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  • unmanneddrone 2:29 pm on February 14, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?,   

    There’s also a trend amongst developers and publishers peddling digital-only (or majority digital) titles that, due to knowing the state of some of their games, withhold review copies being sent out. This is a ploy undoubtedly to snag as many unsuspecting consumers before they can refer to reviews…previews notwithstanding, because there’s been an increasing disconnect between previews (and there seems to be so many ways something is previewed – developer demonstration, non-indicative vertical slice etc.) and reviews.

    …it’s not legion by any means, but it’s a little rough.

  • feenwager 12:50 pm on February 14, 2012 Permalink
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    One other point about reviews: it’s becoming more and more obvious that time constraints and deadlines are affecting reviews in a major way.

    The need to have a review posted the day before, or the day of release leads to reviewers that have to play a game a very certain way: by plowing through as quickly as possible. Most games really aren’t designed to be played this way, especially the games we enjoy.

    Take your typical RPG, for instance. If you’re rushing through it, the story becomes an annoyance, every trip to the menu is an editor yelling at you, and combat becomes something to avoid because you just don’t have time for it. All of the things that most players love (flavor, side quests, character development) will feel like negatives in Rushy McRusherson’s review.

    I’d actually rather more of what MTV Multiplayer did for KoA: he played the first 15 hours, tried to experience as many parts of the game as he could, and he posted his impressions, with the caveat that if his opinion changed wildly, he’d go back and revise it. I’m ok with that.

    PS: I’m 15 hours in, and I’ll post my next report at 20.

  • mjpilon 4:13 am on February 10, 2012 Permalink
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    Okay, finally have a moment to relay my thoughts about Chrono Trigger. Wall of text incoming.

    Initial feeling: Holy crap I actually beat a JRPG! The last one I can remember prior to this was Super Mario RPG (I don’t count the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi Games as they don’t strike me as “true” JRPGs but I will leave that to the experts around these parts). I’m not sure how much the story really kept me going or if it was just my “Goddamnit I finally need to do this” resolve that the Giant Bomb Endurance Run spurned on. Not to say that the story wasn’t engaging (far from it) but there was a time where I completely lost track of what the heck was going on because of all the time traveling and the effects of what my party was accomplishing in each era. The fight with Lavos also felt strangely anti-climatic because I accidentally started the fight when it first becomes available to you, so I knew that in the end, I needed to remember the patterns of the “bosses” I fought previously. The march through the Black Omen felt more like the true final battle because I didn’t know what was coming with the Queen.

    The game mechanics are what really got me. I am amazed at how well the game holds up after 18 years. The active combat system keeps the pace lively but doesn’t rush you through the point where you can’t think about your actions as you go. I never ran into the need to level grind – the game kept things lively enough so that my party was never at a disadvantage with the enemies at any stage. That eliminated a huge sore spot for me that usually dissuaded me from most JRPGs. The armour and weapon selection and upgrade process was also nicely streamlined – there is never a spot where you are really unsure about what to equip. There is always a clear choice which eliminates much headaches and the classic “inventory overload” syndrome that hits me usually.

    There are things from the game that are clearly rooted in 1994 which took time for me to get used to again. First, no clear quest log – I really needed to keep track of my activities and my conversations with NPCs. Second, the need to speak with every NPC because certain mission elements (despite my understanding of where to go without the queue) won’t activate unless you have the right conversation. Third, the translation – the DS version appears to have been fixed somewhat (compared to what Ryan Davis and Klepek dealt with on the SNES) but some of the tech descriptions made ABSOLUTELY no sense. Finally, the DS version saved me with the map that it has on the bottom screen – made backtracking a little less frustrating (but not really – WAY too much of that in this game and unnecessarily so especially given the re-generating enemies that pop up)

    Anyway, I truly enjoyed my experience and finally feel a slight weight lifted off my shoulders. Not sure I tempted to play that many more JRPGs but I’m open to suggestions from you on where to go from here on that front. Next up, I’m going to try and finish Bayonetta because I have unopened copies of Saints Row 3, Revelations, Uncharted 3 and Ico/SotC HD sitting here waiting for me. All the talk on the board here has convinced me to try Katawa Shoujo. Just downloaded it and while I will probably be on the @Feenwager side of this one, I figure why the hell not. Not costing me anything except my time.

