199: Yellow Game Journalism

Yellow Game Journalism

Joseph Pulitzer was both a pioneer of many sensationalist journalistic practices and the founder of one of the most prestigious awards in the industry. What would this conflicted figure think about the current state of game journalism? Richard Aihoshi ponders that question and comes up with a few more of his own.

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interesting article. there is a lot of low-quality pieces in the games journalism industry, possibly the result of such a huge scope of titles to cover?

i think (personal opinion) Edge magazine gets it right such a lot of the time - previews are often interviews-with-developers-heavy instead of padded first impressions, article content and topics are more diverse than just game reviews, and the reviews themselves are thoughtful and mature.

maybe the problem with games journalism is that it's a "dream job" - folks maybe focus on the play aspect instead of the journalism aspect? which leaves us with a branch of journalism that's riddled with the phrase "own particular brand of" and other trite-isms.

Best article on Escapist ever. Bravo.

For this reason, I no longer read any reviews and buy games blindly. Often times I find that reviewers construe what is supposed to be a factual-based display of the game to a personal opinion piece. That is NOT what a review is supposed to be. Reviewers are the scientists of the journalism world, and they must pick apart the innards of a game, and describe them to someone who isn't able to see it yet.

I can think of many games that died to due to horrible review scores. The one that pops into my head is Tabula Rasa. An excellent game with a terrible review report simply due to the fact that many reviews were taken in either closed or open beta. Beta, as in... the game wasn't finished yet. There was a huge content patch the day of release but by then it was too late. Tabula Rasa already had its days numbered.

To invoke the contrary... Kane and Lynch, which we are all very familiar with, was an example of how profitability has transformed the reviewing process. All too often there is a conflict of interest, and people review their sponsor's games.

GTA IV was one of the most hyped games of the year, and many reviews touted "new content" and "new features" that were "revolutionary" to the genre. However, many of these (including driving mechanics, and variety of minigames) were already implemented years earlier in a lesser-famed game known as Saints Row. Many reviewers scoffed at Saints Row, yet praised GTAIV for doing exactly what Saints Row had done. Hype and mainstream goes a long way. It ruins the descriptive nature of reviews. Why is it that you now see shelves of used games stores riddled with GTAIV and Halo 3- to the point where they practically have their own shelves!?

Lastly, but certainly not the least is Enchanted Arms. Another game that recieved horrible reviews. Anybody who has played the game can easily see that almost ALL of the reviews posted on any major website (IGN, Gamespot, etc) all complained about certain characters, or mechanics that were all moot points after a few hours of gameplay. Characters die, game mechanics evolve as the game goes on, and before long a majority of the criticisms no longer existed. It was painfully obvious they played the demo.

I will be sure to follow your reviews, Richard, as I can see you understand the fundamentals of journalism and you are one of the few (if only) reviewer nowadays who understands that. It's sad... but your profession has fallen into oblivion.

Joseph Pulitzers thoughts about videogame journalsim would have been realitvely straightfoward and easy to predict. Namely "Holy crap! Videogames!"

Videogame journalism is a weird case because there are so few facts. It always seems to approach with the same methodology as mainstream news jounralism, and yet is far more comparrable to film, a medium with far less constant watching before it is made. We gamers demand that we be "in the know" on the goings-on of the industry, even when most of this goings on is pointless bullshit (who the hell really cares what Time had to say about Shigeru miyamoto and the creator of 4Chan?). And yet somehow, we like to keep track of these things, cause we like to feel like know the industry. When we consider where their sources are, its really no wonder that videogame journalism is as bad as it is.

The true nature of the problem lies in what the solution would look like. If we're talking just the facts about gaming as they are released - no opinions, no spin, no bullshit - we see maybe 3 or 4 pieces a day, tops. No form of news can survive on this. Gaming news is a niche subject that we have tried to make into a full exposure thing. By its very nature, it craves filler. Enter opinions. Enter speculation. Enter previews, trailer dissection, and hype by the truckload.

