May 27, 2019

Why did you give the game a bad review after playing for so many hours?

Sometimes when you browse Steam reviews you see a review like this:


If you don't know Swedish, "Recommenderas inte" means "Not recommended" and the customer is not recommending the game Cities: Skylines despite having spent more than 1000 hours playing it. You have to pay roughly 30 USD to get the base game, and how can you say getting 1000 hours of entertainment for 30 USD wasn't worth the money? Understanding this is also something other game designers struggle with. This is a tweet by a product manager at Paradox after their game Imperator: Rome got bad reviews:


When writing reviews, gamers are not measuring the money they spend on a game in relation to the number of hours they play the game: 30 USD for 1000 hours of entertainment wasn't worth it! In Sweden, 30 USD is roughly three movie tickets and a movie is usually two hours long, so if you go to the cinema you get 6 hours of entertainment for 30 USD. So games are very inexpensive entertainment. If you thought the game was boring, why did you spend 1000 hours in a boring game? Maybe you thought the game would be funnier the longer you played? Some games tend are deep and you have to play for some time before you can give the game a review. But you can also find similar reviews of games like Pubg, which is a less deep game and you understand what the game is about in a few hours:


What is going on? While reading the book Designing Games: A Guide to Engineering Experiences written by Tynan Sylvester, who also made the game RimWorld, I found "player's remorse." It's defined like this:
Player's remorse appears after a player spends time on a game that motivates him but does not fulfill him. 
The player has enjoyed playing the game for 1000 hours but then felt empty - what was it all worth? "Why did I waste 1000 hours playing this game?" A parallel is television series. Many were upset with Game of Thrones after what they thought was a bad ending of the last season. "Why did I waste my time watching eight seasons when all I got was that ending?" I bet many people regret watching eight seasons even though they enjoyed all eight seasons except a few of the last episodes of the last season. People spent so much time analyzing what would happen - and to what use? But what would have been a good ending to Game of Thrones when everyone had so high expectations?

Another great discussion on the topic is this Reddit threat: About games that have Steam reviews like this: "[100+] hours on record, Not Recommended", which also links to this article: Sympathy for the… person who left a negative review on Steam for a game they put 600 hours into. To summarize, some reasons to why someone with a high playtime gives a game a bad score are:
  • The developers could have updated the game. Most games, including Pubg, are continuously being updated. So a user may have spent many hours enjoying the game before it was updated and the update made the game worse.
  • It could have taken many hours to really understand the game. The more experience you have, the more flaws you will find. Some games are deep and you need experience to really understand the game. While it's fun to play the game when you are new, it's unplayable when you have 1000 hours of experience. 
    • Cities: Skylines: it takes a lot of time to build a large city and realize that it has flaws because it can't simulate enough population for a large city. 
    • Pubg: if you are really skilled then each millisecond counts and then some say Pubg is broken because it can't always handle these milliseconds because of multiplayer issues. 
    • No man's sky: you were promised an infinite universe, but it took some time for players to realize that yes the universe may be infinite but all the planets look the same, so what's the point of having an infinite universe? 
    • Hearthstone (Reddit comment): "Ultimately it was the insulting "developer insights" that killed it for me. You realise many of the games 'flaws' were intentional decisions to leech more money from the player base (ie. Bizarre and poorly justified balance decisions that pushed you towards buying more cards)"  
  • The game is boring to play but you think it will improve the more you play. You think it will be more fun to play if you reach the next level or upgrade to a better tank, but what if it never happens? You spend a lot of time upgrading to better tanks in the game World of Tanks, but when you finally get a better tank the game will force you to play with other better tanks, so what was the point?  
  • You were addicted to the game. What if you enjoyed a game so much that you quit your job and isolated yourself before realizing you were addicted to the game? Would you give the game a good or bad review? Or as a Reddit comment said: "I wasn’t just playing because I was enjoying the game; I was playing to level up and earn a lootbox, so I could get a chance at that elusive skin, and pretty soon I noticed myself continuing to play in spite of not enjoying it any more. I was playing compulsively."  
  • The game never ends. Neither Pubg nor Cities: Skylines have endings - you either start the game over and over again in a hunt for winning a match in Pubg or you build your city over and over again until you run out of space, so it's natural that a few people after 1000 hours wonder what the point of playing is when it never ends.   
  • The pause button increased playtime. Some people pause their games for various reasons, so having 1000 hours of playtime doesn't mean they played the game for 1000 hours.  

What if it's not the players who are to be blamed, but the review system. On Steam, you can either say the game is good or bad: thumbs up or thumbs down. You played the game for 1000 hours but in the end you didn't like it, but it was still sort-of fun to play it. Now you are forced to pick one of the options: good or bad. Sometimes it's useful with more options.   

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