My preferred blog for massively multiplayer online roleplaying game coverage, Massively.com, just linked to an article by Tobold called "I don't like bananas." Here's what I said about it, over on Massively.com:
Wasn't it Abraham Lincoln who said of a play he didn't like, "If this is the sort of thing you like, you'll like it"?
MMO journalism is a bear to do well, because not all MMOs are aimed at the same audience, and it's not always obvious from what a reviewer says what their actual tastes are. If someone really loves harsh consequences PvP, and they say that game X is great and don't get around to mentioning that it has harsh consequences PvP, that's a problem. If, on the other hand, someone hates harsh consequences PvP, reviews a game with harsh consequences PvP, and says that the game is awful while making excuses for why he or she doesn't like it without bringing up their pre-existing prejudice against harsh consequences PvP, they're doing the audience just as much of a disservice.
I bring up harsh consequences PvP just because it's the oldest argument in MMOs. The same thing could be said just as easily about fantasy versus sci-fi, or theme park dark ride versus player-driven sandbox, or instanced versus open world, or solo-friendly versus forced teaming, or stats-driven versus equipment-driven, or transparent game mechanics versus opaque, or whether more effort should go into art and music or more effort should go into flawless game mechanics, or consensual PvP versus open PvP, or predictable grind versus surprise changes in game mechanics, or any of a half dozen or more other design choices that people can have strong preferences about.
So yes, as it relates to games journalism, I'd like to see someone say things like, "game X is high fantasy, which I'm a sucker for," or "I don't like game X, but I may not be giving it a fair chance because I don't like high fantasy and this game is high fantasy," or even better "game X is high fantasy, which I usually like, but not this time" or "I don't normally like high fantasy, but I like game X." Or substitute in, for "high fantasy," either side of the many design choices above.
And yeah, Tobold is definitely right. For every single one of those design choices, there are at least a couple of hundred noisy people, and for some of them tens of thousands, for whom it's not a matter of taste, it's an article of their personal religion. Some people like a game with a single combat mechanic that they can grind away at (for example) and can accept that other people want more variety than that. Some people need variety, but can understand why others would prefer more predictability in their game play. But there are also people for whom grind isn't just a matter of taste, it's evil pure and simple from beyond the 8th dimension, kill it, kill it, kill it with fire. These people are tiresome.
But sometimes they do have a point, because of thrice-cursed "network effects," the fact that some services increase in returned value the more people use them. If you hate fantasy, hate consensual PvP, hate gear-driven, hate solo-friendly, and you want lots of other people to play with? Right now you're hating life; the MMO that made those decisions is the one that everybody plays right now, "because that's where all my friends are." Having to play a game you hate just because that's the one your friends all want you to play is a bitter pill to swallow, so it's not just tribal loyalty to their own brand preferences that makes some of the losers in those arguments so bitter.
Addendum: To save you the trouble of asking? In order I listed them above, that is to say, no particular order: no-consequences PvP with above-PvE rewards, sci-fi, theme park, instanced, solo-friendly, stats driven, transparent mechanics, willing to forgive some clunky game mechanics in the short run if the art and sound are wonderful enough, consensual PvP, and not the same thing over and over again even if a few surprises are unpleasant.
What? Why, yes, I do play City of Heroes, why do you ask? And yes, I am enjoying Star Trek Online. (More on that later, probably.)