What do game reviews mean? Do you take them with a grain of salt? Do you read them at all? Do you make game purchasing decisions based on them?
Jenni: I always thought of game reviews as a sort of suggestion. I don’t often buy games based on reviews I’ve read, but if there’s a game I’m somewhat interested in, but not ready to go and spend money on, I’ll check out reviews. In a way, I’ve always thought of game reviews as window shopping.
I don’t visit major video game review sites often. I preferred reading reviews in actual magazines. (I was a fan of EGM, and enjoy picking up the occasional Nintendo Power.) More recently, I’ve found myself skimming the Gamefaqs user review scores when I’m curious about a game.
Spencer: The majority of game reviews analyze parts of a whole, look at a feature list, and see if it is up to par with what’s in stores now. I suppose it’s good for a product comparison, like if you were reviewing a car you want to know which one has a better engine, but a mess of numbers and letters don’t capture the experience. Writing about how a game makes you feel is abstract and even more subjective to interpretation. It takes longer to do, it’s longer for people to read, and doesn’t have the instant gratification of seeing “9 out of 10” at the bottom. People like to see high scores for games they purchase since it psychologically validates the idea they made a good purchase.
I tend to take a different approach writing “reviews” on Siliconera. I like to write them as a journal entries to capture the moment I’m playing a game whether frustrating or exciting and present as much of the experience as possible. The readers here are intelligent enough that I don’t need to stroke egos with scores. I feel like you can discern whether the experience is something you will enjoy or not. The problem with product comparison reviews is titles, especially the quirky ones that we cover on Siliconera, get lost in the shuffle. Smaller games have smaller budgets and can’t present the same production values as a game with a multimillion dollar advertising campaign. Does that mean everyone should just rush out and purchase the blockbuster of the week? Of course not! There is a sea of other games — other experiences out there and we want to cover what they offer.
Ishaan: No, I don’t usually pay much heed to reviews anymore. I read a couple previews from different sites and forum threads on GAF, watch a trailer or two and usually, that’s enough for me to figure out whether or not I want a game. Too many reviews focus too much on nitpicking and not enough on design for me to care about them. It’s hard to discern sometimes whether they are aimed at angering developers or helping readers make a decision. I use Siliconera to take a design-oriented approach to games. Does it play well? How could a particular game mechanic have been improved upon? To me, these are meant to spark discussion, not necessarily always help readers make decisions.
Personally, I don’t see the point of sites using a ten-point-scale. Really, what’s the difference between a 4 and a 5? Likewise, the “Try/Buy/Fry” system doesn’t work very well either because too many games end up in the “Try” section, which isn’t an option for those of us who can’t rent games. I’m not saying I have a solution (other than not assigning scores at all), but I do think we need to re-evaluate the review systems on some sites…especially those that don’t really care for the kind of games we like at SE but attempt to cover them anyway.
Louise: I like how Jenni put it — window shopping. That’s basically how I treat reviews too. I’ll read reviews from sites like Eurogamer to get a better idea of a game I’m interested in, or to see if there are any additional features like multiplayer or online. Sometimes, if I’m deciding between two games, I’ll read reviews about both of them to see if one of them has something I want more over the other.
When I’m done writing a playtest for Siliconera, I like to go and look for reviews written by other people about the same game to see what they thought of it. Sometimes, the reviews will point out things in a different way, which I find neat — especially when there are lots of differing opinions.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a review make me want to buy something I didn’t want to before reading the review, but that definitely happens when I read forum posts about games. General gaming forums give a wider range of opinions on games and since the posters are just regular gamers (most of them), I feel it gives a truer representation of the game.