Advice About Game Reviewing
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  1. #1
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    Advice About Game Reviewing

    (I read a review at ENWorld that reminded me that many reviewers of games don’t entirely know what they’re doing! I reviewed games and related materials for Dragon and White Dwarf a long time ago, but almost never have the time to do so these days. I’ve modified a handout I created over the years for various students (college and grad, computer or game development disciplines) to whom I assigned a game or book review. Maybe this will help. LP)


    You have to play a game before you can review it. I have a great deal of experience with some kinds of games, but I will not “review” a game I have not played. Some years ago I gave my impressions of a Britannia-like game that I owned, but as I had not played it, I was careful to say it was not a review, it was more about design, because I wasn’t familiar with the details of the gameplay itself. In the end, it’s the gameplay that counts.


    (I’ve encountered video game development teachers who graded student-made games on the basis of how “good” they were (or worse, “fun”) without (of course) having the time to play them. I just laughed. I graded primarily on the process of making the game, and sometimes seeing them tested, because I didn’t have time to play dozens of games.)




    Always keep your audience in mind when you write anything. Your audience for a review is not yourself: usually it’s someone who enjoys playing games but is not a hard-core gamer. (Does that describe you? Probably not.) This is, of course, the bulk of the gaming market.


    The objective of any review is simple. It should let the reader know whether he or she would like to read the book, see the movie, listen to the music, buy (or only rent) the game, and so forth. The review doesn’t exist to make the reviewer look good, or to advance the reviewer’s agenda.


    A formal review is not just opinion. Unless you’re a well-known reviewer, readers don’t care about your opinions because they don’t know you. (I read enough Roger Ebert reviews to know what he preferred, so his opinion meant something to me. But that was Roger Ebert.) No, you have to explain WHY you think this or that about the game. Without that, you’re just blathering like a typical yahoo on some comment site. Remember, comments on the Internet are subject to Sturgeon’s Law (“90% [or even 99%] of everything is shxx”). (Varies by site and topic, of course.)




    Any review, whether of movies, games, books, or magazines, ought to answer three questions:


    ● What is the author/creator trying to accomplish? (Usually includes, who is the audience)
    ● How well did he or she or they do it?
    ● Was it worth doing? (which must include, Why it was or wasn’t)


    You've read or heard movie reviews that concentrate on the first point (the reviewer may recapitulate the entire plot), on the second point (ooh-ing and ah-ing about how good the direction or technical effects were--or how bad), or on the third point ("what a dumb idea" or "socially relevant!").


    Which point(s) require the most detailed treatment is a decision the reviewer must make according to the nature of the work being reviewed.


    The most common mistake a reviewer makes is to try to recapitulate the entire contents/characteristics of the game in a short time. Don't. Listings of this kind are rarely interesting. It's not only hard to do, it's often boring, and it might annoy the person reading the review if you “give things away”.


    The second most common mistake (amongst students), is to be very explicit and “compartmental” about these three questions. Don’t list a question, then answer it, then list the next question, then answer it. The idea is to answer the questions in the course of a discussion without drawing attention to the fact that you are answering these questions. When you read or hear a good movie review, the questions are usually answered, but you’re not explicitly aware of it as you read or listen, are you? Reviews are essays, writing with a purpose, and as essays they need to be enjoyable reading.


    Summary

    • Who is your audience?
    • Facts and reasons, not just opinions
    • Answer the Three Questions
    • Write a good essay that people can enjoy reading





    Items often included in a review:


    Title, author/developer, publisher, date of publication.


    Background of the developer (and publisher).


    Quotations from the backstory/setting.


    What are the Best & Worst points of the game?




    After I revised the above I discovered that I’d written a piece about reviewing specifically for gamers, published in The Space Gamer #45 in the early 80s (“Notes for Reviewers”). It’s longer and more specific than this. It will be in my books of reprints of my articles of yesteryear, sooner or later; or you can dig up that issue somewhere.


    Lew Pulsipher

  2. #2
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    All so true...

    There is a HUGE problem with reviews of almost anything really, and that problem is that people indeed write a review of something when it is WAY TOO EARLY to do so. The consequence is that most reviews are premature rants or raves.

    With games, I am totally with you that you should really not write a review unless you've actually played it. But guess what? In RPGing people write reviews before even reading the damn thing! The merely browse a new book and feel the urge to go tell the world their own largely unqualified opinion.

