Monday, 5 December 2011

New Games Journalism

An ideal review of a video game would strive to be completely objective in nature, analyising the graphics, gameplay, narrative and qualities of said game. In short - delivering the hard facts. However, the end-result would likely be a long list of statistics and credentials that upon reading through them would push us in to such a state of boredom that chewing off our own feet would seem an attractive deviation. Furthermore it probably wouldn't make us want to buy the game. Thus, we've established that boring reviews are a no no. We are human-beings after all; we have short attention spans and need to be entertained! Enter New Games Jounalism (or NGJ).

NGJ adapts a subjective, opinion-based view-point when reviewing a game. The reviewer aproaches the subject with more flair, and offers their own, individualised criticism on what they believe makes the game good or bad. This already begins to sound more appealing, however, certain issues affect the judgement of said reviewers. They too are human, and are prone to laziness or being biased.The issue is no longer whether the review is more appealing to read but whether it is reliable or effectively, of any use as a review.
If you're after a good, non-biased, honest review you might as well ask this to write you one

Despite popular belief game reviewers don't chill out with a select few games, their favourite beverage in hand and a casual couple of reviews to submit by the end of the week. In a realistic scenario a game reviewer is saddled with numerous articles to turn in on time for a monthly deadline in which they have very little time to truely explore the subject matter. Instead they write based on what they have heard or their initial impressions. This causes reviewers to churn out reviews that are half-baked and not as informative as one would like, or worse, written in a way that is purely biased. An example of said biasism is when a writer is hired by a magazine owned by a console in which the review is expected to reflect positively on the game in order to generate sales.

"Getting to grips with the demands of any professional role is a gruelling task but there are techniques that you can learn to manage their workload effectively."

However, other important factors affect the calibur of a games review, such as how engaged a reviewer is with a game. It is unlikely that most reviewers even play most of the games they review, and when they do they only tend to play a few hours worth for a general impression; this is either down to a lack of adequete time or more importantly, whether they were even sent a copy of the game to play in the first place. In order for a reviewer to properly devote themselves to playing a game there needs to be a buzz; a spark of interest for the game. This is often supplied by what people are saying about the game or where the interests of the reviewer themselves lie. And in a lot of cases these interests are shared on a national scale. 

An example of a magazine that tends to score games with a biased mentality is the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. Their methods of scoring particular games have been questionable. A game that continues to score well with Famitsu with every iteration spawned is the Dynasty Warriors series. The series is currently at its 7th game and western reviewers have evidently had enough with the repetitive gameplay, sub-par graphics and lack variation between releases over all. IGN's Colin Moriarty cited the gameplay as being "simply too much of the same thing over and over again to have any sort of broad appeal" and awarded the game 5/10. Gaming Bus awarded the game a C+ and overall stated that "there was no real challenge to be had". A few big magazines and websites didn't even bother to review the game. Thus it can be established the game was relatively unpopular in the western hemisphere. Famitsu awarded DW7 a score of 36/40.

A similar game, which I personally enjoyed, but again failed to gain much appeal in the west was N3: Ninety-Nine Nights. The game had similar gameplay elements to the Dynasty Warriors games but boasted a grander scale and a more innovative combo branching system. However, reviewers gave the game similar treatment as the DW games and instantly started linking comparisons. This further demonstrates how reviewers are influenced by other games they have played and often compares them to the games they currently review. In conclusion reviews were generally poor and on par with reviews for the DW games. Famitsu scores N3 a 37/40.

Now it may seem the magazine simply favours the style of gameplay offered by both games, however I have derived a different conclusion...
If you added both their ages together they'd stll probably be considered jailbait...

Both games feature several iterations of the school-girl archetype; a popular theme in Japanese media. I believe it is this recurring theme that lends itself to overall scores awarded to these games. To further concrete my theory I present exhibit B:

   Obviously highly regarded for its realistic physics engine.

Famitsu awarded Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2 35/40, despite it being a mentally stagnating game in which the only objective was to dress your chosen girl in increasingly smaller swimsuits. The game reviewed poorly in the west and the sales reflected this. However, this does note denote the fact that sex sells; western reviewers just need action along with their sex in order for it to be a winner though.

A game that constantly seems to review well in the west, with the sales reflecting this, is the Call of Duty series. Every iteration follows similar gameplay mechanics, themes and a focus on war. The gameplay is tight and the graphics are solid, however the formula changes very little with each iteration. I wonder if the popularity of the franchise lies with current affairs and consumers underlying patriotism and desire to fight for their country. Perhaps the publishers pick up on this notion as the armies in the current game: Modern Warfare 3 seems to mirror current sides of the ongoing war. This begs the question as to whether this game sells because of the scores provided by gaming magazines or simply because consumers and reviewers already have similar tastes.  

  They appear to follow the middle-eastern system for car-parking

There is evidence to suggest that consumers' ideals differ from reviewers however. Okami was highly praised by reviewers and had brilliant gameplay and very stylish graphics. Unfortunately it sold terribly. It seemed the reviews and exposure the game received didn't help sales, which brings up the question of whether game reviews directly affect sales and how much do they influence consumers' decisions.

It seems the unique graphical art-style couldn't save this dog

Personally I tend to use game reviews only as a guideline on what to expect out of the game. I often find the reviews rely too heavily on comparisons to other games to make a point, many of which I haven't played before rendering the review useless to me in that respects. I also find certain parts of the reviews contradict earlier statements, making composition slightly confusing on a whole. Games that often get insanely high scores turn out to be disapointing to me; am I the only one not star-struck by Skyrim? I don't tend to read game reviews as much anymore since alot of sites have started to use video reviews to get their opinions across; a far more appealing scheme, especially since the average person would prefer not to read through a wall of text.

I believe when it comes to my own writing I would like to say I review the game without bias, however I am highly influenced by things I like and will often search for qualities in a game just for an excuse to rate it highly. Therefore I am biased and highly opinionated, which is a fault but common amongst human beings. I would however like to achieve a marriage between objective and subjective in my review.

Informative - 4/10
Bias - 7/10
Corrupt - 8/10
Lazy - 5/10

Overall - 6/10

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