You'll never see a GTA IV preview in a newspaper, but you will see EA going belly-up, thats all I'm saying.

I think that the problem is that we put everything that talks about video games on the internet under the label of video game journalism. I think that there is a clear distinction to make between what sites like Gamasutra, Escapist magazine, Destructoid and Kotaku make.

Damn straight.
Though the problem with gaming journalism as I understand it is that you're depending on the developer to give you access to the game pre-release so you can write your article. So if they don't think you're going to give them a good review, why should they give you access? At the moment main stream gaming journalism appears to be nothing more than a form of advertising for the companies involved.
So the real question is "how do we get out of the current situation and improve the system"? Sure the online journalists have more freedom, but then the moment they get hired up by a big company what's the policy going to become? You might have a history of badmouthing bad games and saying it like it is, but if you're working for Gamepro or EGM, guess what? Your boss isn't going to put up with that for very long. You point out all of the flaws and problems in Oblivion then Bethesda won't let you preview their next game Fallout 3, and your magazine will be the only one without a preview of the next overly hyped game.

Pointing out the problem is all well and good, but the question remains. What do we do about it?

I thought this was a really solid article, and my thoughts on the journalism aspect of gaming boils down to this:

There isn't enough time. Good writing takes time and effort, and it just doesn't happen at the speed that makes it possible to produce exceptional pieces of work. Between the internet, which has made immediacy almost a standard, and the sheer time it takes to play a videogame (I'm an average gamer at best so things like RPGs will take a full work week in hours to complete if I'm lucky) and the time it takes to produce a cohesive article, I just don't know that it's possible to get greatness out of the journalistic side too often.

I find myself relying on message boards rather than reviews to get a good sense of how a game works these days. Sure, they're clogged with fanboyism and uninformed hyperbole, but I'd rather parse opinions from 200-300 players than 1-5 reviewers. Chances are the masses will unearth balance issues and bugs much more effectively than reviewers, anyway. If I have to wait an extra week to see how a game pans out, so be it.

sorry if this isn't appropriate here.. you can delete it when the time is right...

but i was just reading this article and now all links are broken - I only completed the first page. but i was enthralled!

Mainstream journalism has always been sensationalist puffery aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator. Calling Heart and Pulitzer "pioneers" of yellow journalism is just na´vetÚ.

The only recognizable difference is that the barrier of entry to being a game "journalist" is much lower. There are two reasons for that: One, everything ever written on the internet about video games seems to be classified as "game journalism." And two, setting up an amateur gaming review/news/comic/forum site is a quick and easy way to get page views, so more people do it.

I have to disagree with all the praise heaped on this article. It's a long list of complaints without any worthwhile suggestions for what would make video game journalism better.

There are only a few articles you enjoy reading a year? Well, tell us a bit more about them. What makes those articles "special" as opposed to what gets printed in, say, GamePro? Point out some pieces genuinely worth our time and how writers can strive towards those goals.

Reviewers aren't spending enough time covering the games they write about? Tell us about a different system that would allow for complete coverage that could be released in a timely fashion. Deadlines exist to keep news and reviews relevant. If they do not come out in a reasonable amount of time, then most people will go to other sources for their news. An audience of purists will gravitate towards your copy for the authoritative voice behind it, but the message becomes lost on the masses.

I'm not defending the current state of game journalism, however, simply saying "these things are bad! they need to be changed!" without considering first why some of these problems exist and what can be done to change matters just perpetuates the same insubstantial generalizing it accuses other game journalists of doing.

Smokescreen:
There isn't enough time. Good writing takes time and effort, and it just doesn't happen at the speed that makes it possible to produce exceptional pieces of work. Between the internet, which has made immediacy almost a standard, and the sheer time it takes to play a videogame (I'm an average gamer at best so things like RPGs will take a full work week in hours to complete if I'm lucky) and the time it takes to produce a cohesive article, I just don't know that it's possible to get greatness out of the journalistic side too often.

