HOW TO BE A REVIEWER

A Non-Reviewer Reviews Reviews

  • kentona
  • 02/22/2010 06:33 PM
  • 3040 views
RMN seems aquibble with contentious reviews of late. I aim to fix that. Grandiose? Perhaps. You may or may not agree with the following points - that is for you to or to not determine. Feel free to post counter-points. Or not.


Reviews in Review

By their very nature, reviews are subjective. There is no such thing as a definitively "good" game, nor is there any such thing as a definitively "bad" game. When you read a review, you are reading some of the reviewer's genuine thoughts, and with those, you are free to determine whether or not you'd enjoy the subject game. With that in mind, let's examine some key elements you ought to consider when writing a review.

>>> For you to actually review a game, you need to have played the game. I know this seems like a pretty basic thing, but before you set out to review a game it is a good idea to have given the game a fair play.

>>> After you play the game, formulate a specific opinion in one sentence. Your job as reviewer is to give an opinion of the game. You should be able to state that opinion succinctly in a single sentence - much like a thesis for an essay.

>>> Create a good lead. There are basic writing tips that apply to most forms of writing. One of those tips is to grab your reader immediately. You want your reader to be interested in what you have to say.

>>> Give a synopsis. Recap briefly, but don't give away anything big. A player will largely decide to play a game based on what they perceive to be the game's content. Enlighten them with your review.

>>> Back up your main opinion with specifics. For your opinion to bear any weight, you must justify it. Comment on specific details to support your opinion.

>>> Be honest in your appraisal. A review unclouded by personal bias or questionable motivation carries more clout.

>>> Be interesting. From lead to ending paragraph, make the review engaging, using metaphors, analogy, specific adjectives and adverbs, or even screenshots. But also be concise. A review isn't a place for long diatribes or flowery prose.


Metrics

A suggested use of the current 5-star metric:

5.0: "Outstanding"
A game that finds itself with a full score is truly remarkable. It is well presented, has enjoyable gameplay, has very few flaws or drawbacks and in general is just a great gaming experience.
Five stars out of five doesn't mean that it is the greatest game and no game could be better. It does mean that it's one of the very best you can download in the opinion of the writer of the review.

4.0 to 4.5: "Exceptional"
This score identifies a game that did most everything right and was a lot of fun to play. There may be one or two annoying traits that kept it from a full score but that doesn't take anything critical away from the game. Games with a 4 or 4.5 would come across as highly recommended to play.

2.5 to 3.5: "Average"
These games are good and can provide a good playing experience. However, faults in this range are more noticeable and do detract from the experience. Games that fall into this range are typically worth checking out, especially if the game style or content suits your RPG preferences.

1.0 to 2.0: "Poor"
The general experience from a game in this category is generally a poor one, but with a few redeeming qualities. The problems in this range tend to mount faster and more repeatedly and detract heavily from the game. While a select few may enjoy the game, most wouldn't.

0.5: "Terrible"
The "Don't Play This Game" score. Games in this range have more negatives than positives and just don't provide a good enough playing experience to justify the time spent downloading it.


The Game Component Breakdown

Before moving on to scoring individual game components, let's contrast game reviews with movie reviews (or books or any passive media). In reviews for movies you won't see a bunch of numerical scores ranking the film's "special effects" and "acting" and "sound technology" and "plot" on an arbitrary scale of one to ten. In games, however, such a breakdown in components actually makes some sense. It adds a qualitative aspect to something that is an intensely personal affair.

There is one variable that emphasizes the subjective nature of game reviews more than any other: interactivity. Gamers interact with their subject matter to a far greater degree than in other media. Different players bring different experiences, expectations, preferences and skill to the table when they start up a game. Thus a game reviewer will often strive to be more objective in their review in order to convey their opinions on the game. A breakdown in gameplay, story, graphics, sound, and characters (and other categories) can prove useful!


So now that we're all better reviewers, let us all put our review hats on an review some games!

Posts

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One of the criteria I personally go by and believe that everyone should follow for a good review is to not only play but finish the game they're reviewing. If a reviewer hasn't played through the whole game I think it should be mentioned immediately in the beginning of a review. Usually you can tell what a game is like by playing a bit of it but for a good and proper review I think one should preferably play through all of it.

