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The Peanut Gallery: why can’t developers answer critics?

Wednesday, 5th September 2012 11:31 GMT By Brenna Hillier

After years of work, your video game is finally on the streets – but now anybody with a keyboard is allowed to tear it to pieces. Why aren’t you allowed to respond? Brenna Hillier calls for dialogue between critics and creators.

The idea of a developer, publisher or PR person daring to have an opinion on the quality and accuracy of a review – why, it’s untenable. It’s a crime against free speech. It’s a smack at critical integrity. It’s wilful manipulation of the sacred process of games reviewing in which only diamond nuggets of truth are ever brought to life, deposited in the velvet cases of Metacritic’s luxurious showroom where their sparkle attracts flocks of admiring consumers. What a load of old wank.

“Is there any way to write an email to a reviewer and say ‘hey, I don’t think you got it’ or ‘you missed something’ without being a PR jerk?” Harmonix’s communications and brand manager John Drake asked on Twitter last week – presumably in response to a negative review of the recently-released Rock Band Blitz.

Because Drake is a consummate professional, his question was largely rhetorical – it’s not the Done Thing to complain about your review scores, and when “a PR jerk” does it (or a non-jerk is asked to by a jerky manager) everyone on both sides is rendered acutely uncomfortable.

Drake’s friends and colleagues in PR sympathised with the frustration of negative reviews, but when I broached the topic with other games media pundits, it became apparent that on the writing side, there’s far less empathy. The idea of a developer, publisher or PR person daring to have an opinion on the quality and accuracy of a review – why, it’s untenable. It’s a crime against free speech. It’s a smack at critical integrity. It’s wilful manipulation of the sacred process of games reviewing in which only diamond nuggets of truth are ever brought to life, deposited in the velvet cases of Metacritic’s luxurious showroom where their sparkle attracts flocks of admiring consumers.

What a load of old wank. Who died and made game reviewers perfect judges of what makes a good game? The fact is reviewers do sometimes get it wrong.

Even putting aside the myriad questions which plague reviewing in general, a video game isn’t like a book or movie which you might go through half a dozen times for a really thorough review; it’s something you could invest hundreds of hours in and still be surprised by. In a perfect world, all critics would have months to play and assess games before delivering their reviews; I don’t want to go into details of the business of games media, but the unfortunate reality is many reviewers don’t get anything like the time they need.

Even ignoring time constraints, it’s easy enough to overlook details. This is one reason publishers often provide fact sheets with review code; rushing through a tremendously long game like Darksiders 2, for example, it would be very easy to completely miss the existence of the Crucible altogether, and write a snarky paragraph about how the game fails to provide a decent combat challenge for advanced players. This is not an unlikely scenario; this kind of error creeps into reviews all the time. I have seen a colleague declare a tactics game “broken” in a published review because he didn’t RTFM and played for hours without finding the core command menu.

Quite apart from embarrassing factual errors like these, sometimes reviewers simply won’t “get” a game due to personal preference or inexperience. Think of the way people react to Dark Souls; some love it, some spend five minutes with it and can’t see the point at all. Imagine me trying to review a racer – “you just go round in circles, three out of ten”. Presumably editors do their best to match games to critics within a game’s target audience but there will always be times when for some reason – you’re having a bad day, you’ve had an overload of a particular genre – a game just does not sit well with you, and you never grow to like it. People who get paid to write reviews aren’t exempt from this phenomenon, even though many do their best to avoid it.

If only negative reviews were this funny,
maybe they wouldn’t sting.

When a development team of several dozen people spend years working on a product, it’s understandable that they might become emotional when it is criticised, especially subjectively. But when some neckbeard drops the Metacritic average below a publisher’s target and has obviously misunderstood a central mechanic, failed to take in a decent portion of the game, or otherwise unintentionally dropped the ball – well. That’s heartbreaking.

When it happens, why is the designer, developer or publisher expected to just put up with it? Why can’t we open a line of dialogue and have a conversation? I’m not talking about PR reps on the phone hassling critics about their review scores, but developers and critics communicating with each other comfortably on a topic that presumably interests them both – games. If new information can change a critic’s mind, then surely they’d prefer that to looking like a bit of a tool by issuing an unfair review. Let’s do it in public: let’s allow developers space to rebut critics. Hell, let the critics respond in turn – let’s talk about this.

We don’t do reviews at VG247 for several reasons (which is a whole other editorial). If we’ve got a game ahead of its release and think you might want to know what we think we sometimes tell you, but we’re always aware of and hopefully clear on what we’re actually doing. We’re not saying “we know this game inside out and can make universal judgments on it”. We’re just telling you what we, as regular people who play games, think about it. And we’re more than happy to accept that we could be wrong – for you in particular, or in general. We’re human. We’re fallible. Is it so unthinkable that our colleagues might be, too?

Rock Band Blitz holds a 76 Metacritic Average on Xbox 360; “generally favorable”. Scores range from 60 to 93.

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71 Comments

  1. Freek

    The problem starts and ends with recognizing what a review is: a personal, subjective opinion. There is nothing to correct.
    If the person writing it diden’t understand the game or diden’t like it, those are perfectly valid opinions to have. It’s the same reaction a person buying it can have.
    They too can not like, they too can miss a menu or not understand the game.
    It’s good that reviews are a range from all those different perspectives and reactions, that makes them worth reading.
    If everybody came together and agreed upon a single score and opinion to have, you might aswell stop.

    Stop seeing reviews as scientific measurements of quality and the problem solves itself. Also: immidiatly stop awarding bonusses based on the utter nonsense that is meta critic. It is not a measurement of wether a person has done a good job, it’s a subjective collection of opinions, interesting but not meaningfull.

    Expecting to open up a line of dailogue between developers and the people covering games is a nice idea, but utterly futile. The two sides are at war with each other.
    Developers are too quick to brush off legitimate criticm as “they just don’t get the game”, while “game journalism” is a race to create a contraversy over every little thing a developer says.
    You keep that up and people naturally stop talking to each other. Add in a PR factor that wants total control over a games public perception and you’re stuck.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. unacomn

    I agree that some reviewers are more or less aholes when it comes to the games they review, mostly ones that don’t have a lot of PR behind them. They tend to try and get away with lazy reviews made after a few minutes of play time, spewed out on the internet and on Metacritic, without being fact checked. Not to name names, but Eric Neigher.

    The review system could surely benefit from more dialogue, the problem is a lot of the people involved aren’t interested in dialogue, publisher, producer and writer. Generally, the higher up the tower of cash you go, the more ego is involved in all sides. Smaller companies are very much interested in dialogue, to the point where I didn’t even have to tell them about my review of their game, they found it and corrected me on a mistake I had made. And it goes both ways, when I do my best to offer constructive feedback on what doesn’t work well, it’s take into consideration a few patches later.

