Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Truth About Video Game Reviews

**Update** - I have updated this post to include my thoughts on the Aggregated-Review Websites such as Metacritic.

Since there are still a few people who don't know this, I figured this would be a good time to have a topic discussion about Game Review companies for those who still don't know.

There are so many Game Review websites out there: GameSpot, IGN, etc. and they all review games in their own respective ways, or so they would like you to believe. The Truth about most big-name Game Review sites is that the reviews they do often have very little to do with the actual games' content.

Video Game Review websites most of the time (but not all the time) base their review scores on the amount of money they receive from Publishers. Take Jeff Gerstmann for example. Jeff wrote a review for the game "Kane & Lynch: Dead Men" and gave it a 6.0 out of 10 score. Subsequent to this, he was fired.

Prior to that incident, a man named Aaron Thomas reviewed the game "Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction" and scored the game a 7.5 out of 10. Because of this score, SONY threatened GameSpot and told them they'd be removing their advertisements from the website because of the "low" score. This prompted the Marketing Department at GameSpot to freak out, keeping a tighter leash on their reviewers to avoid an incident like that in the future.

With Jeff's case, Eidos Interactive threatened to pull their advertisements, which was at a time when GameSpot's website was full of ads for the game. Because of this (and I know this because I am good friends with two of the reviewers at GameSpot and my cousin works in IGN's Marketing Department) reviews are now tightly watched. Games that are hot-button games where the publisher is paying a lot of money to advertise on the Game Review websites, those games will be receiving higher-than-necessary scores to satisfy the publishers.

Now all that information is public knowledge and can be found by simply googling, but what most people don't know is how it works in reverse. Some Game Review sites (notably IGN) will not only give a game a better review to either A) Satisfy the publishers to receive ad money, or B) If the Publisher pays for the review, they will also give a game a Negative review if the Publisher refuses to pay enough money or if they don't purchase enough ad space.

Games that this has happened to include: "DiRT: Showdown [X360] (6.0)" - "Game of Thrones [X360] (4.0)" - "I Am Alive [XBLA] (4.5)" and many more.

As far as I know GameSpot does not give negative reviews if they don't receive enough money, they just seem to respond to threats and give better reviews for more money, though I will continue receiving information from the reviewers and let you all know if this happens.

I suggest watching Gameplay videos on YouTube and reading about them on Wikipedia to get a true idea of whether the game is good or bad rather than reading a review from GameSpot or IGN.

**Update**


I'm going to give my thoughts on the Aggregated-Review Websites like Metacritic.

When looking at Game Review websites such as Metacritic, you need to be very precise in your browsing to weed out the Fake Reviews. It can be very hard to decipher the difference between a real review and a "padded" one. There are, though, a few things you can watch for:

1) Reviews that are incredibly low scores or have incredible amounts of criticism for each and every aspect of the game are typically done so for the attention. If there are hundreds of positive reviews for a game and then comes along a super low score, it's a good chance that person has done that review simply to get you to look at it. There are also those who the internet community refers to as "trolls" who simply revel in the idea of giving low scores and disliking things just to do it.

2) On the other end of the spectrum, reviews that give very high scores that don't typically contain much information other than "This game r0x!! everyone should buy it!1!" can be deduced as simply there to pad the review numbers. It can be very difficult to spot padded reviews when the reviewer actually took time to point out specific parts that they liked, which is also something a legit reviewer will do. If the review is written using exceptionally great writing skills it can be a red-flag that the review is padded.

While I'm at it, I'm going to point out one of the rumors that was going around the dev's right around the time the game Fallout: New Vegas came out. The rumor was that Bethesda actually paid some people to give the game a bad review so that they didn't have to pay out the bonus they promised them if the game scored at least an 85/100 on Metacritic. Now, like I said, this was just a rumor that was going around and most people (myself included) didn't and don't believe it.

Making the game have a lower score could potentially hurt their own sales, and I don't think it made business sense to do that, but nonetheless that was the rumor. I can see how it might be beneficial in a particular circumstance for the publisher to do that, if the bonus promised was very high or if they wanted to have an excuse to close the developer after the game, as that would net even more profits by no longer having to pay for the development team if they were on the payroll still.

Again, just a rumor and my thoughts so take it with a grain of salt and continue on your day.

25 comments:

  1. This is not news to me. I don't know where to go for a review. The reviewer getting fired at Gamespot opened my eyes. If I had a relative or friend feeding me IGN info I would keep a description of him or her out of my blog. any way, keep up the good work!

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    1. We're distant cousins, nobody knows who I am or that this person even has a cousin, so that's no big deal, but thanks for the concern and support.

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    2. Dear Mike,

      Please please write another blog entry giving us your thoughts on the EA forum dude. Or more specifically, the marketing guy whose job it was, to troll forum boards and divert bad press from games(SWTOR is one example).

      He was let go a few months back but he was basically saying that his job just consisted of masquerading as a regular customer, but promoting games through the forums(I suppose this is what "viral" marketing is) and purposefully getting into arguments with other forum goers, telling them "this is why you have to buy X game, support the industry or it'll die".

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    3. What do you think about the reviews done by users on Metacritic and Gamefaqs? As paranoid as this sounds, do you think positive reviews on the site may in fact be done by publishers to inflate scores? And if so, how does one tell the difference between an honest review and a dishonest one?

      Thanks!

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    4. While you're at it, I would also like your opinion on trusting *user* score on sites like this (most notably Metacritic) either.

