Wednesday, 25 January 2012

writing about games, previews, reviews, commentary and lies

Reviewers usually write reviews because they are gamers themselves. They’re involved and passionate about the games they write about, and want to convey their experience of playing it. Alternatively, they find a game falls short of their expectations, and want to – not dissuade other people from buying it, exactly – but to make sure anyone who does buy the game isn’t getting less than they were hoping for.

The problem then is that reviews will more often than not be written from a biased point of view. What one person looks for in a game will be different from what somebody else finds fun. Of course you can rate different aspects of a game against a scale – looking separately at graphics, gameplay, and storyline – but how do you decide what is most relevant for the game in question?

A RPG may be able to get away with repetitive combat if it tells a compelling story, but a first person shooter can’t get away with unresponsive controls. How do you weight certain aspects against each other? Should reviews be tailored to fit different genres, or should all games go through the same scrutiny regardless of their intended audience and function?

On the internet, this type on informal review works fine, as the reviews are written and by individuals and posted on their own sites and blogs. However, when it comes to forming these articles in to an official publication, such as a magazine, financial backing in needed, requiring a more structured format with a business plan. A company needs to be set up which will attract revenue from banks or shareholders and advertisers and the costs need to be offset by projected profits. This cannot be achieved unless the circulation is large or the revenue will not be available. Companies such as IGN and Eurogamer are such companies supporting magazines.

Producers and editors require a salary and journalists expect to be paid, there are printing and distribution costs, and therefore the subscription size is paramount. To cover the costs it is essential to attract a large enough amount of people to buy the magazines and they are competing with the internet which is free. So what are the advantages of magazines opposed to online publications?
An obvious reason for buying magazines is that they are potable. They can be read on the train, on the loo, at the coffee table – although in the last few years eBook readers have started to compete with this.  Many of the articles seen in magazines will be just as readily available online.

It could be argued that they are better written. This too could be questioned. Salaried journalists should be able to produce better quality articles than bloggers but the journalists have to have a real interest in computer games to bring the articles to life. To get round this and to keep costs down many magazines employ computer enthusiastic school leavers to write for one year and then terminate their contract. One computer magazine expected a turnover  of 450000 but sold less than half of the projected numbers. Producers have to constantly balance, balancing the costs with the quality. If the magazine is not profitable banks and investors can withdraw their support. 

New games journalism can be quite removed from the content of the game itself, whereas more tradition reviews will focus entirely on the content.

Reviews that rate games will usually cover certain aspects of the game individually, using the same general format for every release, and them giving the game a score on a scale. However, this method of reviewing is not always as objective as it is made out to be; you can rate graphics on their technical merits, but it is more difficult to rate the immersion they provide in the game world. Most sites provide an overview of how ratings are attributed, but even these are based on very subjective qualities.

New games journalism does away with any pretence of judging games according to a preset formula. Sometimes they aren’t even discussing the quality or attributes of the games themselves, but rather certain aspects of a community related to a game, such as in this article which talks about the social etiquette that had developed in an online game. Sometimes they are using games to comment on serious issues, whether they’re related or completely separate from the virtual world. Articles written in this style are written informally, in a way that tries to connect to the reader through common experience and often humour. This can make them more enjoyable and easier to read than a more rigid article that just gives a point-by point analysis of a game without any personal involvement,  but is not so useful when it comes to deciding whether a game is worth spending money on.

More straight forward and to the point style reviews would be more use to a casual gamer wanting to decide which game they’d enjoy. These type of reviews are more than anything a form of advertisement as well as a source of information.

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