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Gestault's blog

11:30 AM on 06.10.2010

Halo you say? Specious Argument! I Choose You!

Sound the alarms. A fresh volley has been fired in the ongoing brutalities between Sony and Microsoft. Aaron Greenberg had the audacity to openly flourish the cumulative North American sales advantage that Halo 3 alone holds over almost every major PS3 title combined. A treacherous action in the twilight days of the contentious and bestial Great Games War. This preposterous distortion of truth flies in the face of reason and justice. Clearly Halo 3 is terrible, and no one has ever enjoyed it. The Good Word must be spread!

Oh wait.

Let's try that again. You would assume, reading some responses to the articles reporting Greenberg's statement, that this is how many people perceive what was said. Let's ignore that Greenberg clearly represents his own group's interests, and that this is precisely his job, and that the reality of what's being said doesn't effect anything any more than calling water "dry" would make it less damp. What he says is true, there's no getting around that. This apparently upsets people. In a way, it upsets me. I've enjoyed innumerable hours of entertainment via the games on the receiving end of this jab. There is UNDENIABLE quality and workmanship in play here. At the same time though, Greenberg isn't saying that isn't so. He's saying, as someone involved in running a business, that a product he sells has sold well. Better in fact, than others. That's it. That's the heart of it.

The most common "counterargument" to this is the adage that 'quality is better than quantity.' It's a bit odd to argue with a PR statement as you would another human being, but that's beside the point. This has a thread of truth to it. Lots of games that we, collectively, don't think very highly of sell like gangbusters. That doesn't change how we feel about them, this doesn't alter some underlying reality through the sheer potency of their retail success, it just is. I might think it unfair that a title I enjoy doesn't succeed at retail (and this is hardly a rarity), but I don't argue the reality that other games do in fact, sell better.

Which is why I think we see so many cry "quality over quantity!" There's a problem with this assertion though, insofar as we can measure it. Quality over quantity assumes that Halo 3 is not considered a quality product. The closest we've come as an industry to establishing a standard for quality is an average of published reviews; the Metacritic. By this standard, Halo 3 is "better" than all but one of those titles. So the argument falls. Metacritic isn't perfect, but it's not fair to ignore it totally. Still, we can easily paint a bigger picture.

In a way, we already have three standards for measuring externally how "good" a game is. The easiest is sales. A popular game sells well. To borrow the concept of a rocket, it may be a short, radiant burst or it may be a slow, controlled burn, but it will "get there." The next is what we earlier called the Metacritic. A survey of editorial responses to a title, even assuming they include sources you personally may disagree with, will give as good an indication on the whole as anyone could. One can argue the value of a Median figure as opposed to an Average, but the idea is the same; the professional community defines the spectrum of responses, and we assess based on those. The third though, is less commonly called on. Longevity, how long a title retains its community also deserves attention. This has been easier to track since online connectivity has reached into the realm of single-player experiences, but this idea has been heavily soaked into whichever channel of communication gamers have used to convey their experiences. Some games stick around, others fade from discourse and usage like a snowman in the Spring.

This last metric, a title's longevity, also provides a filter to explain a disconnect we often see between the other two. A title may sell exceptionally well, but in a short period of time. Sometimes that may be because the title was rubbish, and word of mouth trounces its initial boom. Bad games can and do sell well, no one questions that, but it's much harder for a bad game to sell well in the long term. Reviews play their part in this. Metacritic and sales have an interesting relationship in this way. Longevity gives us a good indication of why.

Considering this, let's get back to the Quality over Quantity argument for Halo 3. The game has sold well, so it fits our definition of good in one way, and its Metacritic is over 94, so by all accounts in that area, it's also a good game. Then there's the longevity, wherein it stands as one of the best examples of both community and developer support. The online play in Halo 3 is monstrous to this day, years after release, even standing in the shadow of more recent titles like Modern Warfare 2.

So by any reasonable measure aside from "I don't personally like it," Halo 3 is a good game. I think it's ridiculous to compare titles in a hierarchical sense in the first place, but if you're one of the goofballs choosing to argue against a silly statement, at least be fair to the reality of the situation. Halo is better overall, based on the metrics explained here, than any of the other games it was compared to in Greenberg's statement. So why exactly is the Quality over Quantity argument being used here, ironically enough, where one title is being compared to many?   read

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