Reviewing games as products

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?

3 thoughts on “Reviewing games as products”

  1. Well, i guess it is the maturity that is in cause. People who play game just “wanna have fun”, most of the time. And i guess they just wanna now how long and what is the intencity of the fun, not much more…

  2. Maybe it’s because games, unlike the other things Chris makes analogies to, have the format built in. When you go to see a movie, you already know what the basic experience is. You walk into a theater, you sit down, the image is projected in front of you, the audio comes from the sides, you sit still for two hours and watch. When you pick up a book, you know you’ll be reading one word after another, one line after another, flipping pages when you get to the end. With a game, you have no idea what to expect. You don’t know what the experience of the controls and the basic gameplay is going to be like. Are you going to be controlling one person, or many? Are you going to be picking from options, or making it up as you go along? You don’t even know how the game’s going to welcome you in, and first impressions are important. How can you be expected to buy something, when you have no idea what’s waiting for you? So the reviewer of a game has two jobs. One is to tell you whether the game is any fun. The second is to reassure you that it comes in a familiar package, and the new features added don’t completely destroy the basic experience you’re hoping for, and you’re going to be jarringly pulled out of the experience.

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