BOSTON - On Friday I was able to attend a discussion from game industry publication editors and writers on their approach to reviewing games at PAX East 2012. It was broken into a few segments to analyze. The writers who carrie the discussion were Dennis Scimeca of G4, The Escapist, and Gamasutra; Chris Dahlen of Kill Screen and Susan Arendt, Managing Editor at The Escapist among a few others.
First, are game reviews product reviews or critiques? Itís a fundamental question and is the basis for which a publication must ask itself. Should we be writing these games based on the value it provides at $60, or critique its flaws, or both?
From my experience, I have leaned towards the critique-oriented review. This allows me to break down what I like, what I donít like, and explain why I feel this way about elements to a game. If I applied a product review approach, the review in my estimation would become vague and gloss over subtle details that keep gamers coming back to the game, or inevitably leave it to collect dust. Criticism serves as a vital role in the game industry.
Once I begin critiquing a game, another issue can arise. Where do you remain objective, and when do you inject your opinion? To me, reviews can never be objective for these are our own opinions; our own interpretations of the game at what it means. I play and then I illustrate why this game play feels authentic or natural, and why the game is fun. My reviews are drawn on my own past experiences with games in the genre and games outside the genre that Iíve had great experiences with. A sports gamer like me may have played an incredible title in Heavy Rain, and I draw on all these game experiences subconsciously when drafting my review up.
And it doesnít end at my own experiences just in gaming. I draw on life experiences Iíve had working in the sports industry, and being close to watch some of the best athletes to ever play their sports from ten yards away. I use all of it: movies, art, entertainment and apply it to the reviews. A lot of the big sports fans in the OS community harp on adding emotions to the game. To me, that would be one of the ultimate features of realism. My love for sports is built on the excitement and emotion in the sports that I once played. Recapturing that hyped emotion is rare in sports gaming, but it can be found. Itís embedded in the competitiveness in me, and seeking out that next win. And thatís why I play the games.
So where should I be objective? I think the most important element in game journalism is leaving out all outside information, and reviewing the game for that game at that specific moment in time. This is our approach at Operation Sports. There is a new iteration of a title every season and so we remain objective by avoiding rating a game with comparisons with its predecessors. I think if we leave the comparisons for the critique segments of the review, it will serve the overall direction of the reviews for the better.
Setting the Stage
At Operation Sports, we all review the games differently. Itís important to set the stage for our readers as to why they should read one of our authors. What makes this writerís opinion more valued than an Espn.com game review, or an IGN.com reviewer? What are the expectations heading into this review for the reader? The panel discussed making the siteís overall direction fall in line with the audience. This means the reviews should hit on key baseline points that all our readers expect out of a title. I think we do a good job at OS of providing details and presenting critiques without getting a super technical and jargon filled review.
Which leads us to our next question: Do sports game reviews limit a writerís creativity? I think in some ways I have fallen into this trap, reviewing a game, sticking strictly to the basic principles of Gameplay, Graphics, Presentation, Modes, and Online. Is there room to go off and review the art direction, or a great experience in a franchise where I rebuilt a team from the ground up? I think that we are somewhat limited in sports game reviews, which is why I decided to review Fight Night Champion as if I were in the film producerís chair. (That game is incredible by the way). I think one of my best reviews was EA MMA where I trained in MMA and created a diary, and applied my experiences to the game. So I do think there is room to grow from a artistic standpoint, but I am also guilty of writing that standard baseline review hitting on your typical points.