    But that’s on the mid-low level. Higher up, I’m just some nobody that’s not on Metacritic.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    Too many devs and publishers have forgotten that 5 is an average score. It’s half of ten, literally, and they have forgotten that.

    I know for a fact during my years that publishers give some devs a Metacritic target to aim for. If that target isn’t met the game has been considered a waste of effort, money and time.

    If your target is 95% and you get 90% or even 85% that is deemed as not good enough. I for one can’t stand Metacritic’s stranglehold on the review process. I know others like it so I’m just speaking personally.

    Then there’s the time I got an angry call from Warner for giving Mortal Kombat 6/10. That wasn’t fun.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. unacomn

    @Dave Cook 5 is not an average score. 5 is whatever the person seeing that 5 thinks that 5 is. Everyone’s numerical scale means something else, therefore it can not be aggregated. That’s the reason I tend to also add vegetable ratings to my reviews, because they make about as much sense as the numbers to.

    For me a 5 is a “meeh” game, and for reference a 1 is a “proof there is no God”, while a 10 is “I want to establish a religion based around this”.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 No I agree with what you’re saying, but what I meant was that the scale should be normalised somehow. 5 is literally half of ten right, and games used to be scored and viewed as such.

    Now the perception is that anything less than 8 is utter shite. Which is a skewed and warped view on the spectrum.

    I’ve played many 6/10 games that I still found enjoyable. The scoring scale is ruined now in my opinion. That’s why I prefer giving no scores in my reviews now.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. silkvg247

    I think critics tend to forget actual real people work very hard on the games. it’s one thing to give a fair criticism but another entirely to be downright rude, something I’ve seen quite a lot after releasing my game on greenlight.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Dave Cook

    @6 Yes, I absolutely agree with this ^

    #7 2 years ago
  8. unacomn

    @Dave Cook
    A standardized score system would do us all a lot of good, though coming up with one for a system as complex as a game is daunting at best. I agree with not assigning scores to reviews if you have the option.
    Vegetables are also a good alternative

    #8 2 years ago
  9. manamana

    @DC And I absolutely salute you for your 5/10 commentary, as there are several games I like to play that scored 5,6 and 7s. But only those above 8 will get the attention in the massmarket. Everything below isn’t even worth mentioning and wont be advertised. And that is really unfair towards the developers and the games, who often are quite fun. And I’m not talking about broken games here.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @8 Forgot to say actually, I love the vegetable scoring system :D

    How does it work? What’s the ‘worst’ vegetable score? Sprouts? I hate Sprouts.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. absolutezero

    http://youtu.be/yNUwqoOYzGw

    When Games Journalism thinks that this is acceptable then I think its time for the companies these idiots are passing judgement on to stand up for themselves.

    Its about time someone in the industry told Jim Sterling to go fuck himself.

    The reason 5 is not the average standard is more or less down to IGN. Its either amazing or its terrible. Theres no middle ground, because if things are grey, if things are a little bit complicated then you get people complaining. Then they go somewhere else to read black and white reviews to make up what they should be getting angry about, or praising.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. bitsnark

    @6

    I also agree with this.

    My issue is the same that Dave alluded to earlier. It just didn’t occur to me that *so* many folks believe that any game lower than 8/10 is a pile of shit.

    Seriously.

    I was blown away by it when I submitted my 7/10 Darksiders 2 review. I had people, no scratch that; scoremonkeys, calling the score an insult to the people who developed it despite the fact that the body of text was largely glowing and complimentary in a number of areas.

    For the record, I wasn’t rude or derogatory and my criticisms were articulated quite respectfully.

    In my opinion a standardised score system would be a good thing to have, but until then, sites should clearly outline their scoring criteria so people don’t get the wrong impression.

    So that way, if people continue to bitch and whine that a game ‘only’ got 7/10, they should drink a nice, tall glass of shut the fuck up with a side order of perspective.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @12 I know that feeling all too well. I fully understand – as the majority of reviewers do, trust me – the effort that goes into games. You have to be stupid not to. But say something bad about a game fans like and all of a sudden you’re either a fan boy, corrupt, unintelligent or just plain don’t deserve a job in the industry.

    I used to find it utterly heartbreaking to read some of the violent comments aimed at me for writing a review. But you really have to try and live with it. It still happens today in fact.

    Same issue though – say you like a game at review and you are either being bribed, paid off or are also an unintelligent idiot.

    The system is knackered. Scoreless reviews are the way forward.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. absolutezero

    Also Metacritic only served to make EVERYTHING worse, for both sides.

    I can’t see a single positive benefit to the existence of Metacritic.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. bitsnark

    @14

    Me neither.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. unacomn

    @Dave Cook

    Not really sure myself how it works, still being a work in progress. I based it on taste and the general perception of vegetables. The Old Republic was a tomato, because no matter if it’s a fruit or vegetable, it’s still a tomato, everyone’s tasted a tomato, it’s good tomato, but it’s still a tomato.

    The Secret World got garlic, because it can sting a bit, and it may be an acquired taste, but it’s pleasant and wards off vampires.

    And I think the last Spider-Man game got the last pea in the pod, as in it’s like all the other ones, but more recent.

    Minecraft got a pig, which I’m sure will be considered a vegetable one day.

    Haven’t given a bad vegetable score yet. I try to save them for special occasions, was also thinking of expanding to fruit and condiments. I also mention that I wrote most of these when I was hungry.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. jamjam

    Really good article Brenna.

    From the developer side, a lot of the reason we’re not allowed to talk to reviewers is because of the hierarchy that exists within the development studio. The people who are ‘allowed’ are the Leads, Producers and Studio Heads, and they’re often under a lot of pressure from the publisher’s PR branch to remain quiet because they’re the ones who control the flow of information.

    It makes sense, but equally it does suck.

    Regarding scores, no matter how many times we try to say 5/10 is average it’s the simple truth that it’s not: 7/10 is perceived as average and there’s a lot of pressure to be getting 8/10′s as a minimum. Weightings on the validity of the reviews should be introduced to Metacritic, based on past reliability (I believe there is a site for reviewing reviewers, though I can’t remember what it is right now).

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @16 amazing, I love it :)

    @17 Agreed, and in a perfect world that perception would be changed, but it’s not going to happen any time soon.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Ireland Michael

    @6 Sometimes rude is all you can be.

    Reviewing is my primary (and favourite) form of journalism. Of the recent stuff I’ve done, there was no earthly way in hell I was able to review The Amazing Spider-Man in any sort of positive light. It was shockingly bad. How else was I supposed to critique the game?

    Then there’s this little thing called opinions. I think Hideo Kojima is a terrible writing and I would mark his games down because of the fact. Try putting that in a publicly promoted review though? You get eaten alive. I have a tough skin for that sort of stuff, but the rampant arrogance of the gaming “community” is just as much to blame for these problems.

