Escapist Expo: How To Review Games

How To Review Games

Reviewing videogames looks easy, but it takes more than just playing something and writing about it - especially if you want to keep an audience entertained. Learn the art behind the entertainment as the creators of Zero Punctuation, Game OverThinker, and Unskippable discuss the tools they use to take games apart.

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Okay, so, I have a thought concerning these panels. They're great and all but ... they're just too damn short ;_;

Anyways, the panel does bring up a lot of good points. And it's nice to have seen their opinion on videogame reviewing.

One question I would have liked to have seen answered is their view on how they form a review. Like devide it up in to sections or not, because I have been getting some flack about splitting up my reviews in sections (like Story, Music, Graphics and gameplay)

When Susan said "Including Graham's chicken", after the previous video I'd watched (2nd Q&A), I'll admit I'm disappointed, because I expected a inflatable balloon chicken.

Anyway, another great, insightful video. It's odd, when you load it up and see it's an hour long, you think "Oh this'll last a while" and then it just flies by. I could listen to these guys talk about games all day.

Also in case Jim reads this, I bought Deadly Premonition due to his 10/10 review, and I feel I must thank him for it, it's a fantastic game. And yet awful at the same time.

Longer panels would indeed be very much appreciated. An hour isn't nearly enough time with these fine people. Very interesting stuff.

10/10, would listen again.

Game review scores go as low as 5? I thought 7 was the lowest score.

But seriously, I kind of agree with Jim about scores. They're not necessarily bad and they can be a useful tool if it's not abused. I also have read many reviews after reading the score, and even dismissed reviews I might have read because it didn't have a score. That probably makes me sound like a terrible and lazy person, but what it does is actually make me read more reviews than I otherwise would. I don't disregard reviews because they don't have a score, it's just a score that's easy to look at may draw me in to learn more. Just seeing a huge block of text about a game that I'm not really interested in will often turn me away. I'll read reviews for a game that I'm actually interested in regardless or whether it has a score or not.

And thank you Jim for clarifying that the whole "reviewer got payed off" thing is just a myth. It's so stupid and makes me so angry when I hear idiots come out with that line for the thousandths time. It makes no sense and there's zero evidence for it. What there is quite a lot of evidence for though, it more like publishers bullying instead of bribing. The "review event" thing that Jim mentions is an example of that.

I totally agree with Bob when he says "engagement is fun". This is the kind of thing I say a lot. Fun doesn't necessarily have to mean happy or whatever, it can just mean something that you enjoy. And you can enjoy things that are not nice at all. People have no problem with this concept with all other mediums, it should be included in games as well.

I'm loving all these panels though. I was expecting the first three to be all there would be. Really enjoying all of these.

I've now watched multiple hours of these panels and all I want to do now is watch more.
I can't believe it's already 1:30.am and it feels like I've been watching only for minutes.

Also, this panel was 8/10. (though I admit I might have been watching it wrong)

I agree with what was said about bias. I really disagree with a lot of Moviebob and Sterling's stuff. But it's not that they're biased, its that I don't agree with their biases.

Yea i think even back in the day a 7 was an "average" game or even poor, especially when you have any number of 9 and 10 games you can grab out there.

part of the problem with that is saturation i think so many games come out period that anything average gets downgraded by default. If a AAA game scores that low it would certainly be seen as fail since we expect any big name game to score in the 8 to 10 range.

I like numbers for reviews in general i just think that every once n awhile we need those best of the best lists maybe by category that goes thru and lines up the games despite their overall scores since there are so many 9s and 10s out there and so on. Like was suggested.

I absolutely love Destructoid's way of using review scores, because it really does consider practically everything, and they're not afraid of dishing out the 4's or 3's to the games that really deserve them.

Very insightful panel, I particularly appreciated when Yahtzee admitted that he would be interested in a sequel to Mirror's Edge because for all the missteps it did take along the way, it was truly trying to do something different and unique. (The combat should've just been removed entirely, though. So clunky and inefficient.)

I think that the review just has to make it clear what the player's experience was, and what their ratings actually mean, in order to provide the best possible information that would be useful to somebody, and it shouldn't matter how different the viewpoints are, it just has to provide actual relevance to the discussion through that experience.

