Siliconera Speaks Up: Rules for Reviewers

By Louise Yang . June 21, 2009 . 7:30am


Should reviewers be allowed to review any game they want? Should they only stick to genres they like? Without being biased or fanboyish, how far should this go?


Jenni: I think that, ideally, a reviewer should have some say in whether or not they review a title. After all, a video game news outlet would ideally have enough staff members to allow for a wide variety of interests. I say this not because someone should be able to only play the games he or she enjoys. A reviewer who favors RPGs will have better knowledge of how RPGs work than ones who favor FPS or sports games, and would be able to provide a more intelligent and informed review that would be more helpful to readers.


However, I don’t think reviewers should only stick to genres they enjoy. A journalist isn’t much of a writer if he or she can’t compose an unbiased and intelligent article on any game presented. Plus, a fresh viewpoint from the eyes of someone who isn’t accustomed to a certain genre of game can often result in a review with less favoritism.


If there’s a game that must be covered, and no one has any particular love for the genre it belongs to, then an assignment is in order.


Louise: I echo Jenni’s thoughts on this. If there’s a genre of games that I really despise, it’s my responsibility to pass it on any game in the genre to someone else. For example, I’m not much of a sports sim fan. I’m bad at those games and I usually have no idea what the rules are. It wouldn’t be fair for me to review a sports simulation game because I literally would not know if it was a good game in the genre or not.


At the same time, I’ve played a lot of games I normally wouldn’t have played for review and even enjoyed a lot of them. It’s nice to come to a game with a fresh mind, without any pre-conceived ideas of what the game should be like. Sometimes, after I play a game and write the review, I look up reviews others have written about it and I’m glad I didn’t read any reviews beforehand. Things that normally wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t known about them would definitely have bothered me if they were in the back of my mind while playing the game.


Spencer: I don’t think I’m a “reviewer” since I don’t actively look for and point out flaws. Outside of gaming I’m the type of person that tries to see the bright side of everything — an eternal optimist you know? So I always try to communicate what a game is instead of what it’s not. This means I only end up writing about games I’m at the very least curious enough to play. I think long time SE readers know that my favorite style about writing games is straight gameplay impressions, sort of like a game diary.


This is difficult with RPGs (and Siliconera covers a lot of RPGs!) since I let details about the plot slip. But, I believe the more information the reader has the better and if early bits of the plot are discussed I think that’s OK. If I hear about a really unique setting or awesome characters I may be drawn to a game even if the gameplay isn’t revolutionary.


Ishaan: I’m with Jenni on this one. We’re very lucky at Siliconera in that we we’re allowed to choose the games we want to review, not only because you tend to be more passionate and enthusiastic while covering topics that you care about, but also because we prefer to take a more design-oriented approach to how we write our playtests. So, for example, you’ll see us talk more about a particularly interesting design choice instead of whether or not a game is worth your money. (Unless the game is terrible, of course)


That said, I also agree that any writer worth his salt needs to be able to step out of his comfort zone every now and then and be able to explore other topics, if only to gain some much-needed perspective. Take a game like Fallout 3 for example. I’m sure many an FPS and RPG fan could gain a new outlook on both genres after playing it. It’s important to make sure you check out what you usually tend to miss so you’re always in a good position to write intelligently about a wide range of genres and design philosophies.

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  • Wow, it seems a lot of people are starting to question reviewers lately. I’ve been seeing a big influx of this topic since I wrote this bad boy:

    I’m not going to say “first!” or something dumb, but a lot of people seem to be questioning the merit of these “reviewers” and to that I say, awesome! They need to stick to reviewing what they enjoy, give it enough playtime, and review it because they have something to say and not because they need to write it before some arbitrary deadline.

    Like it or not, some people buy/pass on games thanks to a review score, and it makes me sad that some reviewers will either not play a game much or play a genre they don’t care about and pretend they’re able to score it properly. Or maybe I’m just ranting, but I think the sense of honesty and love for gaming that is felt here on Siliconera is becoming more and more rare in other places, especially in the “bigger” review websites out there.

    • You know, hearing people say stuff like that makes you want to keep giving them better articles and features to read, too. For what it’s worth; as small as it is, I love our community.

