We’ve mentioned it before on these pages, but Chris sums up the problem quite nicely on his excellent Survival Horror Quest blog: reviews of games often focus on technical features and rarily on content. And he illustrates his point with some amusing faux-reviews of works in other media.
Part of the problem with game reviews, I think, is that game journalists often try to offer objective analysis of the games that they review. It’s easier to be objective about something if you just stick to the obvious facts, which is maybe why games get treated like products rather than works of art.
I don’t think journalists are entirely to blame for this situation, though. Developers and publishers often think in terms of features and numbers of levels and hours of gameplay as well. Mostly, I think, because it is what their marketing departments know how to deal with. And I have seen several reviews of our own games that exclusively discuss content. So perhaps, it’s also a matter of developers taking the content they create a bit more seriously. A simple trick would be to remove all “features” so that there is nothing to talk about but content.
But then there’s of course the gaming audience. I’ve seen many remarks on forums and in blog comments from people who did not find the extra feature in the full version of The Graveyard (the added possibility that the protagonist can die) worth the money (5 USD). Someone even made a list of features that would be required for him to spend that money. The fact that the element of death drastically changes the emotional experience did not seem to be valuable to most players.
Players too seem to think of games as products. So journalists are just giving them the information they apparently need. The question remains: why? Why are games being judged as products, while books, films and music are not?