Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Reviewer, Amuse Me!

Shamus Young | 1 May 2009 21:00
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Meanwhile, mainstream sites all too often review games the way other magazines might review dishwashers, server hosting packages, and life insurance: Clinically, and in great detail. One of the reasons I like The Escapist (aside from their excellent taste in Friday afternoon columnists) is that they are more focused on personalities and interesting writing than on churning out feature lists and numeric scores from a team of faceless interchangeable writers. (I realize it's normally bad for your journalistic integrity to praise your employer in public, but my position as a rent-a-columnist with no journalistic credentials gives me the freedom and lack of shame to get away with stuff like this this: The Escapist is a good read, even without my own meandering contributions.)

I actually think more review sites should move away from the consumer advice model and closer to the entertainment idea. Drop the review scores, the dry enumeration of feature lists, and the pretense that one gamer can somehow speak for all gamers. Make reviews more lively, more personality-driven, and more incisive or humorous. My own wishlist for the perfect site:

1) A picture of the author would help readers to connect with them. If I read something that makes me laugh or think, I'm much more likely to remember their face than their byline. I'll be on the lookout for their stuff in the future, even if they're reviewing games I don't care about.

2) Hire people that want to play the kind of games you want reviewed in your publication. Don't hand a fast-paced shooter to a number-crunching RPG gamer, and don't assign turn-based strategy games to action-oriented players. Yes, they work for you and you can make them review whatever you like, but there is nothing more frustrating for a reader than to read a negative review from someone who is obviously not even interested in the given genre.

3) Don't worry about doubling up on reviews. If two people want to review a game, let them. Some publications seek to portray their editorial board as a single gestalt entity, an oracle with many voices but only One Message: This game is good, and this other game is bad. All hail the Oracle. Gamers can see through this, and your one-voice approach strikes dissenters as a conspiratorial bias, an insidious agenda to favor one group of gamers over another. Having lots of different people with different opinions and license to express them will diffuse this paranoia and encourage a more productive exchange.

4) Don't worry about skipping a game. If everyone on your staff is brimming with apathy towards Kane & Lynch or Haze, then maybe that should tell you something. Odds are good that your audience doesn't care either. And if Eidos Interactive really wants your readers to know about the game, let them know that they can simply send you whatever they like and you'll be happy to print it at normal advertising rates.

5) Review scores have started more and bloodier flamewars than "Mac vs. PC", "Xbox vs. Playstation", and "Paris Hilton vs. Abortion" combined. It shorts out a lot of interesting conversations that might take place about story and gameplay mechanics and instead gives everyone a number to argue over. Why did you pay somebody money to produce a thousand words of prose if you're just going to boil it down to a number anyway? If all you want is a number then fire the interesting and witty J-school grad and get yourself some dice that only roll sevens, eights, and nines. Use them to fill out a chart with attributes like "gameplay", "graphics", and "audio". Post that sucker and take the rest of the day off. If you're going to produce something worthless then you should at least not spend money doing it.

Actually, I guess I already follow these guidelines on my own site. The only drawback is that I can't get anyone to pay me to do it. Wait. Let me add another item to my wishlist:

6) I would like it if you could actually make money doing all of the above. And I would like it even better if I was the one making the money. And if publishers sent me their games for free. And paid for my new consoles and computers. And that Valve would hurry up with Half Life 2, Episode 3. And I want a black and silver pony named starbreeze. And a meadow to ride in. And free ice cream.

Are you writing all this down?

Shamus Young is the author of Twenty Sided, the vandal behind Stolen Pixels, and he was just kidding about the pony named Starbreeze. The pony could be named whatever.

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