      I’ve had some of the best debates with people here in our comments and oftentime, even been schooled on stuff I wasn’t well-versed in. I mean, where else could I write about random niche games and visual novels and actually have people appreciate my work? ;)

      • No kidding =) I really do respect all of you guys on staff here; I feel we’re cut from the same cloth. If you keep writin’ those articles, I’ll keep readin’ ’em and spamming my stream-of-consciousness comments on ’em.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      The whole “how to review” debate is nothing new. I can remember the flareup that happened when the original CGW felt forced to move from their full page and more reviews where everything was handled through commentary to some ‘quicker’ to understand score with bullets. That has to be going on 15+ years ago now. Was disappointed in the change then and still hate to see thecursory comments that pass for a full review elsewhere today.

      I do think reviewers with little knowledge is the crux of the battle. So many of the recent questioning goes back to Japanese games of various ilks that are different from their western counterparts.

      That Class of Heroes was a crawler of the Wizardry type should have been enough to tell a reviewer going in it was not going to be the most pick up and play friendly game out there. And don’t get me started on the negative comments made about the lack of ‘gameplay’ recent VNs released stateside when the gameplay IS read text, watch events and make a choice.

  • Tye The Czar

    Play magazine is easily the best example of how NOT to review games.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      Interesting comment, because I find it refreshing that they don’t mind showing their interests and biases on their sleeves. They write passionately about their hobby and things important to them, and somehow are able to pass on information about what works and what does not in a title — just not in some one or two word bullet or with a simple ‘score’.

      We know what a “Dave game” is going to get even before we read the article — the beautiful covers for Wet or Bayonetta are enough to tell us that. They may not review things outside their comfort zones, but given that it can be hard to find other sources (here excluded of course) with similar ones, Play and their writers have an important place in my understanding of the industry.

    • I have to admit, I look at Play more for the pretty pictures than the actual text.

  • CleruTesh

    I have always said there’s no such thing as unbiased journalism. Rather than finding the person who’s right for the review of any particular game, I always thought it was a better approach to get the review from multiple perspectives. The original four-man review crew from EGM was my favourite approach to this. Hey, there seems to be four of you guys! Hmmm…

    • Haha, you know, that thought did cross my mind a few times (I was thinking along the lines of Famitsu, though). But the other way to look at it is that there are ONLY four of us and we’re all in different places. Each of us getting a separate copy of the same game would be an expensive proposition and would take away from the time we’d spend on covering other titles.

      It is still very much something I’m interested in trying though. Perhaps for certain bigger games that we can all access? We’ll be sure to give it some thought! :)

      • So true, so true. It would be a good idea though, if it were a common game we all had. Or, perhaps even if 3 out of 4 of us owned.

        I agree that it is a great way to review and look at things though

        • I’m guessing a DS game would be easiest to start out with, since we all own the system.

          • Probably. Then, if it had Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection multiplayer, we could even all play that together to help with a review like that.

          • Yea, Spencer and I wanted to do that with Echoes of Time to test the Wii/DS connectivity, but that never happened. :(

          • I wanted to replay directly to your comment, but I think the thread got too log cause the reply option didn’t show up.

            I ended up getting Echoes of Time too! I found the DS version pretty cheap used. We should try it sometime. :D Whoever has the Wii version could host and we could see how it goes.

  • JP

    I see the analytical approach and the phenomenological approach.

    The analytical approach stems from the belief that the “perfect” game can be deconstructed into “atoms” of design. Examples of these atoms could be “gameplay”, “graphics”, etc. An analytical review will isolate these atoms and discuss/rate them individually. A common complaint is that analytical reviews are boring to read.

    A phenomenological approach will purely communicate the reviewer’s experience without much regards for objectivity per se. It implies the belief that atomic deconstruction does not give relevant information about how one might enjoy a game, that human reactions are much more telling or maybe just plain entertaining.

    I think there’s a place for both of these approaches but I don’t like it when reviewers don’t stick to an approach. My pet peeve is analytical reviews in spirit that give you an overall score which isn’t an average of the atoms. Most high-ticket review websites will give you those for some reason. You can only justify an arbitrary score through a phenomenological argumentation, why confuse your careful analysis with something so sticky? The phenomenological value is really negligible as it’s hidden within a silly score without a narrative behind it.

