I have been looking at video game reviews recently and it struck me how condensed everything seems to be. After Google searching ‘video game reviews’, I opened every link on the first page. I found myself on the following websites: GameSpot, IGN, MetaCritic, Polygon, GameRankings, CNET, EuroGamer, Common Sense Media and The Escapist. Much to my dismay, I found that only 1 of the 9 websites did not immediately show me how they ranked the game within their rating system. That website was CNET.
The following images are screenshots of the above websites’ front pages on 07/12/2016.
Why does this bother me so much? I personally find that compressing an entire games’ worth into a simple number does not do any game justice, regardless of the games’ quality. I find that numbers provide a false sense of objectivity within a medium that is inherently subjective.
A reviewer whose website I frequent is Jim Sterling, whose website is The Jimquisition. I genuinely appreciate the way in which he reviews video games. Firstly, his articles appear like this:
While it does appear to be similar to the way that the previous review websites present themselves, the main difference here is that there is no obvious indicator as to what Jim’s opinion is from the outset.
After this 2500 word review, he ends with a rating out of 10. What differentiates this rating out of 10 compared to the ratings of the websites mentioned at the start is that a ‘Review Score Guide‘ is provided via a link on the header of his website. This guide explains what his numbers mean, as well as what kind of games would receive these numbers.
As a developer, I see reviews, as they are now, as being closer to advertisements than to criticism. While it may not be the intention of the reviewer, I believe the general public see reviews as a vetting process instead of an analysis or a breakdown of a product. Not that this is exactly bad for developers, good reviews can lead to more sales. This isn’t exactly bad for consumers either. From a consumers’ point of view, reviewers are telling them whether a game is worth their money.
However, the fault that I see might not be a problem within the reviews sector of gaming, but within myself. Perhaps my opinions on reviews comes from a sense of fear that stems from my own games. A fear that the games that I might create may be falsely construed or that I might present my game in the wrong manner, thereby reaching a different target audience than intended. Take, for example, the user review written by jmhoffer (MetaCritic does not allow for direct links to reviews; jmhoffer’s review should be the first on the list) for This War of Mine. Jmhoffer gave the game 0 out of 100 and criticized the crafting, tool durability and water treatment for not being realistic, going so far as to dispute the developer’s claim that they lived through a war zone.
This kind of review, where people judge a game based on what they believe games in the genre should be, frightens me a little. The reason for this fear can be traced all the way back to my childhood. I have always had the pressure of my family’s success pushed upon me. My relatives on my fathers’ side of the family are all professors and my relatives on my mother’s side of the family are all engineers. Add to that the pressure of being a son whose parents are the least ‘successful’ in the family; my mother is the only one in her family who is not an engineer and my father is the only one in his family who is not a professor. The expectations that were placed upon me through schooling were very high. Getting an ‘A’ for an assignment was considered the standard, therefore anything less than that was seen as failure.
There are two things that are commonly associated with success in the gaming industry, these being your sales figures and your games’ reception. These two are often seen as being hand in hand because surely people wouldn’t buy a game if its reception is bad. The system of reviews we currently have, presenting a games’ worth through an aggregate score, sparks this pressure in me once again. What I fear isn’t exactly negative reviews, it’s reviews that are negative because the person expected something other than what I offered. In essence, marking my game against criteria that I had no intention of including and, therefore, didn’t consider.
But that is the point of freedom of speech, is it not? Being able to say what you want about whatever you want, regardless of prior experience or knowledge.
Do you have any insights or opinions? Please leave a comment below or tweet at me at @m_vonwil.