243: Cheating the System

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If I'm gonna make a game I'll make the best cheats ever. I'ts the biggest shame in history that game developers forgot about them. now we have to mod Call of pripyat into having all upgrades without compromises. and that comic someone posted is quite right. that is why I only go to nonprofessional game web for game reviews.

Waw, great article. Not only an eye-opener and a good look behind the scenes, but you actually managed to avoid a 'black and white'-picture. As a reader and a gamer I obviously don't like what is described here. But, after reading this article, I simply can't condemn what is happening. Well done.

It was this exact thing that made me stop reading reviews to decide whether I want to buy a game or not. If I'm on the fence, I'll just wait until it's released and see what people are saying online. Tons of forum threads, playthrough videos and more show up within weeks. I still subscribe to Game Informer magazine, but solely for the non-review content, like early previews of games. It was them that put me onto Borderlands, for example - a game I love and find to be ridiculously awesome. However, their review of the game neglects to mention any of the myriad of niggling problems that can become blindingly obvious after dozens of hours of play. The "Second Opinion" mentions a couple things, but still, the feeling remains that they have sunk only a mere fraction of the hours I have into the game. So I read the other articles and ignore the reviews. I'm happy with that.

That makes a horrible amount of sense - and as a freelance writer/journalist it erks me to no end. After all, some RPGs could be upwards of 100+ hours of game play. Even games ranging in the 20-30 hour mark would eat up most of your week... a week where you'd likely be reviewing more than one game. So, how much do we - the readers - believe what reviewers actually say? This might explain why I've found reviews that make NO logical sense... as if the writer has played an entirely different game. It's rare, but I have noticed it.

The worst part is that those reviews will them compound something like Metacritic and will be decisive on which games get sequels and which developers get big fat bonuses. It's a vicious cycle.

Wow... Reviewers are n00bs lulz.

Seriously though, surely playing a game with cheats will alter the experience that most gamers will get. That kinda makes it a bad review.

Reminds me of what they did with Assassins creed. They allowed Altair to fly to the reviewers/developers could get to locations quickly & save time.

reg42:
Wow... Reviewers are n00bs lulz.

Seriously though, surely playing a game with cheats will alter the experience that most gamers will get. That kinda makes it a bad review.

True, then again, some games are way too long to complete when you deal with deadlines, and a pile of games to complete. Not when people want reviews released as fast as possible.

It's a kind of compromise, I suppose. I never take reviews really seriously, like they were the Words of Truth. I'd rather rent a game to see if I like it before I buy it. It actually saved me a lot of money!

What if magazine publishers used "vetted" volunteers to play a game, give their experiences and gather screen shots, without cheating. A panel of volunteer users who signed an NDA, got an early copy of the game that was ID Chipped to identify who gave their copy to friends and maybe some corporate swag, signed art books or something in lieu of a paycheck.

Obviously this idea needs fleshing out, but rather than say "we can't do it without cheating" maybe we could start asking "how can we do it without cheating?"

Ubisoft really should have some more confident in their games
I mean, AC and the Tom Clancy games have generally been good (which is more than other developers/publishers can say)

So much for the review process being fair and just. Kind of reminds me of the sport of boxing, with all the little connections that judges have which lead to them giving scores that are often ridiculous.

Sad thing, this type of conflict of interest in reviews. I always prefer to read an in-depth, personal review a few days later than a day 1, general, 'the graphics are good' review, but I can certainly see the appeal for young gamers to get the news first.

This honestly doesn't surprise me.

That's not journalism.

CincoDeMayo:
This makes me even more skeptical against gaming magazines, and most of all the scores that they're given. The biggest titles are always rewarded with the biggest scores, but is it because the reviewer played through the whole thing or because he didn't and just made an estimation based on a few hours of gameplay * the hype + hours spent in a four-star hotel paid by the game publisher?

Just try to say something negative about nintendo on the average gaming website and see a huge amount of hate directed at you. Now imagine that, as a game reviewer every day for the next few months in your e-mail inbox, but in this case it doesn't have to be about nintendo but basically every game developer/publisher, then add some possible problems from the publisher for printing a negative review(sorry, we forgot to send you a copy of "Game X". Oh well, the game is nearly released so buy it if you want to review it).

Something like that has to happen once and the next time that same reviewer will add a point or two to the score to keep it in that magical area that lies between 6/10 and 9/10.