    To answer your questions: analytical reviewers should stick to genres they know best while phenomenological reviewers can give true informative value when reviewing something they don’t know much about.

    • You bring up a very interesting point…it reminded me of something I thought about while playing Mario Galaxy and GTA: Chinatown Wars. I liked both games enough on their own merits, but that feeling was amplified even further by how much they pushed the technical limits of the hardware they were running on, which is something I’m personally a huge fan of…pushing weaker hardware.

      That said, while we might use these analytical bullet points to hammer in JUST how good a game is, I don’t think we’d use them to slam a game, unless they affected the overall experience in a major way. There’s a fine line between being analytical and nitpicking, you know? I think sometimes reviewers tend to blur the line between the two.

      Edit: That is to say, I think our approach is more one that tends to focus on the “experience” part of games. Is it enjoyable? Is there something unique about the game?

    • While I try to write playtests as a mix of both approaches, as a whole I think I look at games in a phenomenological way. I bring to most of my playtests whatever exeperience and biases I have with that genre, and I write with the assumption that I don’t have to go *too* much into detail about things like gameplay mechanics or history.

      Siliconera is a small site, which is great in my mind b/c people can go to the bigger sites to get bullet-points and generalizations about the game, but they can come to Siliconera for a more personal opinion about it.

  • daizyujin

    Of course reviewers need to be professional and step out of their comfort zone so to speak but perhaps it is better if reviewers on sites have bios that gave a little background on what types of games they find the most engaging. If I know a gamer is a huge fan of Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog, then it is much easier to take anything they say with a grain of salt in regards to a game like Madden 10 or Doom 3. Just some context to put their reviews into.

    Also keeping readers abreast of possible conflicts of interest in regards to reviews or trying to avoid these might also help out. There have been too many situations involving such things, especially in the past two years. At least too many that have came to light. It makes a person wonder just what all else we don’t know. Having reviewers base their reviews on advertising revenue or having reviewers do the reviews of products where a significant other stands to profit from a biased review are in my opinion far more damaging to a media outlet than anything a person actually thinks about a game.

    We all know that not everybody likes the same types of games. That is an easy thing to take into consideration and respect. What isn’t easy to respect at all is when reviews are tainted by a source outside the product and the reviewers honest opinion of the product. To me at least, this is far more important. Integrity in journalism is a requirement, not something that can you can pick and choose when to enforce.

    • I think that’s an interesting concept…and something that would probably work out in everyone’s favour. Having us open up to you guys more and learning as much about each other’s gaming preferences as much as we can, not only so you’re familiar with the games we like, but also so that we can have meaningful conversations in the comments.

      I know you’ve pointed out several times that I tend to cover Nintendo stuff and that’s true. The reason for that being I don’t own a 360 or a PS3 or a PSP. I own a PS2, DS and Wii and until I own one of the other three systems, I don’t feel like I should try to comment too much on them. :)

      • daizyujin

        You know right here you may have just also shown how big a benefit my idea could be. I always labeled you a Nintendo Fanboy. That was mostly based off the point that you never seemed to ever have anything positive to say about non-Nintendo products or ever posted articles on non-Nintendo based products. It was like you exisisted in a little world where only Nintendo exsisted.

        Reading what you wrote, I now understand. I guess with this being a game site, I was under the impression that you guys worked together physically, with access to each others games, getting free games and systems shipped to you like larger media outlets such as IGN or Gamestop. I now see that isn’t the case. Part of this may be from the fact I myself own all six machines currently out, and don’t even write for a site. Afterall, rich I am not, I barely scrape by. So from my perspective, if you wrote for a site, you have to be a more dedicated gamer than I and thus have access to AT LEAST what I have. A mistake on my part I admit. Sorry if I ever came across as cross to you. I honestly just never considered you didn’t have access to a 360 or PS3 on a regular basis.

