October 8, 2010

Building a better review: The new system explained

After much work, the new review format is complete. Here's a breakdown of how it works and what it means to you, the reader

The new format is split into three main categories: playability, production, and value. It's split for a couple of reasons. One, it makes the review flow better as related information is grouped together instead of jumping back and forth as a thought occurs. Two, I realize people play games for different reasons so splitting the review into the three most important aspects of a game makes it easy for readers to jump to the what interests them and find all the relevant information there.

  • Playability covers things like gameplay mechanics, controls, difficulty, and technical design. Basically, this section of the review explains how the game plays and how the design it affects the player's experience. 
  • Production covers the non-technical aspects of the game such as visuals, sound, style, writing, and overall production value. It explains whether the game is interesting and whether it comes off as a captivating, immersive experience or an broken, boring, amateur one. 
  • Value explains how much bang you get for your buck. It covers replay value, developer support, overall fun factor, modes and options, the amount of game content, and whether that content stays interesting. This is where you find out if the game is worth the price you paid for it.

At the end of each section is a table summarizing the important points into three categories: pros, naughts, and cons.

  • Pros are universally positive aspects of the game. Or, at the very least, points that the majority would find positive. They appear green.
  • Naughts are the debatable points. These could swing either way depending on the player's preferences. They appear yellow.
  • Cons are the opposite of pros. They are the universally (or close to it) negative points. They appear red.
These tables summarize the information in each section because 1) My reviews are very long and in depth and these help you remember the important points of what you just read, and 2) They make it easy for those lazy people who like to skim the reviews to get the important points out of it without having to read the text. 

There is one final table at the end of the review summarizing the overall most important points of the entire review. The reasoning behind the other tables applies here: So you'll remember important points from the from way back and so people who normally skip to the conclusion and score section can get an outline of important points. 

There is no score at the end of the review. Instead, there is a verdict in the form of a final paragraph stating whether the game worth it or not. It is also color coded green, yellow, or red. The verdict and the color paired together are meant to be an equal replacement for the score. The visual aid of the color immediately tells you whether the final impression is positive, neutral, or negative. The text will further explain for those who care to read it. Typically, just like traffic rules, green means go (proceed with purchase), red means stop (don't buy), and yellow means proceed with caution. If a game's final verdict is yellow, it would hold the same meaning as a naught point–that is, the game's worth is debatable. The reader may want to decide for themself based on the yellow, debatable points. If they sway towards the positive, it's a go, and if they sway towards the negative, it's a stop. This system is meant to bring the reader to his or her own conclusion, based on the points given by the reviewer, about whether they'd like a given game or not. 

Games with a majority of point in one color will usually receive a verdict of the same color. THIS MAY NOT ALWAYS BE THE CASE. So don't complain when a game has a lot of negatives but I give it a positive or neutral verdict. The positives will outweigh the negatives for some depending on what they find important, or vice versa. Once again, that's just one man's opinion. The reader should draw his own conclusions based on the relavent information.

This review system is intended to still be opinionated, while also being as objective as possible. I personally believe that scores of any kind, whether they be numbers or stars or letters, are completely arbitrary. Averaging and converting those reviews together into more numbers is even more problematic. As it is, value can mean different things to different people. I have seen too many times outrage over a negative review score for a game that the majority was looking forward to or loves. Just because one guy didn't like it doesn't mean it's universally bad, and just because he likes it doesn't mean it's universally good. A quality review should say, "Hey, I didn't care for this game, but I can see how some people might enjoy this and here's why." This new review style is meant to reflect this way of thinking and will hopefully do just that. Would you like it if somebody else make up your mind for you? Well that's exactly what you've been letting reviewers do up to this point. Makes you feel pretty stupid, doesn't it? Rest assured, I'm going to treat you like a human being. It all boils down to the age old quantitative vs. qualitative, and here I'm all about quality.

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