Reviewer, Amuse Me!

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Reviewer, Amuse Me!

A wishlist for building the perfect game review site.

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I love the way you review: it's simple, entertaining, and actually informative. You talk about what the game is about, what worked, what didn't, and how you could fix that. Then you go on to talk about something that really stood out (like when you talked about Dreamfall's ending, Prey's child-killing, Jade Empire's plot twist, etc). Then it's on to the nitpicks. Sometimes they're petty, as in your Prince of Persia review, sometimes they're a joy to read because they're so many and so severe, like in Fable 2.
The way you include personal anecdotes also helps with the feeling that a human wrote it (let's cook up an example... your Oblivion hardware problems, Neverwinter Nights' "plot door")

Now it sounds like I'm just gushing, so I'll say this was a good read, I liked it a lot more than previous EP's.
I'll just copypaste on your blog to see what your readers have to say about it ^^

Oh my God. It's not just me. I thought I was one of the only people who did that, but knowing better makes me feel like less of a douchebag for liking the reviews of sucky games more than the higher-quality ones.

was a very interesting read, and brought up some very intriguing points.

Interesting. You know what? I'm going to send this article to my editor in chief. I'm "working" at a PC games magazine, and I did have some of these thing in my mind for a while now.

Especially writing multiple reviews of the same game. I think one voice can not possibly speak for the entire audience of that particular game. Especially nowdays, when games tend to have two or more genre stickers plastered on the box. Action/RPG, tactical/FPS, TPS/adventure, RTS/RPG...etc. It is pretty unlikely that every player likes or dislikes every element in a game, and it's pretty obvious that the reviewer is only one voice in the cacophony. There were many occasions when someone else at the webzine reviewed a game that I played, and I didn't agree with the review at all, but since the "Oracle already spoken", I couldn't do anything.

More than one review means more than one perspective on the same game, and I think it's good for everyone. The publisher gets twice the amount of coverage and the players get two different sides. Win, Win.

I always thought it was weird how I liked negative reviews so much.

For what it's worth, reviews of bad games are the most fun to write, too. :)

Who needs to write it all down when we have copy+paste?

You are right though on a lot of those aspects. Too often the mindset of what you call "the oracle" falls into the mind of the reader and so when one journalist gives a game a good or bad review it is too easy to think that the entire magazine has "lost" their credibility because of the different review.

I remember when I tried my hand at writing reviews and often I put myself reviewing games I didn't want to review at the time. Forcing oneself to play through and beat a game as fast as possible does not really help the player immerse themselves when you are thinking more about the clock than the game.

Personally? I'd name my pony Wilberina Quintet. The 4th.

haha, hell yes! This is probably the only reason i ever care to open a game mag. Specially the brit ones they are usually the best with their insults. Honestly half the time if the reviewer is entertaining i will listen to their opinion, it really has no bearing on whether or not ill buy the game, i just like hearing funny reviews.

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.

Good idea.

Also, no Gerstmann.

Their work is edgy, unconventional, personality driven, insanely popular, and generally useless for someone trying to learn about the game.

And yet... Shamus and Yahtzee are responsible for my finding - and buying - more good games to play than all the number-crunching ad-copy-writing magazine reviewers combined. Its just a different way of reading it. Just because Yahtzee savages a game for having a ludicrous difficulty curve or something doesn't mean he didn't also enjoy playing it - if it looks like he had fun, and the things he complains about aren't my highest priorities, I'll often pick it up.

Shamus, I think it can be valuable to periodically hand games off to people who wouldn't ordinarily play the game--a reviewer working out of genre can often find interesting things that a regular in-genre person would miss or assume everyone "got" already. That dovetails nicely with "don't be afraid of doubling-up on reviews".

I think it's also beneficial if reviewers don't try to be the first one out with the review--they have time to really look the game over and aren't writing before the New Game Shine has worn off. I often find myself saying something along the lines of "this game is so cool!" and then later realizing that it only seemed cool because I was bored stiff and it was something new to do. Later, the flaws become more glaring.

I'd name my pony "Biscuit", or maybe "Skittles" :3

This article resonates a lot with me. I can remember times I've scoured the archives of game sites for those reviews of terrible games. To an extent I still do it today. You also remind me of why I like writing up reviews so much myself. It's great not to be constrained to a particular formula and to be allowed to say what I please. It's a shame that so many publications rush to have reviews out so quickly though, but I suppose the good comes out of it when real gems of writers shine out from the rough.

And I agree that the crappy games are the most fun to write about. I'll always take the opportunity to practice new and painful similes :D

Really interesting article...especially liked the 6th point:)

This was a great article. I'd always wondered if there was anyone else that did the post game review searching as well, very well written.

It's true: writing about games you dislike is inherently more fun than writing praise-filled recommendations. That doesn't mean that one has to be sterile when writing nice reveiws though: it just makes it harder to work in humor. I try to do my part now and then.

A nice article, well worth reading. I have the same habit of looking up reveiws of games I've played in recent history... but I also enjoy reading reviews of games I've never played just as much.

I used to like IGN's video reviews because they didn't add a review score at the end, they didn't gratuitously break down the review into sections like 'gameplay' and 'graphics', and it was very personality driven and sometimes humorous. The reviews would talk about the parts of the game that mattered. The latest video review I saw from IGN (Wolverine), seems to have taken a fat step backwards. The review is now separated into sections, and they show the review score at the end. It's become like their text reviews.

I like video reviews like ZP better because the reviewer talks about what's important and makes each review personal.

What I like better is when people talk about games on podcasts. You get more than one opinion, and it's (usually) actually a conversation between more than one person that discuss their experiences with the game and why they like it.

In fact, what's even better is just talking about video games with people. Hmmm.

