"If [game name] cost the same as a soft-shell taco, I'd suggest you run for the border."
"I've found better scripts in amateur pornography."
"You're better off using your money to buy a hammer and pound gravel into your forehead."
Reviews often dance a smug cha-cha over the line between brutal honesty and unrestrained spite. At best, game journalists are helping consumers spend wisely while giving developers insight on how to hone their craft. At worst, they're defecating on years of hard work like a geekier version of the armchair quarterback.
The above quotes obviously fall under the latter classification. They were all from published reviews I had written during my eight-year tenure as a videogame journalist. At times, I went for the insulting (and hopefully funny) joke rather than helpful analysis.
I called a lot of babies ugly, though not without a tinge or two of guilt - exacerbated by some angry emails from rogue developers and snide comments from PR people at press functions. But my allegiance wasn't to those making the games; my goal was to inform my readers about which titles were worth their precious time and hard-earned money. Admittedly, this came at the expense of some hurt feelings. When you're making omelets, you have to break some eggs, right?
A little over a year ago, I switched sides. I accepted a position at publisher THQ, designing and writing for the WWE SmackDown vs. Raw series of videogames. I'm no longer the reviewer; I have become the reviewed. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 was my baby, and it would be up for judgment by my former peers. Somewhere, karma was salivating something fierce.
Like all conscientious reviewers, I was well aware that oodles of effort went into making a videogame - even a lousy one. But I was still unprepared for how much the project would demand of me. As a journalist, when I wanted to write a good review, the burden was, for all intents and purposes, on my shoulders to make it so. All that stood between me and my goal was a finicky editor who may not have agreed with my sentiments.
As I stepped off the bus in Designerville, I could see it was much more complicated territory. My main concern was making the game as epically cool as possible, but that's not necessarily at the forefront of everyone else's mind. Much more powerful people than me just want to see the game come out on time and under budget - whether it's the game of the year or a blank disc in a box. Our licensors are very protective of the IP, and scrutinize the characters' every line and action. Our developers in Japan have a different philosophy and different ideas, which must integrate with our approach so everyone is - in the parlance of our times - on the same page. That's a lot of chiefs and agendas compared to one writer advising readers avoid a bad game "like a proposition from a girl walking out of a VD clinic."