As a freelance writer myself, I just can't agree with you here. Yes, good writing takes time and effort, but it's not as though the writer is being asked to scale Mt. Everest. Once I have completed the research, a 1500 word article takes me four or five hours to knock out, and this sort of timeline isn't unusual among the writers of my acquaintance.

I think the primary problem is that many game journalists haven't taken the time or put in the effort to actually learn the craft of writing. When I read game reviews it is staggering to see the basic errors of grammar and spelling in what's published, much less the lack of finer techniques. Rarely does one see good transitions between paragraphs, a sense of coherent organization, or a distinct voice from the author. Many reviews and even articles read like a high school essay instead of a publication-worthy piece. It takes more than putting words onto a piece of paper (or into a word processing program) to be a writer; it takes learning about the mechanics of your language and having a passion for the words themselves. The industry will suffer as long as game journalists don't have a passion for words that is equal to their passion for games.

First of all, great article. GamesTM had a similar review centric article in issue #81 which also put forward some good arguments.

What I would suggest is that this is where the internet comes into its own. It becomes a lot easier to compare reviews when you can have them all in different tabs. A mate of mine visits a particular site regularly and from that has a good idea of what the reviewers know and like so he judges their scores based on that.

I've written a few reviews myself for an Irish gaming site and I do agree with the time constraints. In the weekend after the release of Resistance 2 I'd clocked up well over 24 hours play and still didn't feel that I'd done everything possible with the game. Similarly with Guild Wars, I've clocked up over 200 hours of play and still consider myself a noob.

That said, I don't feel that this is a problem that can be solved any time soon.

Very interesting article.
There might be many reviews of poor quality, but it's hardly fair to categorize the entirety of gaming journalism like this.

In my opinion a good review contains both factual elements, but more importantly the reviewer's personal experience with the game. This subjectivism might be frowned upon by many, but the fact is that people have different likes and dislikes and the enjoyment of any given game can be very different from gamer to gamer.
Of course it is important to argue for your opinion about a game and then the reader can tell from the argument whether his or her opinion might be the same as this particular reviewer.

JoeX111:
I have to disagree with all the praise heaped on this article. It's a long list of complaints without any worthwhile suggestions for what would make video game journalism better.

But...isn't Escapist itself a suggestion of what would make game journalism better? I mean, not to sound like an apologist or anything, but none of these articles would even EXIST in the publications doing the things being talked about here. By which I mean pretty much every game mag out there.

If journalism became an artistic science of good writing and meritable fact, people would think we would have lost a form of entertainment. Those same people would claim that there would be no honesty in the world if it was all cheap larfs and quips about this or that being bad.
A worldly cynic would claim that there would be no substitute for the disconcerting pile of compromises that compose many things in this human-built world of ours, and that we can never have an extreme. (Suddenly the tangent comes to mind that an extreme is in fact impossible because an extreme would imply perfection by some tense to an extent. Perfect order or perfect anarchy.)

October Country:
Very interesting article.
There might be many reviews of poor quality, but it's hardly fair to categorize the entirety of gaming journalism like this.

Concurrence abounds.

In my opinion a good review contains both factual elements, but more importantly the reviewer's personal experience with the game. This subjectivism might be frowned upon by many, but the fact is that people have different likes and dislikes and the enjoyment of any given game can be very different from gamer to gamer.
Of course it is important to argue for your opinion about a game and then the reader can tell from the argument whether his or her opinion might be the same as this particular reviewer.

In fact I prefer the human flavor of Journalism where subjective opinions are stipulated, and for that matter, when formality is thrown out the door. It really annoys me when I already know that a gaming article is heavily biased by a logo or some cash into the author's pocket, but when that is compounded with being written like some sort of official report, it seems outright condescending in my mind.
(Along that, I like to joke that you can figure out the score IGN gives games by counting the number of logos at the beginning of Trailer or Preview videos. I'm not sure if it's truth or still a joke.)

