MomoCon 2016: Talking with TotalBiscuit

“My job is to tell you whether a game is good or not…I usually get it right,” says John Bain as he sums up his YouTube series, TotalBiscuit, The Cynical Brit with a down to Earth, matter of fact attitude that makes the YouTube sensation seem approachable and easy going during his MomoCon panel.

Bain attributes his 2.2 million subscribers to filling a need in the gaming industry as the go-to guy for honest reviews of PC games, “I’ve always thought it good advice to be King of a Niche so niche that no one bothered to compete with you.”

TotalBiscuit Logo

TotalBiscuit Logo

With a constantly growing selection of games available and days too short to play all titles, it becomes increasingly apparent that fans need a place to turn to for advice – Bain isn’t afraid to offer those suggestions.

“Our videos can shove a game one way or another” in terms of sales. “Not necessarily for AAA titles,” whose preorders, marketing budgets and name caché are more worthwhile than reviews – but certainly with indie titles.

Bain admits there can be a lot of pressure to help out indie developers by shining a light on their product. He is constantly balancing the concept of forming relationships with developers and remaining as impartial as possible.

“We received an email once saying that if we hadn’t covered the game, the developer wouldn’t have been able to pay the mortgage. It’s difficult to not fall into the trap of helping these guys out.” But if he did, Bain realizes part of his creditability and value-add to the gaming community could be compromised.

That is one reason why Bain over-discloses even when the comments section of his videos claim that he doesn’t need to call out every little connection with the developer team. In an industry where the lines between sponsored content, paid-for advertisements and enthusiast reviews can be blurred by others Bain wants to remain honest to fans.

While reviewing games, the most important feature is for the gameplay loop to be fun. Doom’s story is irrelevant but the feedback loop of discovering a new arsenal, defeating new enemies and repeating the cycle are solid core mechanics that remain engaging. Even the best voice acted, scored and cinematic games don’t mean anything if that core gameplay loop is missing.

The concept of an engaging gameplay loop is one reason why Bain thinks we’ve seen a rise in multiplayer-only games. “The story, experience and interaction are different each time.” Bain admits to sinking thousands of hours (and far too much money on skins) into DOTA 2 and Counter Strike: Go but these remain his go-to games year after year despite a lack of single-player content.

Another annual tradition of Bain’s is to pick up the latest Call of Duty; however, he doesn’t know exactly why. “I play [multiplayer] until everyone gets better than me, then I leave. Once I can’t drop kill-streaks on people, I’m out.” Bain follows up with the fact that people are always saying Call of Duty sucks year after year, but compared to what…?

“Hundreds of competent people work on these games each year. They won’t make a crappy game.” There is a threshold that they constantly reach, and they won’t be completely broken…as compared to an indie title that is made by one guy who doesn’t really know what he is doing.

Because of this discrepancy in resources, Bain says that we can’t look at AAA titles and indie games the same while reviewing. Is Shovel Knight as beautiful as Crysis? No. But did Yacht Club Games create a vibrant world and hit all of their goals. Yes. This should be the standard we hold developers towards. We should evaluate the overall intent of the game.

Bain admits some of the pitfalls of playing the amount of games he does: “Sometimes I find a game that really resonates with me but not the general public,” and it could be because of something unique in the design or Bain is just tired of playing the same type of game over and over again and this title offers a new experience, while not being technically the best game available.

Another problem Bain encounters is that after playing the amount of games he does for years – he is able to notice the frame rate of games, especially when the drop below 60FPS. “I own all three consoles, but end up playing the Wii U most often because experiences built for that system from the ground-up are fun.” Even Uncharted 4 received some of Bain’s ire due to the odd movement in gameplay because of the frame rate.

One of the final moderated questions was from a fan who asked, “What would be the one command you would give to your Cynical Army?” and Bain responded with solid advice that applies to everyone:

“Don’t be my cynical army. There is a great danger from people that have gained power through online celebrity status and unfortunately don’t always use it for good things. It encourages mob mentality – attacking people en masse. Don’t treat anyone like an idol – you give that person a lot of power over you. Don’t let yourself be defined by someone else.”

During the hour discussion Bain took questions from fans, thanked everyone in the room and beyond for such a wonderful opportunity to pursue the things he loves and remained humble despite his fame and notoriety throughout.


To find out Bain’s complete thoughts on the rise of VR, his latest OST obsession, words that should be removed from our gaming vocabulary, what job he wanted before he started a YouTube channel and what Hearthstone card he feels most resembles his personality – check out the MomoCon streams archived on Twitch.

For more coverage on TotalBiscuit, enthusiast press and the video game industry – read our MomoCon coverage this year and attend next year!


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