Game reviews - love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’re here to stay. Nick F. takes a look at the wonderful world of magazine scores.
lose your eyes, and picture a land where bribery and corruption dictate the order of the day. A land where opportunity lies with those close to power. A land where the masses sit brainwashed by banal corporate propaganda, where brave souls daring to defy the status quo are met with cruel derision and callous punishment. No, it’s not a nightmarish Third World dictatorship ruled by some machiavellian despot. Rather, it’s a cynical take on the world of video game journalism.
Are certain games reviewers/magazines biased? It’s an important question - or is it? Personally, I’m far more concerned with the games reviewing phenomenon as a whole. Are percentages, or marks out of ten, really the best way forward? For this article, I’ve talked to a number of industry insiders about the current state of the reviews business, and asked them what games journalists are doing right - and what they’re doing wrong.
We might ask if we need game reviews at all? George Bain, a software engineer with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s technology group, reckons there are good and bad sides to the whole enterprise: "Let’s face it: there are more shit games then good games. We need to have game reviews, but whether we need to give them a score is debatable. If you have 6 guys writing a game magazine, they are in no way speaking for the millions of other gamers. No magazine should dictate to the rest of the gaming world what software we should or shouldn't purchase." Yet, month after month, that is exactly what these magazines do – recommend certain titles over others. Look at the back of any game’s box, and you’ll find a quote from some magazine praising it as "the best <insert a genre> ever!!!"
One source I contacted (who wishes to remain anonymous) works for a well-known US software house. I suspect his feelings are shared by the large number of developers who feel that the commercial reviewing business is one of the murkier sides of the industry. "My stance is pretty grim, though I have no data to back it up. I think it's a complete scam. Totally phoney, influenced by money and politics. Do I have any proof? Nope. But I have just seen too many "this game is awesome" claims when I know it sucked." Certain magazines do seem to open themselves up to criticism – the UK’s own ‘Official Nintendo Magazine’ is notorious for giving dire games reasonable marks, although it’s not quite as creepy as the smiling corporate mask that is ‘Nintendo Power’.
Despite the apparent widespread cynicism about the honesty of game review policy in industry circles, some developers think the problem lies not with dodgy dealings, but with the reviewers themselves. Rich "Beaker’s Bent" Wyckoff suggests "Some people worry about editorial bias or reviewers being bought off by games companies. I personally don't believe in this phenomenon. I think that the problem lies purely with the reviewers themselves. Apparently, though you'd think that having to play through dozens of games a month would make them bitter and cynical, games reviewers are for the most part still wide-eyed and terribly excited to be a part of ‘the big exciting games industry’, and therefore think any game they play is ‘really cool’…"
My own feeling is that there is far too much emphasis placed on a game’s score in many of the print magazines available. One main theory is that the (sub)standard of writing in these publications means that the reader isn’t always left with a strong or accurate impression of the game from the review text alone. Not only that, but scores are a quick and easy way of putting elements of a game into context with everything else that’s out there. Give a game 9 or 10 for graphics, and you know it’s going to be beautiful to look at – just the thing to show off to your mates. Give it an 8 or 7 and we’re talking a run-of-the-mill, seen-it-before, nice-lens-flare kinda deal. Less than seven, and your average reader’s already turned the page. Are scores really so important? And what’s wrong with good old-fashioned word-of-mouth? As my anonymous source says, "I have very little faith in the people behind the ratings. If it's a good game, someone I know will be playing it."
Aaron Loeb, Editor-in-Chief of Next Generation Online, feels that there is certainly great demand from the public for a graded system of reviews: "readers like it, plain and simple. I get more letters asking me to put them in than I get praising their omission. It's a very easy barometer for what the reviewer thought. And, frankly, the dirty little secret is that most reviews are boring to read. You skim them and at the end of it you just want a thumbs up or a thumbs down." But if readers really do want a simple "thumbs up" before they make their next software purchase, why do reviews have to complicate things with marks out of 10, or even 100?
Credits: Pad Happy logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1999 Nick Ferguson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it, or you'll get some real force feedback.