The Problem With Game Reviews – Writing on Games


TWITTER – @hamboblack


In this episode of Writing on Games, I wanted to do something a little different (essentially whilst just waiting on my review copy of Dark Souls 3). I thought to myself – game reviews are a strange thing. I remember thinking that back in the golden age of Gamespot (right before Jeff got fired) that the game review represented a kind of finality for a game’s release, and that the words and numbers featured in them contained great power. Now though, with the rise of YouTube and the ubiquity of high quality gameplay footage from users and publishers alike, the mainstream press, consumer buyer’s guide game review is doing less and less for me. In this episode, I want to try and examine why that is, and where the game review can go from here in order to try and retain some form of relevancy in an age where distrust for mainstream outlets is high. I talk about the desire for…


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20 thoughts on “The Problem With Game Reviews – Writing on Games”

  1. I like Yahtzee Croshaw's Zero Punctuation reviews because they focus on critique first and appraisal second.

  2. Consumer review and more scholarly writing like what comes from are two different kinds of writing.

  3. Bobby Bobby says:

    We have no need for professional game reviewers anymore. Just show me a few minutes of gameplay, give me your opinion of the game, and then I can form my own judgement. Anybody can do it.

    When I was younger, I relied on sources like Game Informer for video game information. I am happy that those days are long gone.

  4. dark0ssx says:

    There are so many reviews that dont even talk about the gameplay mechanics. Like they will talk for ages about story and graphics but never mention about how the game plays or why how it plays is good/bad/interesting etc
    If they do talk about mechannics they do it in a very shallow superficial way

  5. dddmemaybe says:

    Hey Hamish Black, I'm going to review your review on current Game reviews:

    TL;DU: Give scope and focus before giving specifics to lead the audience to your mindset accurately instead of having them meander for what your personal guidelines happen to be before they can field any meaning or mental-anchoring within your video.

    There was an odd repetition and misplacement of the topic in this video. Where you tackled multiple specific bad reviews,
    doing so before you had eased and explained in earnest detail how or why the subjective terms you are giving these reviews hold any meaning. It was simply difficult to keep up with the video in what you were criticizing. You needed to start the video, perhaps after a short introduction, with what you had stated at 7:308:30. To be fair you could use some design by subtraction here, although I like your extras(like your personal opinions on some examples that were used here were nice) on the topic, they needed a second look, they needed to be segmented as a secondary aspect to the video's core purpose.

    Not to kick a dead horse, but at 0:44 your use of dramatic vocabulary in "truly aggressive and hostile discussion" stole my focus, of which was a negative effect at this moment. Considering everything said before that statement was a slow build-up of the topical idea you were presenting, yet that topical idea was not finished yet after 40 seconds(ah I used dramatic logistics offensively, excuse me). The topical idea of the video wasn't directly addressed until about 7 minutes or so.

    You also got sidetracked explaining all of the reasons why that certain counterarguments to certain relevant topics were invalid, before you'd explained the purpose, usefulness or reason you are bringing up those relevant topics in the first place. ( For example at 3:00 you brought up "style" in games but didn't give your definition of what that meant as a purely subjective descriptor). It makes the viewer have to carry a lot of ideas with them as they watch the video or they cease to be able to comprehend what is being said by you. It simply has a high difficulty floor to comprehend when that difficulty wasn't necessary; it's not wrong but there is room for betterment in the focus of considering ease of accessibility and ease of viewing. Regardless, it still was slightly confusing, even if it's just the opinion of the lazier-headed kind of crowd, that I take comfort as.

  6. Game journalism has become a joke.

  7. Are you a fan of Jim Sterling at all?

  8. What about Mathewmathosis', hour long style, broad and deep?

  9. Lol, I heard you say 800 subscribers and I was wait…. I see 49k…. That's when I saw this was from last year. Well done dude! I am definitely going to check out some of those channels.