It pretty much confirms what I've always thought -- that there's no possible way a reviewer could play every moment of every game. At best, it'd be a sampling of game play (whether they got there by cheat or just by playing the first subset) combined with interviews with developers and what they "said" the game contains.

I have my own game-related blog, and I've taken to writing up a review of the games that I play. But, since I want the review to accurately represent the game (the game can be very different in the end from the beginning), I try to wait until I "finish" the game (at least one playthrough) before publishing the review. Since gaming is something I do in my free time outside of a full-time job, fatherhood, church callings, and other real-life endeavors, I only get in 2-4 hours of game play a night at best, and not all of that is "working" on finishing a game I haven't reviewed yet.

As such, sometimes I'm clicking "Publish" several months after I first brought home the game, when it's all but forgotten and now on Wal-Mart's clearance rack.

I tried to step things up a bit by writing my reviews before I finished the game, so they'd actually get out of draft mode; but I ended up very disappointed in my own work, especially when I'd get to later stages in the game and wish I could insert a few words in my review. (Well, technically, I can; I just don't feel right "revising" old posts for some reason.)

And this is just my hobby, for a blog that I'd be surprised if six people even read. I have a feeling if I tried to do this professionally, I'd either miss every deadline by weeks; end up producing crap work based on 5% of the game; or use any cheat, glitch, or advantage I could find to get the most out of a game I could in the time I had.

Short Answer folks: Peer reviews.

Always trust your fellow gaming brethren.

Darth Rahu:
It's a bit depressing reading this article when I'm trying to get into that business myself.

It is a little...it does put an entirely new light on how things are actually done...

But, alas. There is always ways to change the system!

This is why I never judge a game based solely on reviews, but also why I read so many of a game I might be interested in. By just limiting yourself to one or two review sites, you're not only mainly hearing one or two types of bias every single time, but you are also limiting the information you'll receive about any one game. Reading every one you can will give you the most informed idea about a game, but ultimately, yer just reading peoples opinions.

I really don't think game reviews should be such a big deal. Everyones expectations are different, and it's a rare thing to find someones point of view as enlightening as your own.

At least that way they get enough details,
how come they don't relate them to us?
That's what makes a good review: details about the games features. I really don't care what some bozo personally thought of the game because if he had to pay with his own $60, it probably wouldn't be as glowing.
With some of these raving reviews, I can't understand if the reviewer was playing the same crappy game as me.

level250geek:
I'm beginning to wonder if video games should even be reviewed at all. Certainly, some outlets give better reviews than others. The Escapist and Kotaku offer what is probably the best reviews. These are almost always (especially with the The Escapist)after the game has been released. They give a general sense of the game without being terribly specific, and honestly--they never give me the impression that the reviewer played the game all the way through, so if they didn't, no big deal. But too many outlets try to review games like movie critics review movies, and you just can't do that.

Kotaku actually does give a very detailed breakdown of what they did in the game after every one of their reviews, and I love them for it. Also, since it seems very important to some, it says whether they had to purchase the game themselves or whether it was provided by the publisher for free.

Here's the footnote for the new Sonic Racing game:
"Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii on February 23. Retails for $39.99 USD to $49.99 USD. Copies of the game were given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through Advanced difficulty in Grand Prix mode, completed all Missions on Xbox 360. Tested Wii version and online multiplayer modes on Xbox 360. Unlocked Ulala as quickly as possible."

This is the sort of thing that should be appearing at the end of every review. I don't necessarily disapprove of a reviewer cheating through a game to review it on time as long as they do play enough to get a real feel of what the game is. But, I do think they should be open and honest about just how much they did play and what they did/didn't see/do.

Now what recent game could have suffered so horribly due to the practices mentioned in this article? I have no idea...

COUGHwhiteknightchronicles

Flour:

CincoDeMayo:
This makes me even more skeptical against gaming magazines, and most of all the scores that they're given. The biggest titles are always rewarded with the biggest scores, but is it because the reviewer played through the whole thing or because he didn't and just made an estimation based on a few hours of gameplay * the hype + hours spent in a four-star hotel paid by the game publisher?

Just try to say something negative about nintendo on the average gaming website and see a huge amount of hate directed at you. Now imagine that, as a game reviewer every day for the next few months in your e-mail inbox, but in this case it doesn't have to be about nintendo but basically every game developer/publisher, then add some possible problems from the publisher for printing a negative review(sorry, we forgot to send you a copy of "Game X". Oh well, the game is nearly released so buy it if you want to review it).

