The Purpose Of A Game Review and How To Write One With Minimal Subjectivity
In the continuing consumer revolt that is #gamergate, more than once has the subject of game reviews come up. Qualms are usually focused around how they are frequently slanted, skewed, heavily biased, or just not informative. So I’ve decided to sit down and tell you how to go about crafting a quality review.
Why do we write reviews? Any review boiled down into its basic form is written in order to help the reader (YOUR customer) make an informed decision about what they MIGHT purchase, or otherwise utilize. The fact of the matter is this; game journalism and game reviews are a customer oriented business. Your readers are your customers, except rather than paying you upfront with cash (unless you’re still subscribing to a magazine), they’re paying you with clicks of your articles. Nevertheless, your ultimate job is to serve your customer and serve them well. Assume that every customer has a limited entertainment budget; your job is to make sure that they are getting the best value for their dollar.
Over the past week I’ve seen more than a few people make the mostly false claim that a review can’t be objective in its nature. Not only do I disagree with that, I tend to make it a point in the reviews that I write to avoid unnecessarily interjecting my opinion into it as much as reasonably possible.
A good written review is more or less an informative essay that is flavored with your unique personality with a sprinkling of your personal interpretation. To build the structure of a good review, I go back to the 4E’s: Educate, Explain, Elaborate, Emphasize. Let’s go ahead and take a look at each of those in detail.
Explain to the customer WHAT they are buying. Follow the What, Who, When, Where (the 4 W’s) method. WHAT game are you reviewing? WHO developed and published it? WHEN did it, or does it, release? WHERE (which platforms) did it, or will it, release?
After you’ve covered the basic facts sheet, in this section of the review is where you talk about exactly what the game is. What do you do in the game? What is the purpose of it? Are there additional under explained or not explained features (not shown on the box or in pre-release material)? How much entertainment time should the average customer get out of this title? What genre is it? How much time did you spend with the product? There are more questions to be asked depending on the product, but this should give you the general idea of what this section is about.
In this section is where you go into further necessary detail on features in the game that are big enough topics to not easily fit into basic explanation. What is the big hook for the game that sets it apart from others of its genre? Does the game do something that no one else has done? This is its own section because you may need to go into complex detail to explain a mechanic in-depth, unique title features, etc.
In this section of the review is where you should put more detail on quality of life and quality of build. If it’s a current gen title with achievements (such as Steam Achievements, Xbox Achievements, PlayStation Trophies, etc) you would talk about them here. Does the game run at industry standard resolutions? Are there additional microtransactions? Will DLC be available? Are there big, notable issues such as bugs, screen-tearing, poor performance, crashes, so on and so forth? You will often hear people say “How are the graphics?” Interpretation of artistic STYLE is subjective; QUALITY of work isn’t as much as you’d think. Are the textures washed out and muddy? Is it difficult to see properly? Are there clear and obvious typos? Is the audio for the game clear and free of background noise (yes, this kind of stuff DOES happen)? You should talk about all of these things here.
The final portion of your review should talk about your own experience with the title and how you enjoyed it, if at all. THIS is where the subjectivity of your review comes into play, as opposed to the other sections. Every person is unique and will consume the content differently. You can talk about how much fun that you had, or whether your disliked the experience overall. What were your impressions? What did you think of the art style and direction? How does it compare to other games of its genre, in your view? Does it do things worse than its competitors or better in your view? How did you enjoy the story, if applicable? Again, there is plenty of space here for you to show the reader YOUR interpretation of the facts presented in the majority of the product review.
I typically avoid providing scores on my reviews. The reason being that no one can seem to actually agree on WHAT scale to use. People use stars, yes/no, scale of 1 to 5 and scale of 1 to 10, usually. My general problem with these scoring systems is that the meaning of them can vary wildly depending on who is looking at it. A 3 star review is ‘supposed’ to be average, but to many people it’s considered mediocre and not worth your time. Instead, I say who is likely to purchase the title and who is likely to avoid the title. If, for example, the game falls into the ‘brawler’ genre and you didn’t have a bad experience with it, you can safely say that “Fans of brawlers will probably enjoy this title.” This achieves two final goals: It defines who the intended audience of the title was, and who would do better to avoid it altogether.
Now bear in mind, this isn’t necessarily a blocked-out template for every review; it’s here to explain to you WHAT should be talked about in a review, why you’re talking about it, and how to do so well. Your job, as a reviewer, isn’t to tell the customer what to buy. Your job is to INFORM the customer of what they COULD buy, should they be inclined to. You are their eyes and ears in places that they cannot venture, you are there to provide them with the data that they could not easily glean on their own.