    Quick hitters to end this:

    I use this moment to comment on the awesomeness of the Double Fine Kickstarter project. So happy that people (me included – went 30$ although the chance to be in the credits almost got me to 100$) were willing to pony up for a point-and-click adventure game. Beyond excited for this – especially for the documentary that will film the process. Interesting game changer here financially – although I hope most developers realize that this is only possible in certain situations and with a certain long-term credibility attached to them. I can’t wait for “THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE” articles that we’ll get in the near future 😉

    Regarding the game scores topic, I have nothing to add to the debate except that you are all awesome and debates/conversations like that one are why I love the Squad 🙂

    Wall of Text complete.

    Off to bed I go…

  • unmanneddrone 5:35 am on February 9, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    @redswir1 Indeed, and it further reinforces the quandary of reviews these days.

    That said, I’m in complete agreement on specific genres tend to require a specific reviewer, in some small capacity. It’d be like Gerstmann reviewing Europa Universalis. Not to say the man’s an idiot, but it’s like asking John Madden to commentate Mahjong. There’s a few prerequisites when assessing the niche.

  • RedSwirl 5:10 am on February 9, 2012 Permalink
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    @unmanneddrone Oh by no means do I think specialists should make up all reviews, just like I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy or not buy a game based on a single review. If I ever do get down to the point where I can’t rent a game and there’s no demo, I’ll roll up to Metacritic and through there look at four or five different reviews.

    If I’m deep into one genre and I’m looking at a game primarily made for the fans, I’d rather read a review from a specialist talking directly to that audience. Outside of that there will always be other reviewers taking the general viewpoint for the general audience. It’s great if a reviewer can have equal understanding of Catherine and Anno 2070, but as @angryjedi said, too many people have started to review those things on the same scale.

    Also, here’s the other big issue: Reviewing multiplayer and online games. Most of the time I don’t even mention multipalyer anymore when I write about games. I’m starting to think that a main problem is that critics simply aren’t given enough lead time with their games to properly examine them.

  • ckim 4:20 am on February 9, 2012 Permalink
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    I couldn’t tell you all the last time that I read a professional review. It has to have been during the PS2 era, but even then I didn’t read them much. I had a subscription to Gamefan in the 16-Bit days, and I would read them then, but that’s the only time I can remember being dedicated to reading reviews or anything like that. It was also back before online reviews had gained supremacy, so a lot of times I would buy magazines just to see what was coming out, since it wasn’t like any of us were sitting online streaming E3 or reading PR blurbs.

    I share a lot of Shingro’s taste in games, though he dances circles around me in terms of his knowledge of more obscure Japanese stuff, so I also share some of his distaste for the attitudes of a lot of folks in media. Perhaps I have low standards, but I don’t have any trouble stomaching J-Melodrama anymore than I do Western Melodrama, and even if the game is about assassins, space marines, or something else that isn’t perky high school children who save the world, there’s melodrama. I also, to this day, boot up Phantasy Star I-IV all the time, and I don’t see a need to drastically alter the game mechanics in RPGs from 20-25 years ago, so I don’t really give a shit if something is new and interesting so long as I find it enjoyable.

    I usually try to find people I trust and follow their recommendations. And, more often than not, that person is @beige. He seems to have a similarly weird filter when it comes to finding aspects of deeply flawed games that make them more interesting than rote, paint by numbers stuff, so I trust him implicitly. I’d rather play Nier than Gears of War (or the other GoW for that matter), which I’m pretty sure puts me at odds with most game reviewers. Was Deadly Premonition better than GTA IV? Fuck yeah it was! (For me, anyway.)

    Another thing, and something I mentioned today, is that I feel like the way a lot of sites are set up is to actively discouraged a deep, penetrating look at games. Articles seem very short, and they’re constantly broken up by screen shots. I’d much rather read a giant wall of text than a short, light article that looks aesthetically pleasing. In short, I like looking at this page when one of you has gone off on a tirade or gotten really excited about something and given an in-depth discussion. That means way more to me than just about anything else.

  • unmanneddrone 2:57 am on February 9, 2012 Permalink
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    I do think, going by some of @angryjedi and @redswir1‘s sentiments, that there’re a few things to consider in regards to reviews and reviewers. The idea of “specialists” in the review process seems to be rather exclusive and perhaps asking for exactly the same unbalance that we decry folks like Gerstman of propagating. It’s great for genre fans, but does that necessarily make for a review helpful to other people? Outside of doing the obvious and asking @shingro, should I necessarily trust the impressions of a dedicated JRPG reviewer? Much like what the Minottis said about some hardcore fighting game fan reviews of Soul Calibur V and the disparities observed by casual pundits, the emphases of reviewers is utterly subjective most of the time.