Something like that has to happen once and the next time that same reviewer will add a point or two to the score to keep it in that magical area that lies between 6/10 and 9/10.

That's a good point, but on the other side just look at any "negative reviewer" such as Yahtzee, he practically kills every hype there ever was about any game released so far, but we still love him because of his honesty. Sure, the game market is as with everything else about selling a product, but when reviewers and so-called critics give perfect tens to every hyped game and they turn out to be shitty we're missing out on what's most important: honesty. I don't want to be tricked into buying a shitty game just because some reviewer had a paid weekend in Vegas, I want the truth!

StriderShinryu:

level250geek:
I'm beginning to wonder if video games should even be reviewed at all. Certainly, some outlets give better reviews than others. The Escapist and Kotaku offer what is probably the best reviews. These are almost always (especially with the The Escapist)after the game has been released. They give a general sense of the game without being terribly specific, and honestly--they never give me the impression that the reviewer played the game all the way through, so if they didn't, no big deal. But too many outlets try to review games like movie critics review movies, and you just can't do that.

Kotaku actually does give a very detailed breakdown of what they did in the game after every one of their reviews, and I love them for it. Also, since it seems very important to some, it says whether they had to purchase the game themselves or whether it was provided by the publisher for free.

Here's the footnote for the new Sonic Racing game:
"Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii on February 23. Retails for $39.99 USD to $49.99 USD. Copies of the game were given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through Advanced difficulty in Grand Prix mode, completed all Missions on Xbox 360. Tested Wii version and online multiplayer modes on Xbox 360. Unlocked Ulala as quickly as possible."

This is the sort of thing that should be appearing at the end of every review. I don't necessarily disapprove of a reviewer cheating through a game to review it on time as long as they do play enough to get a real feel of what the game is. But, I do think they should be open and honest about just how much they did play and what they did/didn't see/do.

I totally zoned on that. You're right; Kotaku does sum up exactly how much of the game they played. My apologies.

Thanks for the really informative article. I owe an apology to the Escapist staff, having at one stage written a snarky email about a review where the reviewer gave up 9 hours into the RPG he was reviewing.

I suppose that there *is* no way somebody can actually play a whole game but, honestly, isn't that what "full disclosure" is about? I'm a big boy now. If somebody tells me in a review "I played chapters 3, 4, and 9, and the gameplay never got more interesting", I'll accept that. If the review says "I played chapters 3, 4, and 9, and the story never got more interesting" I'd have to take objection because it's not possible to skim read story.

It's worse to then say "I played the game and the story never got interesting" and not disclose the cheating. That's just misinformation.

Which is probably why the best reviews are normally the ones that either come out a long time later, or are fully experiential e.g. Yahtzee, or most of the Escapist ones. The reviewer says "I had fun". If I have followed the reviewer and mostly concurr with his choices, that's good. Otherwise, forgeddaboutit.

Also, Amazon has the best reviews for games. You'll find reviews for "mediocre" games from people who liked/didn't like it that will let you know quickly whether it's worth a shot. Big budget fanboi titles are skewed, of course, but it's hard to beat "crowd" reviewing for getting a good idea on whether something is decent.

See, that's what makes me sad. My profession is not losing, it outright lost all credibility. Sometimes I even wonder, is there any point in giving my best? Doing what is humanly possible to write the most detailed, honest and objective review I can, and what do I get in return? Scorn and disbelief. People don't trust game reviews, as it's obvious from the comments here and virtually everywhere in Internet Land.

Most of the time, I get a week to review a game. Now, that sounds like a lot, but with all the IRL jobs and whatnot to do, I only get to play in the evenings, that totals to a maximum of 14 hours at best for one game. And there is really no difference in game genres regarding the review time, I get the same 14-ish hours to review a racing game, an arcade shooter or a Mass Effect-esque epic. That time is barely enough to blitz through the single player campaigns of Red Faction Guerrilla or Bad Company 2, not to mention the multiplayers, and don't even get me started on MMOGs.

Time is our worst enemy in this profession. Contrary to popular belief, gameplay and story is just half of what gets into the review. We need to do background checks on the games, history, genre specification, anything interesting during development, some info about prequels, sequels, the publisher, the developers, etc. And we still need to talk about the graphics, music, sound, controls, community, connectivity, the new things the game brings to the table, and so on. It's half playing, half detective work, just like real journalists. Presenting interesting facts, trivia and other information is very much needed to keep the interest up in the review and the game. A simple "it's shite" or "it's the PwNZ0rZ!!" is not good enough.