        That being said, you are missing out. ;)

        On the other part of my post, please don’t think that I was referring to you or anybody else on this site when I was talking about conflicts of interest or whatnot. I actually am referring to the whole Kain and Lynch fiasco and the whole mess with Matt Casamassina, something even my Nintendo fanboy friend admits, doesn’t look right. Maybe he isn’t doing anything wrong, but perception is a lot when you are a journalist. One needs to stay as far away from conflicts of interest as possible.

        • We do receive review copies of certain games. It depends on our relations with the publishers. But yea, not all of us own every system and we don’t receive copies of every single game we cover. It’s cool, though. I’m glad you questioned my methods because someone always needs to question the media or enthusiast press or whatever you want to call us. Wanting answers is a good thing.

          I really want a PS3 or a PSP but I’m very much torn. I can either spend the money on a new console, or on 5-7 of the several games I want this year. ><

          • daizyujin

            I guess I am lucky there. I buy the system and some games, my buddies do the same. We just swap games around. It works out well. Plus I rent a lot. I tend to rip through titles pretty fast anymore. The game has to have some real replay value for me to purchase it. I think it is because of what happened to me last generation when I bought 65 games for the Gamecube alone with over 30 on the Xbox and 25 on PS2. It got to the point where I stared at this wall of games and realized I slapped down $20-$50 on each and will never touch them again. When I sold them, I got almost nothing back on them.

            The Wii only has three titles I plan on picking up at this point this year; Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, The Conduit, and Wii Sports Resort but I am very excited about all three. Should be able to try out Wii Sports Resort next week when my buddy brings over his Japanese version.

            The PS3 is really shooting ahead though, I couldn’t believe how fantastic their exclusive games were they showed off this year, or just how many they had. I would wait at this point though, a price drop is pretty much a given at this point.

            Of course you can shave $80 off the price of a PSP, just get a PSP-3000. Its the best of both worlds. From what I can tell, there is zero added functionality in the PSP-N1000 aka PSP Go. The only downside is it is a little bigger but hey, just wear cargo pants with large pockets. :)

            As for the 360, I love the system, my favorite of this gen for just about everything from game selection to online network setup with all the community features. I just can’t however recommend one and feel right about it since my second one is already dieing. It however is not dieing in a way covered by the warranty, seriously what good is a warranty that doesn’t cover a system on anything but RROD? But that is another story, this is the first generation I have ever had one system, let alone two die on me during the system’s lifespan.

            Sorry……..I rambled on.

            My point, get a PS3 and just eat ramen. You will loose weight and get a fine machine to boog. :)

          • CleruTesh

            You know, I have been considering getting rid of both my PS3 and my PSP. They have so few games that I am truly excited about (vs. DS and Wii) and I tend towards minimalism and despise redundancies. I could donate them for the sake of my favourite website if you were willing to reimburse me for shipping charges. Reply if you’re interested and I’ll email Siliconera to get your info.

          • Don’t be silly. It’s great of you to to offer to donate them, but you just know there’s going to come a day when you regret having given them away. Hang on to both, even if it’s for that sole good game that grabs your attention in the future. :)

          • CleruTesh

            I cannot seem to directly reply to your reply, as the branch is over-extended. Anyways, you may be right, I did give away my first Wii to my sister, and ended up buying another a year later. I AM excited about Atelier Rorona. But that’s pretty much it. I just feel that capitalist excess is a huge problem, and hate feeling like I am a part of it. Also, the PS3 burns about 10x the electricity of the Wii, and I hate that too. Side note: Wii actually burns MORE electricity than PS3 or Xbox360 when turned “off” if Wiiconnect24 is set to be always on. So I highly recommend turning that off if you care about that sorta thing. Sorry if I implied that you were a type of charity, in retrospect that was an inappropriately large thing to offer casually.

          • I just wanted to say thanks for the kind and generous offer. The the thought alone makes me smile, but I would rather you donate items like that to a charity than to us. :)

  • Yeah, I started to notice some reviews is more like comparisons or just try to make excuses why the game got bad score, emphasizing very little on the actual game it self. Also score categories are kinda flawed, story is not as important as it is in a fighting game than an RPG.

    • True, the scoring is a bit flawed and should probably be adjusted for different genres… Like gameplay and controls are crucial in FPS whereas they’re more of a nuisance when they’re not working in RPGs. Still, I like a good story in my fighting games.

