I’ve been writing path finding algorithms, balanced trees and motion blur shaders for the past 3 years and all I got was a lousy 76% (Anonymous game developer)
All of us have a different attitude towards game reviews. Reviews tend to be one-sided and unfair, sometimes even irresponsible. They treat your game like any other game, disregarding the fact that your own game is work of love and hard labour whereas the other games were just quickly mashed together in Unity. They don’t see the effort that went into the game, just the outcome. How unfair. Additionally, most of the time they culminate in a numerical score that does a lousy job in quantifying what you’ve been up to for the last 3 years. The world is different for AAA than for indie games (again!). Where there’s a dedicated marketing team for AAA games, most indie studios have to manage publicity themselves, meaning that reviews are even more personal. In this #AltDevBlogADay posting I’d like to comment on game criticism, as you cannot deny that it is one of the many forces that shape game design.
Side Quest: Personal Experience
I’ve been reading reviews of my own games for the past years and I was startled – even shocked – by some of them. The more abstract my games were, the more interesting the ideas reviewers had about how they work. In the beginning of my game development life I tried desperately to learn from reviews. Then I shot myself in the knee by issuing a sequel to a game that tried to repair everything that needed improvement according to reviewers and players. From that point on I decided that I won’t listen to complaints in reviews anymore. I tend to avoid them altogether, nowadays, except when I know the journalist.
Reviewers Are People, Too
One of the key facts that I’ve learned from Chillingo’s Chris Byatte (or was it Joe?) is that reviewers often secretly (and sometimes openly) want to make games themselves. They just ended up on the wrong end, somehow. Of course, it could be the other way around. Journalists told their audience what is wrong about a game for such a long time that they believe they know how to make a game without wrongs. Now, while there might be stories about game journalists that turn into successful game makers, what you should learn from this is that the journalist is not eager to imprint his ego on your game. Most journalists write from the assumed perspective of their audience. All journalists I’ve ever met were willing to contribute and constructively criticize my games when I communicated directly with them.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly*
O.A.T.S oath of ethical standards for reviewing presented above.
Reviews lost some importance with Twitter and Facebook and thus word of mouth getting the prime way of exchanging opinions about games. Those channels are not so much marketing tools as they are direct communication channels with your audience, the players. Nowadays, a high profile tweet about your game might shift more units than a rave review in an established print magazine. I welcome this new world of game criticism and I think that professional journalism is the perfect counterpart to rampant amateurism. Did I just end up with a critique on the state of the art of game journalism? That was unintended. Oh well, I’m off making a 91% game now.
* I swear I’ll stop using that headline.