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On Game Reviews

Could “slow reviews” be desirable for some gamers?

Reviews are a tricky thing; I used to review games here and there for local publications (like the now defunct N64 Gamer and Official Nintendo Australia/New Zealand magazines). Typically, a media outlet will receive reviewable game code in some form ahead of the formal retail release. The gap in the middle (which, in some cases, might be a matter of days) is where a writer will play the game and write a review, which then has to proceed through various editorial filters ready for publication. I used to think that game reviewers had the best jobs; who wouldn’t want to review games for a living?

Of course, it’s a pretty good gig, but there’s always a tension between the time required to fully digest a game’s content and the looming deadline driven by the market release date. At this point, you might be wondering what the pressure is all about; why not just publish a review after the game has been released?

Well, there’s a simple answer that really underpins this whole process: it’s all about visitor traffic and critical role that timing plays when it comes to maximising said traffic (and therefore, revenue). This was not quite such an issue in the print publishing world, but it’s of vital importance to online media. Gamers’ appetite for reviews understandably peaks right around the launch date of a game; early-adopters look to buy games as soon as they’re released, and they go hunting for the earliest reviews. So, if you’re in the review-writing business, it’s very much in your interest to publish a review as soon as possible once the embargo lifts. Traffic to your web site will peak in the 24–48 hours after publication, and will then tail off very quickly after that.

But there are a couple of reasons why the status quo may not always be desirable:

  • The average gamer is likely to consume a game in multiple sessions over several weeks (or even months), where a professional critic will typically undergo a condensed marathon over a just a few days.
  • Given the above, it’s very possible that one’s experience with a game could vary greatly, especially when a looming review deadline is no longer an issue.
  • Many gamers — other than the most dedicated enthusiasts — will buy a game days, weeks, or even months after it launches.

The first and second points speak to me the most. When I look at articles about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I notice that there are still things being discovered about the game that further enrich the experience. This doesn’t make the initial reviews invalid, but it does mean that consuming a game over weeks rather than days — and being able to sit with that experience and consider it more holistically — is a somewhat different proposition.

If you’ve read the reviews for Mass Effect: Andromeda, you’ll notice that one of the negatives mentioned is the in-game UI. But as a product designer, one thing I’ve learned about UI is that a user’s experience changes based on regular use over a period of time (versus an initial sampling in a brief period). Is it possible to grow more comfortable with a game’s systems if you are playing it in realistic intervals (i.e. after work/school as opposed to full-time for several days)? The opposite could also be true; a game’s flaws may become more apparent or glaring after longer exposure.

I mention all of this because I am currently working on a review framework for Super Jump. I want to create a space for reviews here, and I think there’s an opportunity to try something different. How does a game look and feel once the initial reviews are written and the hype (or hate) has sufficiently passed? What’s it like to live with the game rather than simply taking it for a spin over a few days?

This is an experiment for me, and for the small-but-growing team of writers I’m trying to build here. I’m keen to see where it takes us.

© Copyright 2017 Super Jump. Made with love.



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