Friday, November 16, 2007

Review timing

A couple of people pointed me to a great post, by Gabe of Penny Arcade, about a problem professional reviewers are likely to run into when reviewing sandbox games. The gist is that sandbox games are not designed to be played through quickly or in a linear fashion, so a review of a such a game is not likely to be accurate unless the reviewer has the time to play the game as most gamers would play it: leisurely.

I think there's more to consider when reviewing sandbox games than just the time constraints, but I'll save that for later. For now, I want to re-emphasize something I said in response to one of Brian Green's articles. Basically, I think there's little sense in any game's review coinciding with its release date. Short delays in getting games reviewed are really not a big loss to developers, reviewers, or fans.

Who are reviews really for?
I'm not sure, but I bet that most people who read any type of gaming coverage at all read game previews. And odds are that a gamer who hasn't been hooked by a game's previews isn't going to pay much heed to the game's reviews. That gamer has probably gotten into the habit of glossing over any news about the game, so it would take an extraordinary marketing stunt to get him or her looking again with an open mind.

If the gamer is on-the-fence and waiting for reviews to tip him one way or the other, he's probably already skeptical and therefore more open to non-professional reviews than to professional reviews.

Reviews probably make a bigger difference with non-gamer gift-givers, like parents, and very-occasional gamers than with regular gamers. These are the people who are in the most need of when help making a purchasing decision. Even then, such consumers are more likely to simply ask an offline friend or store clerk about the game than to look up a review on a website they probably haven't even heard of.

Reviews probably have a more significant effect in influencing delayed purchasing decisions than purchases on release day or even within the first week of release. Reviewers, please don't feel rushed. Marketing folks, relax!


  1. Traditions die hard...

    But it is also about selecting a moment to grab the attention of the intended audience to sell as much as possible, whether it is the game companies themselves or the game media.

    I see less reason for bloggers to get caught up in this though.

  2. Agreed. But, that said, the reality is different. If site X gets a review up before Y, then everyone reads and links to X instead of Y. In internet terms, that's deadly. Especially for the larger games, you want a review earlier to catch more people to your site. Unfortunately, this makes reviews pretty pointless if you really want to get to know a game. That link to PA is exactly the problem, where you have to do a lot of interpolation and anticipation as a reviewer.

    On the developer side, you want reviewers sooner rather than later since games sit on the shelf for such a brief amount of time. Most of the money made on a game is made in the first few weeks of release. Having a review for the game out a month or two after release pretty much means that nobody will be able to buy the game after reading the review without having to scour the bargain bin.

    I did a full review of an RPG, Divine Divinity. I played the game through all the way with one character, and it took me about 40 hours. In the end I was able to give a detailed review that gives you a very accurate picture of the game (I hope). But, it came out so late that most people probably overlooked the game, anyway. (Although, the review was fun to do as a writing excercise.)

    And, don't get me started on MMOs....

    But, yeah, there's a lot of talk about how game reviews are becoming more and more useless. Unfortunately, while there are some sites that are working to improve things (like as I linked above), but there's no real viable and profitable alternative that presents itself.

  3. I prefer previews over reviews.

    Previews to me are chock full of information about the game and have little to no talk about the personal opinions of the one behind the article/video/broadcast. I want to know if the game has everything I have been hearing about and if it is all implemented and working well. What I don't want to hear about is if the game makes you feel the same way you did when you made your first troll in WoW.

    I'd much rather see a scale that says X game got 8/10 Smileys because the put everything in they said they would but only had 6 choices for character models and lacked levels for adjusting the audio.

    Granted, most of the information I get for games comes from either the main site itself or through blogs/podcasts. Those are teeming with opinion and I'm not trying to say thats a bad thing. I just think that when it comes to a true review of what a game is, it should be taken for what it aspired to be and whether or not it really attained that.

    These should be easier to do because systems are either implemented, partially implemented, or simply not there.


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