  10. I like how Zero Punctuation does reviews, because if Yahtzee doesn't rip it to shreds then you know it's a good game

  11. Dirk Hoderin says:

    Having watched this I realised that I actually haven't read a review before purchasing a game for a long time indeed. Mostly I just identify a game I think I'll like by the themes and gameplay, then poke around the internet for a vague, nebulous kind of vibe. I'll maybe watch a video from a youtube channel or two, maybe a quick glance at metacritic and the feedback score on the steam page if applicable then just buy the game because I know I'm already interested in it and people seem to like it, thus making it more likely I'll enjoy it as well.

  12. I know this comment section and video is old but if anyone out there is reading this I want you to known…

    I like to fuck my cat

  13. Avarickan says:

    WOO! 800 Subscribers!

    You have come a long way in a year.

  14. there are many problems with games reviews. I'm going to be a snob and say that part of it has to do with the fact that games as a medium is simply not backed up with the same history of critical analysis as most other art forms. we don't talk about games the same way we would a film or book because the idea of games criticism being a very serious thing simply doesn't have the same history.

    more importantly, there is a gross misunderstanding of games criticism as a medium. people accuse games reviews of being too biased, but the audience themselves are hardly dispassionate about them to say the least. people are so entrenched in gaming as a self identity that they themselves cannot remove themselves from the rude things critics may say. they may even entirely dismiss certain reviews because they fail to mention one insignificant mechanic. to some people, failing to recognise that one thing renders a whole review moot.

    and to top it off is the incessant cry of "objective review". oh how that phrase irritates the fuck out of me. true, you can endeavour to appreciate that madden 2099 will appeal to fans of madden, but the fact remains that every writer takes their personal experience with a medium when they review something. total biscuit isn't necessarily being objective when he says something is "objectively bad". that would mean that there are legitimate metrics of how fun a game is and trying to create them is a pipe dream. if games objectivity existed, we would have no need for metacritic to average out review scores because they would all be the same. everyone would like the "good" games and hate the "bad" ones. but we don't have that. we have the choice to enjoy what we want. we can choose to be entertained by Ride To Hell: Retribution because IT IS a bad game.

    to turn a phrase, it's all bullshit. and no one who thinks critically about the concept should accept it because it simply does not exist and anyone who claims otherwise is lying to themselves or you. take your pick.

  15. Fox-E says:

    I always liked Yahtzee quick and decisive writing always got the point across very quickly in his reviews and always gave me a good idea of what to expect from a game.

  16. CryoNoir says:

    Hahaha. Your list of games journalists to watch was effectively my subbs list. Have you seen Noah Gervais? His long for videos are almost entirely about discussing themes, concepts, and a games position in the market place at the time of launch. Plus, he's got a really unique writing style. There's a reason he's a reason he's as popular as he is…..and it aint for the production values.

  17. Adolf Healer says:

    I'm technically an academic in games (Teacher in game and level design) and have been a dev for a while.

    I often feel the cringe when I watch reviews. I remember when Dark Souls first came out and journalists just didn't get it and judged the game sollely by its graphics and viewed it's difficulty as something bad, giving it so.e 7, or 8 while the annual COD release of that year maybe got 9.5.

  18. Maxatrillion says:

    User reviews are, by far, the best solution. Find someone you generally agree with, and you can usually rely on them to tell you whether you'll like a game or not. Because very few games are legitimately bad nowadays. Mighty Number 9 is one of the few exceptions. However, what's really important is whether or not the game is something you'd be willing to drop $20 – $60 on.

    A reviewer is only as useful as their opinions. That's why there is no perfect solution. The onus is on the consumer.

  19. I think this video quiet well encapsulated what I find missing in the video game discussion/critique.

  20. Funny part is how when you get reviewers like you talk about you get people saying "You're just hating (Fallout 4, GTA 5, Skyrim, or really any dumbed down broken game) thinking you're cool." which I find quite sad tbh.
    And that's the story as to why I bought GTA 5 and regretted it. I didn't find any reviewers talking about how many game breaking bugs there were. I didn't even bother to think that the mission skip was there for a reason (because they didn't have confidence in their product).

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