Monday, 10 February 2014

Xynnia Reviews Video Games Amino: A Gaming Community With a Difference

Video Games Amino is a portable gaming community. And by that I don’t actually mean a community for players of portable games (like, say, DS London or our very own Portable Gaming Centre) – I mean a gaming community that’s literally portable. If you have a portable iOS device like an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, I recommend taking a look at the Amino apps. I’ll be focusing primarily on the Video Games Amino in this review, but there is an Amino app for almost every hobby and each one is free to download and use.

I first came across the Amino apps with Art Amino in January 2012. The Amino communities are part blog, part forum and part social network, with a section of the app devoted to users posting short blog entries which can be liked, shared and commented on; a section of the app devoted to forum-style discussion threads; and the option of adding friends, following their activity and finding other Amino users in your rough geographic area. Soon I realised that there were other Amino apps for different interests – about six at the time when I first discovered them. Since then, more and more have been added, all with the same basic format. This can work against the Aminos’ best interests in some cases, for example in Books Amino, which people use to post writing pieces, but find themselves severely hampered by the wordcount limit for each blog entry. However, in general it’s a good thing as it means that once you know your way around one Amino, you know them all.

Video Games Amino was one of the apps that came along some months after I discovered Amino apps, and I was quick to download and start using it. I haven’t used the blog feature on this particular app, but the forums are fun to explore. The forum section is subdivided into eleven subforums such as Console Games, Indie Games, Video Game Characters, Events & Conventions and – most unusually – a Chinese-language subforum. Not that China doesn’t have a massive community of gamers, but most aminos don’t contain any dedicated foreign-language forums (even the Anime Amino doesn’t have a Japanese-language subforum), and I wonder what made the developers opt to include one here. I am conversant in Mandarin Chinese, and by interesting coincidence I was living in China on a year abroad when this app was released, so I do enjoy the feature. Having said that, it’s not the most well-populated of forums. For a good while there was only a single thread in the forum, ‘人呢’ (which roughly translates to “Anyone?” or “People?”), and even now at the time of writing the forum only has five threads in total.

So why opt for Video Games Amino over any other gaming community that’s out there? Well, you’d have to browse around and decide whether or not the app was a good fit for you, but personally I like the no-holds-barred, anything-goes atmosphere of the blogs and forums. There’s no unspoken standard to be held to, no real restrictions about what does and doesn’t constitute worthwhile content. That may seem amateurish to some, but it’s also very open and welcoming. You could be a hardcore gamer, or you could have only ever played one game in your life that you want to talk about, and that would be fine. Maybe you have a cool game idea that you want to run past a bunch of people, or maybe you want to talk about the kind of music that gets you in the mood for gaming. The discussions, too, are what you make of them. Some people will be up for posting in-depth, analytical responses, whereas others just want to post a few words and go. You can seek out the kinds of people who are more like you and make connections with them; there are plenty to choose from countries all around the globe.

A map showing the rough distribution of Video Games Amino users around the world

Since I started following the Amino apps, there have been several redesigns and sets of new features rolled out. One newer feature I’m definitely not enamoured with is the window that now pops up every time you open the app, commanding you to “Get started by following others!” with a random selection of users and the option to follow them individually or to mass follow. I’ve had regular influxes of new followers since that feature was implemented and I can guarantee it has nothing to do with what I actually post. Personally, I kill the window every single time it pops up. I want the users I follow to reflect what I’m interested in, not to be a randomly generated selection presented to me by the app. I would be extremely happy for the Amino developers to get rid of that feature, but the chances are slim to none. Although every Amino app has a “Feedback and Support” forum for users to give critique and suggestions, I’ve never seen any acted upon. Back when I first started using the apps, a message popped up encouraging me to give the app I was currently using, Books Amino, a five-star rating in the App Store. Instead, I proceeded to post a long diatribe about exactly why I would never give Books Amino five stars until certain problems were corrected, citing the restrictive word limit in blog posts, the lack of explanation about how certain features like Reputation worked, and the fact that both of these problems had already been raised in the Feedback and Support forum with no acknowledgement from developers. For good measure, I copied and pasted the review into the “Feedback” section of the app, which sends an email directly to

In response, I received a personal email from Ben Anderson of the Amino Team, thanking me for taking the time to analyse the app and provide in-depth feedback. He stressed that the team was aware of the app’s limitations and was working to find solutions, but that they were a very small team working on producing and improving several apps and progress was inevitably slow as a result. I was very impressed and pleased by this. However, I couldn’t help noticing that none of the problems I raised in the email was ever fixed. Blog posts will still cut off midway through if they are too long with no explanation or warning, even in Books Amino, and the Reputation system is even more impenetrable following several app updates than it was before.

Ah yes – the Reputation system. I knew I was forgetting something. As I say, the system is not explained in any part of the app, including the Amino Guidelines, so I’m hard pressed to deconstruct it for you here. When I started out using the apps, it seemed more straightforward: for each follower you gained, you would earn 1 Reputation. However, as you can see from the below screenshot of my followers and Reputation on Video Games Amino, that is no longer the case.

You might think that perhaps this discrepancy is caused by rule-breaking or threads being flagged which results in a drop in Reputation, but even in Aminos where I’ve never been active at all, my Rep doesn’t match up to my followers. Similarly, blog post likes and thread follows would both be logical things to bolster a user’s Reputation, but neither appears to make a difference. This wouldn’t matter as much except that there are features in the apps which require a minimum level of Reputation, like flagging threads or posting pictures in the forums, a crucial feature for apps like the Art Amino or Photography Amino. The reasoning behind this is fairly sound, preventing users from creating new accounts simply to spam pictures or report threads, but for serious long-term users it poses a real problem, when there is no explanation as to how they can accrue the Reputation they need to use their account fully. In short, Reputation is a good feature poorly executed, not unlike many aspects of the Amino apps.

If I were to rate the Amino apps in general or the Video Games Amino in particular, I would give a rating of 3.5/5 stars. The apps are a good idea, and I truly appreciate that they are all free to use, diverse and accessible. The small team behind them is clearly keen on pushing out more and more communities based around different hobbies, but I would prefer it if they paid more attention to user feedback and on improving their existing apps, tweaking the set format where necessary to suit the needs of individual communities. And again, an explanation of how Reputation works is sorely needed. Is that too much to ask?


Amino Apps has a page on Google Plus, and you can also follow Amino Hub on Twitter.

1 comment:

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