature of the player themselves. For instance, someone well versed in playing first person shooters is likely to race through such a title much quicker than someone coming across them for the first time… But it’s the inexperienced player who would be shown to have the longer play time, even though it’s the more skilled player who might be the best at explaining whether the game in question is a good or bad example of the genre. Likewise, fans of a franchise will more rapidly understand new features and spot improvements, and therefore be quicker to come to a (still reasonable) judgement than someone new to the series. Even subtle things like a person’s reading speed when it comes to a visual novel can notably alter their play time – even if, in the end, their overall experience remains remarkably similar to someone else’s.
To go even further down the rabbit hole, though, take a moment to consider basic human psychology… And yes, I am serious. You’ve probably heard of the idea that it only takes someone around seven seconds to draw up their judgement about a person. The same holds true in a sense when it comes to games – after all, it really doesn’t take long most of the time before your general feelings about a game really begin to take shape. Naturally, some titles might take more time to get going, and you should always be open to changing your mind, but as a general rule of thumb I feel the idea does hold true.
Take, for instance, my time and resultant opinions about Mad Max; it was only about one or two hours maximum before issues with its design and structure began to chew away at me, and further play only re-enforced those opinions. In short, there may be something worth taking away from someone’s gut instinct. That’s not to say that every review with 10 minutes play time should immediately be welcomed with open arms. It’s wise to approach these reviews with some wariness, and in most cases it doesn’t take long for the content of such a review to reveal a person’s lack of expertise. Yet on the other side of the coin, reviews with such a limited amount of play time should not be dismissed immediately, especially if they express their views clearly and concisely.
In conclusion, playtime’s a tricky beast to pin down. Overall, I don’t feel like it’s something worth removing completely – as discussed, it’s a reasonably ok way to judge experience and how cautious you should be when looking at a certain review. It’s just a matter of making sure that when it comes to looking at the figure, it’s something that you should be looking at with a mind that’s aware of all the facts.