    One reason I like Out of Eight is simply that James Allen, that indefatigable one-man show, plays pretty much everything across the board. He has a penchant for strategy, but that doesn’t stop him reviewing casual games, sports sims, puzzlers, shooters, RPGs…and hence why I count him as one of the best reviewers in the business, as unsung as the fellow is against the “personality” journalists of the industry. His simple review process, even outside of the score, is pretty spot on. His review of Recettear reads as well as his review of Gary Grigsby’s War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945, just to highlight an example of one man investigating the spectrum.

    I feel fans are sometimes a bad choice in reviewing a particular genre. Loving Eastern Euro stuff means having an enduring tolerance for jank, but whereas I see a little bit of rough as endearing, others might feel they’ve been deceived if a review does not mark it down for such a thing. Especially when related to technical issues. I pimp Real Warfare 2: The Northern Crusades, truly feeling like its a fantastic, meaty experience that surpasses Creative Assembly’s efforts, but others might find it unwieldy, lacking polish, wrongly or misled emphases and so on. Who is right in this equation?

    I think scores are the big undermining factor here. Give me a nice, thick and ponderous review, and a summary. Give me comparative titles, give me contrasting experiences. I want to know the reviewers context THROUGH the review itself. And Metacritic can bugger right off.

  • RedSwirl 11:47 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    Honestly though, every once in a while I see a ray of hope in all this “reviews” crap. Probably just oddities, but still.

    The first time I actually heard about 999 was when I stumbled across IGN’s review, which spoke very highly of the game in fact and respected what it was. Actually I think all the “big” game sites treated it this way (it actually ha an 82 on Metacritic but whatever). Also, one strange example of review dissonance (if you wanna call it that) I’ve see was with Top Spin 3 – a very hardcore Tennis sim that most places gave average reviews because the learning curve was too high for most of them. Most notable was Morgan Webb’s condescending review of the game. On the flipside, the guy who reviewed it for IGN was a dedicated Tennis fanatic who I believe gave it around a 9.0 in a review riddled with Tennis jargon.

    If anything that’s what I’d really like to see more of – more recognition of the people actually writing the reviews so readers can become more familiarized with their opinions and follow them. Didn’t the old EGM or some old game magazine have profiles of the writers that included what genres they specialized in?

  • Shingro 7:37 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    I’m sure this will shock you all, but the guy who likes incredibly obscure, exotic and bizarre experiences from a culture halfway across the world has long ago thrown up his hands at the current review systems of games… Things like Ar Tonelico skates the metacritic from 61-71, and that’s a series I love deeply. Catherine’s score on Giant Bomb was a 2 of 5 stars, which translates to a 40 on metacritic. Beige probably knows plenty about this if he took a look at the range of Deadly Premonition scores. So yeah, no matter the methodology, as long as people have different tastes scores are going to be a tentitive stab in the dark at best. I think the best way it’s going to be done (since it’s not going away, that’s for sure) is to have a fairly wide scale in a smaller set of things (5 stars with half stars are basically a 100 point scale, but it isn’t as ‘jarring’ to the fans to see 2 1/2 stars out of 5 compared to 50%.) With, and this is important, specialized reviewers who you are VERY familiar with their tastes.

    For me of course what this usually means is that the things the Gerstman’s of the world find ‘Insufferable Japanese bullshit’ are my hysterical “best moment of the game” laughter moments. Still, anime and JRPG fans are a fairly tight knit group so I can tend to get fairly accurate recommendations anyway. I mean, this IS the internet after all, not toooo hard to educate yourself with a bit of time and effort.

    The greatest part of reviews honestly is going back after you’ve played the game and getting a different perspective from it. I may think the Giant Bomb review of Catherine is a crime against that game’s uniqueness, but I do think many of the issues raised are legitimate, the trouble is when people try to ‘score’ how important a game’s issues are that things get messy (see: Deadly Premonition again) The Squadcast of Persona 3 is an excellent example of the best review being after you’ve finished the game, that particular podcast listens a dozen times better if you’ve played the game and the discussion is a hundred times more interesting when you can talk about all of it (Belated Props: Total Credit on the Tarot explanations, I didn’t have a lot of confidence you were going to get that right, but it came out wonderfully =D) Reviews are the best for me when they talk about themes and perspectives, about how this or that struck them how they felt when it was all over. This is why the squad is the best place for things because we’re not worried so much with score as themes and feelings, and we know each other’s tastes fairly well. Best of both worlds!

