Our Solution to the Game Review Problem

Our Solution to the Game Review Problem

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For those who don’t know me, I have a very short list of things I can’t stand: people being dicks and whining. The first part is self-explanatory (i.e. don’t be a dick), but it’s the second part that a lot of people seem to get confused with. You see, complaining is when a person voices an opinion about something they don’t like. Whining is much like complaining, except the person spouting the opinion has no intent or interest in actually solving the issue. That said, there’s been times where I’ve complained — most recently, how frustrated I’ve become with trying to review games lately since they seem to patch a thousand times a week. But I think I’ve finally found a solution to this game review problem.

Now last I talked about this, I laid out six bones to pick about how video game journalists often handle reviews. In case you forgot, they are:

  1. The industry has changed, but the way we write about it hasn’t;
  2. Modern game development continues post-release, making reviews quickly irrelevant as release-day bugs are fixed and extra content is added in patches;
  3. Recent studies have shown reviews don’t have the influence they once did in purchase decisions;
  4. Due to questionable ethics scandals and shady business practices, game journalism integrity is at an all-time low;
  5. There’s too much emphasis on numerical scoring systems;
  6. And finally, the frustration of tone-deaf decisions by AAA developers (such as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s inclusion of microtransactions)




While I’ll save you another seven-paged rant, our new reviewing method solves a lot of these issues swiftly and concisely. Instead, I’ll give you a quick rundown point by point.

Problems 1 and 2 are easily addressed by acknowledging reality: post-release development is a trend that’s not going to die out any time soon. The best we can do is adapt to it. That being said, in order to address the limited shelf-life of reviews whose listed gripes might be addressed faster than expected, we’ll review in uniform increments. In other words, when a game is released, we’ll review it at version 1.0 (or the closest one after initial release), and every tenth of a point after (i.e. version 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3, but not 1.17, 1.23, or 1.35).

By reviewing games incrementally, not only does this keep reviews evergreen (that is, still useful and relevant long after publication) but it also charts a company’s support of its games after launch. Post-release development isn’t inherently the problem here. On the contrary, I’m a big fan of free extra content in larger patches when developers find some spare time to add in things they wanted to but couldn’t because of deadlines. But it’s only fair to developers and customers if games are updated regularly, their related reviews keep up to reflect the current state of affairs. Steam changed their review system to reflect this demand and so far, it’s made buying decisions a little bit more informed. After all, how good is a review that’s not even talking about the game as it is when you’re ready to make a purchase?

Spoiler alert: not good at all.

There’s not much I can do about Problem 3 as that’s more indicative of current market trends. No matter how we write reviews (at least given our current exposure and traffic), people are going to still be motivated to buy games for their own reasons. We can only help by providing our perspective — and even that is valued subjectively.

Despite our size, we’d still like to tackle Problem 4 head-on, though that’s our intent throughout all our writing. Having maneuvered away from calling ourselves a “video game news site,” by focusing on telling stories — whether about developers, gamers, or our favorite characters and franchises — we can at least appeal to our readers on a more familiar (and honest) level. We’re really not interested in games as products to be sold; our passion, instead, is examining them as experiences that shape the lives of thousands (millions?) of people, in work and in play. As far as winning back the trust of game media consumers, that’s something that can only be healed with time and a genuine interest in doing so. Lucky for us, we’ve got plenty of both.

Problem 5 hasn’t been much of an issue here since last year. I still think numeric reviewing factors are silly, though I understand the ease of boiling down things into a few criteria for the sake of averaging. But like I just said, we’re not interested in games as products. You can already get all the review-related metrics you want at sites like Metacritic or by taking a quick glance at any game’s Steam store page sidebar. When we’re reviewing, we’re talking about how good of a job the developer immersed us in their world; things that break that immersion like bugs, poor story and world design, and annoying game mechanics will shake out on their own. Sticking an arbitrary “7.2” on a game doesn’t go into the depth you’ve come to expect from our ramblings. And we don’t like broken expectations.

That brings us to Problem 6, the biggest game review problem of all. Given the size and scope of the AAA players, nothing I say or do here will do much to fix this overnight. Publicly traded companies are always going to keep their shareholders in the back (or front) of their minds, and thus management will always overshadow the creativity and common sense of those actually working on the projects. But much like Problem 4, what we can do is provide gamers with an alternative viewpoint to the mainstream, one that’s probably just as upset as you are for being dicked around as often as gamerkind has been. And sometimes it’s hard tough to be consistent with that; for example, as much as I enjoy Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I’m not blind to questionable decisions its publisher Square Enix has been making, such as the aforementioned microtransactions or HITMAN’s episodic release model.

What’s more difficult is that I don’t even like being mad at them. I don’t throwing Ubisoft or Electronic Arts under the bus when they make stupid decisions… I don’t like critiquing Creative Assembly on its bloated DLC habits. All I want to do is play games that are fun; all they seem to want to do is make games that milk as much money out of their players as possible.

But why not just get our money the old fashioned way by giving us a product of value, or winning our loyalty by building immersive alternate realities for us to escape to? Companies like Larian Studio and Obsidian both have done well returning the faith of their fans after releasing fantastic crowd-funded games; the latter even teetered on the brink of oblivion, having been saved by their reputation to giving a shit about their customers — gamers who’ve fallen in love with the characters and worlds woven by these talented designers, artists, and developers. Of course, working within your means to develop a valuable product requires effort. And for a lot of people, effort seems like too much work. Why make a finished product when you can just sit in Early Access purgatory, riding on anticipation. Or, in the case of the AAA companies, your origins as smaller companies that once did give a damn.

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. Regardless of any industry, there’s always going to be room for improvement. But the important thing here is that we start moving in a direction that fosters improvement and growth, not one of greed and shifty market practices in order to dupe buyers who ultimately determine the lifespan of these companies. Hopefully we can inspire a culture within the video game industry that harkens back to the basics: that is, going on fantastic adventures with colorful characters and enticing gameplay.

We were named in part of our own nostalgia for classic games, back when “Start” buttons were even a thing. In reality, we just missed games being fun instead of stressful, wondering if they’ll hit or miss come release day. Still, we can only do so much from where we’re standing.

I’m just happy I’m excited to write about games again. At the very least, if there’s anyone else who’s been feeling as jaded as I have, I hope we can at least be a welcome change of pace. If not… well… we’ll get there eventually. We’re Start 2 Continue after all. That’s the other part we were named for. The continuing part, that is.

But you already knew that.

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Anthony Magestro

Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.