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Top 5 Ways To Improve Game Reviews

As I grow older (mid-20′s), I look back on life and begin to wonder just what the hell I was thinking back when certain things mattered to me. I was perusing a few sites this morning, and one of the things I used to care about so much that mean little to me now popped up; game reviews.

Don’t misunderstand me, game reviews are an important piece of the gaming industry. They’re a check against developers, so crappy games aren’t released as frequently. They can be informative to the public, and so on. However, there was a time when game reviews would send me through the roof. Sometimes for good reasons, others not so good. Looking back, it all just seems so silly.

All these different thoughts lead to the Top 5 list. What are some things that can be improved upon with game reviews? How can they be made more relevant?

Let’s get to it.

Top 5 Things To Improve With Game Reviews

5. Engage More With The Gamers

Sometimes consumers forget, but they’re the cog that keeps our entire way of life turning. Without consumers, or a user base there’d be no video games, or reviews for that matter. This simple idea translates to our current economic status, but that’s a topic for another time, and another blog.

The gamer crowd is the lifeblood of the game review. If no one is there to hear you speak, or read your words then what’s the point. Which is why it irks me to see so many reviewers not engage with their user base. I’m not sure if it’s in the interests of professionalism, or if game reviewers are just busy. If you look around some review sites, you’ll rarely find reviewers follow up their writings or respond to comments left by readers.

To be fair, not all comments are worth addressing, but there is worth while dialogue to respond to. Yet, you’ll find reviewers not answering questions, or backing up the claims they make in their review summaries. With Facebook, Twitter, and all different kinds of social networking the idea of user engagement is just reaching its peak. It’s not enough to just leave empty words in an article on your site anymore. It’s all about your communication as well.

4. Neutral Genre/Title Fanboyism

If you look around mainstream news, the idea of ‘objective’ journalism is fading faster than hard line telephones. Everyone has a bias, and it seems that we care less and less if that bias gets in the way of reporting facts or figures. This idea translates to the video game world as well. Though, I will say it’s not as prevalent as it once was.

I think that #4 on today’s list is one of the hardest changes to implement for game reviews. Mainly, because reviews are in, and of themselves bias. They’re opinions, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear that opinion from someone who had a jaded view going into playing the game. If I’m wanting to check out thoughts on the newest Madden game, I don’t want to hear about what the reviewer thought of previous Maddens. Specifically if they hated it, or were absolutely in love with it.

Hearing how great Madden is, from someone who has always been a huge Madden fan kind makes their thoughts moot. Unless you’re a Madden fan that is. But why restrict your viewing audience to only those who love Madden? Or hate it.

Now, I’m not saying that someone shouldn’t review a game because of any prior qualms/preferences towards certain titles or genres. I’m just saying that it needs to be kept to a minimum when it comes out in their writing.

I’ll probably need to come back to this whenever Punch Out! releases this year.

3. Include, Don’t Exclude

My biggest pet peeve when reading through a review, is finding large sections of a game are missing from the write-up. Whenever I read a review, and I know something has blatantly been omitted the review is instantly void in my eyes.

Reviews should always follow the motto ‘more is better’. Even if the review is an essay, atleast the reader has a choice to either skim through, or read the entire entry. Whenever a review is cut short, or information is left out, there’s really only one option for the reader. Which is to read it, but be denied things they should probably know about the game they’re reading about.

What’s really frustrating is that on certain sites, you can tell some games get better treatment than others. I’m not talking about positive/negative reactions but that certain games get talked about more than others. This, sometimes is due to the fact that certain games have more content than others, but that isn’t always the case.

2. Add Second Opinions

In every publication that I’ve ever read, my favorites tend to be ones that present the greatest number of ideas about games. EGM generally always added second opinons. IGN includes them sometimes, but not nearly enough. I’m not quite sure why all of the major gaming publications don’t post more than one review.

On WiiBlog, you’ll generally just see one review, but that’s because it’s a smaller publication. Believe me, I’d allow as many differing opinions as I could if the resources were there. Yet, I visit these large sites, with bountiful resources and I’m left flummoxed by the inclusion of only one review.

What, that one person is the ‘end all, be all’ in terms of reviewing a particular game? What exactly, makes one person so special that they get one exclusive review per site? The answer, is quite simply that they aren’t special. It’s merely one opinion, which is a microcosm of a larger whole. And really isn’t, nor should be representative of the overall feeling towards a game.

Looking at game reviews, I can understand why the ‘one and only’ format was chosen. Mostly, because traditional media has always been reviewed that way. Just look at entertainment publications, where you’ll see movie reviews conducted by one person. TV, books, are also forms of media that have been traditionally reviewed by one person, per publication.

I can tell you that with games, my opinion is generally formed by discussing with others. Why can’t discussions be used as reviews? Why not setup a round table for a certain game, and have opinions bounce off one another? I think that offering second opinions is a good start to revitalize, and revamp the way we review our games.

Just because media has been reviewed a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean that’s what needs to keep continuing. As the wonders of the internet grow, so should the ways we relay information about a game to the consumers.

1. Numerical Scores

For me, one of the funniest moments in gaming was when Gamespot (Jeff Gerstmann) dropped his review of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess onto viewers. You’d have thought Gerstmann sparked World War III from all the backlash he received from Zelda, and Nintendo fanboys. All because he thought LoZ: TP deserved a 8.8.

I didn’t agree with some of the negatives that Jeff mentioned in his review. I loved the wii remote controls, and thought it was great to see an Ocarina styled Link on the Wii. Two things he mentions as negatives. There-in lies my point. People weren’t upset with Jeff’s write-up of the game, but the arbitrary number he assigned to it.

Something about that little 8.8, drove people into a hysteria. If you don’t believe me, look at player reviews on that site. People gave the game a 10, for nothing more than to try and prove a point to Jeff. That his numerical score was somehow ‘wrong’.

I’m not going to act high and mighty, because I myself have used a numerical score for reviews on this site. But I leave it at the end, as a footnote to what should really be important, the content. I know people that live, and die by the number though. You’ll see forum topics created solely based on a review ‘score’. They generally turn into flame wars.

Why? Is what I want to ask. Why, do we care so much about those little digits? Is there a chemical imbalance in our heads, that sees an arbitrary score that sends us into a frenzy?

“Oh no, Halo 3 only received a 4.5 stars out of 5, I can no longer show my face around here again”

That’s a literal quote from a review I’ve seen before.

For me, numerical scores are the bane of the game review world. I wish I had a time machine and could go back and find out who devised the first review system for anything. Tell him how it was hurting valid content, and to just write out your views instead.

What’s sad is that review scores aren’t going anywhere. Publishers plaster results all over their boxes. ‘ This game receives 5/5 from Gamepro’. All I ask is that we take a step back, and try to find out why is matters so much. Then hopefully we can devise a better solution.

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So, after discussing today’s topic, how important are game reviews to you? If you do put stock into reviews, how do you read them? Do you really care so much about a numerical result, and if so how do you read into review systems?

The Conduit Improvement Trailer

It’s easy to say that The Conduit is one of the most anticipated games releasing this year. In the video game world, some (myself included) have compared the FPS to the Nintendo 64 hit ‘Goldeneye’. Setting such a high standard for a game can really only setup for disappointment. There is a chance though, that all of our pre-conceived notions can come true, and The Conduit will truly blow us away.

This trailer shows off some gameplay portions of The Conduit, showing us how much The Conduit has grown during its development. The game is looking gorgeous at this point, and I think in the end SEGA will look like a genius for picking up the publishing rights to it.