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Although I handle a large majority of our review content here at What’s Your Tag?, the idea for this post actually came from another editor, Paul Novak. He originally planned and drafted a post discussing the overall lack of change in game review formats over the years, and when pitching us the idea it sparked a pretty long discussion among our staff. As it turns out, we all prefer things a little differently.

I love writing reviews. It’s my passion. I enjoy playing through games just as much as I do writing about them, although lately it seems that I do more writing than playing. As you can tell by the quality of my writing, I’m not professionally trained (heyo!), but it’s something I’ve been doing as a labor of love since the days of LiveJournal–if you don’t remember LiveJournal, I’m probably showing my age a bit–and across various blogs before joining up with What’s Your Tag? over a year ago.

With more than 60 reviews under my belt during the last year alone, it’s safe to say I’ve learned a lot. For starters, reviews take a long time to write. I’ve reviewed games that have taken me anywhere between 20 minutes and 40 hours to complete, and even games that had no end at all. Regardless of their completion time, any given review will take me no less than 3 or 4 hours to draft, edit, and publish.

“A critic is a beacon of truth; not a salesperson.”

I typically take notes the old fashioned way while I’m playing through a game, and I start out by using those notes to create a pros and cons list here on WordPress. From there I usually write up the worst draft on the planet, spending the next several hours organizing its flow, fixing grammatical hiccups, reorganizing paragraphs, rewording run-on sentences, inserting images and video, adding hyperlinks, and probably reorganizing the post yet again. Once I’m satisfied with how the review turned out, I’m stuck with the dreaded task of assigning the game a number; and this is where our opinions start to vary.

Here’s my take:

A review is nothing more than a critic’s opinion. It’s around a thousand words that should paint you a picture of that person’s experience with that specific game. It should cover what they liked, what they didn’t, how it could be improved, how it spoke to their own personal tastes, and it should pull no punches. A critic is a beacon of truth; not a salesperson.

However, I understand that not everyone likes to sift through walls of text to decide whether or not a game is worth buying. What do people do at that point? They scroll to the bottom, check the score, and maybe read our bullet points with a basic list of the game’s pros and cons.

A 7? Who would buy a game that only scored a 7, right? The thing is, what a 7 means to me and what it means to you are more than likely two completely different things. I feel that when someone sees a game assigned a number between 1-10, they automatically project their guideline of what that number represents and basis their choice accordingly. Again, what I think is a 7 is probably different from you, and assuming otherwise isn’t really doing the reader any favors. (Side note: On the reverse side, I’m basically doing the same thing and projecting my idea of how I read a review on to our reader base. Curse these faulty human traits.)

“…if you just jumped to the bottom and saw a 4.5/10, what are the odds that you’ll even give the game a chance? Probably none.”

In my opinion, without fully reading a review, you’re not seeing the big picture. I would prefer that reviews aren’t assigned any sort of score, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether or not they’re interested in a game based off of what I’ve written–not because of a number I’ve assigned it. I also don’t like the idea that what I’ve spent the last several hours writing has been reduced to a number and a cup full of bulletpoints, but thems the breaks.

I feel that that by avoiding the 1-10 scale, a letter-based grading system, or shading in a couple of stars, it would bring more attention to the writing and let the reader truly understand the critic’s opinion. By doing so, they can connect with certain aspects of the game or perhaps gain a better understanding of why the critic does or doesn’t recommend it.

When we talk about this amongst ourselves, I always bring up 1001 Spikes as an example. If you read my review, you know all to well that I completely loathed the game. I enjoy retro, pixely platformers, but I don’t really get in to games that make me feel like I’m slamming my face in a door repeatedly. Miles, on the other hand, loves ridiculously difficult games and would have easily given it an 8 or a 9; instead of my assigned 4.5/10.

Since I was the one who played and reviewed it, it was given a much lower score. However, if you read the review you would notice that my overall enjoyment was greatly hindered by the game’s sheer brutality and trial-by-dying platforming mechanics. If you’re in to that sort of thing, you’d know right then that you’d enjoy the game a lot more than I did. But if you just jumped to the bottom and saw a 4.5/10, what are the odds that you’ll even give the game a chance? Probably none. I suppose on the opposite side of things, we’re probably more inclined to play something we initially had no interest in simply because it was given a 9 or 10.

“We’re all different. We all like different things.”