The first test for video game reviews is if the review gives a numerical score. If it does then crumple up the magazine or delete the bookmark. That source is _not_ worth your time.

A review is a device for assisting your opinion by summarizing, illuminating, and explaining, not to _tell_ you what you like or dislike. The common mistake is to judge without explanation so the reader must blindly accept your word on face value or reject it. Example:

"This RTS has a great control scheme."
Can mean:
1. This RTS has a great control scheme because it's very simple and intuitive.
2. This RTS has a great control scheme because it's very complex and varied.

Now depending on your personal leanings, the more detailed judgments with explanation you will agree with or not agree with. The original explanation-less statement is not helpful at all.

---

As for "how else are we going to do 20 reviews a week?" question: Don't. Any journalism model that requires you to shallowly cover all possible topics is going to be very disappointing to the reader (unless that is the express goal, rare.)

I would go to SimHQ for my sim news, RTS Planet for my RTS news way more readily than a slick, commercial cover-all site. People are portable and demand quality. They can tell when a reviewer has absolutely no history with the series of games.

Grand_Marquis:

JoeX111:
I have to disagree with all the praise heaped on this article. It's a long list of complaints without any worthwhile suggestions for what would make video game journalism better.

But...isn't Escapist itself a suggestion of what would make game journalism better?

The Escapist may be, but this article is not. Skimming the surface of the issue without delving into the meat and potatoes that makes up the dinner plate is the same stuff Mr. Aihoshi accuses other game journalists of doing. This isn't a hard news story where the guy needs to remain neutral. He's taking a stand, but his position is that "there is a problem." Well, obviously there is a problem. That's why people read The Escapist: For insightful looks at video games and video game culture that more mainstream outlets overlook. He's preaching to the choir, but he's not saying anything new here.

And I'd still like to know his position on creating timely content that will reach the most readers versus writing more comprehensive coverage that has a larger impact on the audience.

Frederf:
The first test for video game reviews is if the review gives a numerical score. If it does then crumple up the magazine or delete the bookmark. That source is _not_ worth your time.

I'm not sure where I stand on this argument. On the one hand, it's nice having reviewers realize that their opinions are subjective and, therefore, do not need to adhere to a strict numerical standard. But then, I love reading one star reviews that utterly bash stuff that deserves it. How else will you find these gems without some sort of classification system?

The argument against the number system is usually, "Well, Super Smash Brothers got a 9, but Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars got a 7. Does that mean Super Smash is a better game, even though they are two utterly different products?" Removing the numbers, though, doesn't change the fact that if you ask the reviewer that same question, "Which is better?" without the numbers to consider, he or she will still probably have an answer based on personal preference. Anti-score people will tell you it doesn't make sense to compare scores of games, but then, even if there is no score listed at all, the author still has an opinion on which of the two is a better game and that will influence what he or she writes.

Frederf:
As for "how else are we going to do 20 reviews a week?" question: Don't. Any journalism model that requires you to shallowly cover all possible topics is going to be very disappointing to the reader (unless that is the express goal, rare.)

Most profitable journalism models revolve around covering as much as humanly possible, unless it is a niche publication. See also: Newspapers.

Frederf:
I would go to SimHQ for my sim news, RTS Planet for my RTS news way more readily than a slick, commercial cover-all site. People are portable and demand quality. They can tell when a reviewer has absolutely no history with the series of games.

But if you go to SimHQ, the reviews are going to be slanted towards the enthusiast. This is great if you, too, are an enthusiast looking for a very definitive evaluation from your peers. It's not so good if you are just wondering if this game might be good for you, the average gamer. If I'm curious about the latest obscure Japanese RPG, going to some otaku fansite isn't going to help me. The enthusiasts there will (likely) rave about how wonderful it is, or how effectively it fits their niche. For me, who has never played a Japanese RPG, that isn't going to be very helpful. They might talk about how epic the story is or how brilliantly the battles are realized, leading me to believe it's an emotionally gripping epic. Then I buy it and think, MAN, these are some long cutscenes, and the turn-based combat is SLOW, and why do I keep getting attacked every FIVE FEET? These complaints, which can be pretty standard faire for a JRPG, probably wouldn't even make it into the enthusiast's review, as they are conventions that don't bother the enthusiast. But to me, Joe Gamer, that's something I want to know about.

