Shawn Elliott’s Review Symposium Part 1

December 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

On Thursday Shawn Elliott posted the first part of his review symposium, a series of articles of epic proportions discussing the role of reviews in gaming journalism and criticism as well as their relationship with readers as well as developers and publishers. It’s an incredibly interesting article and worth reading, with further parts to follow, but at almost thirty five hundred words it’s not going to be something you can skim through in five minutes.

To aid those of you who may not have the time to read it in its entirety I present to you a brief summary of what was said in the first part of the series. This may also provide a good opportunity for me to weigh in with my own ideas on the subject, seeing as how Shawn Elliott seems to have missed me off his list of contributors somehow.

Nearly all participants started by voicing concerns that review scores were damaging the industry. They said that it created a culture in which the number given at the end of a review devalued the actual content of the text, causing people to lose sight of what may have been the reviewers problems with the game and instead choosing to focus their anger on the scores themselves. The very nature of scoring an opinion was seen as absurd by some writers, an objective numeric value placed on what is essentially someone’s subjective opinion surely couldn’t fulfill its intended purpose.

But what of the reviews themselves? Questions were raised about preconceptions going into a game, after all if a game has had hundreds of people working on it should its flaws be considered much greater than those of a game made on a shoe-string budget by a team of less than fifty? Ultimately it was agreed that judgement should be taken as much with the readers perspective in mind as is possible, with a game’s price point playing a major role. After all what does a gamer care how many people worked on a project if it doesn’t affect the price they pay?

Soon the question on the tips of everyones‘ tongues emerged blinking into the light of day. “What’s the problem with reviews?” was asked, to which their was much response. Every editor seemed to posses some anecdote of how positive or negative reviews had had a serious impact. Most problems seemed to stem from negative reviews, which aside from generating harmless fanboy hatred from forums, could also carry a much more sinister evil. Stories were told about how relationships with developers had been seriously harmed by negative reviews, leading to a lack of co-operation with exclusives in the future. Conversely some had also had experiences where positive review scores would have had massive benefits for their publication, through increased advertising or the rights to an early review.

As for the actual purpose of reviews opinions were divided. Some believed them to be purchasing guides, designed solely to allow prospective buyers to evaluate whether the product would be worth their money. Shawn Elliott however, weighed in to this debate with the observation that nowadays gamers have more options than ever before to establish their views on a game before its, and accompanying reviews, releases in the form of online videos, demos, and even previews. John Davidson likewise agreed, saying that often people will look at reviews simply to justify their own opinion of a game.

I’m of the opinion that there are many more different types of gamer than people want to admit. Some, like myself, have the time and interest to read a review in its entirety and from that then work out whether it’s worth the money or not. Others however may not have the time, and need a scoring system to base their opinion on, something they can look at briefly to get a general idea of a game’s worth. Additionally those with less ingrained knowledge of video gaming culture simply may not understand the terminology used in the body of a review and so for them reading the full review is simply not an option. That’s not to say that an individual can belong exclusively to one group. For example, as someone who doesn’t keep up with PSP game news I occasionally need a rough guide as to what the best games released recently have been, and to that end scores become very useful. Within seconds I can have Metacritic open and be browsing the top rated games on the system, without having to trawl through dozens of pages of text to find out what games I should be caring about. Review scores can provide a dynamic list of the best games around, and for this reason they can’t be completely abandoned. Review scores and reviews are not one and the same, both provide options for prospective buyers but simply in different situations.

Hopefully part two will be published soon, but until then here’s to hoping this intelligent discussion about gaming continues in other corners of the Internet.

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You are currently reading Shawn Elliott’s Review Symposium Part 1 at The Clockwork Manual.

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