Friday, July 14, 2006

What game developers hate about reviewers

I got this link via Kotaku. It's a list of complaints that game developers have about reviewers, and I can't let it pass without responding.

Complaint 1: Developers hate game reviewers that only play their games for a few hours

This is a valid complaint. But what's the solution? Most of the time, it is impossible to play a game to completion and file a review on time. If I'm lucky, I get a game a week before I need to file my story. More often, I get two or three days. I make a good faith effort to cover every part of a game -- I play every multiplayer mode, explore every feature as much as I can, and delve as deeply into the primary mode as possible. Even so, I can count the number of games I've actually beaten before writing a review on one hand. This year alone, I think I made it through Black (six hours) and Half-Life 2: Episode 1 (five hours).

I don't think critics of other media have this problem. A movie is two hours long, which is why you see film critics cranking out several reviews a week. An album takes less than an hour to listen to from beginning to end, and music critics can listen in the car, at work, in the gym, and so forth. Book critics might be in the same boat -- they need to devote several hours to one piece of work, and they need a dedicated environment in which to do it. On the other hand, I'd imagine they receive galleys well in advance of publication date, whereas playing a game before it goes gold can only yield unfair assessments.

Maybe this phenomenon is even what explains the plague of inflated game scores. If you feel like you've missed something, you want to give the game the benefit of the doubt. Why is this a problem for developers?

I'd also point out that I can think of few games in which the experience changed noticeably after the first few hours. A good example was Castlevania: Curse of Darkness: I played that all the way through before reviewing it, and had the same impression ten hours in as I'd had at two hours. (The impression, by the way, was "Eh.") And when I went on to finish Resident Evil 4 after I'd written the review, it continued to knock my socks off every step of the way.

Complaint 2: Developers hate game reviewers because they don't understand games that are targeted for a specific audience

This is a valid complaint, but there's a flipside. Someone who makes a game for kids -- like a Spongebob Squarepants title, say -- probably doesn't want to be reviewed by the 30-year-old tattooed guy who used to play Quake professionally (no, that isn't me). But magazines and newspapers are aimed at a specific audience, too, and if a publication like the Phoenix runs a review of a kid's game, then it's either as a joke or because there was nothing else to review that week. No hard feelings.

Complaint 3: Developers hate game reviewers who review games in proxy for an entire genre.

I guess we are acknowledging the existence of bias here. Although I don't like the way this complaint is phrased, it's essentially correct. Lots of reviewers are naturally going to write more useful reviews in genres they're familiar with. Like, I write about sports games because there are so many of them and because EA enjoys sending out promo copies, but you know what? I don't like sports games. I would prefer never to play a sports game again as long as I live. There's nothing more I can say about Madden. Again, I imagine this is less of a problem at your IGNs and your Gamespots, where there are probably more specialists. As a guy who reviews what he's given, I don't know what I can do. I give everything a fair shake, but it's much easier for me to judge some games on their merits. How is this different from movie critics panning every blockbuster that comes down the pike because they're waiting for the next impenetrable Jim Jarmusch film?

Complaint 4: Developers hate game reviewers who have no idea what it takes to make a game.

This is the one really bogus comment on the list. I hate the mentality that anything ought to be above criticism, or that certain people's opinions are invalid. I remember reading an interview with columnist Bill Simmons once where he said that nobody had a right to bitch about his work unless they were sportswriters themselves. This from a guy who makes a living bashing athletes and sports executives from the comfort of his Los Angeles mansion. Everybody has a right to an opinion -- the only qualification they need is an ability to express it.

To address this more closely: a game is supposed to be fun, and if it's not then I don't care how hard anybody worked on it. You don't get points for trying. Do better next time.

I also appreciate the rich irony of first bitching that reviewers suck because we review games within the time constraints we have, and then bitching that reviewers suck because we're not sensitive to the time constraints that developers have. We all do the best we can with what we've got. Most of us just don't have that much.


R. J. O. Stewart said...

How would you get a commenter's account on Kotaku?

Mitch said...

Good question. I want one, but I don't have tips for them and I don't really know anybody who might have an invite.

Maybe somebody in the Paste writers' pool, actually.

R. J. O. Stewart said...

At the very least, you should send this blog entry along to them.

Johnson said...

I have a commenting account, actually. A few weeks ago they opened commenter registration up for a couple of hours. Until that happened, I was hoping you'd get noticed and invited and could then invite me.

That said, I'm at a loss as to how I can go about recommending someone else for a login. I do see that they opened it up again last week while I was gone. If neither of you managed to get one, let me know and I'll poke around.

Mitch said...

I thought being a commenter got you Gmail-style invites.

Johnson said...


Many of the people who we've invited to comment have also received invitations to share with friends. We'll continue to seed selected inboxes with invitations to pass on so the supply doesn't die out.

(the rest is here)

I'm betting you're not keen on self-aggrandizing, so I'll throw them some links from here and see if that gets you somewhere.

Mitch said...

I sure wouldn't mind. I rarely want to comment there, but every once in awhile I've got a laser-guided missile I want to drop in.