The site I run (Kinectronic) focuses on one platform. In fact, it focuses on a sub-platform of that platform. We cover Kinect games, accessories and hardware, and nothing else.
But mine is not the only site. In this field, there are two or three sites that are competing for visitors and page views, as you’d expect. However, someone mentioned to me the other day that my review scores are considerably lower than the scores posted at the current leading Kinect-specific site. I’m usually bordering on being overly-harsh, but my scores were fair and reflective of each game’s quality, I felt, so I trotted along to see how this other site had rated the games on offer for Microsoft’s motion-sensing marvel.
Here’s how the 56 reviews they’ve written break down.
43 above-average titles (scoring 6/10 or more)
6 average titles (scoring 5/10)
7 below-average titles (scoring 4/10 or less)
Bearing in mind that I’d struggle to recommend 10 Kinect titles to a friend and that I’m a reviewer that not only specialises in Kinect titles, but who has played ALL of them, those numbers seem pretty skewed. Reviews are subjective, I agree, but you shouldn’t be able to look at a spade and call it a rake. Unless you haven’t got a rake, and decide to use the edge of a spade in order to till your soil. I digress.
If games that fail to recognise your inputs properly are getting 6 and 7 out of 10, you have a problem. When games that have fundamental, idea-destroying flaws are picking up 8s, something is inherently wrong with your process.
Now, I know it may seem a bit crazy to effectively slate the platform that you’ve all but pledged your allegiance to, but you just HAVE to be realistic. You can’t mislead your readership into thinking that every other title is better than average, just because you want them to adore the platform that you’re supporting. You also can’t give high review scores in order make your readers feel better about a game that they’ve been excited about purchasing. What you also can’t do, is declare a horse that you’ve been backing to be the winner when it’s clearly finishing way down the order. Just because you’ve written 20 preview articles about Licenced Nickelodeon Game #2,832 (because the PR team have sent you 20 different batches of screenshots, spread out over 6 months) doesn’t mean you then HAVE to give the game a high score, lest you look like an idiot for giving it so much pre-launch coverage.
I feel that actually criticising a product is a skill that a lot of reviewers lack, or that they refuse to use. They can talk about the hype preceding the game’s release, talk up the game’s graphics as if they’ve got stocks in NVIDIA, and then suddenly lose their teeth when it comes to pointing out the product’s shortfalls. If you find yourself making excuses for a game-destroying bug in a game that’s been in development for two years, you’re doing it wrong. And no, “I’m sure that Game Publisher X will release a patch or title update soon to fix these issues” isn’t an acceptable way of covering over the problem.
A lot of the issue seems to come from the removal of the game’s notional monetary value. When a reviewer gets a promotional copy of a game to review, it sometimes seems as if they’ll forgive all but the worst problems, simply because the game hasn’t cost them anything. The fact is that to people reading your review, who may spend up to £40 on the game, what you paid for the game means absolutely nothing.
But, more often than not, it’s almost as if they’re scared of telling the truth, just in case they offend someone. Someone who works for a game publisher or for a PR company, perhaps?
I don’t understand. I’m closing in on writing my 1,000th review. Over the course of that time, I’ve been honest, fair, and downright fucking brutal when I’ve had to be, because that’s the only way I can be. In some cases, if a game has a control issue that makes it unplayable, I’ll write 600 words about that control issue, and 200 about the rest of the game. This is because the control issue is the focus point. If you can’t control the game, what game is there to review? How can I recommend it to my readers? How long would that game be in my possession before I’ve taken it back to the store for a refund?
And you know what? Despite my overly-critical and – some would say – unprofessional approach, I’ve had ONE publisher refuse to deal with me because of a review I’d written. And they’re out of business now.