Tuesday, October 31, 2006

So You Want To Be A Games Journalist (Part 2)

As a companion piece to the stories I linked to yesterday about how to become a games journalist, I wanted to write about what someone could do for us (gamers) once they become a games journalist, particularly in the area of reviews. As a gamer, and as a consumer, I wish that professional reviewers gave us more of the information we need to help us decide whether to buy a game, because right now, we're missing some important pieces.

Let's talk about those pieces now.
1) How long did you play the game?
Almost no one who writes reviews will volunteer how many hours they actually spent playing a game.

Does that matter?

Hell, yes, it matters. It's one of the single most important pieces of information a reviewer can give a reader. Games can easily have 50+ hours of content, and particularly with sports games, there's no real way to "finish" the game. Identifying how long you played before writing a review, and (when applicable, and particularly with sports games) breaking down how many hours you spent in each mode, is invaluable information.

2) What level of difficulty did you use?
Again, this is invaluable information. Some games are totally different when played at different difficulty levels, and again, sports games are a prime example. A recent sports game review I saw had major complaints about the game's A.I., but it was never mentioned that the reviewer was playing on default difficulty.

That matters. On the highest difficulty, the game in question had some of the best A.I. ever seen in a sports game.

There's nothing wrong with playing on default difficulty for a review, but it needs to be identified, and if the reviewer feels the A.I. is weak, he should then play at the higher levels of difficulty.

This matters with other types of games, too. RTS games may be walks in the park at the default level and hellishly difficult on hard. For all intents and purposes, they're different games. For us to know if we want to play the game, we have to know which game you were playing.

3) Did you use any cheat codes?
If you use them, though, we need to know, because if we don't use them, we're not playing the same game that you did.

That's important, because you might have blasted through the shitty first three hours, and then the game really got interesting. 80% of us, though, will never make it to the end of that first three hours, because we didn't get to fly through it.

4) Don't do a preview and call it a review.
Ironically, another sports game review I saw recently was positively glowing. This was odd, because the game was shit in its Platonic form. Yet as I read the review, I realized that what I was reading was 90% of a rehashed preview. There was almost no mention of how the reviewer actually played the game.

Look, anyone who wants to read a review of particular game is 90% certain to have already read a ton of previews. Just link to your site's preview in your review, and mention a few things about the preview that had you excited and show how they did or didn't have the same effect in the final game.

5) Stop passing out 10's like trophies in a school talent contest.
Please. I've seen Fight Night 3 (360) get a 10 this year. NHL2K7 (360) and NBA2K7 (360) got them as well. Bully (PS2) just got a ten.

Damn it, stop this. Guitar Hero was a 10--actually, it's an 11. Nothing else has been close in the last year. Don't give good games with significant flaws a 10--it renders the entire idea of a ratings scale meaningless.

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