For instance, Yahtzee's oldmanhands can't deal with Kid Icarus and he went in with the understanding that the included stand was actually required to play the game. This is both reasonable and useful to note. However, having both younger hands AND enough critical reasoning skills to figure out the best way to play the game without wrecking my joints long before I have to ragequit the game due to fatigue means that I am perfectly comfortable with the game's control design, despite the shortcomings, and within reasonable parameters of acceptability (meaning I didn't have to jury rig a toaster to play it). My viewpoint is equally useful and can also be put aside for those who don't have the time and patience to reason out the controls within ten minutes, or believe that these things should be more natural to learn than they are now, which is also understandable. The important thing is that the information is there, and most people are satisfied with the increased level of understanding.

The level of entertainment varies by the reason the review is being made.

shrekfan246:
I absolutely love Destructoid's way of using review scores, because it really does consider practically everything, and they're not afraid of dishing out the 4's or 3's to the games that really deserve them.

Indeed, me too. I think people who really moan about average games being a 5 are cheating and deluding themselves and moving towards a less descriptive and meaningful score system.

Because to a lot of people a 6 is bad and a 7 average they only leave themselves with 3 numbers to describe games that are above average(well 2 numbers actually seeing as 10 is perfect which few games can claim to be) which will inevitably lead to scores like the 9.75 Game Informer gave Borderlands 2. There is just not enough space to give "precise" and descriptive scores when you limit yourself to 2 numbers for describing something that is "good" and you're invalidating the 10 scale you are using.

If you're going to use an out-of-ten review scale then 5 has to be average. If you don't like that then use an out of 5 scale or just stop using scores because the way they are being used now is hardly descriptive.

Whine, whine. My gamez onlyz teh gots an 8 out of ten! (*cough*Cliff*cough*Bleszinski*cough*)
Only?!
*slap*

Bah. Can you tell that I really dislike the current out-of-ten rating culture? :)

This panel was very informative :) Although I want to know what Bob thinks of Pulp Fiction.

Well this is interesting because I recently did a check of the Escapists reviews and found that about 60% of their scores are 4 stars.

In fact, it was almost unheard of for a game to get less than 3 stars.

Giving almost all games 4 stars seems like a cop out to me. The reviewers are too afraid to be critical and just say "Yeah, I didn't enjoy it...but someone will like this game...so it should have 4 stars"

Susan was probably the most critical reviewer and gave the few 2 star reviews that you'll find on the Escapist.

I did actually attempt to record every score that had been given on this website and make a chart of the average scores, but after sifting through about 200 reviews I got bored and gave up.

I'd say that in general the reviewers here are pretty terrible at giving scores.
But, their written reviews are good, so that more than makes up for the poor scoring.

Li Mu:
Well this is interesting because I recently did a check of the Escapists reviews and found that about 60% of their scores are 4 stars.

In fact, it was almost unheard of for a game to get less than 3 stars.

Giving almost all games 4 stars seems like a cop out to me. The reviewers are too afraid to be critical and just say "Yeah, I didn't enjoy it...but someone will like this game...so it should have 4 stars"

Susan was probably the most critical reviewer and gave the few 2 star reviews that you'll find on the Escapist.

I did actually attempt to record every score that had been given on this website and make a chart of the average scores, but after sifting through about 200 reviews I got bored and gave up.

I'd say that in general the reviewers here are pretty terrible at giving scores.
But, their written reviews are good, so that more than makes up for the poor scoring.

We're actually not a really good measure, because we don't review as many games as other sites. Because we pick and choose, we tend to pick and choose the games we expect to be good - so clunkers like Amy and X-Men are naturally more rare.

MonkeyPunch:

shrekfan246:
I absolutely love Destructoid's way of using review scores, because it really does consider practically everything, and they're not afraid of dishing out the 4's or 3's to the games that really deserve them.

Indeed, me too. I think people who really moan about average games being a 5 are cheating and deluding themselves and moving towards a less descriptive and meaningful score system.

Because to a lot of people a 6 is bad and a 7 average they only leave themselves with 3 numbers to describe games that are above average(well 2 numbers actually seeing as 10 is perfect which few games can claim to be) which will inevitably lead to scores like the 9.75 Game Informer gave Borderlands 2. There is just not enough space to give "precise" and descriptive scores when you limit yourself to 2 numbers for describing something that is "good" and you're invalidating the 10 scale you are using.

If you're going to use an out-of-ten review scale then 5 has to be average. If you don't like that then use an out of 5 scale or just stop using scores because the way they are being used now is hardly descriptive.

Whine, whine. My gamez onlyz teh gots an 8 out of ten! (*cough*Cliff*cough*Bleszinski*cough*)
Only?!
*slap*

Bah. Can you tell that I really dislike the current out-of-ten rating culture? :)

That's why in the (very few) user reviews I've done, I've contemplated giving a final 'score' but never actually done it.
Also I don't tend to dive very in-depth into the negative aspects of a game I enjoyed, so there's that...