    I would love to see developers talk out and defend their products and opinions though. They should have as much right as to express their opinions as the critics do. Then again, we all know what happens in this industry when someone is honest about their opinions…

    We can all say they should do this, but as soon as someone does, it turns into a witch hunt.

    @13 Scores don’t need to be abolished. The media just needs to grow some balls of their own and stop being manipulated by the publishers into being their personal bitches.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Dave Cook

    @13

    “Scores don’t need to be abolished. The media just needs to grow some balls of their own and stop being manipulated by the publishers into being their personal bitches”

    That rarely happens in my personal experience though man. It’s genuinely because the perception of what is good and what is average has become horribly warped. I’ve never let a publisher influence my opinion, not once and I say that truthfully. I’ve never seen it happen first hand either.

    That’s the perception of many gamers and it’s – in the majority – wrong. I’m sure there are unethical reviewers out there, but blanket statements like this do the hard-working honest guys a disservice.

    But that’s not your fault man, it’s the perceived image, and it needs to change soon.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. absolutezero

    Phil Fish was’nt called out because he voiced a negative opinion about something he was called out because hes a massive cock. Theres a difference between voicing an opinion and being a cock. He was a cock and thus people called him one.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. Ireland Michael

    @21 Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Dragon246

    Reviews are opinions, anyone who thinks they are more than that is a fool. Also I get that pubs shouldn’t decide incomes of devs based on metacritic, but I dont think metacritic is inherently bad. Average opinions tend the show if a game is good or bad.
    For eg.- A gives a game 2. C,D give it 7, D gives it 10. Now an average no. will tell people that more people have liked the game. Individual reviews can be biased (they are always biased, based on personal opinions), metacritic generally isnt. No person can give an unbiased review, only a machine can.
    Although I think metacritic should release scores only after atleast 15-20 reviews (not 4),as less reviews defeat its purpose.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. G1GAHURTZ

    I once worked on a game that had one review from a website, that shall remain nameless, which had loads of good things to say about it, but then proceeded to give it a 7, because it apparently lacked “soul”.

    What’s that?

    “Soul”, you say?

    Needless to say, when the review went around the studio, there was an immediate investigation to try and find out exactly who it was that forgot to put the “soul” in.

    I mean, seriously… How arbitrary is that!?

    ‘Yeah, this game’s really good, but there’s just not enough soul.’

    Now, as a developer, how exactly are you supposed to respond to that?

    A journalist is always going to defend his position, and a dev/publisher is always going to push for a better review.

    But when you get nonsense like, ‘your game lacks soul’, trying to communicate is just a waste of time.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. GwynbleiddiuM

    It’s media’s fault to begin with, they shouldn’t have adding measures to validate their opinion on a game. It’s just that, a review should be consistent of an article that provides insight on how a product works with all its pros and cons. That’s about it. Adding measures like 80%, 9 out of 10, 4 stars, etc was the day that media critics failed to be fair and unbiased.

    PRs use everything to their advantage, and when they can’t do that they get their feelings involved, another way to influence public reaction, by taking advantage over sympathy.

    I read reviews, and when I disagree with a reviewer’s opinion, I wont go on the internet and QQ over it. It’s just an opinion of someone who played, or watched or listened or tasted a product and did or didn’t like the product. That’s that, no reason to get depressed over it.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Dave Cook

    @25 ‘Adding measures like 80%, 9 out of 10, 4 stars, etc was the day that media critics failed to be fair and unbiased.’

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, that’s why I’m glad to be at a point where I no longer have to score things. I never liked putting numbers to quantify a 2,000 word review. It’s not a true measure of what you’ve just told the reader.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. OlderGamer

    How many game buyers want to buy an ok game? How many are going to get “preorder” excited about an average game? They as consumers want that game to be “amazing” thats one of the things that convinces them that buying it was a worth idea in the first place.

    Pubs know that.

    And pubs use that score to push the game.

    Stores love it. It creates a buzz and that drives sales.

    It is just hype. Selling games has a lot to do with the hype bizz.

    And everyone benifits.

    The websites doing the reviews can hype the game as awesome and people want to read coverage on that said awesome game. Also doing that, gains them a rep with PUBs(who pay advertising on said website). Win win for the site.

    Stores love it, again it drives sales. And that makes them money and more importantly makes them relevent. You can’t hype a Digital console game the same way you can a retail physical package.

    Pubs like it because a good score sells copies. Esp, where yearly franchises are concerned. if Blops one sells, count on Blops 2 getting made(helps devs too, in that way).

    And lastly end consumers like it because a high score helps them feel conected and cool(the root for most fanboy cases), and it helps them internaly justify spending the money.

    The entire cycle feed itself.

    I don’t think it is entirely needed on all platforms. Look at Minecraft, how much hype went into the PC version? How about when Angry Birds launched? But on a console…never ever going to change.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. SplatteredHouse

    scoreless reviews, yes…that golden nugget again. The thing is, that none of the busier places ever actually adopt the practice. They don’t trial it, for all the lip service.
    Metacritic scores being taken as anything more than what they are: A digest of links to many and varied opinions on what you may be interested in, is just silly. The weight that they’re given is daft, for what they are.

    There aren’t absolutes. One outlet may review game X, while the other does not – if the first outlet didn’t rate your game, you’re not going to in the case, benefit from the potential positive of the second outlet, whose reviewer may have found it more appealing. Result: lower %
    (so, publishers brought in “review guides” to direct traffic)

    As to reviews themselves, they provide me the benefit of the opinion of someone who’s had hands-on time with the game, to the point they feel they can make, and qualify an opinion.
    The way I read reviews is: scroll down to the score, first. Because, it informs to the amount of interest I will have in the lump of text that precedes it. If 1)the game’s interesting; and, 2) the score hasn’t spelled out, blatantly, the case – then I’ll go back and read the opinion and see how well it’s built to whether it looks like it can be relied upon. (If I’ve got as far as clicking to the full article, 9/10 times I’ll go through the review)

    I don’t really have a problem with developers pointing out omissions and oversights, but the horror stories, such as the one Jim Sterling retold about how Saber Interactive were angry at him for his Hydrophobia view, to the point their PR were haranguing the site’s editor, his boss, over it, leaving messages and all that…Not on.

    If they want a voice, they too, must be able to employ it responsibly. Address the person directly, not try to blow things up (for ex, on social media) to where sites feel its relevent to call out a perceived encroachment around their review process, and the influence of the outside parties (as far as critiquing) is no longer seen as beneficial. But, I’m all for that happening, in theory.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. DSB

    I think Brennas article misses a lot of key points.

    Like Freek says, reviews are opinion, so you’re really only getting it wrong when you fail to express one, which is really the biggest problem the games press has right now.

    Instead of celebrating the fact that someone brings a bit of variety to the selection of reviews, they get slammed for bringing down a Metacritic score, with the argument (as it is expressed here) that publishers have decided to let that broken system decide the fate of their developers.

