Game reviews and power plays

So I was reading a gaming site this morning and a game journalist mentioned that he hadn’t gotten an advance copy of a game so he had been playing the game basically non-stop so that he could get a review ready for the readers.

What does everyone think of this?

While I admire the person’s work ethic, I’m not sure how fair it is to the game. Imagine someone forcing you to play a game for 18 hours straight whether you wanted to or not. How likely is it that you’d come away with a warm and fuzzy feeling about that game?

I’m not faulting the reviewer; don’t get me wrong. S/he doing the best job s/he can in this “Publish first or don’t bother” environment we operate in.

And this is me picking at problems without offering any solutions.

Here’s another example. Deathspank. Now I love Deathspank! Jeff Gerstmann doesn’t. But here’s the thing… I play Deathspank for an hour here, an hour there, sometimes I get on a real roll and I’ll play for a few hours straight but after I do, I’ll leave it alone for weeks after. Gerstmann, according to what he said on the Giant Bomb podcast, sat down one morning and played it straight through, finishing sometime later in the evening.

If I’d played Deathspank like that, I’d probably give it a 3/5 star review too. The jokes would run together and lose their humor, the game play would start to feel really repetitive and I just don’t think the game would be as fun.

Again, not faulting Gerstmann; he had a review to finish and he was getting it done. And for people who tend to marathon-play every game, his review was absolutely valid. If your plan is to wring every achievement point out of Deathspank over the course of a day, you’re going to come away feeling pretty sick of the game.

For that matter, I like cotton candy. About 2 bites of it. If I ate 2 bites of cotton candy I’d give it a big thumbs up. If someone brought me 10 wads/spindles/whatever-you-call-them of cotton candy and I had to eat them all at once, I’d probably tell you cotton candy was the most awful, wretched food ever invented.

I just wonder if we need reviewers to offer more disclosure over *how* they played the game. Something like “Play time 10 hours, played over a weekend”. I just think the experience of spending 10 hours in 1 day with a game might be much different than the experience of spending 10 hours with a game over the course of the week. Some titles are just not meant to be gorged on.

Or maybe the easiest solution is just to ignore professional reviews and go by what friends think of games. Actually, that’s probably the best plan.

7 thoughts on “Game reviews and power plays

  1. Great post. 😀

    Personally, I would love to see reviewers or people in general quantifying AND qualifying their game play if they’re voicing an opinion. Knowing how long a person played, how much time they spent playing a session, and also how they played the game (grind XP, Quest, General interaction, etc…) might be beneficial for some who want to better understand a if a given opinion is something that goes well with their own sensibilities.

  2. I’m beginning to lean more to the opinions of people I follow closely on Twitter etc than the ‘word’ from reviewers at big mags/sites. Of course, I still have a go at writing my own reviews but I know from experience how much time these take up. Rushing through a game to review it, hardly sounds ideal.

  3. Or walk the line somewhere in the middle. I always take reviews with a grain of salt because they are by definition (mine, anyway) subjective, no matter how hard the reviewer may try.

    That said, if it comes to a choice between friend recommendation and review recommendation, I’ll always pick the former over the latter. I tend to know my friends (and their tastes vs mine) a little better than I know your average reviewer. 😀

  4. It’s absolutely a problem. I think Gabe talked about it on PA a couple of years ago when the first Assassin’s Creed came out – how when he played it as a reviewer probably would he hated it, while when he took his time with it he loved it.

    It’s a vicious circle of players wanting reviews fast, prefereably long before release (we get questions constantly about why a certain review hasn’t been posted yet, etc), and of course trying to be as fast as possible in order to get as much traffic as possible, etc. It’s something every gaming publication, and reviewer, have to deal with. Don’t even get me started on the nightmares of reviewing 100+ hour RPGs or MMOs… 🙂

    But yeah, good post. It’s worth pointing out, over and over again.

  5. I have been fortunate enough to write a few reviews for a couple of websites, and only once did I ever recieve an advanced copy for a game. Most of the games I have reviewed I have had to pay for and most games have been out for over a month by the time the review has been posted.

    The gaming industry has become much like the movie industry, it’s all about first week sales. That to me seems why most publications are big on relased day reviews. It would be nice if I could buy a game and play it over the weekend and then write up a review, but in most cases that’s not what I end up doing.

    I like to enjoy the experience and not rush through a game if possible. Sure, that game may be the only game I play for a week or so, but I tend to take longer to finish game when compared to compared to many of these reviewers. I had finished Alpha Protocol 5 times and invested nearly 70hrs into the game before I even started my review. Now that is not normal for me, but my review would have been a lot different I think had I only played the game through once and wrote a review based on 15hrs of gameplay.

  6. I think I know the review you’re talking about – I thought it was a decent article and enjoyed it and actually didn’t think much of the manner in which he had played the game. For me, I just take reviews as being people’s opinion and then make my own mind up after that. Mosts games, especially MMOs, are very subjective and difficult to put an accurate rating against.

    Still, having saying that, I think most veteran gamers are able to determine if a game is good or awful pretty quickly just by checking out it’s most basic attributes. It’s that kind of rough, general assessment I’m looking for before I buy something.

  7. Good post. I agree, some games aren’t meant to be played 12 hours at a time. I used to work in QA and I ended up hating any game I tested after a couple 8-hour stretches of playtesting. The conditions under which I played the game certainly effected my opinion more than the quality of the game. It would be interesting to know how reviewers played the games they reviewed.

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