      Maybe they should come up with a weighted system, based off some major genres…

  • Chris

    The only thing that really pisses me off when I read game reviews is when who don’t like hard games rate games down for being too hard. I grew up with the super-cruel NES and SNES action games, so it appeals to me when a game requires twitch reactions and is punishing to mistakes.

    So people who started playing games more in the PSX/PS2 era expect games to make everything easy for you and let you save every five seconds, and when a game actually challenges them they complain about it. They confuse “I don’t like difficulty” with “Hard games are bad”.

    • Aoshi00

      It depends, if the game is tough and a save point only comes in every hour or two, eg. Star Ocean 4, then it would be frustrating to lose your progress due to lack of save points or a system freeze (360 RPGs), and that is a legitimate minus driving down a review score.

      I understand a game has to be challenging to be fun, I grew up in the NES days too, but it’s 2009 now and we don’t need to copy a string of passwords to save, and I’m not in school anymore where I could forget myself in games. If a wide range of difficulties is included, then more people could enjoy a game instead of a select few, say, bullet hell shooter that require godlike reflexes. Raiden Ace Fighters has many to choose from and I was able to enjoy it too.

  • A reviewer should at the very least be familiar with what he or she tests and writes about, and preferably like it. Not only will this lead to more insightful reviews, such as finding something in the design that those unfamiliar with the genre would probably miss gameplaywise, but they will be more adept at looking for patterns in plot or character development that fans look for in a series or that are turning cliche.

    On another note, going with a new genre is something every writer should do once in a while, just to get out of the comfort zone. Also, a review on an area with which the reviewer’s more or less unfamiliar with will coincide more with what new players will feel. For example, are the controls associated with one game something that players of that genre are just used to, or is it something someone new to the genre can pick up easily?

    In other words, reviewers themselves will be more comfortable with something they’re familiar with and like, but it’s always advisable to try something new, both for the sake of the reviewer and the audience reading the reviews.

    • Mmm, plot clich├ęs are an interesting point, too. But that also has the potential to go the other way…like with me and how I tend to get bored of so many RPGs quickly because I’ve seen the same plot framework used in dozens of other games. And then you tell me my expectations are too high. ><

      • But they ARE XD

        You can’t expect every game to be like Persona 3 in terms of realistic charas and gameplay, and comparing every game to them is kinda unfair, especially if genres (story genre, not game genre) are different.

        Well, then again, I’m the one with the amazingly high tolerance for cliches, so much so that I don’t NOTICE they’re cliches until someone shoves them in my face and says “LOOK it’s a cliche!” >_>

        • But, what’s wrong with comparing other RPGs to the best in the genre? Can you honestly look at your gigantic list of RPGs and honestly say you like any of the recent ones more than Persona 3 or 4?

          I doubt even Suikoden Tierkreis would receive that high of a level of praise from you if we took into account the overall experience the PS2 Personas offer.

          Edit: I also want to emphasize the “overall experience” part of it because we both know that different games have their own individual merits.

          • Now you’re just picking on me. I never said that Tierkreis is the best RPG ever nor even the best Suikoden game, just that it’s a lot more than most people who go “omgz it’s not part of the main Suikoden line” say it is. (*cough* Ishaan *cough*)

            And yes, I can, but that’s because I’m a fan of the series (Suikoden, Xenosaga, and Tales of, mostly… I’m not even sure Final Fantasy counts as a series in my head, since they’re all so different… At least Tales of has some sort of pattern in places).

            But really, comparing things with the best, always, is like… OK, people should always strive for the best, that is true, but always achieving the best is nigh impossible, because that means being better than your previous one, and if the next one was also better than that one… Well, either way, I can’t see it continuing on for very long. Persona 3 and Persona 4 were really good in this aspect. At least, instead of degrading, Persona 4 held to the same standards and improved a few of the points that were really grating in P3.

          • Hoho, trapped my friend! I said “recent.” You haven’t played Vesperia so you can’t say you played a recent Tales game. :D

            Also, about Suikoden…you know I rely on you to introduce me to Suikoden. I just disliked Tierkreis because the main character made my brain bleed. I’m still gonna play 2 and 5 someday like you keep asking me to.