    … And somehow both Metacritic, with their broken methodology, and the publishers manage to walk off without a single word of criticism ever being printed against them.

    That’s really the problem of the games press, squared.

    No one wants to critisize, no one wants to analyze, and no one wants to investigate. They just want to point fingers, send off one-liners, come up with spiffy tabloid headlines, and hand the next review whatever score they feel will keep their editors, and their readers off their backs.

    In a word, it’s useless. It’s so far below the standard of any other form of media criticism, it qualifies as a parody.

    @26 Ultimately you might say that a review qualifies just by being “positive or negative”, but I think the problem with a lot of the scales is that they’re just nonsensical.

    There aren’t ten different categories of quality, let alone a hundred like Metacritic suggests. It always becomes some kind of esoteric mess where the scale ends up meaning all kinds of things, to all kinds of people.

    I’m fine with a five scale personally. It takes out the comfortable middle ground, it forces the reviewer to form an opinion for or against, and personally I have an easy time placing games in all five categories.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. Joe Musashi

    I think a lot of people don’t know how to be critics. Gaming culture is very good at going straight to DEFCON5 in the blink of an eye when something displeases it.

    There is a big difference between criticism and negativity.

    It’s rarely constructive or helpful to engage in negativity.

    JM

    #30 2 years ago
  31. DSB

    Criticism may be positive, and it may be negative. Both can be constructive.

    #31 2 years ago
  32. Dave Cook

    @29 ‘There aren’t ten different categories of quality, let alone a hundred like Metacritic suggests.’

    Exactly. Everyone’s barometer is different. Well said.

    #32 2 years ago
  33. Cobra951

    @the conversation about scores: 50% is not average in this context. Remember when you went to school? So does everyone else. So does every gamer. 50% is a failing grade. 70% is barely acceptable. 80% is good. 90% and up is excellent. It is a scale deeply ingrained in our psyches during childhood. Is it so surprising that it has carried over to game reviews?

    If you don’t adhere to the expected top-heavy scale, don’t complain that Metacritic is aggregating your score incorrectly. You are the one who didn’t play well with others.

    #33 2 years ago
  34. Ireland Michael

    @29 “No one wants to critisize, no one wants to analyze, and no one wants to investigate. They just want to point fingers, send off one-liners, come up with spiffy tabloid headlines, and hand the next review whatever score they feel will keep their editors, and their readers off their backs*

    *raises hand*

    #34 2 years ago
  35. PsiMonk

    OK, so I’m a games (and other stuff) reviewer for mainstream media. And I find this entire ongoing debate simultaneously fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

    1. As others have said, blaming journalists for metacritic makes no sense.
    i) The existence of metacritic does not mean you or anyone else has to use it – but they do, because, simply, it’s a really quick and handy way of telling what critical consensus is for a game. And only vary rarely (Dark Souls etc.) does that not give a good overall flavour of a game.
    ii) Why do sites put scores on stuff? Because they get more hits. Because most readers want a quick fix. Some sites serve a niche audience that will tolerate or even positively respond to a lack of score. But scores are the mainstream – and not just in games.
    iii) No one forces publishers to use metacritic as a rod to beat developers with. But lets be honest here, if it wasn’t metacritic, it’d be something else. Now, I’d argue, the things that would make more sense to incentivise/punish devs is either sales units or profit. Either of those are directly linked to how “good” a game is for a pub. Critical reception often isn’t (see FIFA for years and years).

    2. Readers are idiots, devs are idiots, publishers are idiots and, yes, journalists like me are idiots.
    i) For online sites, I’ve literally had a review drubbing a PS3 exclusive going up the same day as a review drubbing an Xbox 360 exclusive. And on those reviews I was respectively called a hater or a fanboy of the rival console. Readers are idiots – far too many think that if you don’t like *their* game you’re wrong. Reviews are an opinion.
    ii) Devs and publishers are idiots – yes, we know you put years of toil into your game, but I guess just like I’ll never be Hunter S Thomson, you’ll never be Shigeru Miyamoto. So don’t expect his reviews. The number of times I’ve seen (I also work as a copywriter) confidential documents on games briefings that reveal metacritic scores – that are clearly completely out of whack with the game being created – is saddening. Devs, do not sign up to a contract you can’t fulfill. Pubs, do not treat devs as if they can all be Miyamoto – set realistic goals. And don’t blame us if your game gets a bad review.
    iii) Finally, the entire games press – we’re idiots. We’ve collectively allowed ourselves to be treated like monkeys and paid peanuts for too long. Websites and games specialist mags pay shockingly poorly – because they know there’s an army of amateur writers itching to get into games. But the end result is we have few genuinely great writers (actually, several are on VG247, to be fair) in the industry and too many fanboys who have too few critical faculties. Even the good writers accept too little pay and the entire media accept work conditions that simply don’t happen in other entertainment industries. For instance, film screenings are often months in advance of the film release date. Imagine that happening for games – it’d mean reviews where the writer had time to finish and enjoy the game, not race through it ignoring anything optional or any side-quest.

    Until the entire industry sorts out this collective mess of low expectations of propriety, intelligence and debate, we’re screwed basically.

    So, should devs be able to query reviews? Of course – but let’s be clear about the difference between factual errors and opinion differences.

    Here’s to a better games industry – better games, better dialogue and higher aspirations towards, y’know, art and stuff.

    #35 2 years ago
  36. Dave Cook

    @35 ‘Even the good writers accept too little pay and the entire media accept work conditions that simply don’t happen in other entertainment industries’ – you just described the hell that was the last 2 and a half years of my life. Game journalists are constantly taken advantage of because of the nature of the job. The pay is an insult.

    That’s why I left my old job and moved here. I am ten times happier now.

    #36 2 years ago
  37. GrimRita

    Until companies like Eidos,EA, Sega, Activision etc etc stop blackmailing press sites (Kane/Lynch anyone?)by withholding advertising money, I am still stunned why anyone would believe a single review out there.

    So many games today score 9/10s or 10/10 when they are clearly not worth it – but then you see an advert for that game, and all becomes clear.

    I remember sitting across from a PR guy having an arguement over an extra point on a review score then exchanging first reveal on a triple A title, to get that extra point.

    #37 2 years ago
  38. DSB

    I think it’s generally better not to answer your critics.

    If there’s a general point to be made, and you can do it in a constructive way, then go for it, but you’re rarely going to do anything except make yourself look bitter and petty.

    The best thing a creator can do is let his work speak for itself.

    I’ve been a critic for the better part of 10 years, for music, and I actually had much the same problem early on.

    Artists would write me and complain about a score or a point I made, and in the beginning I would be desperate to try and make them understand, but ultimately all that, was all down to my own insecurity.

    We all have roles to play, and that’s the game.

    Some make music, others critisize it. Obviously there’d be no music critics without musicians, so my contribution to the world is essentially worthless, but thankfully music isn’t going anywhere, any time soon.