I don't know about other reviewers, but I pride myself on the fact, that my reviews are as detailed as possible, not spoiling the story, but presenting the game in it's fullness, as much as possible. My EIC often says to cut back on the character count, because my reviews are too long, and very few people read them all the way through. My answer is, that the few people who do, are getting the most detailed and accurate info about the game as possible, and if someone is not interested in all that, they can read the summary at the end of the review. I strive to do my best, to destroy this wall of disbelief we game journalists get, and I think I speak for most of the profession when I say, that we are really doing our best to review these games and tell you all about them, as objectively and accurately as possible. And no, don't get me started on the scoring system, that's a disaster.

Yes, I do sometimes cheat, when time runs short. I use trainers or cheat codes, save files, or I read other reviews to gather info, write bold oversimplifications, average out the scores and depend on metacritic a little too much. I'm not proud of it, but sometimes it's necessary to finish the review on time. Deadlines are making the profession dead, but if we take too long to publish a review, people wouldn't read it, they lose interest far to soon. It's a fucking deathtrap, but it's easily still the most enjoyable job on the planet :)

Honestly I find all of the "I knew it!" posts to be almost laughable. Until you're working in the industry you have no idea. One blog post and your own biases don't paint a picture, they simply skew things in a particular direction. Try making friends with some of the professionals and see what they tell you - it'll be enlightening.

As a game reviewer those sort of "you must cheat to complete the game!" situations only come up rarely and they usually come up because someone, somewhere screwed up. Someone quit, got sick, left on maternity leave or something and left the project sitting on the EIC's desk. Yes I've reviewed expansive games in 24 hours, no it wasn't fun. But you would be surprised how fast you can complete a game when properly motivated. A friend completed Lost Odyssey in four days, 15 hours of gaming a day. When your job and paycheck are on the line you can move pretty fast.

Most of the people I know who work in the industry on the big sites get games at least a month in advance to play through and I know one guy who played through the entirety of a 45+ hour RPG while also polishing off other reviews at the same time and doing previews, while also doing plenty of research into the games. However I will remain adamant in saying that you don't need to play a game 100% to review it. See the plot, see all of the gameplay elements, graphics and audio, do some research, get some shots and you're done. You don't need to fight the final boss in most cases to do so.

By the time you've put in a good 20 hours you'll have a good picture how the rest of the game is going to turn out. Even a huge game like Final Fantasy XII is pretty much set by that point. You know what to expect even if you don't have all the summons and haven't seen all the plot twists. As a reviewer only a small part of your review is the story anyway since that's highly, highly subjective. Only in a story driven game, like Heavy Rain, does it really matter.

Also to everyone who cries out "game reviewers are paid off" well those reviewers really, really wish that was the case. Flying someone somewhere to play a game to try and fluff them up is nice and all but it's not going to change someones mind in most cases. Frankly it's usually the developers rating a game professionally but then putting in some of their own opinions. It's easy for a reviewer to fall prey to hype if they've been looking forward to a game. Most game reviewers are actually fans of games. Weird things like that do happen.

This accounts for game reviews that leave out glaring issues in many cases, like games that are very buggy or glitchy - the reviewer just didn't think it was a problem. After E3 last year, talking with a friend, he was complaining about a review that he had done for a good hour. Seems that there were bugs in the game and he didn't mention them since he felt they weren't too big and figured they'd get patched quickly, a bias likely brought on by liking the game. Well they didn't and he got hate mail for it.

That said there are some sites where the marketing department has way, waaay too much input on the final review scores but that's not for me to get into nor is it as widespread as everyone likes to say. Most reviewers are giving you an honest opinion, you just happen not to agree with it.

Actually, the article seemed to tell me 'these games are too long and boring'.

The Random One:
The worst part is that those reviews will them compound something like Metacritic and will be decisive on which games get sequels and which developers get big fat bonuses. It's a vicious cycle.

If a studio pays its developers a bonus for good reviews (as opposed to, like, SALES), they deserve what they will eventually get when the whole thing collapses.

"on one occasion when I divided my monthly paycheck over the average number of hours I worked, I found I had earned less than the minimum wage." - this is true in so many fields today that it almost goes without saying.

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