  • feenwager 3:18 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    See, now…even Gamespot (whom I usually respect) gave The Darkness II a 7 (good) and Amalur a 7.5 (also good, see how stupid this is?), but the text reads very differently for both games. The Darkness review is pretty negative, while the Amalur review reads more like a game you’d want to play.

    I give up.

  • Pete Davison 2:04 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    @redswir1 Separating sites into sub-communities might not be a terrible idea, either. Segregating by platform isn’t particularly useful because all it tends to lead to is platform trolling. Some multiformat sites don’t even bother to review Xbox 360, PC and PS3 versions of a game separately, anyway, simply copypasting the review over, making the whole thing somewhat pointless.

    If you knew you could go to the fighting game section of a site and get some in-depth commentary on your favourite characters, though? Or the strategy game section and read all about the very best that Eastern Europe had to offer? Or the “weird shit” (probably don’t call it that, though — stigmatising a particular subcommunity isn’t helpful) section where you could read about arty indie games and visual novels? I’d be for that, though given the relatively small sizes of most site staffs, I’m not sure how practical that would be.

    That’d be a cool job title, though. “Fighting Game Editor, VidCon.com”

  • Pete Davison 1:54 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    @feenwager Yes, that’s sort of what I meant, really, I think. Not necessarily a, say, entirely sports game-focused site (actually, that might not be a terrible idea — you could get a staff of people who were both gamers AND sports fans to run that), but a site who can look at particular “breeds” of game on their own merits rather than comparing them to non-equivalent blockbusters. The fact that Catherine was reviewed on the same scale as Battlefield 3 is ludicrous — the text of its low-scoring reviews made it even more ridiculous. 4.5 out of 10 but a review that commended it for its ambition and mature narrative? Hmmmm.

    My point, essentially, is that sites simply can’t be catch-alls any more. The medium is far too broad for that. Stuff gets lost, ignored or judged unfairly.

    And c’mon. You know you want to bang a handicapable honey really. 😉

  • RedSwirl 1:36 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    @angryjedi On more specialist gaming press, I like that we already have sites like SRK and RPGFan dedicated to the communities of specific genres. I think someone’s about to launch a new magazine dedicated completely to the competitive fighting game community too! Have any of you guys listened to 3MA? It’s a podcast dedicated completely to strategy games – tabletop and computerized. Maybe websites need to start creating different sections based on those communities instead of just based on platform. I already know that most of the big sites do take care to assign their reviews to reviewers who actually like and play those kinds of games.

  • Pete Davison 1:21 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    @unmanneddrone More “freeform” games such as strategy titles are interesting ones because they can be the source of emergent narrative led almost entirely by the player’s imagination. This can work with board games, too — I livetweeted a solo game of Pandemic the other week and it was a lot of fun to relate the game actions to a sort of “narrative”. I love reading that sort of thing. It was the @play thing on GameSetWatch that took this approach with roguelikes and piqued my interest in the genre enough to seek out and play a whole bunch of them.

    EDIT: Love the look of that iOS game, but 1) it doesn’t appear to be available in the UK store and 2) the only trouble I find with that sort of game is finding other people who are playing. When you live relatively out in the boondocks like me, the social parts of the game are somewhat lost. 🙂

  • unmanneddrone 1:14 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    @angryjedi Spot on, Pete. Your KS blog posts of late being a case in point, I do love a good game diary. If a journo is spending a bunch of hours with a game, I’d much rather have them jot down points as they go. It paints a nice picture of the progression, gives insight into both the player and the title, and for my money, does a better job in illustrating player interpretation on the fly.

    I remember reading this smashing GalCiv2 game diary that was so good, it even was turned into book form and given away with PC Gamer UK in 2008. I’d recommend that to @bowlisimo, actually. His complaint that GalCiv2 doesn’t have much in the way of personality is true to an extent, but a good game diary can definitely light the fires of intrigue and excitement, and would be a fine reignition of waned interest. Especially if it’s humorous.

  • Pete Davison 12:08 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    You guys are thinking like me on the review scores thing, it seems. I shouldn’t be surprised. Like Alex, I too tend to go by peer recommendation rather than review scores. Sure, I’ve written my share of reviews in my time, but I’ve always tried to get the “essence” of the review across in my text. Whether or not anyone actually READ it is another matter. I know the guys at Trendy certainly appreciated my complimentary review of Dungeon Defenders, however — a quote from me is still visible on Steam, even if the review it’s from is no longer with us. *sniff*

    A 5 star scale is all very well and good until you start getting into half-stars. Then you may as well just be scoring out of 10. I never quite saw the point of that.