    I had a pretty cool experience, coming across a band discussing one of my reviews on Facebook, and I was very tempted to butt in and try to explain myself again, but I didn’t.

    One of them was complaining that they felt my review was too short, but within a day, one of their friends actually joined the discussion and defended my review, saying that I’d said all that needed saying.

    I think the best you can do is let it live on its own that way. If it’s good, people will know. You have to trust your own work.

    #38 2 years ago
  39. Dave Cook

    @37 that makes little sense. I’m not being harsh here honestly, but that’s not what happens. Publishers choose who to advertise with based on raw unique traffic numbers, not scores. That’s another popular misconception. Trust me on this one.

    But you are right in saying that once in a while, the odd 9/10 will appear that seems odd. It is incredibly rare however, rarer than you’d think.

    #39 2 years ago
  40. PsiMonk

    @36 Good for you! Until games journalists collectively learn their value, we’re doomed to sites stuffed with fanboys. It’s really sad seeing good writers struggle through that system – though I’m really glad they do.

    @37 Again, games publishers shouldn’t be tying advertising to editorial scores. But then editors shouldn’t accept that deal either. That said, I’ve never seen such deals. I have seen the whole “we won’t give you first review unless we get at least a 9/10″. But even that I’ve seen rarely – but I would rarely see that stuff, being a freelancer.

    #40 2 years ago
  41. Dave Cook

    @40 thanks :)

    I could tell you some depressing tales about the awful quality of life some journalists have had to suffer through because they got paid so little and overworked so much.

    #41 2 years ago
  42. bitsnark

    @36

    Luckily, games journalism for me is done as a purely voluntary activity and its for the largely shitty pay and conditions that I don’t think *personally*, that I would ever entertain it in a full-time capacity.

    For others though, who make their livelihood from it, I can well imagine the hells that they go through.

    Its funny how others can use your dream against you isn’t it?

    #42 2 years ago
  43. Dave Cook

    @42 yep, I moved from Scotland to England for the job and while the experience was valuable the bad pay made me start to resent games. It’s my life long passion and the moment I realised I was falling out of love with them was truly heartbreaking.

    It didn’t last though, I’m loving them more than ever now :)

    But yes, some companies are vampires who feed on honest people’s passion for their hobby. ‘oh we aren’t paying you enough? well I’m sure this free game will smooth things over until next month right?’

    People keep falling for it. From the outside this is the best job ever, the reality is just that, it’s a job. It’s challenging, but rewarding too if you can get a decent job at a fair company.

    #43 2 years ago
  44. ManuOtaku

    In my point of view, reviewers has some fault on this, because the meaning of the scale, whatever is use 10, 5, number of stars, etc, has been lost for quite some time now, especially since the last gen, when we are having each passing gen more and more top scores for games, i mean ten´s, five´s, stars, etc, which force them to low the scale one point so in reality 9 is the new 10, 8 is the new 9, and so forth, of course i use the 10 escale on this example, therefore the review scale is not accurate anymore, a top score should be for perfect games or games close to perfection, like in giminastics with 10 is being given for the perfect execution, one little miscue, means the top score is lost, the same should be in gaming scorings.

    Second, sometimes you read a review and it doesnt match the score, creating some problems sometimes it reads pretty good and you see a six, withoug mentionning any flaws, but on the other hand you see a review with a lot of flaws getting higher scores, so theres a lot of amibiguity, even if it is subjective, the score should represent the text of the review and viceversa.

    Lastly i think metacritic, should not be the messure for the success of a game, sales and worth of mouth, should be the messure, metacritic should be cease to exist IMHO.

    #44 2 years ago
  45. DSB

    I think the free stuff is one of the worst parts of the job. I have no use for a million cd’s that I’ve slammed in the past, or t-shirts from the bands who made them.

    I think the worst is when you get sent a “press copy” in a little sleeve, and people actually expect you to be thankful for that. It was made to be used and destroyed, a lot of shops give them out for free. Get over yourselves.

    To say nothing for press releases. I keep those for future reference, but I swear they were written by a random word generator, using a preset vocabulary made of PR-speak.

    #45 2 years ago
  46. PsiMonk

    @42 OK, so do you write for a games site or magazine etc that accepts advertising or for your own site or one that’s avowedly non-commercial?

    Hate to say this, but if you’re doing games journalism for free (unless it’s on your own site or blog), then what you’re doing is making it harder for folks like myself or Dave or Brenna to get money.

    People who write for free on (commercial) games sites devalue games journalism… discuss.

    #46 2 years ago
  47. stalepie

    I don’t think it’s possible to give an unpopular opinion on a game without being seen as a troll or someone vying for attention. You can best do it in retrospect by addressing games you feel were “overlooked,” but if you are a professional critic and you give a 9/10 to a game most gave 6/10 or less, or the opposite, then you’ll just be seen as someone who wants to be special.

    It was different in years past because there wasn’t the Internet, or other ways of aggregating opinion so obviously. People generally were ignorant of one professional opinion to the next — across newspapers and magazines.

    #47 2 years ago
  48. DSB

    @46 You’re never going to be rid of that in the blog era though. All you can do is make sure you get yours, before you sign on anywhere.

    Anyone can make a wordpress website and do what you do, the difference has to be in how well you do it, and who’s actually worth the money.

    I’d certainly welcome some form of guild, allowing freelance writers to collectively bargain, but there’s no chance of that happening internationally, and there’s often little interest locally as well.

    Some countries have unions pushing in this sort of thing, but often they’re for people with a formal education, which is usually in short supply among freelancers.

    If you’re good, you’ll come out on top.

    #48 2 years ago
  49. Dave Cook

    @48 absolutely, if you’re good you will rise above the ‘free’ crowd. But it does make employers believe that people will do this job for nothing, and so they pay next to nothing.

    Vicious cycle and all that

    #49 2 years ago
  50. PsiMonk

    @48 I have no problem with blogging for yourself or a friend’s site for free. But if you’re writing content for free for someone else’s site that runs advertising and is aiming to become, or is, a commercial entity… that’s exploitation.

    But yes, determination, skill, luck will eventually see good writers become good, paid writers. But, as with other areas of journalism, the increasing bar to entry to paid work you can actually live off means we’re getting a narrowing of voices – if you’re poor, or come from a poor background, it means you’re less likely to be able or willing to write for free for ages, or accept less than a living wage for ages, to “make it”.

    And all this still means we’re an industry with too few older writers (they move on to better paid areas), we struggle to retain talent and we undervalue the collective “art” of games journalism – so it’s little wonder that despite the monetary value of the games industry, games and games writers are still treated atrociously by mainstream media.

    Is it any wonder that Ebert can get away with thinking games aren’t art, if we have no one we can push forward as being the games equivalent of Ebert, or Jonathan Ross etc.? Yes, mainstream media acceptance is partly a generational thing about editors’ ages. But partly it’s also that when the mainstream calls games geeky, as games journalists, we mostly just kinda huddle in the corner and take it.

