Sunday, 9 August 2009 reviews need to become more about games reviewers

“We're on the verge of an exciting reinvention of journalism enabled by personal publishing. The transition will be tumultuous and even painful, but the result will be well worth the effort.” Paul Gillin, social media consultant and author, 2007

“Print is dead” – Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters, 1984

When websites such as exist, you know journalism is an industry at best struggling to get up to speed with the rest of the world. At worst, commentators and society are conducting the last rites over a moulding pile of newsprint, borne by paperboys and saluted with the final clack of a typewriter.

Newshounds should know that Rupert Murdoch is attempting to put the cat back in the bag with his subscription-based model for premium news content, while the expansion to a 24-hour news drive has seen journalists axed and papers swept aside.

Obviously, his plan will fail, and fail badly. After all, why read a whole publication when you only need a page? Why pay for information – which used to be worth its weight in gold but now is worth less than a PR-tinted version of the truth – when you can just click on another site and get it for free?

The ramifications of someone willing to produce an equal amount of content for free in their own free time out of their bedroom, or write about their passion with more knowledge than a journalist forced to learn on the spot, are wide reaching, and are no more keenly felt than in the games journalism industry.

One look at the circulation figures for games magazines ( shows we are soon going to be in a world without them. Some of the official ones will hang on, albeit it in a more games-company controlled manner, but what of the rest?

After all, the internet, home to innovation and content, embraced games reporting as a prodigal son. Mountains of brand new video, photo content and breaking games news on every little feature is available at the touch of a button – and right below it, the message board so the flame wars can be fanned, WAARGARBL can well and truly be spouted and the SERIOUS BUSINESS of internet arguing can occur

Why buy a magazine at all? But I’m going to throw one more caveat into a doomsday scenario Peter Sellers would be proud of.

(Hushed silence at controversial statement)

Why read games reviews any more?

(baby starts crying, a hysterical woman screams and an uncomfortable murmur ripples around the room)

“It certainly appears that Edge got what they wanted out of this traffic obviously...” Zorda2097, responding to Edge’s Killzone 2 review
Without delving too far into the review process in regards to scoring (a problem we will handily circumnavigate for a future piece) no-one really trusts games reviews any more. The rap-sheet reads like a shopping list: Exclusive reviews being given only for the return of high scores a la Batman: Arkham Asylum (rumoured); Magazines accused of bias for zigging when everyone else zagged (Edge and Killzone 2 / Resistance 2), and official magazines being nothing more than glorified adverts.

Plus why read a glut of reviews when metacritic can tell you with their magical aggregated number whether you should buy something or not? See how it all comes together…lower page clicks + untrusted sources = DOOM for games journalism as we know it.

It may be an exaggeration, true, but just like newspapers, games journalism will need to work out how to draw in the readers – and with a page click producing a lot less advertising revenue than a publication, it will need to be a loyal reader base too.

My solution? Personalities. You examine the worlds of arts, or film, or music, which have pushed their journalists to the forefront of their coverage. Everyone knows the NME writer you hate the opinion of, the film critic who must have their podcast downloaded immediately, and the writing is all the better for it.

But games journalism has always had a more anonymous sheen to it. Websites like feature their writer’s image on their features and top tens, but it magically disappears for their reviews. Scores are debated by the teams before they are published, and bylines are tucked away. It’s always the magazine, or the website, which offers the definitive word, not that journalist.

And I think games journalism would be all the better for being able to put the face to the review. Bill Abner is the authority on American sports games reviews simply because that market’s rabid fans – the types who would click a blog hourly (£££) to get in depth updated impressions – know every other site chucks a random writer at those games. They won’t know the nuances from year to year, won’t know the history, and their writing is all the poorer for it. But Bill is obsessed, and it shows (go to to see what I mean).

The Roger Eberts of this world can release compendiums of their reviews, because people buy into their work so strongly they would re-read the most throwaway comment. The Charlie Brookers can expand their presence in every conceivable direction because people devour his turns of phrase and misanthropic view. They don’t criticise The Guardian for having a bleak view of the world, they chuckle at the angry man being angry.

Who would you rather trust?

And it is those qualities – obsession, great writing, strong personalities – that people will still buy into, will still cherish and not treat as an irritating click through.
Journalism is waking up to a world where it, and the information it conveys, is truly no longer special. When a “civilian” could write a piece that would destroy the entire output of a magazine. When a tweet can carry more importance than a paper. It’s up to journalism to face up to that fact. Are they going to chop down that tree for the big fire so the bean counters can keep warm? Or are they going to carve faces out of it, and let it become their totem?



Split-Screen said...

I want everyone to remember this post as the moment that we went from 'sassy' to 'classy'.

The Faux Bot

vandalworks said...

for me its not so much as having a face to a review, but perhaps having a complete profile of why that person is a reviewer and as to what they enjoy themselves. we've all been there, a game panned by reviewers yet found fun by us, the casual or hardcore gamer. like all opinion, everyone is different. what some may praise, others will despise, such is human nature. if we knew about the reviewer then we'd know games tastes and how similar we are games wise to this person and whether we'd probably have the same view on a game.

the title of this blog is spot on, we need more information on who the reviewers are, as these people are often in charge of £40 of our money sas to what games we buy.

Justtherightbullets said...

I don't know if having named reviewers would change very much. Its only a thought but if unbiased or fair reviews are not always possible while the reviewer hides behind the skirt of the publication/site would anything change if the reviewer thought they'd be even more in firing line?

I'd like to think individual integrity would break free and be allowed to speak its mind but there will always be people who will continue to kiss ass if they're scared the pay check will stop if they don't.

Lets just hope if personalities do come to the fore, and I agree with you it'd be a good idea, lets just hope they have some balls.

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