    In case of a computer game, IMHO the game should actually even be played to the end of it (if applicable) so that in the review you can evaluate whether the game was satisfying to the end or repetitive, whether the difficulty slope was nice rather than too flat or too steep.

    After all, you wouldn't write a review of a novel or a movie after reading only the first few pages right? Books and movies are actually among the few kinds of stuff that leads to good and useful reviews, even tho naturally they are often highly subjective, but at least people tend to read a whole book or watch a whole movie before talking about it.

    We have also plenty of reviews of consumers products, for example on Amazon. They suffer from similar problems, so if you buy let's say a tablet or mobile phone, almost everyone who writes a review does it on the purchase day, compelled by their desire of sharing their first impression... they need to tell the world how cool their new gadget is and they are so happy, or otherwise share their rage of having bought a piece of junk. So the readers miss out all the information on how well the gadget holds up on the long term, for example does it break easily, does it stop working after a short while, does the battery die and need replacement? And on the other hand, how many ragers' comments of "it doesn't work" are the result of them not even reading the instructions?

  3. #3
    I see too many reviews that are basically advertisements for a game without giving any actual information about the game: how does it play? What are the mechanics? Strengths, weaknesses? It makes me question the reviewer's authenticity, it would be a shame to see spam-bots choke off real reviews.

  4. #4
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    Reviewing is difficult; I can't do it well (which is one reason why I don't write reviews) and to really review something a reviewer needs to spend time with it. That makes reviewing quite a time-sink -- especially if you have to spend time with something you don't like. That's why a lot of reviews tend to be 'recommendations' -- it's a lot easier to spend time with something you like than with something you don't.
    XP MNblockhead gave XP for this post

  5. #5
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    I respectfully disagree. You shouldn't have to play FATAL before you are allowed to formally review it; you should be able to say everything that you need to say about it, without anyone objecting that your claims are unfounded simply because you didn't take the last step toward playing the thing.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
    I respectfully disagree. You shouldn't have to play FATAL before you are allowed to formally review it; you should be able to say everything that you need to say about it, without anyone objecting that your claims are unfounded simply because you didn't take the last step toward playing the thing.
    Sure. There are always exceptions to everything, and I'm sure a game could be so bad that there's no point playing it. But it stands as a generally good guideline.

  7. #7
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    This is what happens when you accept reviews from anyone. You can go to a critic of you want a more professional review.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    Reviewing is difficult; I can't do it well (which is one reason why I don't write reviews) and to really review something a reviewer needs to spend time with it. That makes reviewing quite a time-sink -- especially if you have to spend time with something you don't like. That's why a lot of reviews tend to be 'recommendations' -- it's a lot easier to spend time with something you like than with something you don't.
    That's pretty much what I do. The few reviews I've written here are for games that I've played for some time and that I have an overall good opinion of. Often, games I don't find enjoyable, I don't play much--perhaps not even finishing even a single game/session. But the fact that I know enough that it isn't for me doesn't mean that it is a bad game and I don't want to spend a lot of time with a bad game to give an informative and useful review.

    On Amazon, I am more apt to write reviews "too early", but I often go back months, sometimes years, later to update them. I do that with my reviews of ergonomic equipment, for example, because you can't really comments usefully on the efficacy and durability of an ergonomic keyboard or mouse until you have used it for a while. I've had devices I initially loved, but they didn't last more than a year.

    Games are a bit different, though. I think a review can suffer from too much familiarity. You are unlikely to have the same enthusiasm for a game that you have sunk hundreds of hours into as when you first started playing it. Worse are the reviews who have seen everything and are impressed by nothing. For a gamer like me--and for most gamers--they're reviews are likely not going to be helpful unless they regularly play with less experienced gamers and enjoy introducing old games to new players. Hipsters suck the enthusiasm out of whatever hobbies they claim to love.

  9. #9
    Morrus is correct, it is hard work, it is also a double edged sword: quality reviews increase the prestige of the site and other reviewers, weak reviews can hurt the site, making that hard work for nothing.

  10. #10
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    To fully understand a review, we must first be fluent with its contents, then ask two questions: 1) How artfully has the objective of the review been rendered and 2) How important is that objective? Question 1 rates the review's perfection; question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the review's greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the review's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the review yields the measure of its greatness.

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