Saturday, October 8, 2005

Game reviews

I've decided what would make game reviews more useful to me. Here's how I imagine that the reviewer selection process currently works:

A: Hey, another shipment of games came in. Better distribute them.
B: Hmmm, Katamari Damacy. Looks wacky and Japanese.
A: Let's send it off to that guy who likes bizarre Japanese imports.
B: Way ahead of you!
A: Let's make out.

But what if it worked this way?

B: Katamari Damacy. Well, PC Gamer and IGN already have their guys who like bizarre Japanese imports on it. This one goes to the turn-based strategy guy.
A: Wow, he's really going to have an interesting perspective on this game.
B: I know! Let's make out.

It would take some coordination between different reviewers, who would need to publish blurbs and scores from other magazines' reviews in their own, or link to other reviews from their website. There would have to be some kind of loose alliance where reviews would be coordinated so Command and Conquer IX didn't go to The Real-Time Strategy Guy for each and every reviewing magazine and website. I don't see this type of coordination happening, but it would be very refreshing, and a way to get me to read game reviews again like I used to. Anymore, though, they're worthless.

As long as wacky Japanese import games are always reviewed by the person who really likes wacky Japanese import games, the reviews will be useless to anyone who doesn't really like wacky Japanese import games. I have a low tolerance for bad translations, bad voice acting, bad typography, and all of the terribly annoying things that Japanese consumers seem to just eat up. I don't have any sort of fondness for Nintendo. I don't have the slightest interest in Japanese pop culture. I don't order Pocky. I don't even have a gaming console of any kind. Why would a review by a person who is totally opposite from me on all those points be useful? But, if a wacky Japanese import game were reviewed by a person who really liked Planescape: Torment and X-COM and Betrayal at Krondor, then I'd hang off his every word. If he said buy, I'd probably buy.

I think we need far more reviews by people who will probably not like the game than those who automatically will. For example, I don't even need to read reviews on Blizzard games; I just auto-preorder. Being made by Blizzard is the only reason I played World of Warcraft in the first place. The Blizzard logo on a game is basically a stamp that says "you have to buy this"; what's the point of having their games reviewed only by people who love Blizzard games and that particular genre? For World of Warcraft (assuming I was on the fence), I would have liked to see reviews from at least (1) a Blizzard fan who likes MMORPGs, (2) an EverQuest fan who is skeptical of Blizzard, (3) a person who has played every PC RPG that's come out in the past decade but can't stand the idea of playing online, and (4) somebody random: maybe the guy who has Katamari posters up in his bedroom. That would have conveyed actual useful information. I seem to remember one of the gaming sites, maybe pre-CNET GameSpot, that used to also list the opinions of other staff members who played the game. That was cool, but I'd like to see full reviews by these people. Any given magazine or site won't have the resources to do it themselves, which is why an alliance of some sort among various sites is necessary.

Then I would care again. As it stands, I don't read game previews anymore because I don't spend enough time playing games to begin with, and I don't read game reviews because they're worthless. If something interesting comes out from a publisher or brand I respect, I just buy it and find out myself. I try something new if it's recommended to me.

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