    I like the idea of Kotaku’s new scoring system, and where I’m working at Inside Social Games right now, we’re experimenting with a similar system. As a more business- rather than consumer-oriented site, however, the focus of the reviews is very different — rather than saying whether a game is worth playing from a “fun” perspective, we look at whether or not the game is likely to be successful in attracting users, convincing them to part with their money and retaining those users over a long period. Our “Play”, “Wait”, “Skip” ratings tell other developers whether or not the game is worth taking a look at (usually to pinch ideas, sadly), worth waiting a little while until it’s a bit more “finished” or worth skipping over entirely — not necessarily because it’s crap, but because it obviously hasn’t thought out what it’s doing.

    There’s no reason such an approach shouldn’t work for consumer reviews — though that said, even we run into the issue where we don’t all like the same things. I would consider Katawa Shoujo an essential “Play”, for example, while Feen (sorry to put words in your mouth, sir!) would probably consider it a “Skip”.

    Here’s a few things I’d like to see more of, though most outlets are either too busy (or at least believe themselves too busy) to do anything like this:

    • Ditch the traditional review and post two (or more) editorials offering contrasting viewpoints on a game. This idea came to me after I saw someone on Twitter ranting about IGN giving Modern Warfare 3 a high score in its review, then posting an editorial from MitchyD criticising it for all its bullshit. Had the review been an editorial piece without a score, person in question would have found it much more acceptable for there to be varying viewpoints. I don’t necessarily agree with his arguments, but I think this could be a really interesting approach to reviewing games, and a sort of extension of RPS’ excellent Wot I Think series.
    • More specialist press. Video games are already considered specialist press, but as I’ve said previously, I don’t think that’s enough any more. “Gamer” is such a meaningless term, because it covers everything from the fratboys who play nothing but CoD and Madden to weirdos like me who play cripple porn. Reviewers don’t specialise at the moment, largely because outlets tend to have limited staff and lots of titles to review. I’d much rather see sites that focus on specific genres of gaming — like, say, film magazines do — and really show they know what they’re talking about rather than this net-casting that goes on now. IGN, Gamespot et al could focus on the big-name games, while smaller outlets could focus on, say, specific genres, platforms… you get the idea. This already happens to a certain degree on an enthusiast basis, but it’s a nice dream to see it on a commercial scale, I think. I somehow doubt it will happen any time soon, however.
    • More experiential writing about games. There are so many different ways you can write about a game these days, given the medium’s depth, complexity and diversity. You can write about personal experiences like I’ve been doing on my blog about Katawa Shoujo. You can write a first-person narrative of what your character went through in a game, like a blog post I did on System Shock once that I now can’t find. Anything but “THE GRAPHICS ARE GOOD THE SOUND IS GOOD I LIKE THE GAMEPLAY”, basically.
  • unmanneddrone 3:12 am on February 8, 2012 Permalink
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    In regards to reviews or impressions, I go by Out of Eight, RockPaperShotgun, NeoGAF (only from a very select number of users) and a bunch of gamers under the SoS banner. A few other sites here and there, but mostly those.

    I’ve come to rely less and less on any sort of reviews or impressions these days. Whatever looks interesting, I’ll investigate if I can.

    And my personal opinion is that, if you need some sort of final score, do it out of five. Anything higher, especially out of ten or one hundred, leaves a lot of dead numerals below six/sixty. It’s pointless and relatively arbitrary. What’s the difference between an 84 and an 83? And certainly, what’s the difference between 30 and 31?! In the scale of marketing these days, you’re simply determining which spade to use in digging a studio’s grave.

    Five stars, essential. Four stars, good. Three stars, acceptable with a nod to fans of a genre. Two stars, has issues, not great. One star, not good.

    My ineloquent clutch of roubles.

  • RedSwirl 8:11 pm on February 7, 2012 Permalink
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    Reviews. Ugh. The worst part is when Metacritic tries to approximate THAT into whatever score it “felt like”. Actually, the worst part is when I look at trailers and commercials on TV that will quote lines from destructoid and OXM, oftentimes from Previews and not even Reviews. And “Best of E3 2011” doesn’t mean shit in the long run. Most of the time when I buy a game I’ve already read about it, seen gameplay videos, or rented it.

    From what I understand, people are most likely to go to trusted personal sources on these kinds of things whether it comes to games, movies, or even voting. I’m almost the furthest thing from a film buff, but whenever I see a cool trailer somewhere, I’ll usually call up my brother who owns like 1,000 movies and still goes to the theater 20 times a year. By the same token, you guys and GAF have become my most trusted sources on game quality.