I believe that #2 is the best advice one can give. If you place an action guy in a TBS or TBRPG of course they are going to find it boring and unintuitive, it's the same as doing the opposite and putting a TBRPG guy into Call of Duty or some such stuff, they will write a terribly boring, dry, and unimaginative review because that's exactly how they found it.

The iconic reviewers of our time tend to stick towards genres that they enjoy, and it shows, because we can relate to and connect with the emotion.

If the average reviewer really went to journalism school they should demand their money back.

The review number is a crutch and as much as the need for one is bad it's still nasty to steal a cripple's crutch. Many a reviewer fails to properly convey the level of fun a game is, e.g. spending 90% of the review text on the negatives that showed up gives the reader the impression the experience was 90% negative even though those complaints may be minor (they are perceived as representative, not exhaustive then). I know I use a "sorting order of fun" on stuff I play, some games are simply more fun than others so expressing it as a number (or a word that codifies a number, e.g. good, great, bad, ...) is quite feasible.

While I do enjoy some reviews for their entertainment value I also use them to gauge the quality of a game and how much money it's worth. While ZP is entertaining it's not really useful for finding games to buy, most of the bad stuff was stuff I had already put on my "don't buy" list anyway and the positives are so rare they're no real help for finding things to play. That's where review aggregators come into play and the scores are useful to determine which reviews will likely represent which viewpoints so finding the advantages and flaws of a game is fairly easy.

Well I think part of the problem is that it's considered okay to come up with witty hyperbole to describe how bad a game is but when it comes to praising games, any direction in the other direction has to be temperate.

People have this wierd thing, whereby they like to kick a game while it's down but as soon as a game is praised just a touch too much that word 'biased' starts to make an appearance. Reviewers, especially those who work in videogames, have really bred a climate of scepticism and negativity. It's almost as if they look for things to bag before they look for the positives. When a reviewer goes against this, it triggers cynicism in the reader and therefore the writer subconsciously measures their praise but bagging a game fits into the mould.

You know, there's a whole community on YouTube and stuff for people solely reviewing games that are bad because that's funnier than high quality game reviews..

Armake21/NicotineAlien/BoxedEntertainment21
AVGN
SpoonyOne
Wizwar100
TheGamingGoose
etc. etc. etc.

I find reviews of bad games to be alot funnier than good games, but that's because the reviewer usually tries to be way funnier then too.

One of the things that I loved about Consolevania was that they could make a review of a game that they enjoyed funny.

Shamus Young:
Professional reviewers are generally journalists

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this, but I'm pretty sure it's not true.

I think GiantBomb follows a lot of the points that Shamus made.

They use a five-star system, have entertaining reviews, and makes sure that the reader knows who wrote the review.

Of course, the Escapist does a good job as well.

Loved how you wrote the article, and I'll certainly be back to read the next one. :D

well done :)

Ray Huling:

Shamus Young:
Professional reviewers are generally journalists

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this, but I'm pretty sure it's not true.

I think he missed out the word "failed".

:D

I want a pony too, Shamus

zoozilla:
I think GiantBomb follows a lot of the points that Shamus made.

They use a five-star system

Stars, shines, numbers, etc all amount to the same thing.

The only real hang-up I have with this whole article is that...pretty much everyone does this. The only reason there is any variation in gaming magazines is that most of them are terrible at it. I appreciate the sentiment of having a review be funny but it always just turns into snide jokes and crude comments. It's fine for entertainment but at some point you do expect a critic to actually do something for the artistic medium besides sell themselves.

Have you ever looked back at one of those reviews a year from now? Even a month? They're utterly worthless if you need actual information about the game or what it meant. The damn problem with game writing in general is that none of it ages, it's just topical and entertaining for that week and then it drifts away.

I really try NOT to read reviews before I play the game these days because they're always so spoiler-packed and full of juvenile stupidity. If it's a game I have no intention of playing, or one I already have played, then I'll check it out. But if it's something I might buy soon I'll steer clear because I know that the reviewer is usually going to do these things:

1. Fill the first part of the review with needless plot exposition, wrecking at least 50% of the game's story
2. Crap on and on (and on, and on, and on) about graphics like they even matter a shit
3. Waste a lot of space with stupid smartassing bollocks, pretty pictures and other fluff instead of getting down to the actual info that I want to know, like if the reviewer thinks the game is any good or not and why/why not
4. Generally be a dickhead
5. Ignore a great deal of the game's content (like not even looking at the multiplayer component of an online game for example)
6. Assign a score which will not be any less than 8 out of 10 unless the game development company didn't pay their advertising fees to the editor on time, or the game company foolishly neglected to take out ads with the reviewer's publication.

The reviews on this site are more often than not an exception and actually reasonably good on average, one reason why I continue to hang around on this site and annoy you all. In fact I would say generally that online sites are slightly better at reviewing games than magazines. The days when a magazine review of a game was anything other than complete fluff are long gone. I agree with most of the points in the original article. I particularly agree with the abolishment of scores. By the way you should give me a job here. I'll buy you a pony.

Pretty good but the wish list needs some additions. Silicon Nights will finish eternal darkness 2 right now, and a trained hippopotamus named Blazing Blubber will abduct hookers and bring them to my basement.

I enjoy the current trend of self-reflexivity that's sweeping through games journalism right now.

I'd just like to point out that some of the best writing about games has been a no-nonsense account of how someone's play session went - a narrative, if you will. I learned more about what Galactic Civilizations II was about from this guy's space adventures:

http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=195920&site=pcg

than any formal review.

Shamus Young:

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.

QFT. Thank you for condensing this whole tedious discussion into a few witty sentences and giving me further ammunition to convince some extremely moronic friends what kind of a farce this is. To what adress can I send your pony?

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