My opinion probably has a lot of bias since it’s coming from the perspective of an aspiring writer. If I spend a lot of time working on a review, I’d obviously love it more if people read them as opposed to skimming to the bottom. How do I get that to happen? I remove the score. But even as a reader, I enjoy digesting the entire review from top to bottom. Do I look at numbers? Sure, I just don’t base my opinion on them. That doesn’t mean that’s how everyone else feels though.

I know Kayla and Miles like assigning games a score because they feel it gives the review closure. As a busy person, Kayla understands that not everyone has the time to read a thousand-word review, and sometimes a score and its bullet points are enough to give you an idea of a game’s ups and downs. I guess I can agree with that. Personally, I love open world games, but I hate racing in them. If I see an open-world review that files “vehicle handling” under the cons section, and I know there’s racing involved, I’m definitely less inclined to play it; and I didn’t have to read the entire review to figure that out.

We’re all different. We all like different things. How do you prefer game reviews when you read them? Do you read the entire review and base your decision accordingly, or are you the type that jumps straight to the bottom? Do you like scores, like IGN and Polygon use, or prefer the no-score approach of the now defunct Joystiq and Eurogamer? What about Kotaku’s yes or no approach? Why or why not?

This is not only an interesting topic, but if we know what our readers enjoy the most, we can better tailor our content. We appreciate you most of all, of course.

Drop us a comment below and let us know what you think. Your opinions always matter!

Bio Card Brad

Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist that one day hopes to make this writing thing a living, and will always miss living in his hometown of Baltimore. If he’s not writing, he’s usually glued to a game or watching low budget horror films with his three cats. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.

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Written by CheapBossAttack

Freelance games writer for cheapbossattack.com and news monkey at switchplayer.net. Podcast contributor at counterattackgames.com. Sewer-dwelling console heathen that mostly dabbles in RPGs, adventure, and horror games. I have a passion for game reviews, horror, and cats, but my blog is purely game focused. Follow me on Twitter @cheapbossattack.

25 comments

  1. I usually look at the quick list first, check out the pros and cons and try to get a general feel of it. But as you say, if I don’t read the full review (or at least skim through it) the score won’t really say much.
    When someone’s passionate about a game (for or against) it’s always lovely to read a long review. Keep ’em coming!

    1. If I’m generally not interested in a game, I won’t read the review at all. I’m guilty of hopping to the TL;DR version to read the nutshell version of why it’s good or bad. If it interests me, I’ll watch a trailer and read the review at that point.

      1. I’m with you! Although I don’t agree with his opinion all the time, I really like the writing style of Kevin Van Ord at Gamespot. I could totally disagree with his opinion, but still enjoy the read purely based on how it was written. Voltech over at Cross-Up also has a way of writing that makes anything sound interesting; even things I don’t like, like anime, or certain movies.

  2. I like my reviews talk dark ad handsome.
    Keep doing what you are doing. ❤

    But seriously, grading systems take away from the writing. Its a sad but real truth. Say what you will about the site, but I thi k Kotaku does it best. "Should you play it? The choice is highlighted with a coresponding color with pros and cons. Its the best of both worlds.

    Steal their shit.

    1. I prefer no scores at all, but if I had to choose I’d say Kotaku as well. But even still, a yes or no is purely subjective based on who is reviewing the game and their own personal reasons for giving either option. Picking yes or no is less options than giving the game a score or a grade, but it’s essentially the same thing–scroll to the bottom, see no, move on, etc.

      But they’re also good about providing detailed bullet points to back up their decision. If I see no, but the bullet points don’t seem so bad, I’m more inclined to read their (more often than not) long winded reviews. And as I mentioned in the post, if I saw a yes, but a con mentions something that really gets under my skin (FUCK YOU ENDURO RACES IN SLEEPING DOGS!), I’m more inclined to make an educated decision to pass.

      1. Right, but i think you put it best with reviewers not being salesmens. What is a critic? Someone who claims to be an expert at something and judges based on its on merits. In actuallity, we’re not really reviewing games to determine if other people should devote their money to it. Instead we’re really reviewing our experience with it. Thats why some,of the best critics in my opinion or Roger Ebert and Adam Sessler. They described their experience and hoped others would see their view as well.

      2. I guess what I was getting at is if I put a big yes or no at the bottom, that answer should already be in the review, based on the writing. To me it was just a matter of that statement drawing away from the rest of the article. It’s no longer about why the person didn’t enjoy it, but just the fact they said no. It’s up to the readers to decide if they want to read their opinion or not, and I guess I feel any sort of definitive closure option (grading, yes/no, whatever) has the potential to draw the audience away from the meat and straight to the dessert.. if that makes any sense.