I don't know, maybe I'm just weird, but I figured the solution was self-evident in the argument - employ investigative journalists, promote articles that are inquisitive rather than persuasive. Most game mags are like reading a newspaper with only movie reviews and nothing else. How hard is it to keep a small faction of those writers for more drawn-out thoughts on a given game: longer, more complete play-throughs, comparative articles, editorials based on a particular theme or mechanic, etc. I think there's a fear that this would ruin the timeliness aspect, but that's throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's possible to do both! It's not like these places only employ one person or something. Escapist can do it; Kotaku can do it...why is it so hard for the dead tree boys?

Hew Geand Marquis, you just stole my comment! But seriously, how are game reviews, or any reviews for that matter, "journalism"? No matter what, a person's taste or view is going to skew the review. I mean, this happenens constantly in journalism, too, but people don't realize it, unless they are against the way the story is viewed. Let me put it this way. Let's say there is one news worthry thing, and it appears on fox news, cnn and msnbc (and on the real news, not on one of their editioral shows) Which one is the most correct?.............. I'll wait while you think this over .............................................................................................................................................................................................................

The reader already assumed one network was more correct than the other . Guess what, You don't have enough info to figure this one out, because I never told you the story. But you already have views on those stations. And i think I just started a flame war between people that can't think that deep. But anyway, that's how the news works. So do reviews, in a sence. (wow i need spellcheck) When I read a review on IGN, I find it to be more accruate for my gaming taste that say, 1up or gamespot. And i know why too (if you guys want to know, ill explain tormorrow, but it has to do with review formats). So in order to get the best out of journalism, take it from more than one source.

My two pence worth... It's true that in some instances, the standard of care and attention in video games journalism can leave a lot to be desired, but that's not an exclusive gaming issue, it's a wider journalistic one. Also the growth in content generated by casual reviewers, mainly through online sources, manages to help and hinder in equal measure: it's great that more people are becoming producers rather than just consumers of editorial copy, but as I was explaining to a student of mine yesterday, good writing takes time and practice. The more you write, the more polished your copy will become.

I also disagree with the previous post that suggests reviews can't be placed under the banner of journalism, because if you take that to it's natural conclusion, you've also got to exclude interviews ("someone else might have chosen a different question"), opinion pieces ("but I don't think that way!") and even hard news. No matter how hard a journalist tries to be objective and remove themselves from the piece, they're still a fundamental part of it. That's not a flaw in journalism, it is and always has been the most vital factor that makes editorial content good. I do agree with phatslo however in that the key to it all is being critical in what you consume. If through hard-earned experience you feel that a reviewer is being heavily biased, misleading or just plain bad in what they write and how they write it, find someone who isn't. If you disagree with an opinion piece or the journalist triggers discussion, actually he or she has probably done their job exactly right. The author of this piece has. Ultimately, anything that gets us thinking more critically can't be a bad thing. (hops off soap box)

Concolora:

As a freelance writer myself, I just can't agree with you here. Yes, good writing takes time and effort, but it's not as though the writer is being asked to scale Mt. Everest. Once I have completed the research, a 1500 word article takes me four or five hours to knock out, and this sort of timeline isn't unusual among the writers of my acquaintance.

How long does it take to play a game thoroughly?

I won't disagree that there is a great deal of sloppiness out there--what I'm saying is that with print media vanishing and the need to get something, anything out there right now being dominant, the whole process suffers. The time it takes to not only do the research but congeal that into a cohesive piece and have editors give it a proper once-over is more than the internet culture wants to give. This need to get something out there immediately means that the 4-5 hours it takes you to knock an article out might be 3-4 instead. And this is after you've spent how many hours playing Final Fantasy 12?