Exceptions exist of course. Like an insanely difficult game that you just can't finish it might be reasonable to write a review after not quite finishing it (though giving it plenty of try before giving up).
Hmm I do not fully agree with the scores, so here is my take on it:

.5 - Shit.
1 to 1.5 Shit, but has an ounce of hope
2 to 2.5 - Average/below average, nothing special, but not shit
3 to 3.5 - Above average , enjoyable, might have bad/boring moments in the middle, but still fun.
4 to 4.5 - Good and innovative, solid execution, and rarely any faults
5 - Perfection, the motherfucking citizen kane of gams to the point where it should be put in a museum or something. But to be a little more serious, it's really a game you feel ANYONE would like regardless of preference unless they hate video games or whatever.

Granted this scale isn't too different, but hey, just my input.
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8344
2.5 to 3.5: "Average"
These games are good and can provide a good playing experience.


Not poking fun, but this is exactly why I never got around to working on a rubric for games myself. This has kind of given me a little nudge, though...here is how my rubric would differ from yours. Like Darken said this is not monumentally different from yours and it is not well-worded (because I spent five minutes on it, rather than the five hours it probably deserves) but hopefully it will help elucidate my thoughts on the matter:

0.5: This game not only does nothing RIGHT but also has some things that are so wrong as to be offensive to the tastes of a potential player. Simply a game that is "bad" at everything is not enough to earn this score. A game must be bad at everything have at least one aspect so awful it causes the reviewer nearly physical pain. This should by far be the rarest score and should never be given based largely on personal tastes.

1: This game does everything wrong and has no strong points but shows enough effort and/or thought that it is not a 0.5. "Bad" but "inoffensive" would be the distinction and using expletives to describe the game is probably not appropriate at this point.

1.5: This game fails at most things but has perhaps one category which partially redeems it or shows promise. Alternatively, the game is mediocre or below average (but not bad) in every category.

2-3: The vast majority of games should fall into this rage. These games are "average" and are worth playing; whether or not they are "good" or you will enjoy them is largely up to personal tastes and preferences. These games have good points and bad-points. A 3 has more Pros than Cons; a 2.5 is exactly average, and a 2 is well executed or conceived in at least a few areas even if it has several weaknesses. All of these games are worth your time especially if their specific features interest you.

3.5-4.5: These games do most things right and have few flaws. Out of the categories measured in your review, most are good or excellent.

5: The second rarest rating, given only to games that are EXEMPLARY in every area and have no significant weak points. This seal of "perfection" reflects your personal opinion. Do not expect everyone (anyone) else to agree.
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Also I think it is probably ludicrous for anyone to review a complete game with the same standards as a demo. When you are harsh in reviewing a demo, the author can take your feedback into account and alter the game in production. In fact the point of reviewing a demo is to give the author feedback. Reviewing a complete game, on the other hand, the point seems to be to evaluate the author's accomplishment and act as a "reviewer" giving the community-as-audience an idea of the game's entertainment value. I think that perhaps if complete games- which generally can't be improved based on feedback anyway- were given a little bit more delicacy and respect from reviewers, we would have more of them.

One thing I really like on this site is how anyone can write a review in whatever style they want using whatever categories they want. But of course, when it comes to standardizing responses, that too is problematic...
kentona
The A is for MAKE IT SNOW
18902
Maybe if those who are prominent and prolific reviewers would write articles on how they go about reviewing a game we would all benefit?
Here's mine for that one review I mostly wrote and never finished!

0: Not recommended
5: Recommended

If you want more details read the review! This metric simple, drama-light, and there's no "I'd go back and change that review score if I could". I also think 'Fun'/'Funfactor' should be a category.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
17202
As good an idea as this seems like on the surface I feel like having something like this will just encourage more people to call out reviewers on reviews they don't personally agree with. "You gave this a 3.5 when clear it deserves a 4.0 based on the Kentona Scale!" Suppose I write a review people think is inconsistent with whatever official scale we use? This is just one more thing for people to complain about.