    Y’know what I think the best option is? Friend recommendations like the ones on Steam. It’d be great if Xbox Live and PSN let you type out a user review of any game you’ve played at least a few hours of, and then post that review for everyone on your friends list who looks at that game. Hell, I’ve already reached a point where when I want opinions, I’ll bring up my XBL or Steam friends list, see who’s gotten a lot of achievements or logged a lot of time on that game, and ask them.

  • rampantbicycle 3:02 pm on February 7, 2012 Permalink
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    I have always been of the opinion that review scores of any sort are fairly useless, even outside of the gaming press. It’s nice to note that a film got three and a half stars out of a possible five, but the number is completely meaningless on its own.

    The Metacritic score is an interesting thing to go and look at, but it’s completely meaningless in any real way. The only way it could really hope to be anything like an accurate gauge of “goodness” would be if every single person and publication that reviewed games used precisely the same criteria and ratings scale to evaluate them. Only then could you “average” them meaningfully. (And before that, you’d have to first find a way to operationalize what “goodness” means across the industry. Good luck with that.)

    As it is, you have vaguely adjusted numbers attached to reviews – goodness knows what the methodology is; I’ve certainly looked at some reviews and found their content to be quite different than I’d expect from the number assigned to them – and then they present those to us as though that were any sort of guideline from which to make a meaningful and useful decision.

    It isn’t. It is a tool for the individual who does not wish to put forth the effort and actually read the reviews, perhaps.

    Full disclosure: I regularly write reviews – the old-fashioned kind, with very tight word limits and an editor and everything – for an industry publication dedicated to literature for young people.

    The duty of a critic or reviewer is (IMO) to advise people as honestly as possible of what they will be in for when they pick up a particular book, go to see a particular show, whatever. The good critic or reviewer will manage to, on top of this, give a real sense of the material, as well, such that if you are the sort of person who would love it, you will be fired up to go and experience it. (And, by extension, such that if you are NOT the sort of person who would love it, you will be able to wisely stay away.)

    Scores do not serve either purpose. At all. Away with them.

  • feenwager 2:38 pm on February 7, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?, couldn't resist, , , , ,   

    @angryjedi I think at this point, the burden is on the consumer to understand the source. I know that a 7.5 from Gamespot does not mean “garbage” the same way it does from say, Game Informer. I also know that a positive mention from the Penny Arcade guys is much more meaningful to me than a 95 from the Official Xbox Magazine. Of course, I could always depend on you crazy people as well, but then I find myself playing cripple-porn.

  • Pete Davison 2:27 pm on February 7, 2012 Permalink
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    @feenwager Definitely.

    Tangentially related: Catherine is out very soon in the UK, so a lot of UK outlets have been reviewing it. Most of them have been panning it for being too hard while simultaneously complimenting it for being daring and mature with its subject matter. If I hadn’t already played the game, the text of the reviews would intrigue me enough to want to play it, but then the scores offered by some outlets (it got a 4.5 out of 10 from one place, despite a relatively complimentary review) would seem to tell an entirely different story.

    It made me think a couple of things.

    1) Review scores are dumb. We know this. The fact that some people are too lazy to look at anything but the score is a dumb excuse and the worst kind of pandering to the lowest common denominator. Not only that, when publishers use Metacritic and sales figures as their sole metrics of whether a game was “successful” or not, that leads to all kinds of bullshit where the making of money becomes more important than the creative work. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have our money-spinning blockbusters, but it’d be nice to see the big publishers spending some of those earnings on taking a few more risks at times. But that’s a discussion for another time.

    2) Not everyone can review all games effectively. A number of reviews of Catherine completely missed the point and reviewed it as if it were something that should appeal to everyone. This, I feel, is a bigger issue to the critical part of the press today. While in the early days of gaming, you could happily say that you were “into games” and that would be the end of it — you’d play the vast majority of everything that was released because you could. Nowadays, however, I think we’ve adequately shown with even our recent discussions that it is no longer either possible or desirable to keep up with everything there is on offer. As such, why should reviewers be the same? Someone who loves Battlefield 3 is unlikely to look at Catherine in the same way as someone who appreciates the more cerebral pace of, say, visual novels like Katawa Shoujo. And a puzzle game enthusiast might look at it still differently. Similarly, a younger person may find the story plodding and cumbersome, while someone a bit older may appreciate the layers of nuance that are in there.