      I mean, if you consider recent huge releases like mass effect 3 or diablo 3, despite whatever reservations the users might have towards the company or business practices, the games aren't even remotely as bad as the users claim (around 4/10 score for either game)

      This almost limitless animosity raises the ultimate question - is there anyone to trust in game reviews? On one hand, the critics might be bought (or not bought, as is the case with IGN as you mention). On the other hand, you have users pissed over DRM, server failures, day-one DLCs and a handfull of other questionable business practices, that might be loathsome but don't make the actual game, all things considered, any worse.

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    5. I don't know how deep it goes with Game Reviews, but I honestly wouldn't trust any review site. I only watch real Gameplay footage and than read about the features on Wikipedia to know if a game is good.

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    6. As far as USER REVIEWS go, those are even more unreliable. People rate things based on their experience, and if it's something they personally don't like or if it's just something that pisses them off about the game, they'll rate it lower.

      Again, I only trust myself and my own research.

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  2. I unfortunately have to agree. It is truly difficult to find reviews that are removed from bias and done only on merits.

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  3. How can you expect game reviewing companies to be insusceptible to corruption, bribery, and intimidation; when our own government isn't? Money is power, and power corrupts.

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    1. I knew this when D3 came out and all the top review sites gave it 10's,9's,8's that's such a BS score and I went back to gamespot and your right O.o there is like 4 D3 ads on each page and even on the review page it's self! I always suspected this but now I know it's the truth I only trust youtube reviews and angry joe any more. you should do reviews MadModMike :P like the truthful review or something.

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    2. I used to do reviews, reviews of PC Hardware for my old online website business. Doing reviews for Games is something I have interest in, though I would feel bad a little for grading my fellow workers on how good they did, as I think almost all developers are hard-workers.

      But, alas, there are many crappy games out there as well. Maybe I'll start some reviews, we'll see :).

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  4. P.S. Not approving comments you may deem negative is a clear sign of non-transparency and non-accountability. Something the corporations you hate so much commit to everyday. So here's a test. How can one claim to be presenting the truth if he would not approve of criticism, nor be accountable?

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    1. I unapprove of comments for two reasons: 1) If I accidentally hit "delete" since it's right next to "publish" and 2) If the content of the post contains nothing but swear words and insults and not even a single sentence of actual real talk, whether that be criticism or something else.

      I don't "censor" things I "don't want to hear" at all.

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    2. I guess you must have "accidentally" hit delete on my comment debunking your absurd conspiracy thoeries then.

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    3. Don't know why you think there's a "Conspiracy" going on. It's a well known FACT that Jeff was fired because of Eidos, hell HE even said he was.

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  5. This whole thing with paid reviews is getting ridiculous. Nowadays you can't even take the reviews at platforms like Amazon seriously anymore because like half of them are written by the companies' marketing department.

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  6. " (...) and scored the game a 7.5 out of 10. Because of this score, SONY threatened GameSpot and told them they'd be removing their advertisements from the website because of the "low" score."

    7.5/10 counts as a "low score"...I guess every game below 9/10 is a complete piece of crap not worth your time these days.

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    1. According to SONY 7.5 is low, though I happen to think that would be a respectable score.

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    2. I think he was being sarcastic here, Mike! ;) I'd consider any game with a score above 7 a good game, but nowadays the kids will only buy it if it's at least a 90/100 on metacritic. These people would never give games like e.g. Enslaved a chance.

      I'm 32 now and I've been playing videogames for almost 20 years now and I remember back in the day, when a game scored a 7.5 or an 8 in a magazine everybody would have thought "wow, this game seems to be great fun!". I completely agree with the guy above me, today everything that does not score at least an 8.5/10 on IGN "sucks".

      Great blog by the way, keep up the good work!

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    3. To me it really depends on the company that review's the game. Every company has different standards and methods for scoring games. Unless it's a series i'm a BIG fan of, I usually only get serious about games that score a 8.5 or higher. IMO anything below an 8.5 from Gamespot, USUALLY means the game isn't "great", maybe good but not great. For Game Informer it's usually around a 9; as for IGN I don't really know, cause I don't keep up with them as much.

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    4. That's true, I mean if I spend 60 bucks on a new game I def want to get one that's worth my money. However I think that most games are getting way too good scores. For example, to me a 9 means that this game is one of the best titles in its respective genre and a must-buy. But especially on IGN new games are constantly getting 9s even though they're good but def not that great. Every "AAA" game (god, I hate that word) always gets at least a 8.5 on most sites just because of the hype surrounding it. There are so many games rated above that that you must get the impression that every single new release is great, which is not true.

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  7. not surprised by this one bit

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  8. Yea is like with Halo was awesome and pretty revolutionary game but after that halo 2 was more of the same and 3 and odst and Reach same enemy's,weapons ( yea like 2 news per game but there were more of the same)and boring plot but they all get crazy high scores. (M$)

    But when game from an unknown company is released and get a good score many times the sequels get very bad score because the reviews said thing like this game get a lot from it predecessor same enemy and weapons making the game play repetitive boring plot blah blah blah what about halo and call of duty (some are pretty good but almost all of them...) series?

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  9. I have noticed that the popular franchises tend to always get good reviews across the board, which can be attributed to the advertising money paid as well as the fact that although the games are often repeats, they are still pretty good.

    Games like ODST and Reach were improvements in the sense that the stories were more emotional than previous installments. Games like Call of Duty have changed with the switch to Modern from WW2, but after awhile it all becomes the same.

    Most of the popular game reviews are cooked.

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