Reviews are not science, they're subjective opinion. Nothing more. Everyone will have different feelings on a game, some will like it more than others, so having some kind of "Code" to follow just serves to drag all reviewers into some middle ground and might stifle the more opinionated among us who are now afraid to give whatever score they want.

Just my take on it.
kentona
The A is for MAKE IT SNOW
18902
Everyone has their own ideas on the metric, but it only starts to have real value when people agree on a baseline scoring system. A 3 is a 3 is a 3, is my motto. Right now its "This game is a 3.5, but it's a kentona 3.5, so it's probably overvalued. Solitayre gave it a 2 though, so it must be good!"

Also:
Maybe if those who are prominent and prolific reviewers would write articles on how they go about reviewing a game we would all benefit?
hint hint wink wink nudge nudge
Also I think it is probably ludicrous for anyone to review a complete game with the same standards as a demo. When you are harsh in reviewing a demo, the author can take your feedback into account and alter the game in production. In fact the point of reviewing a demo is to give the author feedback. Reviewing a complete game, on the other hand, the point seems to be to evaluate the author's accomplishment and act as a "reviewer" giving the community-as-audience an idea of the game's entertainment value. I think that perhaps if complete games- which generally can't be improved based on feedback anyway- were given a little bit more delicacy and respect from reviewers, we would have more of them.


There's nothing saying an author can't go back and improve a complete project (in fact, I've seen many people do this exact thing after receiving a scathing review). These games are not published and sold, they can be altered at any time as long as the author is willing to go back to them. If not, then they need to be given blunt and honest feedback so that they may improve future projects instead. In the case that the creator is uninterested in the review it's just as important that players know exactly what they're getting into when they download a game. The last thing I want to come across when I'm reading a review for something I'm interested in playing is a sentence like "This game might possibly be fun if you're in a good mood when you play it and you consider that the author tried really hard to make something playable."

In summary, trying to sugarcoat a review or giving a developer an A for effort is insulting to everyone involved. All a reviewer can do is give honest and detailed feedback of their own experience with a game.

As for the topic at hand, I personally think trying to standardize the review scale is a waste of time. Even if you somehow managed to get everyone to adhere to that specific scale you'd still end up with wildly different scores due to personal taste and experience. Someone who's only played 10 RPGs is going to have a completely different idea of what makes an 'average' game than someone who's been playing them for a decade. Not to mention anyone who's just passing through the site and browsing the game listings is going to see the star ratings and apply their own standard without looking any deeper.

Personally I would prefer a simple thumbs up/thumbs down system. The content and tone of a review should tell the reader everything they need to know without even looking at the score.
kentona
The A is for MAKE IT SNOW
18902
In my defense, the suggested metric is very high level and broadly defined, leaving a lot of wiggle room.
Furthermore, the random passerby need not know the metric because it is pretty self explanatory that "5 be good, and 0 be bad and 2.5 be in da middle". This is more geared towards those that intend on reviewing games - if reviewers can (somewhat) adhere to this suggestion, it will generate some internal consistency to the reviews, increasing their merit overall. So, given that we have a 5 star scale here, I do not consider it a waste of time to try to get it used consistently.

The thumbs up/thumbs down system was used here, but it didn't pan out - the userbase is too small which leads to widely skewed results, making it a rather useless indicator. That combined with the penchant of the community to praise most things make a thumbs up/down unworkable.

What would make reviews more valuable (and accessible) than this suggested metric though, would be if those who are prominent and prolific reviewers would write articles on how they go about reviewing a game. We would all benefit from that.
The thumbs up/thumbs down system was used here, but it didn't pan out - the userbase is too small which leads to widely skewed results, making it a rather useless indicator. That combined with the penchant of the community to praise most things make a thumbs up/down unworkable.


I suppose I wasn't entirely clear here. What I mean is that I prefer a thumbs up/thumbs down system for reviews. Not some kind of vote process that wouldn't account for much other than popularity. The reviewer writes out an entire review and then states whether they liked the game or not. Since there's no focus on a precise scoring system the content of the review itself is what is important.
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8344
As good an idea as this seems like on the surface I feel like having something like this will just encourage more people to call out reviewers on reviews they don't personally agree with. "You gave this a 3.5 when clear it deserves a 4.0 based on the Kentona Scale!" Suppose I write a review people think is inconsistent with whatever official scale we use? This is just one more thing for people to complain about.