    #50 2 years ago
  51. DSB

    @49 Yeah, but then you can also start talking about the guys who sign with the lowballers.

    That’s the problem with a press corps made up mostly of enthusiasts. There aren’t a lot of ground rules. It’s every man for himself.

    @50 I couldn’t agree more. I’ve turned down games writing for the same reason.

    I just don’t really see a solution, though?

    #51 2 years ago
  52. Ireland Michael

    I remember where one publisher who was more than willing to keep sending us review copies despite us slamming most of their games. I felt kinda bad for that. =(

    Another… completely shut us when we gave one of their games a 2, even though they were a big developer and it was widely accepted that this game was just a lazy cash-in. All their other games we had reviewed incredibly positively.

    Sometimes you need to bite the hand that feeds you. The problem wi the gaming industry is that the hand is practically supplying you every meal.

    @46 He writes on my site, which is entirely voluntary. A lot of our staff are already professional journalists and webmasters elsewhere, but we use it as a platform provide honest and generally professional content (especially in the area of reviews) without any PR manipulation or people looking over our shoulders.

    I’d love to see bitsnark go onto something bigger, because the guy has some of the greatest passion for writing I’ve seen in any journalist in years. He definitely deserves to reap the rewards.

    #52 2 years ago
  53. Dave Cook

    @51 that’s just it man, there’s no real catch-all solution to the issue.

    #53 2 years ago
  54. Dave Cook

    @52 ‘I remember where one publisher who was more than willing to keep sending us review copies despite us slamming most of their games. I felt kinda bad for that. =(‘

    I feel bad when that happens too, but I have to be critical or else I’m not doing my job right. One of the harsh truths of the job.

    #54 2 years ago
  55. Patashnik

    One ‘solution’ – albeit not a very popular one – is to only review games after they’ve been released – and that you’ve actually paid for.

    Which is why my most trusted resource for opinion (outside previews) is forums – where I can read the opinions of people who are playing and, critically, paying for their games…

    #55 2 years ago
  56. PsiMonk

    @55 forum reviews (and other “free” reviews) are great for fans of the series or genre. But the issue with non-writers writing reviews is largely that a reviewer (at least a good one) tries to deliver a snapshot of the experience of the game that’s as impartial as possible – and that’s usually the polar opposite of a forum review.
    So, professional reviews done well i) don’t carry baggage from one game in the series to the next, ii) carry baggage from rival series, iii) assume that one mode or element of the game takes primacy over another, iv) assume the reader has loads of prior knowledge or understanding of the series, game mechanics, genre etc. And all while, ideally, demonstrating understanding of the game, its genre, the series, the historical and broader context.
    In other words, for a lot of people, reading a review of a FF game or a CoD game or a whatever by fans of that game is nigh-on useless at telling them what experience they’ll get. It can be, very useful, if you’re already a fan of the series, of course.
    A good example was Keza Macdonald’s review of Demon’s Souls – that enticed readers in to actually play a game that they might otherwise have passed over. It clearly marks out the good and bad, but also draws the reader in to a new world. I just don’t see that on many forums. But perhaps that’s the forums I hang out on!

    #56 2 years ago
  57. DSB

    @56 I’m not sure I could disagree more with that.

    Arguably the best position a critic could find himself in, is filling the role of the trusted friend. That neccesarily means calling it as you see it, even if it means losing someone, or maybe not living up to anothers standards. If you think the previous entry is relevant to this one, go with it. If you think a game is relevant to an entirely different game, go with it.

    You should use whatever you can if it makes your point easier to understand. Clear communication is the essence of good reporting in my opinion.

    You can only critisize as the person you are, with the references and preferences you have, not the person you think people want you to be, or even the person you aspire to be.

    I think one thing everybody needs to accept for themselves, before they take on something like criticism, is this: You’re not ever going to reach everyone. Trying to do that won’t help you.

    If you have 10,000 readers, then chances are that maybe 3000 are going to agree with you. The rest are going to be split between the people who want to bitch at you, and the people who respectfully disagree. Likewise, some people will catch the reference, others won’t.

    That’s essentially why someone like Nathan Grayson was so good when he was on this site. He actually called it the way he saw it, and he didn’t see any reason to play the “professional”, which meant that his points came through unusually loud and clear. And that’s precisely what makes me trust one writer over another.

    #57 2 years ago
  58. PsiMonk

    @57 – hah, I largely agree with you.

    Of course you have to call it as you see it. And of course you should “use whatever you can” to make yourself “easier to understand”. That’s the point of trying to reach as broad an audience as you can. Sure, you won’t get everyone – but the job of a professional critic is to get as many as we can. To be as passionate, opinionated, divisive, interesting, but also fair, balanced and clear as possible. And there’s a great difference between professional-seeming writing and great professional writing. Great writing, for money, doesn’t have to be bland. In fact it never should be. But…

    Any of my mates can tell me whether I should go and see Prometheus or not. Most in words of one syllable. Most in one word. They don’t need to give me the full picture. They don’t need to tell me what it’s about. In the same way, fan writing doesn’t need to paint a picture of the world – it just needs to tell me if the multi-player is any cop, or if the level design has been sorted out this time.

    Ultimately great, professional critics are guides not friends. They show you worlds you didn’t even know existed, they make places you think you might not like interesting, and they find links between stuff you know and new stuff you don’t. When I’m mountain biking, it’s great to go with mates. But sometimes, if I’m going somewhere new and gnarly, I’d like a professional opinion – based on experience and their ability to size me up. I don’t need a mate telling me “it’ll be fine”, I’d like a guide saying “take it careful on the first right”.

    There is, IMHO, a clear but fine line between matey writing and fan writing, between a guide and a friend, between what should be the best of professional criticism and the best of forum reviews. And the two should be different from each other – not much at times, but always a bit.

    #58 2 years ago
  59. DSB

    Yeah, everybody has a different methodology.

    “the job of a professional critic is to get as many as we can”

    I only agree with that in the most literal sense.

    Ultimately it’s not your job to get readers, that’s the owner of the publication’s problem. Your job is to write some quality reviews and articles, and the editors job is to make sure that you do. The story is the important bit, not the reader.

    Some may be the “critics critic” writing stuff that loses the layman, and some may be the harmless middleground, where everybody can kinda nod their heads.

    To me a creative work isn’t a set of parameters. I came into writing after leaving music as a profession, and all I ever learned from dealing with it technically, was that it was never about technique at all.

    Any cow can learn how to sing as well as Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, but it’s far from any cow that’s born with a voice like Nina Simone, or the set of balls it takes to use it right. To put it in provocative terms.

    I’m kinda reminded of this Penny Arcade stump:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2009/02/06

    That’s pretty representative of my own views. Intuition, the grasp of a subject, beyond simply technique or knowledge or achievement, is something that you can’t teach people. It’s unique to every person, and that’s your real advantage.

