You might not think it from reading this blog but I’ve actually been an advocate for some types of complementary medicine in the past. Predominantly this has been related to osteopathy which helped me tremendously with some back issues I had, especially when used in conjunction with more traditional physiotherapy. However that’s where my belief in them ends as whilst many practitioners would have you believe that their treatments can be effective for things other than what they’re directly influencing the science just isn’t there to support it. Indeed even the practitioners I use don’t believe that which is the reason I keep going back to them.
One of my favourite dead horses to beat in this area is homeopathy, the practice of diluting something that causes the symptoms you’re experiencing in water to the point where none of that substance could remain. It’s practitioners then theorize that the water retains some “memory” of it which you body then recognises and somehow manifests a cure for ailments. Homeopathy has been scientifically proven to be no more effective than a placebo in numerous clinical trials yet it’s still a booming industry seeing on the order of $10 million worth of sales in Australia every year. You’d think that without any solid grounds for efficacy it wouldn’t be long for this world but it’s practitioners are an incredibly stubborn bunch.
Thankfully though the government commissioned the National Health and Medical Research Council to do a report on the efficacy of homeopathy for some 68 different clinical conditions and the results are, unsurprisingly, for the negative. The research was commissioned as part of a larger body of work concerning the government’s 30% rebate on complementary therapies which currently includes things like homeopathy. It’s quite possible that this will lead to the exclusion of such therapies from the rebate scheme, something which I wholly support. This won’t stop them from being sold though, they just won’t be subsidised as a complementary form of medicine.
On the flip side though I’m of the mind that people are more than welcome to put whatever they want in their bodies so long as they don’t harm anyone else. This research makes it clear that homeopathy can not treat clinical conditions and so anyone who advocates it as such is, in my mind, actively doing harm to that person. If you’re taking a homeopathic remedy for “general health reasons” and it seems to be working for you great, but consider that your experience is more than likely due to the nature of you thinking it was going to work rather than some magical properties of water that defies all scientific evidence to the contrary. In that case for it to work for someone else they too have to believe that and if they do they’ll likely find it without your help.
The whole idea of boiling down an entire game experience to a single number is something that’s started to wear on me of late. It’s supposed to make for an easy judge of the overall quality of the game, combining all aspects of it together to give you something that makes it easy to compare it against other titles. However there’s usually far too much nuance in any particular game for that single number to be meaningful and whilst I still give them overall ratings I hope that the readers go through the whole review before reading the score so they can understand what lead up to it. There’s also the question of innate quality and how that should be reflected in the overall score, something which has lead to many questioning why critic reviews scores tend towards the upper end of the spectrum.
For me the explanation is simple, it’s survivor bias for the games that I actually finish (I hate not finishing games before reviewing them and will point that fact out when I do). This means there’s a certain quality bar that has to be hit for me to make it the whole through before giving it up and that pushes my average scores upwards. At the same time the objective quality of games (things like bugs, how the game plays, performance, etc) is actually quite high when you compare it to the past and thus it’s hard for a reviewer to give a game an absolutely terrible score when for the most part it’s a well done game.
Users on the other hand aren’t so sympathetic. Take for instance the current review scores for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2:
Taken at face value that’d have you thinking that it’s an absolutely atrocious game, one that the vast majority hates with an unbridled sense of passion. Contrasting that with the critic reviews and it’s easy to see why a lot of people jumped on the DoritoGate bandwagon, proclaiming loudly that all the reviewers where in the publisher’s pockets. The complaints are almost identical to all the previous releases most stating that it’s the same game with nothing new to offer or saying that the previous ones were better and they can’t believe they shelled out for it. Digging into the reviews however I started to notice some patterns that tell you that these user review scores are for the most part, total crap.
The first type of review pattern I came across was what I’ll call the Negative Nancy who’s long history of reviews are dominated mostly by scores in the 0-2 range. I’m not exactly sure what these users get out of writing and rating all these games so lowly but it seems like they’re dedicated to sending the user review score down as far as they can go even if they admit that the game has some redeeming features. Suffice to say it’s hard to take someone’s opinion seriously if all they’re doing is rating everything badly as you have no reference point to determine whether their style of reviews lines up with yours (unless you too, hate every game released).
The second, and most telling, are the Extremists. They are capable of dishing out both positive and negative reviews but do so only on the extremes of the spectrum with everything either being perfect or nothing at all. This kind of reviewing can be fine, if you give a rating in the form of something like recommend/don’t recommend, however their scores aren’t really any indication of the relative quality of the games due to the lack of graduation between the good and bad titles. That might be enough for some people but in all honesty if you want to know if a game is worth playing or not these kinds of reviews aren’t great indicators of that.