I want people to actually read the review, to get an idea of what they would be in for if they decided to play the game/watch the movie/listen to the band. I know there are people, especially on Destructoid, who will scroll to a review score, see it, and then go "Well, now I want to see why they gave it that", but it's not like I have that kind of notoriety or credibility. >.>

But yeah, complaining about an 8/10 is ridiculous and anybody who does it should feel bad.

And you know, I think I've only ever seen GameInformer dip below a 6 twice.

I think this is my favourite of all the panels that have been posted so far. Maybe some of the other panels were more entertaining, but this one had some of the best discussion, I find. There were legitimate but cordial disagreements and the questions were analyzed from a lot of different perspectives. Very enlightening.

Yahtzee may not like review scores, but his idea is a good one: have not a 1 to 10 range, but a 5 to -5 range.

That scoring makes it feel intuitive why really low scores are so rare for games with any kind of budget or passion behind it. Even the failures usually have something vaguely interesting about them, if only for a while, so in the old range a 6 instead of a 5(complete meh), or in the new range: a 1.

Game developer should probably have to make a conscious effort to really piss off a game reviewer. That -5 being FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU~!!
Then again, most game reviewers don't buy their games with their hard earned money, but get a review copy, so that will mellow them out. Unless skillfully trolled they have little cause to lose their shit.
Something to consider in relation the the average, poor gamers out there.

I found it appropriate that Movie Bob was on the panel, even though he's mosty a movie reviewer, because I noticed somthing about Jim, Ben and Susan.
They all seem to treat games as just longer, interactive movies in an important aspect: for them it is enough to say "I like it" during the short time they have with the game before the publication.
None of them feel the need to analyse their games (but rather their feelings), which makes it impossible to properly judge long and replayable games.
This is alright for a game you pick up, play through once and discard, but bad for a strategy game or a game with a focus on competitive multiplayer. Even for a roleplaying game longevity may be important. This is where some measure of objectivity does come in play. Things like the amount of depth, playstyles and options and game balance.
Merely explaining why you felt what during your short time with a game isn't enough for something that's supposed to last longer.

Really liked this panel, a thoughtful and varied group!

Also, Yahtzee really looks like Eddie Izzard, both in mannerism and figure.

Li Mu:
Susan was probably the most critical reviewer and gave the few 2 star reviews that you'll find on the Escapist.

Russ Pitts did give 2 stars in his review of Duke Nukem Forever. (I know you didn't get through all the reviews on the site, but I felt that was one worth mentioning.) Although even at the time, given how absolutely scathing the review was (especially the video segment), I and others were given to wonder "so what does a game have to do to get a one star rating, brick your system?"

The one question I would have liked to hear answered would have been: "What do you forgive or overlook in a $10 "indie" game made by three people that you absolutely would not forgive or overlook in a multi-million dollar AAA production?"... Pity there was no way I was flying across the country for the Escapist Expo. (Sorry, guys, I love ya, but there are limits to my travel budget.)

This was probably the most interesting of the panels I've watched thus far. Thanks to everyone who was a part of it.

One question that wasn't asked but I really wanted to know was, "How does pricing affect a review?" People asked a little bit about production history, but movie tickets are all the same price, but games have such huge ranges in price. Does a game like Limbo get reviewed differently than Silent Hill 2?

If Susan or anyone from the panel has a chance to answer this one I would really like to know the answer. Otherwise I thought this was one of the most informative panel sessions because it allows me to appreciate all the ways you review more.

Edit: Whoops sorry I just now saw the post above mine, I missed the second paragraph, but yeah he/she asked do you overlook things at a certain price point. I wanted to know sorta the same thing.

One of the questions that plagues me generally and I found it came up both with regard to score and in the case of Spec Ops; how do you handle games that actually make you feel bad to be performing the actions dictated by the game? I found that about half way through Shadow of the Colossus I just put down the controller and walked away. Not because the game was bad, but rather because I couldn't justify continuing. I felt that as the protagonist, I could no longer deny that I was becoming a bad guy. The game itself is still beautiful, and I loved much of the design and scope.

Artistically, Shadow is in fact a doubly powerful success success. It connected with me emotionally, it caused reactions, and it presented a stunningly impressive world scope. On the other hand, how does one convey the active aversion that it also creates, and does that change any score you would give the game?

The other side of the coin is do you think you could put a number on how well the AI behaves? It seems like this might actually be possible to come up with a metric "Number of times the AI hugged an enemy (or failed to break a stunlock)" or something.

 

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