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  • Pete Davison 2:04 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , games criticism, ,   

    @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
    Tags: , games criticism, ,   

    @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. 😉

     
  • Pete Davison 1:21 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , games criticism, ,   

    @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
    Tags: , games criticism,   

    @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
    Tags: , games criticism, ,   

    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.
     
  • rampantbicycle 3:02 pm on February 7, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , games criticism, ,   

    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: , couldn't resist, games criticism, , , ,   

    @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
    Tags: , games criticism, , ,   

    @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?

     
  • Pete Davison 2:02 pm on March 9, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: games criticism, ,   

    @sinfony I agree entirely, and some (particularly smaller) sites are experimenting with different approaches.

    The trouble is, the audience has come to EXPECT the granular approach. Look at all the user reviews on GameFAQs, and how many of them break things down into headings with individual scores for gameplay, graphics, story, suitability for masturbation (I may have made that one up) and then come up with a final score that has nothing to do with it.

    That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it’s what the t(w)eens expect. We gnarled old veterans expect something more, though.

     
  • Pete Davison 12:40 am on March 9, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: games criticism, ,   

    @sinfony Spot on. I’m not sure where the whole scoring thing went wrong, but it’s been broken since the very beginning of the games press. I’ve seen all manner of different approaches, and not one that works particularly well.

    The trouble we had in the beginning was that most magazines defined a “classic” (i.e. a game that you must play) as 90%+, a “recommended game” as 80%+ and everything under that was “meh”. 70% and below became “average to mediocre” and you rarely, as today, saw anything below that mark unless it was really terrible.

    Some publications experimented with adding up scores for graphics, gameplay etc to reach a score of 100, with more weight being given to, say, gameplay vs sound (30% vs 10% in the example I’m thinking of, if I remember correctly) but even then, that’s overanalysing something which is ultimately subjective.

    The more I think about it, the more I feel that if there has to be a scoring system at all (and I think there probably, unfortunately, does simply because people just don’t read shit properly any more) then the five-star system a la movie and music reviews is probably the way to go. And no, I’m not just saying that because GamePro uses it. 🙂

    I think part of the reason reviewers are so hesitant to give less-than-70% scores is because of things like the PR debacle with TopWare recently over Two Worlds reviews. No-one wants to piss off the PR companies because ultimately they’re the people who determine whether your site or publication gets to see new shit first. I also think that Gerstmanngate is still fresh in some journalists’ minds.

    Also, some people are just not very good at being critics. 🙂

     
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