Ubisoft on Rocksmith Reception: Critics Don't Want Innovation

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Ubisoft's real-guitar game Rocksmith has gotten a pretty mixed critical reception. Some writers enjoy the game's take on the music game, while others (including me) have been critical.

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Speaking with Gamasutra, Ubisoft's executive director for North America Laurent Detoc expressed frustration with critics and the broader gamer audience, taking issue with the tone of some Rocksmith reviewers. From Gamasutra:

"As much as they claim they want innovation, they don't," he says. "What I see when I read the reviews is a lack of enthusiasm for something that is new. … We, as human beings, tend to like what we know. But more importantly, we call ourselves gamers. Are we gamers – or players?"

"I think the 'gamer' label has actually been hurting the industry. As our industry evolves, we need to be more mature and find a way to look at content and judge it as if we were real consumers instead of as gamers."

Detoc, it's worth noting, wasn't on a rant against critics in his exclusive conversation with Gamasutra. He explicitly said that he understands and appreciates the need for them and believes they are a necessary part of the process to get developers to constantly raise the bar. However, he said, too often they're tasked with reviewing too many types of games – and are expected to be fully knowledgeable about each genre.

And while many of those sites maintain an editorial independence, he believes they're ultimately part of the video game industry, rather than a separate entity that reports on it.

"[Review sites] are a part of this industry," he says. "We need to judge the products for what they are. You can't compare, say, a Just Dance to an Assassin's Creed. We can't expect critics to be experts at everything."

It's not clear in the interview whether Detoc's initial "they" is a reference to gamers or to critics, though his point is that in his estimation, there is a general lack of critical enthusiasm for innovative games.

What strikes me about this is that often times, the opposite is true—I've spoken with plenty of critics about how they favor innovation in games. How often have you ignored a game or seen a review turn negative because the game "brings nothing new to the table?"

For my part, I called Rocksmith "uninspired and ultimately forgettable," not because it wasn't innovative enough, but because its execution was flawed and it felt soulless. Its level of innovation wasn't really a factor for me—I was more concerned with whether it worked, was fun, and accomplished what it set out to do: teach music. I thought that it came up short.

But in Stephen Totlio's review of Kirby's Return to Dreamland, he articulates how safe and uninteresting the game feels, how he enjoyed recent experimental Kirby games and wished to see more of that kind of experimentation in Return to Dreamland.

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In other words, every writer is different, and every game warrants different criticism. Critics (and gamers) don't favor or fear any one thing. The newness of a game's design is but one aspect of a more complicated whole. "Innovation bias" (or the lack thereof) is certainly worth keeping an eye on, but I don't get the feeling that it's responsible for Rocksmith's middling reception.

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Ubisoft's Laurent Detoc On The Fight Against Innovation [Gamasutra]


You can contact Kirk Hamilton, the author of this post, at kirk@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

DISCUSSION

By
KiwiMan

I watched a video of this being played on YouTube, and it looks excellent.

I can't think of a fair bad thing to say about it, but I can think of an unfair thing:

I've been playing guitar for about 4 years, and this game will clearly teach you how to play songs very quickly - provided the songs you want to play are in the game. This is a bad thing in an irrational way, because I don't want thousands of people playing the game for a few months and then appearing to be equal to actual guitarists who know theory and have a better understanding of music.

I think it's good that this game has come so late and missed the Guitar Hero phase. Because imagine if this had come at the same time and been preferred to Guitar Hero. Then the many average/great Guitar Hero players might have ended up as people who can play a few songs on guitar at an average/great level. Not because they actually wanted to do the hard work and learn to play the guitar, but because they got the skill as a by-product of playing a game.

I'll admit, I played piano for years without really enjoying it until I played Guitar Hero, which was one of the factors that made me switch to playing the guitar instead. I never really listened to more than a few songs before it, and it inspired me to find more of the music that I liked. But if I'd somehow learned to play the guitar through playing Guitar Hero, it wouldn't make me a guitarist. If I claimed to be, I'd be lying.

I guess that's what is bugging me really. There's so many average or terrible guitar players that post their videos on YouTube, claiming to have skill that they don't. I find it annoying. I wouldn't want thousands, maybe millions more people doing that because they were playing this instead of Guitar Hero.

I'm sure people will say I'm being elitist or something, but I'm not claiming to be very good at playing the guitar. But I have put work into learning. And like anything that you put work into, it's annoying to see people take shortcuts and appear to have done the same work as you have done, without them having done it at all.