The final piece of information I’ll leave you with is the fact that there’s many people who are reviewing Black Ops 2, and in fact any of the most popular games, have just a single review. Now I’m not saying that only having one review discredits them completely but the fact that most of them have signed up just for the purposes of giving a negative review says a lot about their motivations for doing so. Indeed I believe many people will probably see an article like this one posted on a website and will immediately hop on the negative review bandwagon simply to be part of the crowd.
After saying all that though there were some negative reviews on there from people with long histories of reviews with varying levels of scores and those are the kinds of user reviews you can put some weight behind. They’re annoyingly rare unfortunately with most falling on either side of the extreme, rendering the overall score completely useless. The critic reviews are only better due to the long articles that come along with them (and not because of their overwhelmingly positive scores) and not the 2 sentences that accompanies the user reviews.
If you’re actually interested in proper reviews though I’m probably preaching to the choir here. We all know that games are incredibly hard to boil down to a single number and that’s usually heavily influenced by the reviewer’s biases. I try to lay all mine out on the table so you can get a feel for what led me to give the final score but I can’t say the same about the vast majority of user reviews on Metacritic I’ve read over the years. There are some good people on there but it’s akin to finding that elusive needle in a haystack, something that’s just not worth doing all the time.
Look I can understand how frustrating it can be to live in a place with crap cell phone reception. I spent the majority of my life living only 30 minutes outside Canberra and even that short distance was enough for the reception to basically drop off to nothing unless you were with Telstra. Even then you were lucky to be able to place a call indoors (especially if you had the typical colourbond roof) with most mobile calls being made from the nearest hill you could scurry up. I still suffer from spotty coverage even in town thanks to my current network provider but not once have I thought that a femtocell would be the answer to my problem.
Like I’ve said previously femtocells seem to be like a cash grab from cellular providers who instead should be spending their own money on fixing their coverage problems. Their use case is almost too narrow to be of any use since you need to have a broadband connection (which usually puts you in mobile phone range) and since nearly every broadband router comes with a wireless access point there’s no need to use 3G when you’re at home. In essence you’re just giving yourself full coverage so you can pay the exorbitant cellular data rates whilst at the same time using your own data cap, in essence double charging yourself for the privilege. Just like there doesn’t seem to be a case for a cellular tablet I struggle to find a use for a femtocell other than for a cellular provider to bilk their customers.
It seems that these useless devices have finally made their way onto Australian shores with Optus, the carrier with the worst record for coverage (in my experience at least), beginning trials of the devices:
Dubbed the ‘3G Home Zone’, the new Optus femtocell device is a small base station that plugs into a wireless router and uses a fixed-line broadband Internet connection to boost mobile coverage. Once operational, the Optus femtocell device should typically provide full mobile coverage within a 30 metre range.
Optus recommends that the 3G Home Zone be connected to a broadband service with a minimum download speed of 1Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 256kbps — if the speed is capped at 128kbps or lower, the device will no longer work.
The most insulting part about Optus’ introduction of these devices is that they’re charging for them, and it’s not a trivial amount either. You either pony up $60 initially and another $60 over 12 months (with a $70/month plan) or you pay $240 outright. Now far be it from me to get in the way of a company trying to make a profit but it would seem that the investment they spent in getting these devices functional could have been far better spent upgrading the spots where reception is a problem. Getting 3G indoors is all well and good but the vast majority of use cases for that are already covered off aptly by wireless, and you don’t need to pay an additional monthly fee to use that.
What I would support however would be something along the lines of what AT&T is doing in the USA, giving all users who request it a free femtocell. Of course it would seem like a silly move to begin with but having been an actual AT&T customer and seeing the coverage problems they had a free femtocell would go a long way to keeping people on their network. Of course they didn’t start out free (they definitely weren’t when I was there) but obviously the cost can’t be too high or they wouldn’t be offering it. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Optus follows suit.
Femtocells feel like a solution in search of a problem. Sure it might be great to have full coverage in your house (I currently get 1 bar) but the reason for doing so seems almost non-nonsensical when you look at the requirements needed to do it. I can’t see a future where I’ll ever need a device like this unless they somehow make it affordable with a satellite connection, but even then if I’m that far away from humanity I’d be guessing I wouldn’t want to bring the Internet with me. So hopefully these silly devices will disappear into the dark niche they belong in: the technically ignorant and woefully misinformed.