            And about Persona 3/4…P3 was most certainly not “the best” RPG until it launched. I don’t remember people hyping it the way they would hype a Final Fantasy. Megami Tensei has always been the niche of the niche. P3 could have sucked…but it didn’t.

            What I appreciate about those games is that instead of filling up a PS2 disc with a thousand FMVs, they decided to fill it up with story elements and voicework that actually improve the overall experience. That is to say, they topped the work of bigger and “better” (note the quotes) publishers than Square Enix and Namco. That takes talent.

  • Trotmeister

    Game reviewers are the scum of the earth. They can all go die for all I care. >=[]

  • In response to Ishaan’s comment:

    Ah yes, “recent.” I only recently PLAYED Tales of, and I have dabbled in Vesperia, so you can’t completely count that off =P

    Hey, I LIKED the protag of Suikoden. Although I’m thinking part of the reason is because I wasn’t treated to Sieg version Motormouth.

    P3? You mean Persona? Well, it certainly is a revolutionary game, but still, the point is that expecting another game that revolutionary isn’t going to be something you see every year. On another note, people are spoiled off graphics nowadays. Of course they’d like the hellish amount of FMVs in some *cough*FF*cough* games XD

    It’s kind of funny, because if you place such importance in graphics, you can’t really play some of the old goodies because they’re so … NOT good in graphics… Shadow Hearts makes ME cringe sometimes, graphics-wise, but it’s an amazing game. Still, I think Suikoden 2 graphics are the best. Ever. XDDD

    • Shadow Hearts was the one published by Midway, yea? I actually have that but haven’t gotten down to playing it yet. So that means I have…Shadow Hearts, Fragile and Overlord: Dark Legend to check out this year. Oh, and Devil Survivor.

      And that’s exactly my point! So many RPGs are all about the shiny FMV cutscenes. Studios spend months working on those when, instead, they could spend less resources adding the kind of features Atlus did to Persona. It’s a question of figuring out what enhances the overall experience in a role-playing game and I think Atlus have mastered that.

      • Yes, but now the argument is turning into a “what makes good RPGs.” I agree with you that cinematics aren’t what define a good game, but they do enhance it, so it’s highly possible to have a game that excels in that department as well as others.

        Still doesn’t say anything about the staleness of RPGs for you =P I’m still standing by my opinion that you need to play some other stuff. Maybe take a break from RPGs?

        Yeah, SH is published by Midway, although I think later by Azure? I’m not very clear on these things… It’s an excellent game =P It’s also one of the only games where I’m a fan of the romance… because I’m an unromantic clod.

        • Need I remind you who wrote the happy romantic walk scene between Tooru and Aiko?

          • A one-time deal, you bastard.

            Ask bona, he knows I generally stay away from romance in fics.

  • As many here have mentioned, a reviewer can review just straight out impressions or construct their review specifically for an audience (usually for fans of that genre). Both have their merits. I’m glad for the technical reviewers for being there when I need them as well as the fan reviewers for knowing where we’re coming from and being on the same page. I think it’s important for reviewers to not lay the burden on the readers.

    It’s interesting this topic came up when a founder of a game company came out and called out on game reviewers for not adjusting to certain games:

  • Hello Hello

    I thought it was interesting when Jenni used the word “journalism”. The fact is that the vast majority of video game reviewers do not have any kind of formal training in journalism. They didn’t take classes that taught them objectivity or journalistic integrity so their reviews often end up being based on their own personal feelings and that’s it. A lot of the time it seems like reviewers are fishing for excuses to praise or trash a game that doesn’t deserve the kind of treatment they’re giving it.

    The biggest problem however is political reviews. Like where a reviewer will give a high score to a game that’s published by one or their sponsors or because the game is from a high profiled series, causing them to give a high score to avoid a backlash from the angry mob of torch-wielding fanboys. Likewise a lot of great and good games seem to receive bad scores just because they’re low profiled. I assume this is to balance out the over inflated scores they gave high profiled games so they can avoid being accused of giving too many high scores.

    At this point I don’t take reviews from sponsored websites seriously at all.

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