How good is your article then? I ask not to be a dick, but to point out that if the time you need isn't there, the quality of the work suffers, and that's what I think is really what we're up against.

Smokescreen:
How long does it take to play a game thoroughly?

I'm not saying that it doesn't take a lot of time to really play a game -- that's why I specified that I was talking about the actual writing of the article. Deadlines *can* be extremely unrealistic, and that's definitely a problem within the industry and the quality of the work that's being put out there.

Smokescreen:
The time it takes to not only do the research but congeal that into a cohesive piece and have editors give it a proper once-over is more than the internet culture wants to give. This need to get something out there immediately means that the 4-5 hours it takes you to knock an article out might be 3-4 instead. And this is after you've spent how many hours playing Final Fantasy 12?

How good is your article then? I ask not to be a dick, but to point out that if the time you need isn't there, the quality of the work suffers, and that's what I think is really what we're up against.

Time pressures absolutely exist, and yes, they're detrimental. However, I still think that too many game journalists treat the writing of a cogent, concise article as though it were a 300 page book. I don't write game reviews, so I can't speak to the specifics of game reviews, but when you get a contract you are given a deadline. You split out your research and writing time based on what needs to be done to do a good job.

If the deadline is unrealistic, then that should be addressed, and it seems as though unrealistic deadlines are a problem in the game journalism industry. But it still doesn't excuse the sloppy writing I see -- you don't print a first draft, even if you're under a tight deadline. You have to take pride in your words, you know?

Concolora:
You have to take pride in your words, you know?

At the end of the day, yeah. One should always try to do the best you can given the constraints.

Grand_Marquis:
I don't know, maybe I'm just weird, but I figured the solution was self-evident in the argument - employ investigative journalists, promote articles that are inquisitive rather than persuasive. Most game mags are like reading a newspaper with only movie reviews and nothing else. How hard is it to keep a small faction of those writers for more drawn-out thoughts on a given game: longer, more complete play-throughs, comparative articles, editorials based on a particular theme or mechanic, etc. I think there's a fear that this would ruin the timeliness aspect, but that's throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's possible to do both! It's not like these places only employ one person or something. Escapist can do it; Kotaku can do it...why is it so hard for the dead tree boys?

One key factor is time. A print mag is being assembled months before it actually hits the stands. So, let's say you want an in-depth look at Game X. That means the publisher/developer has to get you a version of Game X that they consider good enough to be seen months before they need to have it ready for anyone else. Sometimes that's worth their while, but most of the time it isn't. Doing it after the fact, and you've got an in-depth story on a game that's come out months after the internet has already been talking about it. It's a tough situation.

Of course, not every in-depth piece needs to be about a specific game. You can do company profiles, discuss broader themes -- in short, the type of thing we try to do with our weekly issue. But that's not the current print model, and therefore a tough sell to advertisers. Subscriptions do not pay for print mags - they barely pay for the postage to mail them out. Advertising it what keeps a print magazine running, and advertisers like sure things.

It's also just that gamers are far more linked-in than they used to be. While there is certainly a segment that still enjoys reading print mags, the vast majority prefers to pick and choose where to get its information from a variety of online sources. A story about WoW here, a review of Killzone 2 there, an essay on the state of gaming journalism over yonder. The internet is a veritable buffet of information, points of view, and writing styles and best of all, it allows you to offer your own opinion and input...you can see why print is a tough sell.

I don't agree with the people bashing this article for not providing an answer. Just because he doesn't have an answer (not that we could expect him to have one; this is a hard problem), doesn't mean his article is worthless. Certainly the first step to recovery is admitting that there is a problem and this article does a decent job of convincing the reader that a problem exists. Sure, it could go into further detail, but let's not write it off all together.