    I can’t guide you through a piece of music, anymore than I can guide you through a game. There are too many things going on at once. All I can do is distill that into a piece of text, describing exactly what an album or a game does for me.

    That’s my method. It’s not the only one, but that was really the only point I was trying to make. There are millions of words to use, and there are millions of people, with millions of ideas for rules on how to use them.

    I definitely think I’ve become a better writer for studying the basic journalistic ethics and methods, but I’ll never be a guide, I’ll just be the guy who’s there, telling a story of what I see.

    #59 2 years ago
  60. Gheritt White

    Wow, lots of opinions from journalists here, makes for interesting reading.

    Firstly, THIS IS WHAT NEOGAF IS FOR. This happens every single day there, albeit indirectly and discretely. You just need to keep an eye out for it. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually an very agile way of responding to feedback and incorporating key learnings.

    Secondly, Dave – I really like your content on VG247, I think it’s great and if/when we meet IRL, I’d like to buy you a beer. That said, I remember reading your GamesTM review of Mortal Kombat and I have to say it was pretty poor. Granted it’s your own personal opinion and, IIRC, your point that all the characters animated at the same speed is valid. That said, the breadth of content offered on the disc and the depth of the core combat mechanics more than made up for it. Okay, so you could spam certain attacks, but that’s true for virtually all one-on-one fighters. Personally, I reckon it’s a zillion times better than Marvel vs Capcom 3, which is attested to by most of your peers, however GamesTM scored that 8/10 and MK9 got 6/10. Maybe you didn’t score that game, but IMHO you ought to have been aware of the rest of GamesTM’s reviews so as to put your own in context. I genuinely think you were in error, but that’s just IMHO and it’s not like this is personal in any way. Please don’t take this the wrong way!

    Which brings me to my next point.

    EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO THEIR OPINION, BUT…

    …and I appreciate that Jim Sterling and Pat get this already, however…

    …METACRITIC SCORES AFFECT WAGES. When a games gets a rogue 4/10 when all the other review scores are an 8 or a 9, bringing the Metascore below a publisher-defined reward threshold, real living-&-breathing people lose out. They’ve slogged their guts out making a game for two or three years on not very great pay and all of a sudden their big reward is snatched from them by some random cunt with a blog and an opinion. How the hell is that fair? Yes, you could lay the blame at Metacritic for allowing shonky sites on their system (and that really is a big problem), but I honestly don’t know how people like that can sleep at night. Both the journos and the publishers that tie bonuses to Metascores instead of sales.

    (As an aside, what really fucks me off is when people get called “lazy developers”. Honestly, the hours that devs put into this industry, frequently uncredited and often both underpaid and undervalued… breaks my heart, and I mean that. You think writing to multiple deadlines is hard? Try working as a line programmer on a AAA game.)

    Is it somebody’s responsibility as a journalist to recognise this fact and have it affect their review? Absolutely not. Is it what I’d expect from any decent human being, let alone a passionate gamer? Fuck *yeah* it is!

    If a game is genuinely shit, fair enough. But too often I’ve seen small or no-name sites give a game an anomalous low review score – presumably to draw attention and attract hits – leading to a bunch of hard-working devs missing out on the bonus that would have made the previous nine months of crunch worthwhile.

    As for the scores – can we please move to five start ratings already? I saw a site give a 3 and half star review the other day. What the fuck is the point of that?!?! That’s a ten point scale!! Marking out of five – just like the movies – makes sense. Everybody would buy a 3/5 star game – 60%? Notsomuch.

    As for this whole five being an average thing – FFS wake up, it hasn’t been like that since 1993. Recognise the reality of the situation instead of living in some fantasy best-case-scenario dreamland. We all know that 7 is average… well it was until 2009, now 8 is average and all of a sudden a 7 means your project’s sequel gets canned. This is unfortunately the result of their being (a) too many games competing in the same space and (b) too many whiny entitled gamers on the internet. Myself included, I’m no exception.

    Shatner was being a dick when he said journos wren’t “a part” of the industry, but I’ll tell you something… Just like PRs, there are some journos who *are* industry and others who definitely are not. This is usually the point where I’d say “fuck PR!”, but I’ve met some great PRs recently and it’s made me readjust my attitudes. That said, if I had to deal with a videogames PR who had more of an interest in shoes and clubbing in Ibiza than gaming – one who, for example, didn’t even know how to plug in a console, let alone demo the game they’re meant to be promoting – I’d probably want to hand out a shitty score just because of the bad experience and I’d probably feel justified too.

    Back on topic – if a reviewer can potentially affect a games sales and or dev earnings by a rogue, out-of-whack score, then not only do I think devs and PRs have the right to reply, I think Metacritic should take its responsibilities far more seriously and remove them from the site.

    #60 2 years ago
  61. absolutezero

    I think you might be the first person I’ve ever seen that thinks Mortal Kombat is a better fighting game than Marvel 3.

    That completely boggles my mind.

    #61 2 years ago
  62. Gheritt White

    Check Metacritic or GameRankings, I’m clearly not the only one.

    #62 2 years ago
  63. OlderGamer

    Great Post Gheritt White. Really I mean it. Nice.

    @AbsoluteZ

    I also think the MK games are at least as good as Marvel. The reason isn’t gameplay for me. Almost all fighters boil down to button mashers, I think that is a given. But the reason is value. the sheer number of unlockables in some of the MK games were killer. But I can’t really speak for the latest releases from either franchise. I own both, but the DLC crap muddels it for me.

    #63 2 years ago
  64. Ireland Michael

    @64 The recent Mortal Kombat had some downloadable characters after launch and a few classic costumes to buy, but as far as sheer content goes, the game was absolutely bursting at the seams with it.

    The same certainly couldn’t be said for Capcom’s effort…

    #64 2 years ago
  65. DSB

    No journalist has ever taken a penny from a developer. Blaming a reviewer for a practice that he has nothing to do with, is just ridiculous.

    If game developers were somehow slaves who had no choice in what they did, who they worked for, or under what conditions, then maybe I could see your point. I wouldn’t like to cause a slave to get whipped.

    They aren’t though.

    You’re talking about well paid, well educated people, who chose to work for cunts. That’s their problem, not the reviewers, and working for cunts can’t possibly mean that you should get preferential treatment.

    Metacritics problem has nothing to do with the sites they allow, but with the model they use. If a site uses a 1-5 scale then that inexplicably gets converted into Metacritics own 1-100 scale, which means that a 2 somehow becomes a 40, and a 1 somehow becomes a 20.

    It boggles the mind that the industry, the audience, and most of all Metacritic don’t see a pretty obvious problem with that. It’s patently idiotic, and misrepresentative by design.

    Calling for a press where reviewers get boycotted the moment they dare to disagree is just fucking ridiculous, and even though I respect you Gheritt, I think it’s that sort of backwards logic that keeps games from being respected as a whole.

