Q: Fair enough. I want to move on and talk about review scores. Again, this was something you mentioned earlier, and it's an issue that tends to flare up from time to time. What's your opinion of review scores? How worthy are they?
GZ: Well, I think they have an impact. It's almost the kind of thing where you have to take the top two or three, the bottom two or three, and then make an average out of that. In figure skating they do that. In figure skating there are cheating concerns, so they take out the top and bottom out and then use the middle scores. I mean, I think they're directional. I don't think they always reflect the quality of the game, because sometimes... for example, with kids games the review scores aren't written with the context of the audience in mind. They're written from the reviewer's perspective, and they often won't put themselves mentally in the place of a 12-year-old boy who the game is made for. Instead they review it as a 22-year-old hardcore gamer and go, 'This is terrible!'. But I think generally they're directional. I don't think in and of themselves they're super indicative of sales, in the sense that there's a minimum score that you have to hit to sell. I think actually what they do is that they indicative of the word of mouth you might get. If you can get a reviewer excited, the jaded, played-it-all person, if you can get them really excited about the game, that probably implies that other people will feel the same and they'll tell each other. There are some buyers out there that will look at review scores and make a decisions based on them. I don't think that's a majority of the market, but they're all factors.
Q: Do you read many reviews yourself?
GZ: Yeah, I usually do. I think our obsession with it is partially just a general obsession. I read a lot of reviews of other games. I can't say that I read every word, I'll often jump around...
Q: Do you skip to the number at the end?
GZ: No, I don't actually. I usually read the beginning and then I'll kind of skim the middle and then check out the closing comments, then I might jump back. What we did in the case of both Mass and Dragon Age, the guys went through all the reviews and pulled out positives and negatives. We put it all down and looked at the whole feedback. While in a sense we're trying not to simply develop to the review score, it's a good source of data. Reviewers play a lot of games, they're opinions often reflect the core segment, and generally they're well put-together and comprehensible. Fan feedback can be all over the map, right? So we'll draw on that fan feedback but a lot of times we'll primarily draw on reviews, and then then finally team will sit down [together]. Often we'll know when something hasn't turned out right, so it's interesting to see it confirmed or denied in reviews.
Q: You've said that you need to take on feedback. In the case of Dragon Age 2, you recently released some new screens and they were met with quite a lot of criticism - but it wasn't exactly constructive, it was more, "Urgh! I don't like that!"
Q: What's your reaction to that?
GZ: What you don't listen to is the loud internet commentary. The loudest voice is probably not the one you listen to. You listen to the person who put a lot of thought into it, who went out of their way to provide feedback. We're starting public testing for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the fans are encouraged to write up their perspectives in the private forums. You're not allowed to break NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) - if they want to talk, they can talk all the want in their official, appropriate area. It's interesting to read, and the incites of the fans are valuable. I think there's a sort of thuggish mentality of the crowd on the internet, with people jumping on board. I think it would be very rare that you would find valuable things in the comments section of anything. Occasionally there's stuff, but we're not swayed by it. You can really be reactive to that. We tend to be very analytic, we put it down and move it around until we actually understand it. But I think one of the ways we make great games is by being really, really open to criticism.
Q: That's all very well with constructive criticism, but what would you say to one of the "urgh!" people if they were sitting here right now?
GZ: I'd say, hey, they're entitled to their opinion, but also take a look at the final game when we're done. It's pretty hard to get the full picture That's actually part of the way we've been doing PR the last little while. We haven't specifically been provoking our fans, but we've doing stuff to drive them a little bit up the wall. If you look at the Mass Effect thing with Shepard being dead, or the Marilyn Manson thing [with Dragon Age]... this isn't in the same vein, but you come to expect the response. At the very least, you want people to talk about you. We absolutely stand behind the stuff we're doing with Dragon Age 2. The whole difference is 'played it' versus 'not played it'. That's the litmus test. It's like, "Hey, great. Hold the comment, remember the game, then play it and make your decision at that point." It's funny. On the one hand people don't like change, on the other hand they'll complain if it's all the same. There will be people who say, "Oh, I like Dragon Age just the way it is! I want more of just that!" And then when you give them that they'll say, "Why didn't you make the graphics better?" It's this funny Catch-22, so we in a sense pre-empt them and push it in an innocent direction.