I do agree with those people saying that the timelines for thoroughly experiencing a game aren't compatible with our current journalistic expectations. While some games may be finishable in a week, there are many others which take months or years to experience completely. Take a game like World of Warcraft -- even before the expansions, one could expect to take a few weeks just to hit the level cap, let alone experience the crafting, battlegrounds, and end-game instances. Add to that time to meet friends and join guilds and you could easily spend months before having done enough to be considered thorough.

Community is another aspect that is difficult to investigate in any reasonable time. Communities build up around games well after release, so they can't be reviewed ahead of time, but with games rising and falling based on communities, it's an important metric for making a purchase decision.

There's also the bias of playing a game pre-release. We all know the problems of reviewing a game when the servers aren't heavily loaded, expectations are lowered to beta quality, there is nobody else to play with, and major patches come out on release day. Obviously, these previews are nothing like a review of the game the player will play when they bring home their own copy of the game.

Add all of this up and it's clear that the task as we expect it is impossible. You can't perform a month of research on a newly released game and still have an article out the day of release.

Reviewers try to work around this by playing for only a few days, but this places a large bias on their review. Game producers know this and place all of the good stuff in the first hours of gameplay, since that is all the reviewers will have time to experience. This sets a biased expectation for the remaining content. It also isn't sufficient to judge the longetivity of a game. What may have been new and fun for the first 10 levels could quickly become boring or even broken by level 80. Clearly, this isn't an answer.

I think there are some approaches to resolving this. First off, we have to change our expectations. Previews and release-day reviews will inevitably be shallow and speculative, so we have to expect that. While they can still serve as influences towards purchasing, we can't expect them to be thorough and accurate, nor should they present themselves as such. On the other hand, we need continuing research with additional reviews coming out weeks and months later to fill in the gap for the late adopters and to act as a metric for the industry of the real success of these games.

Mature reviews are something we are desperately lacking right now. We currently have a rush of shallow, release-day reviews, and then the publications move on to do the same thing with the next upcoming game. As a consumer, I don't get most of my games on release day, but months down the road. By then, patches have come and gone, communities have been built, and speculations have become history. To my disappointment, all that I can find are the shallow, speculative, and now-outdated reviews from release day. As long as games are an evolving media, we need to continually review and update our critiques.

The inevitable question becomes: how do we do all this extra work and remain profitable? Well, you get what you pay for. I wouldn't pay so much as an ad-click for most current review sources, because many of them have lead me astray. As an anecdote, I became interested in Age of Conan and purchased it on release day almost entirely because of previews put forth by a variety of popular sources. Within days of release, it was clear that they were all talking our of their wallets -- the game was nothing like they had described. Their advice wasn't just worthless -- it cost me money.

Now, if I knew there were a reliable source that could give me the information I needed to make informed purchasing decisions, that would be worth something. Even $5 for a single well-informed review would make good insurance against a poor $60 investment in a game.

An example of a website that does this well is Penny Arcade. Yes, the web comic. Though they don't provide in-depth reviews, they do spend the time with games to be able to perform critical analyses of them and provide insightful, trustworthy recommendations. I have purchased several games after hearing Tycho's praise and have yet to be disappointed. Reliable sources like this are worth something and the marketing people can find a way to monetize that worth.

As the OP has stated, video game journalism is in a sad state. We need to change our expectations and our standards in order to get anything useful out of this system.

I find this article sort of funny because it almost reads like a confession. I seriously would not be deterred, and could find the same meaning in the article, if it was titled, "Confessions of a Possible Yellow Journalist".

Having said that, this is the one thing that I love about Escapist. First, they're honest with you. Second, they get down to your level - even going so far as to possibly criticizing their own journalism. Lastly, they always do articles about the stuff you care about, but they aren't afraid to raise the bar and say or do something that could be contrary to your opinion on the matter. This is the substance nearly every media outlet strives to do, but almost all of them fail at doing. Someone said bravo. I'm saying, eureka, you've got it!

