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!
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.