Game bloggers usually want to blog about …well, games. I have my own reading favorites from bloggers who do game reviews and others like me who tend more towards game criticism. I used to do far more reviews than I do today, but these days I enjoy game criticism a bit more. What’s the difference?
There’s a subtle difference. In fact, I think there are too few writers – indie or otherwise – who write buyer’s guides for gamers. Much of the time when we’re reading game blogs, we want to know how others feel about a game we like or are curious about. Reviews mix the best of both worlds: Objective and subjective critique.
A good review will give a breakdown of the core features of the game and summarize how well they fit together. There’s lots of room for being creative with your writing style to deliver something that’s fun to read.
For mainstream reviews, I like the style of reviews that I find on Rock, Paper, Shotgun andIndie Game Reviewer. They don’t simply give the facts, but actually report in a creative way that mixes facts with opinions. RPS has a style that takes the dryness out of rote reviews while IGR is fairly straightforward with it’s game impressions. How the review is written matters if your goal is to make your blog a reliable source for game reviews.
What’s Your Scope?
Whatever the general theme of your blog, the scope will be important to who enjoys your reviews. For example, if you’re an MMO blog, then writing reviews for MMOs will refine and add to your audience. No blog truly focuses on ALL genres. Each writer has a gaming preference and this will usually be apparent in what you write about. As an example, most of the games I’ve reviewed are single-player. I tend to write about RPGs in general, showing a preference for games with story. So I’m not a good source for reviews about platformers, even though I consider my blog to be a place for info about games in general (all genres). So it’s important to have a limited scope to the kinds of games you’ll be reviewing so that its consistent with the kinds of games you tend to write about. It’s part of avoiding trying to be everything to everyone. Specialization, in this case, is a good thing but that doesn’t mean you can’t review all the games in your library. It just means you’re a human being with diverse tastes, but whose preferences are clear to your readership.
What You’re Rambling About
In my opinion, reviews should contain details that tell me who made the game, what the game is (genre), and where I can learn more about it. Next, a good review will tell me what the game’s core features are and how long a play through will take on average. From there, the review should talk about how all those features tie together and what kind of experience the writer had.
Reviews absolutely don’t need spoilers and they should be avoidable if that’s your style (some reviewers provide spoilers).
To Score or Not to Score
I used to actually score my reviews. If I ever get back into game reviewing, I’ll probably go back to scoring because I think they’re a valuable addition to a thorough review in that it gives your readers at-a-glance impressions.
While scorecards terrible for definitive game impressions, they’re definitely helpful to readers. I prefer to use a scorecard which takes into account multiple facets of the gameplay experience. Here’s an example of how I used to score games in my reviews and you can take a look at the review itself here.
I’m pretty sure I went through several iterations of criteria (it’s really, really hard to try to be fair with it), but I ultimately settled on this because it’s how I, as a gamer, understand the different facets of a game. Now this will be purely subjective criteria for any writer — and that’s exactly what will make your reviews unique! If you decide to use score cards like this, it will undoubtedly have different criteria than mine. It’s our unique point of view as gamers which is the true value in what we publish for our readers. So don’t be afraid to experiment. In the end, I stopped using score systems because it required more time than I had (I didn’t have children when I used to score games like this). Still, I actually liked doing this and I’ve considered going back to it many times.
I think, though, score cards have limited value to readers. I wouldn’t ever substitute written reviews for strict scorecards and it’s for the same reason that players despise sites like Metacritic. While the score has it’s uses, their prominence discourages thoughtful review and many will try to reduce the game to an arbitrary score. A well-written review can’t be substituted for a scorecard!
When you’re writing your reviews, just remember to focus on the actual game content while being critical at the same time. Rote reviews are boring – if you’re too objective, the review loses it’s appeal to readers. If you’re too subjective it becomes nothing more than another opinion by another blogger, losing credibility.
Reviews are actually fun to write and I’ve been told very recently I need to get back to it. I’m taking that advice for sure and I’ve decided I will narrow my scope to mostly indie games because those seem to be the kinds of games I play most lately.
For veteran bloggers, I want to leave you some questions to join the conversation: what makes a good review for you? Do you enjoy writing reviews and why? What advice would you pass on to new bloggers who want to review games?