I’ve seen some sentiments expressed by gamers around the web lately that prompted me to write this piece. A lot of gamers simply don’t trust reviewers these days, be they a big publication like IGN, a YouTuber, or a smaller writer like myself. And I don’t blame them, there has been shady stuff in the past and money does, in fact, make the world go around. This is nothing new of course, but I recently saw a Reddit comment where someone mentioned they had never seen a negative review from someone who had marked that they received the product for free on Steam.
So I’m going to pull back the curtain a little on how I run this gig and explain a couple thought processes. I am also going to give you my opinion on what you should look for in a reviewer. What I’m not going to do, is give you a big list on reviewers you can trust, and ones you cant. Because frankly, I don’t know. But I can give you some mental tools to figure it out yourself.
Second. I’m not commenting on the big publications like IGN or Gamespot. The way they function is different from how I work. Mainly because they have staff, and I’m just me. And I’m not tooting my own horn here..because…well…I don’t have to. If you are reading this, I’ve got your click and view already. I don’t need to convince you of anything, you’re reading me now. You either enjoy it or you don’t.
First thing, addressing the previously mentioned Reddit comment. I’m a journalist. My job is to provide news, reviews, guides, and articles about games. To do this, I need games, and I acquire them one of three ways.
- Buy them.
- Request a press code from a games developer or publisher.
- I am offered a press code from a games developer or publisher without asking.
Taking these three methods into account. My first big secret behind finding a good reviewer is…. Only a small portion of their game reviews have low scores. I know what your thinking…what the fu– But hear me out. Read this whole article before making a judgment. And again keep in mind I’m referring to independent journalists and YouTubers. NOT the big publications.
Also, remember what the purpose of a game review is. A game review is to give you an overview of the gameplay, objective facts about the game, and an explained and thoughtful opinion on both of those things.
I consider a low score to be 6.5 and under. Most of my current reviews are 7 and higher, a couple are lower but not too many. On my other scale, many of them have the verdict of buy now or watch for updates, but none of them have the “do not buy” yet. Here is the logic behind this. The first way I acquire games to review is, I buy them, personally, with my own cash.
Do you ever intentionally buy a game you don’t like? Journalist or not, that’s not something we gamers do. No one buys a stinker on purpose. So if I buy a game, I think I’m going to enjoy that game, I believe it is a title that is worth my money. So unless I am wrong, it’s unlikely that the game is going to have a “low” score. It has happened before. I bought Fallout 76 and I gave it a 5.5. It happens, but rarely. Because I really try to avoid wasting money on poor games.
The second method I have of obtaining games to cover is, I reach out to the people that make and publish them. Then I basically promote myself to them. Hey, look at me. I do a thing! Look at these reviews I wrote! I want to cover your game! blah blah. I have to forge a relationship with these fine folk. Now hold on, I know your brows just furrowed. Yes, I have to have a professional relationship with game makers and publishers. No, I don’t have to give them a positive review in exchange for press codes.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. I need the games, they need eyes on the games. Even if I give it a negative review, I’m still exposing the game to more people. And if I’ve done my job right, I have portrayed the game accurately and covered its highs and lows, regardless of the score given. If even 10 people buy a game after reading my coverage, that’s 10 sales for the price of giving me what I need.
Then, regardless of the verdict, I’m a town crier screaming at everybody on every platform possible to check out my new review! Because I want people to read it, I want people to follow me and engage with me. Otherwise, my work may as well be a diary. So any game maker or publisher that gives me a game to review, knows full well I’ll be advertising the crap out of my coverage of it. For my own sake.
Again though, the majority of reviews should be positive. Why? First of all, I don’t reach out and ask for a hundred games at once. I don’t ever know when or if I’ll even get a reply. And if I do get a response, whether or not I’ll get a press code. This means every single game I request is up in the air, sometimes forever.
If I request too many and happen to get a lot of them at once. I’ve just buried myself. While I’m not expected to give a good review just because I was given a game. I am expected to actually review it. I can’t just sit on a game and not cover it. If I did, I’d be ripping them off and my reputation would suffer. That’s the deal, they provide the key, I provide the coverage.
So knowing that I cant request too many games at once. I have to be picky. I choose games that I find interesting and that I think my readers will find interesting. I don’t intentionally pick games that I think are bad or that I won’t like. Why? Because that’s a real dick thing to do, don’t you think? Hey, can I get your game for free, so I can crap all over it?
There are reviewers that do that because negativity gets clicks and views. Its far easier to write about negatives than positives. Those type of reviewers aren’t trying to inform you, they are baiting people. Negativity stirs up controversy, discussions and flame wars. People agreeing and disagreeing with the review end up posting it around in a domino effect looking for validation of their side of the argument.
Just like when buying a game, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way I think it will though. I might find it less fun than I had hoped, or it has issues that weren’t obvious when looking it over. Then it will get a lower score because of it. But I’m not purposely asking for games I know I’m going to dislike. In fact, there are entire genres I won’t review unless there is a special reason to change my mind. I can’t accurately review a Madden game to you. I don’t watch sports, it’s not my kind of game. Reviewing it simply wouldn’t be fair to the game.
The third way I acquire games to review is I’m offered them by game makers and publishers who find me. Why does this matter in regards to positive reviews? Same concept as method two. They offer them, but I don’t have to accept them. God forbid if they sent me a key without asking, I a NOT obligated to review it in that instance. That was on them. I may decline a key because my workload is to heavy at the time. But I also look over anything I’m offered. I’m one person and I have to thoroughly play every game I review. If I don’t find the game interesting, I decline the offer. I’m not going to intentionally take the time thoroughly play through sometime I don’t think I’m going to enjoy, right out of the gate.
All three methods lead to the same destination. I don’t have the time to intentionally play and review bad games, or games I know I’m going to dislike. I believe if a reviewer is doing that, they aren’t reviewing games to inform the consumer. They want to feed off of the negativity. So when looking for a reviewer to trust, look at how many games they review and how many are negative. They should always have some low scoring reviews. But most of them should be average or higher.
“But Gideon, how do I know the reviews are trustworthy if most of them are always positive?”
That brings me to my second big tip. First of all, never go solely by the score, read the reviews actual content, The first things you need to look for. Is the writing adequate? does it look like the reviewer is in putting in an effort? If so, keep reading the review for the rest of tip number 2. Which is; The reviewer very clearly highlights the negative aspects of the game in their otherwise positive review.
Scores don’t exist in a vacuum. My highest scoring game is RimWorld and I still found things to criticize in the game. I gave God Of War a 9, but highlighted the easy puzzles, the backtracking and fighting the same mini-bosses several times as flaws.
You can trust a reviewer who highlights the bad in their good reviews. That way you know they aren’t fanboying (or Girling) out and aren’t being influenced in any way to provide the positive reviews. Likewise, while I suggested that most good reviewers are going to be positive. Read the people who are mostly negative the same way. Are they highlighting the good aspects of the game in the negative review? Or are they constantly cracking jokes about how much of a garbage fire it is?
That’s the point of a review. It’s not to stroke the egos of those who already have their minds made up, by reaffirming their own opinions. It’s to inform the consumer of objective facts about the game while providing insightful opinions about those facts. It isn’t to tell you over and over again that its the best game ever, its to explain why the reviewer believes that. It isn’t to crack jokes and curb stomp the same points over and over again about a game being trash. It’s about the reviewer explaining why they think that.
So, to the redditor who had never seen a negative review from someone who got the game for free. Maybe, but don’t disregard a review right off the bat for that reason. Dig a little deeper armed with my tips. After all, being informed is why you were looking at reviews in the first place right?