Perfect picture courtesy of TechnoBuffalo (link below)

The last month, games reporting has been in the crosshairs of many. (I’m guilty of this too; read the backlog of Holygrenade to find several posts on “Doritosgate”.) Strangely, while the reporting process is under careful watch, games reviewing remains unchecked.

Reviewing is the most divisive aspect of games media. Any review incites comments from every direction–those in agreement and disagreement, and those posting insidiously due to brand loyalty or some other idiotic reason. Attacking someone personally for their skin colour or gender, for instance. (The audience has progressed past that slowly but it still happens.)

However, not included in the conversation is the practice of reviewing a game and the various problems that tag along.

Pesky publisher meddling

There exists a strange dichotomy in review writing: to appease the powers that be and to suppress idiocy. The latter is unavoidable; the devoutly moronic are prone to hide behind the veil of online anonymity. It is pleasing the editorial, corporate, and advertising bosses wherein things approach a nasty level of messiness. And even more so when a bad score (for a terrible game no less) is career-compromising.

It is the unspoken and stringent rule of the land. Smaller sites often act independent of their advertising departments and are therefore free editorially, like the Eurogamer advertising network that includes Rock, Paper, Shotgun and VG247. But major sites — the IGNs and GameSpots of the world — often clash with the publishers who provide them lavish ad campaigns.

Most widely known as “Gerstmann-gate”, Jeff Gerstmann was ousted from his Editorial Director position at GameSpot for rating Kane & Lynch ”fair”. Eidos, running heavy ad money on the site at the time, purportedly pressured executives into terminating Gerstmann’s contract. But it has never been explicitly stated why Gerstmann lost his position. Though, consequently, other writers left voluntarily and went on to create Giant Bomb. (Somehow, I can thank GameSpot.)

Dealing with the audience

For some reason, writing a video game review is dangerous. It leads to the fractured, nonsensical bumbling of Internet commenters, attacking someone personally for sharing an opinion. An opinion those commenters actively sought out to consider purchasing an unreleased game.

Why is there hostility? Why do anonymous people pride themselves on attacking a writer for stating his or her opinion? If these people are so blindly dedicated to a series or studio, why are they even reading reviews? Isn’t their opinion already concrete?

These petty arguments make everyone look like fools — not just the readership of that site. Someone cannot possibly know a game’s quality or plot or other vital details without playing, yet by responding, legitimate and honest readers validate these pathetic comments. Then the reviewer or other staff get involved and it morphs into something way more sinister.

Reviews are meant for the consumer. If a reviewer receives kickbacks in the form of “swag” or a free trip, it comprises that reviewer’s judgment. Thus, any pending review does a disservice to the consumer by way of false or influenced information. There was no disclosure until recently anyway, at least from UK sites, who admitted they indulged in a publisher’s influence.

The spotty future of review writing

It is now more important than ever for reviews to stay and remain uncorrupted. We’ve seen progress in the wake of “Doritosgate” with Eurogamer and VG247 offering honourable changes to their review processes. The disclosing of handouts, trips, publisher meddling, etc.

However, there must be sweeping reform across every major outlet if reviews should act as legitimate opinion. Mainstream outlets will write their own reviews, but they are writing for a mainstream audience; if industry sites are to proudly represent gaming going forward, reviews are due for an overhaul.

Sites have improved on disseminating the course taken in writing the review, like the amount of time spent playing. Many sites also include other writers’ opinions, especially on larger titles. The more clarification the better–and who doesn’t adore talking with like-minded people about games? It’s a win-win: sites produce more eye-catching content and readers receive more indication.

Things are changing for the better, I believe, as outlets achieve a publisher-free independence and readers are more aware. Though, it isn’t just reviewers who must change, it’s also the audience reading these reviews. To criticize fairly and respectably, because what people forget is a review is someone’s opinion.

But once an honest conversation starts it makes a world of difference.

Picture courtesy of TechnoBuffalo.

To the readers: Do you trust reviews? And do you believe there is a bright or messy future ahead for games reviewing?

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  • http://www.digitallydownloaded.net Matt

    I don’t know why people insist that reviews should be a guide for purchasing decisions.

    To me, the point of a review is to open up a discussion about a game. It’s like an opening keynote at a panel discussion or whatever. After that opener, the critic opens the comments section for further discussion about a game.

    And through that people are hopefully made to think about games from different perspectives and so on. The best way to improve an industry is for people to be having open discussions about it, and the best way for that to happen is through open discussions. Reviews can be at the forefront of that.

    Let’s face it – most people have decided whether they will buy a game or not before they read the first word of any review.

  • http://nintendonation.net stevotheoneandonly

    After the last couple of weeks in the gaming world (which you’ve summed up quite well, I might add) I’ve gotten rid of a review scale on Nintendo Nation. It’s now just Buy, Try or Avoid – no more hatred if something got 8 and not 9.5!

  • http://www.coffeewithgames.com/ CoffeeWithGames

    “To the readers: Do you trust reviews? And do you believe there is a bright or messy future ahead for games reviewing?”
    For the most part, no. Why? Because most fail the smell test. IGN’s Madden 13 review read like a polished PR statement.

    Reviews for The Conduit and many Wii FPS games would criticize things like the controls and graphics, but fail to mention the controls could be adjusted.

    When a reviewer posted incorrect information about a game in the review, sure, after I called out the incorrect information they corrected it…but it didn’t change their review score on it, even though the bad information was a point of contention in the review originally.

    I don’t think the future is bright for games reviewing, simply because there are very few, if any, established standards for reviewing games.

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