        It’s definitely the best method out of all the bigger websites, because if someone doesn’t recommend it at least I can read why. Who knows what this guy thinks a 6 or 7 is worth, but at least I know clear cut that they do or do not recommend the game to me.

        I totally get what your saying though. It’s not a matter of telling people to buy or avoid something, it’s reviewing your experience. I dig that.

  3. Although I have never paid much heed to numeric scores, nor have I “not bought a game” because of a review score, I find this sometimes arbitrary game scoring system provides a useful framework for communicating opinion about a game. With that said, it’s totally unnecessary and sometimes distracts from more important contents in a review. Even so, I do admit a lot of the time I’ll scan a review for a score or call-out highlights/summary before I read the full text.

    1. Yeah, like I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’m guilty of jumping to the score/bullet points if it’s a game I’ve never heard of or have no interest in. If the bullet points catch me, I’ll read the review and go from there. Never has a score ever swayed me.

  4. I’ve never really based any purchase on a review score. And I am in the same boat as you with games like 1001 spikes, which by the way I don’t even think is available on the Canadian Marketplace for some reason. But that is the first game I saw Miles stream, so I guess it is sort of a good game…sort of

    1. I’ll be honest, I was dead set on passing on both Shadow of Mordor and Lords of the Fallen, but their generally positive reception caused me to take a look at them. If that’s the case, or if I’m still on the fence about something, I’ll usually wait until reviews roll in and read a bunch of them to get an idea of what to expect.

      1001 Spikes and Volgarr the Viking I vicariously lived through Miles. I hated 1001, and Volgarr’s combination of brutality and broken achievements the week of its launch got it uninstalled.

  5. Here’s an idea: People play games for different reasons so why not give a different ‘score’ for every part of the game? Steal this framework from me: ‘You would [really/kind of] [appreciate/hate] this game if [this aspect] is what you look forward to/avoid] in video games.’

    That aside, great article about the review-writing process. I’m an opinionated guy so I have a lot of trouble keeping reviews ‘on the rails’, possibly because I’ve only been able to afford mobile games lately and I don’t exactly want to post 100-word reviews. I guess being able to afford interesting games is a big part of writing about them, huh? Now that I write out, it seems obvious, haha.

    1. Yeah, gaming is definitely an expensive hobby. Thankfully we receive a majority of the games we review from publishers for that exact purpose. It does lead to playing some great stuff, but it’s not always what we want to play at the time. Games are games though!

      1. Ha, the perks of writing for a popular, eh? Out of curiosity, just how well-known does your site have to be before publishers start offering review copies? Or would you have to reach out them and ask?

      2. We reach about 6k per day from random site traffic + subscribers, plus our daily live stream, etc., if that helps. We’ve had publishers reach out to us to check out games early, or to review, but it’s mostly indies. I handle our public relations for the most part, so I usually reach out of there’s a game we’re interested in checking out. I typically send them samples of my writing, tell them what our viewer base is, etc., but it was definitely easier to get developers and publishers to trust us once we had worked with smaller ones. That way I could tell them we’ve worked with devs and pubs before, we were experienced, blah blah. Hope that helps?

  6. Great write up on the process of reviewing a game – there are so many things that go into it (if you do it right) and it’s easy to forget that.

    I could go on and on about this topic and there are a lot of factors, but I’m going to try and distill it down into some bullet points.

    See – even in writing a comment we’re up against some of the same problems, i.e., “people don’t have time to read/think the whole way through this!”

    1.) Since I’m looking at your review I’m wanting you to be bias – I want you to be you! I want you to write what you really think, and not worry about being “objective” in the purest sense as that’s not possible. Bring your past gaming experience with you, bring the fact that you have/have not played an entire game series with you, etc. I want to hear you opinion, as that’s what a review is 🙂

    2.) Confession – I don’t read reviews to have them decide what I buy, but more to confirm what I already think. Perfect examples are Star Wars games for me – I really enjoy the universe so that will cover a multitude of problems/lower score. For me reviews are more about information, a sort of last word on the game that I add to to everything else

    3.) Speaking of everything else, there’s so much stuff now! Every game has it’s own fan site, twitter, etc. We are so informed as gamers before said game even comes out, is the review really what makes or breaks a game? Everyone who likes the game has sucked everything about it from day one, while those not interested have stayed away and could care less.

