We’ve written before that summarizing opinion is complex, and that understanding the meaning behind product reviews can lend more insight than averaging the “star ratings.” I encountered a terrific example of needing this context tonight.
In a situation that any working parents reading may relate to, by mid-December each year I’ve abandoned the fantasy of gifts purchased months in advance and am racing to online shopping destinations with quick shipping. My first stop tonight was for a video game for my son, a game that I remembered was pretty popular and well received. When I checked out Spore on Amazon, I was surprised to see a 1.5 star rating with over 3,100 reviews. Did I have the wrong game? I IMed a friend for advice.
Turns out, the game itself is pretty cool. But the DRM (digital rights management) designed to prevent piracy is a ludicrous opt-in, leading gamers to review it negatively. Here’s a sample:
First of all, the game incorporates a draconian DRM system that requires you to activate over the internet, and limits you to a grand total of 3 activations. If you reach that limit, then you’ll have to call EA in order to add one extra activation. That’s not as simple as it sounds, since when you reach that point EA will assume that you, the paying customer, are a filthy pirating thief.
So, the bad reviews make sense: there’s a strong negative associated with the game but it’s not about the graphics or the gameplay, features that might matter to me (or the gamer). Getting to the why (without having to read an adequate sample of the thousands of reviews) was vital. Automating the process might have been even better,
Oh, and the punchline? Apparently EA managed to deter potential customers, annoy their existing base, and still end up with Spore as the most pirated game of 2008.