    I’m not entirely sure how the latter issue could be resolved, but it’s seemed particularly pronounced with a few recent titles including Catherine and, oddly, Minecraft. Having been in the middle of the mainstream games press and now having taken a step back from it, it seems utterly bizarre for outlets to continue down the same road of reviewing all games by the same criteria. Not all games are equal. Not all games are going to be blockbusters. Some are always going to be niche interests played only by people in said niches. It’s been the case in other media for years; is now the time we should be looking at the diversification and segmenting of the games press? Should we start to see specialist outlets focusing exclusively on particular genres/”levels” of games? Should we start seeing the game-focused magazine equivalents of “Empire”, “SFX” and whatnot?

  • unmanneddrone 12:58 pm on October 4, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?,   

    @bowlisimo Spot on with the Mechwarrior 2 soundtrack! Yeah, I agree with your description on the 90s PC CD-Rom sound…one up from midi, but still retaining that gorgeous synthetic sensibility. And just on the Adagio bit, I followed your enquiry all the way to Professor Wikipedia, and for something written supposedly written as an anthem of adoration, we’ve been using it for all the most tragic occasions of the 21st century! Presidents funerals, memorial services, the plight of the weak and powerless…still, if the glove fits! Lovely piece of music, and a lovely rendition for the Homeworld scene.

    In regards to reviews and whatnot, I enjoy reading them but don’t take them on board very often. I love James Allen’s Out of Eight site, because he’s a trustworthy guy who knows what he’s talking about…and more often than not, goes off the beaten track to review the tiniest and most obscure games. It’s that kind of breadth that gets my respect.

    Tom Chick is a very interesting character. He seems to swing from outright contrarian and champion of the underdog to a regular reviewer. He’s a smart fellow, but I think he’s worth reading just for his game diaries. It’s nice to see someone’s experiences unfold over the course of a week or so.

    And I finished up the new SoS. Great effort, gents. Nothing more to add, just really enjoyed the show.

    By the by, after the buzz @beige and co. had going for Enslaved, and after I played the demo and found myself thinking ‘I love everything visually about this damn game!’, I threw down the clams for it. Time has certainly become a thing of rarity as of last week, but it should be a lovely guilty pleasure to play slowly over the course of a few weeks. I was considering a cheapy on the same level, Viking: Battle for Asgard, but thought it would be better to run with this year’s sleeper Uncharted-esque character narrative.

  • Matthew H Mason 4:31 am on October 4, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    I guess I should have rephrased my question as “are traditional reviews worth reading?” There’s a certain mechanical quality to them, that they’re more concerned with the parts rather than the whole. IGN’s aggregate reviews have always bugged me the most, scoring not just the package but each of it’s singular parts. I realize people care about the score, but is it just me or do they often betray what the author of a particular review wrote in the body of his writing?

    Often times, what an author writes betrays what he writes anyways. Such as the Batman incident I mentioned earlier. Pete brought up 1up’s Civ V broken review, that bares mentioning too. I think professional reviewers often have a muddied message because they just don’t play games in the same way that we do. That may be the difference I was looking for, now that I’m rambling.

    I’m not looking at games as a product: I’m looking at them as an experience.

    That’s why word of mouth, blogs and columns are so much more impactful on me.

  • bowlisimo 12:15 am on October 4, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    @angryjedi I read precious few reviews, and I agree with your view on the subject, BUT let me remind you of the great CGW no reviews “Viewpoint” experiment, one that I think your brother helped design.

    If you remember, CGW got rid of scores and went with a more experience based writeup that gave a bottom line but refrained from putting a final stamp on the matter, instead listing scores from prominent outlets to show a broad perspective. This was awesome, but flew in the face of pretty much everything. According to Jeff Green + staff, they received piles and piles of angry mail, saying, “Where are the scores? Why are there no scores? I used to read your magazine for the scores!” So when CGW rebranded to GFW, guess what came back?

    Generally, I think people still look to game reviews for two reasons, help with purchasing, and for validation. So no, it isn’t dying. Of course, you’ll still get people experimenting at certain outlets and on the periphery.

  • RedSwirl 10:46 pm on October 3, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    @mhmason Yeah, now that I think about it that’s sort of the direction in which I’ve been leaning in regards to Reviews, despite how much I still enjoy writing them.

    I’ve read very few reviews ever since getting a GameFly account a few years ago because I know I can just try the game out myself with little risk. If there is a game that I absolutely cannot play without buying it, then I might look up some reviews, and even then I actually pay attention to the score a lot less these days.