As Kentona pointed out, the alternative is a system where your 2 is my 4. (That is the general you, by the way, and I did not mean me personally). But we can't just get rid of personal standards entirely either.

That combined with the penchant of the community to praise most things make a thumbs up/down unworkable.


The community has a penchant for praising MOST things? Then why don't more games have more downloads and feedback?

In summary, trying to sugarcoat a review or giving a developer an A for effort is insulting to everyone involved. All a reviewer can do is give honest and detailed feedback of their own experience with a game.


Agree to disagree.

In the case that the creator is uninterested in the review it's just as important that players know exactly what they're getting into when they download a game.


See, herein lies the problem. If a good game receives a crappy review score and the author's feelings are hurt, "oh well" might be an appropriate response. But in a system where review scores directly impact downloads which directly impact future reviews...an early harsh review can prevent a good game from even having a chance. But like I said, agree to disagree.
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8344
And of course in a perfect world "good games don't get crappy review scores" but this isn't a perfect world nor is RMN staffed by perfect reviewers. I don't think anyone can disagree with that. Heck, just look at the number of articles we've had about it lately.
Good article. Most of it is just common sense, but wise common sense.

I'd just like to point one thing, and that is, of course, just my opinion about "average" games, those rated 2.5-3.5.

Kentona
These games are good and can provide a good playing experience.


Darken
Enjoyable, might have bad/boring moments in the middle, but still fun.


MaxMcGee
These games are "average" and are worth playing; whether or not they are "good" or you will enjoy them is largely up to personal tastes and preferences. (...) All of these games are worth your time especially if their specific features interest you.


Seems like in most people's opinion, average games are worth playing. As I see it, there are over 1800 games in RMN, and knowing that some of them may take me quite a few hours to finish, I'm kinda picky when chosing one to start playing. I mean... a 3 star review is not very appealing. If I'm looking for a game to play based only on reviews and stars (using the search engine, for instance), I usually look for something with at least 4 stars. So, unless the game has some specific element that catches my attention, 3-stars and 1-star have the same effect on me. I'm just saying this so people are really careful when writing reviews and rating the games.
Max, it's time to get over your bruised ego. Your attitude regarding the reviews you have gotten it pitiful and frankly pretty disgusting.

And seriously, stop trying to undermine Solitayre and Silviera in every post you make. It makes you look even more like a crazed sycophant.
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8344
You do not even know what the word sycophant means, just for starters. More importantly, it's bullshit to dismiss my opinion based on the bullshit rationale of "lol bruised ego". And the fact you are doing so makes me doubt that you have read and understood what I said thus far. In fact, I don't know why you even think this conversation has anything to do with anything but the subject of Kentona's article because it doesn't. If you disagree with any opinions I've put forth then why not put forth a thought-through counterpoint rather than just namecalling and making ridiculous accusations.

Seems like in most people's opinion, average games are worth playing. As I see it, there are over 1800 games in RMN, and knowing that some of them may take me quite a few hours to finish, I'm kinda picky when chosing one to start playing. I mean... a 3 star review is not very appealing. If I'm looking for a game to play based only on reviews and stars (using the search engine, for instance), I usually look for something with at least 4 stars. So, unless the game has some specific element that catches my attention, 3-stars and 1-star have the same effect on me. I'm just saying this so people are really careful when writing reviews and rating the games.


This is so hugely important. I mean wow this is REALLY important! I hope no one has missed this!

