A peek at how game reviews work

mass effect 3 normandy explosion

In an attempt to get back into the swing of posting here, I thought I’d share an article I worked on for Game Front that gives a little behind-the-scenes treatment to how game sites go about putting together game reviews.

The article was prompted, mostly, by continued noise on the Internet. I caught a Reddit thread not long ago that suggested critics should do away with practices like playing ball with PR embargo agreements, and toss getting free review copies from publishers altogether, because of the potential ethical issues thereof (or even just the potential for subtle psychological manipulation). Most critics ask for and receive free copies of games from publishers for review, because reviews are still a huge driver of game sales. It’s a symbiotic relationship that I don’t think anyone likes, but it’s necessary.

The thread got me writing mostly because it gets a lot of things wrong, and that’s an issue. There have been “exposes” and “whistleblowers” who have written about how the games press supposedly works before, but every article I’ve ever read from that standpoint is both bitter and incorrect, or just based on a specific viewpoint or microcosm. I also have a perspective and a microcosm, of course — working at a smaller website like Game Front probably significantly informs the situation, but I think more sites are comparable to what I explained in the article than are not (the exceptions being the big guys like IGN, Gamespot and Game Informer). But shining light on how these things work is really important from a reader accountability standpoint, I think, and it also helps readers make better decisions: if it’s clear how a review comes together and why sometimes we miss things like terrible online connectivity or something in a game, this can help explain that — and help readers to use reviews better, or to call us out on our s–t.

Of course, I’m a cog in the machine as well, which is a frustrating position because it makes it hard to be honest and have people believe you’re being honest. By and large, though, the piece seems well-received and I intend to write some more about this thing we call games “journalism.” I’m looking forward to aiming a spotlight at preview events in particular, which seem to be talked about by games press almost never. If there’s a place for potential ethical issues to creep in, it’s at those things. The food is just the start.

Find the article over at Game Front right here.

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