As developers, we all like to bemoan the odd game review from time to time – because games are close to our hearts, and increasingly our wallets both in terms of sales and Metacritic-based incentives.
Most reviews are targeted at what are often called ‘core’ gamers; people like us that follow games avidly, and are very experienced at playing them. Most reviewers and developers fall into this camp themselves, as do the readerships of most gaming websites and print press.
And so, entirely reasonably, those reviewers aim their reviews accordingly.
A problem starts to occur when the audiences’ tastes differ significantly from the reviewer’s – or developer’s – own tastes. This is becoming more of an issue as our industry matures to include a great many people outside this group – particularly so if the group targeted is not just this ‘core’.
I have in mind games like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, RollerCoaster Tycoon – all huge sellers, but with noticeably lower reviews than their quality suggests.
The presumption is ‘it wasn’t aimed at me, and so it must be bad’.
This attitude makes sense if the audience for the review is effectively the same as the reviewer themselves, but for a review on TV, on a website for kids and adults, or in the mainstream media, it does not.
Just as it is difficult to develop games for a different audience, it is difficult to review them too.
The overall effect – particularly for those games that don’t include this ‘core’ in their audience, is about 10 per cent of the review points. It is not something to cry about – just something to be borne in mind.
I have been delighted by the mature response by the games press over Kinectimals, for example. Almost without fail they have pointed out that the game is targeted at kids – as it was – and have reviewed it with that in mind – like the excellent ‘Meet Dave’ piece in Joystiq by Justin McElroy, for example, and the astonishingly cute review by a six year old on wearearcade.com, which gave it 100/10.
There are always the occasional outliers, either through a genuine difference of opinion, or for some other reason. Kinectimals got a couple of shockers, but as developers we have to take these things on the chin.
Know the score
In these connected times, Achievements or Trophies have been a curse for the small minority of hurried or irresponsible reviewers if their online ID is known.
Occasionally someone is caught out, or accused of being unreasonable. For example, there was the hoo-hah over the reviews of Space Giraffe and Kane and Lynch and the alleged connection to the firing of Jeff Gerstmann.
Most reviewers are excellent at what they do, and it is a very hard job with, frankly, little glory. As an industry, there is something we could do to recognise this – effectively a Metacritic for reviewers.
The best reviewers give spot-on reviews pretty soon after a game is released. They do not wait to see what others say, but nevertheless consistently come very close to the final average score. There could be a prize for the best each year.
Don’t forget – this is not intended to influence reviews – just to encourage and reward consistency – as it is not a high reviewer that gets the reward, it is the one that gets the best result.
This method could also be used for non-‘core’ games, too, with the benchmark being either eventual sales, or eventual average user reviews, as at the moment it is a real lottery for customers buying games for their younger kids – with few trustworthy reviews – which is one of the reasons, I think, so many shovel-ware games sneak under the radar in this sector.
If there were a system that tracked reviews by reviewer, not by publication, then hopefully this could reinforce the position of ‘star’ reviewers in particular sectors, which I think would be a very good thing for all concerned.