    Most of my buying advice outside of my own rentals actually comes from friendly comments from guys like you people along with what I guess you could call columns. Now that I think about it, my blog at 1up (which I still maintain), is probably a lot closer to a column than anything else in terms of the way I write my opinions about specific games.

    The whole thing with advice though goes perfectly in-line with what I learned in Media Criticism back in college. That whole course was basically about how media affects the mass audiences, and for the most part our conclusions suggested that the mass media is much less effective on people than… well… other people.

    Most people won’t go out and see a movie because reviews were good or a commercial told them to go see it, but because a trusted friend told them it was a good movie. The same often goes for a video game, or even voting for a particular candidate. I know I probably get most of my movie-watching advice from my brother – the designated film buff of the family. Word of mouth basically.

    The problem is getting good word of mouth. There are books on why It’s still something that’s less than fully tangible. Often times all it takes is just one really sociable person mixed with one really knowledgeable person in the right place at the right time.

  • Pete Davison 10:19 pm on October 3, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    @feenwager @MHMason I agree. I rarely bother with reviews these days. Civ V is the most recent example—reviews for that have ranged from gushing praise to Tom Chick’s C-grade for 1up. When it comes down to it, they’re just one person’s opinion. And sure, you may like the way that person writes, thinks, whatever. But it’s still that one person’s opinion, and you are not that person. You may end up loving something they hate, or vice versa.

    I’m also a fan of the “column” approach. Tell me about your experiences with it. Tell me about the cool moments, and the bits which didn’t gel with you and why. Tell me about what you think the devs should work on. But don’t tell me that a game is set in stone as being crap or awesome because of these things. Let me make my own mind up on that front.

    There are times when I’ve read a writer’s description of a game and it made me really want to try it. Pathologic for example. I ended up not enjoying Pathologic as much as I hoped I would, but I was pleased I’d had the chance to try it. Same with you guys; I’m more inclined to try games that people I know and trust have recommended and/or described their own cool experiences with than some arbitrary made-up number or letter grade put on their by one person.

    I’m not sure reviews should die, but I’m definitely on the side of “scores should die”.

  • feenwager 7:06 pm on October 3, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    @mhmason I wouldn’t say I hated your message. I do hate Reach however. It’s a good article, you guys should go read it.

    I don’t want to say too much here about the topic you brought up, though. Suffice it to say you’ll hear what I think soon enough.

  • Matthew H Mason 6:13 pm on October 3, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Are Traditional Reviews Dying?   

    These days I read reviews for entertainment, not so much as any kind of help towards purchase recommendations. I find that my gut is the best critic I know. However, lately I’ve been finding more fun in poking holes in other peoples arguments.

    For instance: I’ve been playing Batman: The Brave and the Bold quite a bit, so I thought I’d tool around the internet for a bit to see what other people thought. I came across a review that chided the game because it should have been a downloadable title that’s best played in chunks. The first thing that came to my mind when I read that was…why can’t it be a disc based game that you play in chunks? At $40, were you to split the four episodes up, you’d more than likely pay that price anyways were you to sell them for $10 a pop, so really it’s kind of a wash.

    My point of contention with the review wasn’t that it shouldn’t be played piecemeal, ’cause that’s how I’ve been playing it, but the fact that the writer had to sat down and played it the completely opposite way than complained that he did so. I understand that they were more than likely under a time restraint and had to push through, but why should that affect his score when he could have just come to the realization that it’s better episodically and left it at that?

    It’s got me thinking how busted and rote the whole review process is and makes me wonder…should they die? I know there’s a lot of people who rely on the numbers, but they seem to have no bearing on what was written, making the whole process seem a little bullshit. No matter how we stack it, reviewers inevitably break apart the disparate parts of a game and quantify them. And soon enough everything has devolved into tropes and unnecessary expectations.

    It’s why over the past year I’ve become a bigger fan of columns. I prefer to read peoples experiences and their commentary sans the need to critique it. It’s easier to swallow opinions when they don’t have to be quantified. And for some reason, it makes them feel more valid. @feenwager read an article I wrote about Halo: Reach and hated my message. But he read it. And that actually means a lot to me, because even though he didn’t agree, he at least took the time to ponder a different point of view. And that’s the thing: like anything else in life, you can’t always assume that you’re right and that your word is law.

    The only reason I brought this big-ass thought blob to the SoS is because I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on the decline of reviews and the rise of the writer. Or if you even think there is a decline at all. Or, other examples of the contradictory nature between scores and viewpoints.

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