Frederf:
I would go to SimHQ for my sim news, RTS Planet for my RTS news way more readily than a slick, commercial cover-all site. People are portable and demand quality. They can tell when a reviewer has absolutely no history with the series of games.

This is a good point. There simply aren't enough genre experts writing for major publications. Why? Well, in order to make as much money as possible, the cover-alls will hire four or five enthusiastic gamers of limited specialist knowledge to cover thirty games each month from fifteen different genres. What this means is that almost all reviews are pointless because they provide nothing of worth to someone who might be interested in buying a particular game.

For example, I like JRPGs. I like JRPGs because they're JRPGs; in other words, I like turn-based combat, random encounters and dungeon crawling. So when I see a review that criticises a JRPG for having turn-based combat, random encounters and dungeon crawling, my blood begins to boil. Such a review is devoid of merit because it is written exclusively for the benefit of people who would never buy the game in the first place. JRPG fans won't read it because it offers nothing of substance and JRPG haters won't read it because they have no interest in the genre anyway. The result is a page of print that is of no practical use to anyone. Unfortunately, this type of content makes up 99% of what most (all?) publications have to offer.

Meanwhile, I can go to a forum or specialist website (e.g. RPGamer) and read the opinion of someone who not only cares about the games s/he's reviewing but who also has some degree of experience & knowledge from which to draw. Honestly, I would rather listen to the opinion of a randomly selected JRPG fan over the collective thoughts of fifty or more "professional" game "journalists". Of course the condescending objective tone of most reviews doesn't help either. Nor the lack of writing ability. But that doesn't matter to me. All that matters is that it's worth reading.

Loved the article.

This is something I've been thinking for a while now, but the sad fact is, most magazines, particularly those bound to a physical printed format, are stuck in a vicious cycle.

If they wanna best their competition they need the latest previews and reviews before the competition, I mean, do you really wanna hear about last week's news? If, and this is where it starts to get mucky, they want to get their hands on the material they need when they need it, they need developer support. And if they want developer support, they inevitably need to be on their good graces.

And this is where the fault lies. Developers know they hold the cards and they use them as informal currency: You want our next headline while it's still fresh, we want good reviews/previews to build up hype for a release.

What you end up with is an amalgamation of very identical, often shallow, "formulaic" feedback across publications. And thus "yellow journalism" thrives, where the level of sensationalism is really the only difference across brands. It's all about the "flash" and the flamboyant rating systems that are ultimately arbitrary and pointless...

On the other hand this whole race makes the whole process a time trial more than a creative process. It's not so much giving an informed opinion as it is dishing out an opinion with some information. Between the aforementioned arbitrary ratings, rushed out reviews to meet deadlines and reviewers often reviewing genres they dislike or simply don't understand, what you end up is... Well... To repeat myself a little: arbitrary, and often incoherent.

But alas, it's the inevitable fate of the formulaic "review, preview and demos" model, which so very few dare and manage to break from.

Articles like this make me love the escapist and have made me cancel my subscription to Game Informer and the like

I once reviewed a few games for a blog and I know I've had a discussion with myself about what a review should be. It's the reason I didn't give numbered scores. I was also faced with the problem of not being able to rely on the pre-knowledge of readers.

It sounds tedious, but I would describe the controls and systems of a game when I reviewed it. It's actually a good idea and helps frame how a game plays. What a review should do, I decided, is describe a game comprehensively but succinctly and describe who would enjoy it, if anyone, and why. A numerical score is useless at best. At worst, it completely misrepresents what I want to say.

I remember reviewing a game with two scores in mind, the one I though a "professional" would give based on technical and systemic problems/annoyances and the score I felt in my heart based on the fun I was having. If I write a review describing several bugs and systemic mistakes and then dismiss them in light of my enjoyment of the game, what would you focus on more? Would you trust me? I went with no score and said everything I wanted to. My score was a description of who should and shouldn't try the game.

 

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