    It’s simple: Look at movies. Most movie critics disagree with eachother. The same thing goes for music. There is no consensus, and people are proud of that. Somehow games is the only place where critics acting and thinking independently, somehow becomes a huge disservice to their audience. No one seems to care about the merit of a review, only about how well it matches their own opinion.

    And movies also have a great aggregate in Rotten Tomatoes, which simply tallies reviews according to whether they’re positive or negative. That way each reviewer only gets one vote to add to the hat, regardless of score, and no one is ever able to cause a massive swing one way or the other.

    Once a movie gets 60% positive reviews, it’s considered “Fresh”. Which also means that if you want to tamper with the score, then you’ll need to buy a lot more than one journalist.

    #65 2 years ago
  66. absolutezero

    “Almost all fighters boil down to button mashers, I think that is a given.”

    Abuh guh?

    What? Theres a reason that Marvel was the main event at Evo this year and Mortal Kombat was a side-line event, its like claiming Starcraft 2 is a lesser game because Company of Heroes has more content.

    #66 2 years ago
  67. OlderGamer

    I stand by that one AZ, sorry. Means nothing tho, just my two cents. But I have seen skilled vets get their asses kicked by some noob pounding buttons.

    #67 2 years ago
  68. Gheritt White

    @ 65: I get your point (…apart from the buit about respectngme, that’s just crazy talk).

    “You’re talking about well paid, well educated people, who chose to work for cunts. That’s their problem, not the reviewers, and working for cunts can’t possibly mean that you should get preferential treatment.”

    That’s a gross oversimplification, especially as these practices aren’t the exception, they’re the norm. Yeah, somebody could leave, but where would they go to that’s any different whatsoever? It’s the standard rule. Devs don’t get paid all that well (unless you’re super-senior) in comparison to other sectors of the market (your passion is frequently leveraged as a means of enforcing unpaid overtime) – you’re big bonus is the carrot. How this went from being measured against sales to being measured against a Metascore is beyond me, but that’s where we are for all sectors of the market aside from iOS/Android devs and indies. Won’t be long until Apple user reviews are employed in the same way, mark my words. It’s a travesty, but it’s too, late to turn the clock back. So, you have to respect the fact that if you want to work in console dev, you will be subjected to this, no exception.

    I agree the Metascore model is flawed and broken and Rotten Tomatoes is *much* better, But now the publishers have a taste for it, if it wasn’t Matacritic it’d just be GameRankings… or even GameStats (p’too, ick).

    Calling for a press where reviewers get boycotted the moment they dare to disagree is just fucking ridiculous, I think it’s that sort of backwards logic that keeps games from being respected as a whole.

    I agree with you – I hate the way certain games like Halo and GTA just get nines and tens by rote, fuck that noise. But you *know* what I’;m talking about – smaller sites using lo scores on big games to make a name for themselves. I understand the reasoning, but much like a software pirate they’re unaware how their action affect people’s livelihood in very real ways.

    While journalism is a noble profession, I don’t think games journalists can be oblivious to the all-too-tangible ramifications of their actions just because, in an ideal world, this set of circumstances would never ever occur.

    #68 2 years ago
  69. DSB

    @68 When I’m in the US, I’m staying in the South. I see people working up to three jobs, none of which they enjoy, some join the army just to survive, some are working just to go to college, which still doesn’t save them from running up a massive debt, which is so incredibly far from anything I see back home in safe, comfortable Denmark.

    I simply cannot take it seriously when people with perfectly good jobs stomp their feet for losing a bonus, even if I can see how it sucks not to get it.

    Ultimately, it’s in their court. If they’re underpaid, they need to do something about it. They can’t just pass the buck to someone who isn’t even a direct part of the industry. Do something about it.

    As for critics, it’s just something I see thrown around a lot whenever someone sticks out, even a little bit. It’s like in the Penny Arcade piece I linked earlier.

    People aren’t looking at merit, they’re looking at how much they agree with something. Gaming is the one scene where everybody agrees. To me having someone disagree would be a sign of progress. And if they’re a contrarian, then it hardly matters, because they’re well and truly alone in that.

    Most reviewers happily slap an 8 onto something they’ve forgotten about next week. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see one of those guys go “This is one game I’m actually going to keep playing after this review”. Most of them have zero credibility. It’s just god-awful.

    #69 2 years ago
  70. Gheritt White

    Okay, I get your point that devs aren’t destitute, but they’re highly skilled labourers – I assume you know about crunch and the ins and outs of dev cycles. EA wives is very much alive and kicking in 2012, i’m sorry to say. A contact of mine recently said that he thought agile and scrum has been effected just as a means of extracting ever more unpaid overtime from devs – that all these managerial drives only increase efficiency at the cost of a workers work/life balance. I <3 agile, but I'm sorry to say he might have a point.

    What I'm trying to say is this – have a heart, FFS. We all know that being a journo is a tough gig even when you're at the top (…Rupert Loman aside, j/k). It's certainly no less tough being in dev, so as I said, have a heart. Remember that your critical analysis doesn't exist in a vacuum or a purely philosophical realm – *you* (as in journalists) have the power to fuck up somebody's career… and I don't mean the design/art/programming leads, I mean the grunts on the shop floor working for a break.

    As for reviews, they need to split into two types – critiques and buyers guides. Critiques should be long-form and have no score. Buyer's guides should be short (say 800 words) and be marked out of five stars. Equally, Metacritic and GameRankings should readjust to the Rotten Tomatoes formula. These two actions would have an enormous positive impact in people's lives. Okay, so we're talking first world people, but it's something that people I've actually met have the power to do.

    Why will this never happen? Because – and here's the kicker – journos need to eat too and those scores and controversial headlines is what puts food on *their* table.

    I've essentially just argued myself into a corner, haven't I? Still, it irks me to see people who can only be described as talentless hacks (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, N'GAI CROAL) make a killing while entire studios suffer because of a rogue score or two.

    #70 2 years ago
  71. DSB

    I get your point though, but I also don’t see how it’s possible.

    You can’t afford to be best buds with people, when you’re covering commercial products. It directly impacts your credibility. I think journalistic integrity becomes twice as important when money is involved.

    If you’re considering wives, kids, tuitions, working conditions when you’re reviewing a game, then it all detracts from what you should be doing, which is relating to the game.

    There just can’t be any mercy (or cruelty) if you want to be a reviewer or a reporter. You can’t add redeeming qualities that don’t come with the disc itself. You should always be fair though, and you should always remember that you’re dealing with peoples hard work. It’s the least you can do.

    Objective journalism is an ideal, not a reality. I’ve reported on people I’ve really, really liked, but I’ve never reviewed them, and I can’t say I would bury or even angle a story a certain way for their sake. Ultimately you back the story, not the person.

    #71 2 years ago

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