Calunio the reason I particularly stressed that 3-Star games and even 2-Star games SHOULD be worth playing is because I AM aware that a lot of people are setting their standards on games-worth-checking out at games with four stars and above. That is why the whole issue of the review system is such a huge deal to me. Because I think right now, basically 90% of games get a 3 or lower (which is pretty skewed I think) and I think 90% of users are only playing games with 4 or more stars. So unless one component of this situation changes, we have a situation where 90% of our users AREN'T playing 90% of the games on the site. Which seems...bad.
Seems like in most people's opinion, average games are worth playing. As I see it, there are over 1800 games in RMN, and knowing that some of them may take me quite a few hours to finish, I'm kinda picky when chosing one to start playing. I mean... a 3 star review is not very appealing. If I'm looking for a game to play based only on reviews and stars (using the search engine, for instance), I usually look for something with at least 4 stars. So, unless the game has some specific element that catches my attention, 3-stars and 1-star have the same effect on me. I'm just saying this so people are really careful when writing reviews and rating the games.


Think about what you're saying here. You are ignoring games in this star range because you perceive them to be average or lower. Now if you search through the game listing and see that nearly all of the 1800 games now have a 4 star rating, what are you going to do? You're going to see that as the new average range and start looking for games above 4 stars. I really shouldn't have to explain that saying nearly every game is above average by default is a hilariously bad idea.

Calunio the reason I particularly stressed that 3-Star games and even 2-Star games SHOULD be worth playing is because I AM aware that a lot of people are setting their standards on games-worth-checking out at games with four stars and above. That is why the whole issue of the review system is such a huge deal to me. Because I think right now, basically 90% of games get a 3 or lower (which is pretty skewed I think) and I think 90% of users are only playing games with 4 or more stars. So unless one component of this situation changes, we have a situation where 90% of our users AREN'T playing 90% of the games on the site. Which seems...bad.


I'm not really sure where you're pulling this magical 90% statistic from, but from my personal experience with the user base on this site I wouldn't say the percentage of people who rely on star ratings alone is even remotely close to that. Additionally, most reviews are not 3 stars or lower, and in fact nearly 700 games on this site have a 4 star rating or higher. As for people not playing 90% of the games on the site, that one I'm inclined to agree with but for an entirely different reason. Namely that you'd probably be here for a decade if you attempted to play everything, not even including the fact that this is primarily a developer centric website where most people are more interested in making their own games rather than playing the projects of others.
Whoops, added an extra 0 there, I meant to say "nearly 70 games on this site have a 4 star rating or higher."

Since the site has about 500-600 reviews (many of which are targeting the same games, there still remain a huge set of games lacking even one review) and many of them opt not to give a star score that should give a more accurate statistic.

Once again I curse the lack of an edit button on comments.
Hmm...I'm not going to bother with the rest of the stuff you spewed, Max, and despite what I am about to say, I think you could add a lot to the community if you really tried. But...

You are definitely a sycophant. If you do not see how this is the case you are not only a poor judge of character, but also have a poor sense of your own self-worth and values.

I mean, I guess I could call you 'arrogant, condescending prick' and still be right, but I think 'self-serving flattering parasite' describes you pretty well - perhaps moreso.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
17202
Seems like in most people's opinion, average games are worth playing. As I see it, there are over 1800 games in RMN, and knowing that some of them may take me quite a few hours to finish, I'm kinda picky when chosing one to start playing. I mean... a 3 star review is not very appealing. If I'm looking for a game to play based only on reviews and stars (using the search engine, for instance), I usually look for something with at least 4 stars. So, unless the game has some specific element that catches my attention, 3-stars and 1-star have the same effect on me. I'm just saying this so people are really careful when writing reviews and rating the games.


This is one reason why I think going just by the star metric of reviews is a bad idea. What if a game has three reviews and they're all wildly different in their evaluation? Who do you listen to? All a reviewer can do is give their opinion in whether they enjoyed a game or not. That is why I think it is important to actually read the content of the review and think about what the reviewer is saying, rather than looking at the rating and writing a game off right then and there. Also, take a look at the game, what it's about. If the subject matter interests you you might enjoy it regardless of what any review says.

In short, reviews can be a useful tool to help you make a decision, but they shouldn't make it for you.
kentona
The A is for MAKE IT SNOW
18902
In short, reviews can be a useful tool to help you make a decision, but they shouldn't make it for you.
It'd be interesting to know how much a review or review score influences the decisions of who downloads what, but I have a suspicion that it plays less of a role than, say, the screenshots or gameprofile homepage. A good score may entice a player to click on a gameprofile, though.
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