Why Media Providers Don’t Understand Game Reviewers


For those of you who don’t read Kotaku, here’s the link to the article. In short, Hearst Publications Group, which owns UGO, has bought the 1up Network from Ziff Davis. They then canceled EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly, their only and flagship gaming magazine) canceled just about all of their podcasts, and then fired most of the staff, including James Mielke (I can’t believe I spelled that right), Shane Bettenhausen, Skip Pfister, Ryan O’Donnell, among 30 other staffers and the GameVideos team, in a purge that I might call, and will call, Stalin-esque.

Aside from the tragedy of Vampire William Randolph Hearst draining the life blood out of the 1up network, leaving only a lifeless husk, hopefully there will be a lesson to be learned from this, but a costly one. You see, people in the business of reviewing film and reviewing video games like to talk about how different reviewing games and reviewing movies are, but they actually have a great deal in common, in certain respects.

What you write has to be entertaining to read. Unlike in actual news journalism, where even if you’re letting your opinion slip through the cracks you still have to retain the illusion of detachment, as a reviewer you’re (presumably) getting paid to write your (presumably) knowledgeable opinion. Because you’re allowed to be opinionated, you have to distinguish yourself from all the other opinionated reviewers, and you do this by not only saying “The Godfather is good,” you have to say how good you think it is, and you do it through adjectives – even if you personally assign a numerical score to the review, you still use adjectives and other descriptive words to back up that score.

You probably already know this. Presumably the people with Hearst Publications and UGO already know this. However, there’s one more extremely important bit that comes after you’ve written more reviews – you write more reviews.

Wait, come back, I’m not done yet!

Once you’ve written more reviews, you establish to your readers what your taste in film, music, games, comics, food, whatever is. This is extremely important. Scratch that. It’s vital. It’s as essential as oxygen. People have different tastes in film, music, games, comics, food, etc. Consequently, while one movie or game may get panned by critics, it can still get a following or do well anyway. The perfect examples (for better or worse) are the Dynasty Warriors Franchise and Weird Al’s film UHF. The Dynasty Warriors games have only really had incremental alterations ever since Dynasty Warriors 2 changed the franchise from a fighting game with historical figures to a mass beat-em-up and have been repeatedly critically panned for it. UHF ended up in the worst possible weekend for films (up against, among other films, ET and Batman), failed horribly upon release, but thanks to television, video and now DVD got a cult following. So, consequently, people looking for movie reviews will look for a critic they can trust, whose taste meshes with their own.

This is where things get big. Because once you’ve got a critic who you can trust, you “know” what to go spend your money on. Because if the big named critics (Ebert, Moore, etc.) give a thumbs down to movies that you love, why would you bother listening to them, except to go see movies that they hate (which is tempting fate if they hated UHF, and then you go see Battlefield Earth for the same reason and end up failing a sanity check. Or, in the case of Video Games, you ignore Yahtzee because he hates JRPGs (or, for that matter, just about everything coming out of Japan) and consequently end up playing Haze or Clive Barker’s Jericho because he hated it therefore it must be good. So, instead, you find a critic (like, in my case, Mike Russell) who fits with your tastes. Or, on occasion, you’ll find critics who mesh with your tastes (more or less) which is even better. But, if you’re critic of choice is fired, you’re now stuck with a tough decision – find a new one, or hope he finds a new outlet for his impulse to review stuff and follow him there.

Sometimes you get lucky and they either get hired on to a new job or start their own – such as Jeff Gerstmann and Giant Bomb or Nestor Ramos going to 1up. But sometimes you’re unlucky and the reviewer is no longer in a position to review (like Alex Navarro going to work for Harmonix), so you now have to find a new critic. If you’re lucky, you’ve already found one – I’d already started frequenting 1up right before Gerstmann-Gate, so I just took my loyalties there. Now I’ve got another choice on my hands. Stick with 1up and hope that the quality remains with the reviewers I trust gone? Or, do I stick with the new sources I found for good reviews, Kotaku, Joystiq, GameTrailers, and to a certain extent, the forum threads at RPG.net, and leave 1up.com behind? I think I’ve found my solution.

Which one will you choose?

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