4 reasons game reviews suck

by manylaughs on August 23, 2012

Guild Wars 2 is almost upon us and that means Guild Wars 2 reviews are almost upon us. In fact, in a way they’ve been coming out for years, pulling in accolades from gaming shows since 2010! You can almost see the throngs of gaming sisters and brethren dressed in their finest ceremonial robes and silly hats (Ever notice how many formal ceremonies involve silly hats?), ready to crown their next MMO king or queen.

You know where this is going don’t you? Whether deserved or undeserved, you don’t need to be the Oracle of Delphi to know this game’s review ratings will be between 8.5 and 9.5. A few might go even higher; will anyone dare to rate it lower?

This isn’t a problem with GW2; it’s a problem with all game reviews. In fact, many game reviews that seemed studied and thoughtful at the time you read them sorta lose their sparkle and shine when viewed with the clarity of hindsight goggles. Do you think Mass Effect 3 was really worth a 9 or 9.5 or the 10 some reviewers gave it? Once you played through Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, did you think it deserved the 8.5 to 9.5 review scores? Or the 5 out of 5 stars Gamespy gave it?!

No, you probably don’t.

It’s not that the reviewers suck. Most game reviewers, from the most rinky-dink blog (Like this one.) to the big dogs (e.g. pcgamer or gamespot.), usually write insightful, informative articles. In most reviews, there’s usually enough information to help you make an informed decision about the game. However, while the elements of a good review might be there, the review itself often goes astray, usually being too generous and often overlooking glaring faults.

So why do reviewers go astray? Why do most game reviews suck?

1. We’re all otaku

Otaku is the Japanese word for fan, but otaku are more than just ordinary fans. In usage, otaku are considered crazed, nutty fans. The type of fans who collect figurines, cosplay and send George Lucas nasty emails every time he tinkers with Star Wars. We’re one judgement call away from a restraining order.

Reviewers are almost always the otaku of video gaming. With few exceptions, we’re writing about video games because we love them. What? You think we get paid for this? Even if we do get paid, the amount of time we spend on an article, from playing the game to writing the review, is usually less than you’d make spending the time flipping burgers.

Most reviewers are writing reviews because they love it. When you love something a lot, you tend to overlook its faults. So sometimes we give a game an extra high score, so what? It’s just love.

2. The newness bump

Just like every other gamers, reviewers are always fascinated by the next shiny thing. We get excited about new games months and years before they release. (Remember Me is going to be awesome.) We’re maybe a little extra generous with everything that’s new. After all, it’s all shiny and bright. How can you not like that?

New graphics, new dungeons, new pets, new animations… It’s all shiny stuff that might blind us to the fact a game has some major flaws. Who cares if my story in Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t really affect my gameplay? After all, I’ve got this awesome lightsaber! How sick is that?!

Yep, we’re blinded by shiny, new things and sometimes that leads us to give a game a higher score than it might deserve.

3. Games are too long

Reviewing a movie is easy compared with video games. With a movie you put in your two hours or so and you’re done and ready to write your review. By contrast, have you played all of Skyrim? Is it even possible to play all of Skyrim??

As video games get more content and more aspects to their gameplay – e.g. multiplayer, crafting, puzzles, etc. – they’ve become harder to review. Try as they might, reviewers don’t experience every aspect of a video game. If we’re trying to get a review out in a reasonable amount of time, we can’t possibly play through every aspect of the game. Sometimes, these other features turn out to be the best parts of a video game. If the reviewer misses these, the game will probably end up with a lower score than it deserves.

MMOs are even worse. When Guild Wars 2 releases you’ll probably start seeing reviews in just a couple of days. But how much content could these reviewers have seen or played through?

The most important part of any MMO is the endgame. Getting there might be thrilling and exciting – e.g. SWTOR – but if the endgame sucks, gamers will leave. But getting to the endgame takes lots of time. The typical MMO is designed so most players can get to the endgame after about 100 hours of playing time. So pretty much any review you see in the first few days is going to be based solely on the lower-level content, which is usually the best part of an MMO.

Aion, for instance, was an MMO that got great reviews when it was released, but as anyone who played past level 20 knows, that game turned into a painful grind-fest at the higher levels.

If the endgame is the most important part of an MMO, how much can a review released in the first few days really tell you about whether you’ll stick with a game?

4. Advertising

Let’s face it, money ruins everything. If your site has advertising from Guild Wars 2, are you going to give them a bad review?

Maybe in your mind you’ll try to give readers a balanced, in-depth review of the game, but chances are the fact NCSoft and ArenaNet are paying you… Well, that might influence your opinion a little. That influence might be conscious or unconscious, but it’s there and it has to contribute to at least a little score boosting.

This is likely to be a factor at any site that gets a significant amount of its revenue directly from game advertisers. So go to the rinky-dink gaming sites for your reviews; we don’t get paid anything. Except for all the other reasons listed above, we’re totally unbiased. : )

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