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Game reviews are the backbone of video game journalism. Previews are nifty, interviews help to build hype, the occasional editorial is good to get the creative juices flowing, but everything comes down to the review. At least, when it comes to retail.

Posted by JoeX111 on Jun 17th, 2007


Game reviews are the backbone of video game journalism. Previews are nifty, interviews help to build hype, the occasional editorial is good to get the creative juices flowing, but everything comes down to the review. At least, when it comes to retail.

Early game reviews were written on these dinosaurs.
Early game reviews were written on these dinosaurs.

We, as readers and—notably—consumers, love game reviews. When the average video game costs about $50, it is nice to have a source that guides us towards or away from a given purchase. Sometimes we disagree with the reviewer, sometimes we read it just for the novelty value and usually we just read them to validate the opinions we already have. Most people know if they are going to buy Game X already, but a little nudge in that direction never hurts.

However, that argument only carries well when it involves making a purchase. We enjoy reviews because they inform us whether or not to plunk down the dough. Period. End of line.

When it comes to mods, opinions are instantly polarized.

As a journalist, I have something of an obligation to the public. While I am not doing something as noble as saving people money, I am still trying to urge people towards an experience well worth their time. I have to be fair in my judgment, but being honest and candid is the law of the land.

Hold it! Your game sucks!
Hold it! Your game sucks!

The first time I experienced people disagreeing with this was two years ago, back when I first started. I made a novice mistake of letting a mod team read an article I had written before I published it.

“How dare you be critical of my fabulous mod,” they seemed to say. “I worked long and hard on this. What gives you the right to think it is anything other than wonderful?”

Well, that right would be freedom of speech. More specifically, by releasing a mod, you are effectively throwing your work out into the public spectrum and subjecting it to potential scrutiny. No one seems to mind when a person posts a comment saying, “This mod sucks!” or “This mod rocks my boxers!” When you write a review and stick it on the front of your website, though, then you are asking for trouble.

At what point is the mod community going to willingly accept criticism? It astounds me that an industry of independent game developers so determined to get their work taken seriously are so quick to flame at even a hint of negativity.

It is worthy of note that a retail game is hard set at the time of its review and cannot often receive much in the way of major changes, yet a mod can be rebuilt from the ground up to accommodate for problems and suggestions people have.

To this end, we have stripped out scores from our reviews. No longer can people complain that they deserve some marginal number above another. Now positives and negatives are listed alongside one another, providing balance.

The future of mod journalism.
The future of mod journalism.

Still we get emails lampooning our supposedly shoddy journalistic practices.

To what extents must we go to provide honest coverage?

Should I ask for your permission before I spread my honest opinion about your publicly available game?

Should I just regurgitate the same public relations lines you use to describe your mod back at people, forgoing honesty for hasty sponsorship?

When I interviewed a mod developer a year ago about the image people have of the typical modder, he described a person sitting in a basement, closed away from society and toiling into the night. He said that many people feel that the average modder is a 13-year-old that cannot cope with the idea of how the gaming industry really works.

I fear he may be right.

Post comment Comments  (50 - 56 of 56)
JoeX111 Author
JoeX111 Jul 23 2007 says:

Entity Hunter:

The flaw to your argument--which has a definite point that my column is the same kind of whining everyone else is doing when their mod is reviewed--is that you state we should be reviewing what the mod attempts to accomplish. So, because you were TRYING to make a zombie mod of epic proportions, we should call it the best thing since sliced bread when in fact it is awful to play and horrid to control? That's flimsy logic. The intentions of a mod, game, movie, anything are not the basis for review. What is there to review is the final complete project, sitting there as a whole, waiting to be digested. If it tastes like ****, well, it doesn't matter if you were trying to make fillet mignon. It still tastes like ****.

How close the final product comes to it's final goal is definitely worthy of consideration in a review, but if you kicked the ball and missed the goal, you don't win for getting "close."

+1 vote   reply to comment
calelogan Jul 29 2007 says:

Accepting criticism isn't easy at all. Just as loosing isn't as fun as winning. cliché as this may sound, people have a hard time understanding that failing is a way to learn and succeed next time. Mods have the chance to modify elements and succeed where they initially failed. If a gamer or reviewer tells the mod makers they failed, there's no point if they're not going to explain where, how, and why. Developers need to know their flaws in order to correct them. At the same time, though, knowing is not enough. Once you've been criticized, identify it as constructive criticism, wipe your tears (if you've shed any), and get your act together. You are evaluated on what you create and if you were every evaluated on what you intended to create, then reviewing would be pointless because everybody would get a 10 (or A+, assuming everybody does not intend on making a crap project).

There's no point in criticizing if you're not going to identify pros and cons and help someone improve.

There's no point in being criticized if you can't heed those words (be them harsh or not), identify the flaws and improve your creation.

+1 vote     reply to comment
BrotherLaz Sep 13 2007 says:

Although poor reviews do provide constructive criticism and can be helpful for the modmakers at that point in time, they can have negative effects down the line. It seems many players don't know about the concept of version numbers and only remember the name of the mod.

If you nail 'Terror Zombies from Venus v1.027' to the cross because it is too laggy, and the team fixes the lag bug in the next patch, people will still continue to stumble upon the review and decide not to get the mod because it 'has too much lag'. I have learned one thing from my modmaking career: 90% of all players are lazy morons.

The bottom line is to follow up on the review and if the mod undergoes a significant update, to modify the review accordingly. Very few sites do this.

(Yes, I know the latest 'real' comment dates from 30 July)

+1 vote     reply to comment
Apokalypse13 Sep 13 2007 says:

Gaming Journalism is pure trash. Yes, that includes the author of this article. How's that for freedom of speech?

See it works like this:
1. Game needs advertising
2. Game goes to Magazine for advertising
3. Magazine writes glowing reviews to get more advertising
4. Magazine peppers in a tiny few bad reviews to seem objective
5. Game and Magazine get rich, players get screwed.

So, yeah, if you were being objective - mods shouldn't escape your wrath just because they're indie projects - but gaming journalists are pure shills these days so stop taking yourself so seriously and start doing some REAL journalism.

The only decent gaming journalist these days is ZeroPunctuation - but even the rest of The Escapist Magazine sucks.

+1 vote     reply to comment
JoeX111 Author
JoeX111 Sep 13 2007 says:

Did you even read the article? Perhaps you should stop huffing glue long enough to focus on the text, rather than slamming your head against the keyboard like a pure troll. The people arguing that mods shouldn't be judged harshly are the modders themselves, not I.

If you don't believe me, do feel free to educate yourself.

+1 vote   reply to comment
Radcliff Oct 4 2007 says:

I've noticed that some reviewers are just as bad as the modders - sometimes just spouting crap just so they get their paycheck. These people call themselves "professional reviewers" when their reviews lack any professional content whatsoever. I've read some of Joe's reviews - they're straight up and to the point, as every review should be. He states what he likes, and what he dislikes, instead of going off into some kind of tangent. I'll give you an example of what I'm referring to.

One reviewer stated that he didn't like Gothic 3 because the Orcs didn't attack him on sight. Now, as I'm sure anyone who has been following Gothic 3 would know, the whole idea is freedom of choice. You get to choose which side you want to join. You can either save the world with the Humans, or crush all who get in your way with the Orcs. That's why they don't attack you on sight. Yet some people are too lazy to maybe *cough* compare the review to another one. *cough* There's an interesting concept.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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