How to Make Reviews Helpful
Feb 25, 2010
~4 minute read

When you read a review of a game on a site like IGN, GameSpot, Eurogamer, 1UP, and/or many of the other such sites out there on the web, what do you expect to find? Do you go in with the belief that the review should allow you to make up your mind on the game in question, or do you just read it for the entertainment of seeing what the reviewer has to say about the game? Perhaps you read the review to see if anything pops out as “interesting,” and care less about whatever particular conclusion the author arrives at by the end of the article. It seems like there’s a fairly wide variance in what people expect out of game reviews. Overall, however, I think that reviews could stand some improvement to make them more useful to everyone who reads them.

The biggest issue I have with reviews is that they tend to lean heavily towards the individual experience of the reviewer. “Now hold on just a minute,” I hear you say - “isn’t that what a review is supposed to be in the first place? After all, that’s why there are multiple reviewers.” Sure, to a certain extent - but why, then, do we have professional reviewers in the first place? Why not just cruise a few hundred blog posts about a game a formulate an opinion from that? It seems that professional reviews are supposed to be more credible than a random blog post, and in that sense, it seems like they should be a little more informative about the game as a whole, rather than just one particular person’s experience.

How exactly might this be accomplished? After all, it’s not really feasible for a game review site to allocate lots of people to play a game and then collectively write a review of it - the economics just don’t work out. Therefore, we’re going to have to assume that a review is going to be written by one or occasionally two person(s). How then can we create reviews that go beyond just individual opinion to something that can, at least partially, provide an objective view of a game?

My suggestion would be to encourage reviewers to engage with a game’s community as a concrete part of the review process. No, I’m not saying that a reviewer should ask the community to write their review for them. Instead, what I’m suggesting is something along the lines of going to the community and stating “look, here’s my thoughts so far… what do you think I’ve missed?”

I think it’s important for this to happen before a review is published, because what I’ve found is that quite often, the amount of time a reviewer has to spend on a game really isn’t enough to discover the kinds of mechanics that add depth to a lot of games. Many games “grow on you” over time, as you discover exactly why X works in such and such a way, or why tactic Y always seemed overpowered (until you finally realized that it could be avoided fairly simply via Z). All of these things are the kind of stuff that the community for a game knows by heart, because they’ve been playing the game for ages - but someone who only has ~20 hours to spend on a game might not discover before it’s time to meet a writing deadline.

There are many reviewers that already do a more informal version of this (and IMO, all reviewers should at least attempt to interact with the community beyond just their immediate teammates a little bit, even without mentioning that they’re reviewing the game). But I still think that making it a bit more explicit might both a) streamline the process, in terms of getting responses to reviewer issues that can be useful to rounding out a review, and b) ensuring that those issues do get rounded out before a review is published, instead of getting a sideways mention in the comments on the review that tend to get flooded with love/hate rants and arguments. Because let’s face it, the majority of people don’t factor in the responses to a review in their judgments - the comments play an even smaller role than an individual review itself. Thus, the wider a perspective can be fit into the main review, the better for the reader population as a whole.

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