    4.) I wonder if the only people who truly look at the review score to make or break their opinion is the reviewer themselves. Think about it – the only person who can really say that the number at the bottom reflects their actual feeling on the game is the writer.

    5.) “Reviews” are still good! I still want to know what someone really thinks about a game after playing it. I just don’t think they’re the end all they might have been back in the day, when the review for a few gaming outlets really had sway.

    TL;DR – I’m not going to summarize for you, and this makes my last point. I understand that everyone’s busy and can’t always read everything, so here’s where I go with that – don’t. Don’t read everything. Read info/sites you’ve come trust, really the best ones for you, and stick with that. It’s okay to admit that we’re busy people but the solution is not for reviewers to dumb down their thoughts but for consumers to stop acting like we can truly absorb every scrap of info out there.

    So this ended up being long, but thanks again for a thought-provoking post and it’s cool you guys are thinking about this issue as an entire staff.

    1. Hey, we really appreciate the in-depth response! That’s exactly what I was looking for, personally. I never really expect any of my reviews to be the end-all for anyone, especially considering we never get advanced copies of bigger games to have reviews ready by launch day. Indies, yeah, but big releases, we just don’t get them. I also typically play more obscure games, or just weird stuff people would normally pass up (considering a majority of my reviews lately have been Ouya, after all).

      I totally get where you’re coming from with #4. However, if you check the comment section of mostly any review posted on Facebook by a big name publication, there’s enough people saying “Only a 7? No thanks.” to cause concern. Or at least that’s what I’ve noticed. Then again I’m probably looking for these types of things to further prove my point. You know, like when you buy a t-shirt that you’ve never seen before, and then you see 10 people wearing it by next week? Chances are they were already there, but now you’re trained to look for it.

      1. Completely understand about the t-shirts. I’ve been burned by that before – how dare you fools share my excellent sense of style!

        Good point about the FB comments, and that’s definitely a thing. For me it comes down to the reviewers choice of “who am I writing for?” If the people you care most about are those that are interested primarily in a score, then go for it.

        But if your more concerned about them missing the reasons why you gave the score, or that they’ve only reduce their opinion to that number you’ve provided, then I would leave it out.

        “But I need a number!” they say.

        “I won’t reduce my thoughts to a number!” you launch back.

        Like I said – for me anyway – it comes down to who you want to reach.

  7. I think the trouble with eliminating numbers is you lose a chunk of the audience who don’t want to really know what an opinion is, they just want to see if it’s 7 or higher because in their mind it’s an automatic indication of whether the game is above average or better. And while in my case it doesn’t matter as much (I’m one guy who does this outside of work because he loves talking about videogames) this has had a bad effect on people, and companies who have been successful enough to make a business out of it.

    It would be wonderful if everyone took the time to read the entire articles thoroughly. But enough don’t. Ziff Davis used to publish one of my favorite gaming magazines back in the day. It was called Computer Gaming World. Near the end, the quickness of website reviews outpaced the magazine’s. So Jeff Green decided to eliminate review scores. It lasted maybe 6 issues. The thing they found, was that even at the news stand people were just skimming for the number. When there was no number to be found, their subscription, and circulation went down. So they brought the numbers back. To me it just comes down to the fact that there are some who only want instant gratification.

    In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out those of us who spend hours writing, editing, and filming YouTube or Blip show reviews have a percentage of the audience moving the fast forward button to the end.

    Fortunately, there are a larger population of fans who WANT to see opinions to compare, and contrast with. As has been mentioned we are all individuals. I think that’s a fact that gets lost on people today. Not only in gaming but in many things. People are so fast to belong to a group they sometimes forget that even within that group everyone is going to have their own opinions, and beliefs. And it’s good to have many reviews out there. From the starving artist level to the gorilla level. It gives the average person a big supply of opinions to draw from, and lets them make a more informed decision. Or at least some healthy discussions with other players, and fans.

    How do you solve the “I’m too busy to read/watch -Skip to the number” dilemma? I’m not sure you can. If everyone dropped numbers these folks probably wouldn’t read or watch the complete overviews anyway. I think Jeff Green’s experience while anecdotal, has some meat to it. All you can do is resolve to keep doing what you love, because it’s part of who you are. Even if everything crashes, and burns there will be people who want to see opinions, newer voices will rise from the ashes. To me it’s like a creative endeavor. You have to do it because it’s part of you first, and foremost.

    1. Removing the score could definitely alienate part of the audience, that’s definitely true. Thanks for such an in-depth reply. It was a great read full of solid points.

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