by Meg Stivison3
Becoming a Game Reviewer
From Game Blogging to Game Reviewer with Meg Stivison
Games blogging is a great way into games journalism. Starting a games blog can be as simple as setting up an account on Blogger or WordPress. Don’t tell anyone but most of games blogging just means playing a game, writing down your opinion, and running spellcheck before you post.
You might start out writing a couple paragraphs on a game you love but thoughtful games blogging can also be great journalistic training. When you write for your gaming blog, you’re forcing yourself to organize your thoughts on the games you play, and to describe gameplay to your readership instead of casually to friends. You can push yourself by committing to weekly posts or decide to review a game in a genre you usually avoid.
Go beyond fan blogging by thoughtfully explaining your thoughts on gaming and the games industry. What’s so bad about Zynga games? Does preordering games help or hurt? What do you think of the expect 99-cent price point on the App Store? Blogging on games is great fun, and a perfect way to refine your skills.
Look For Nuance
Soon you’ll want to take your blogging from a hobby to a craft. Often, this means adding more balance and detail to your reviews. While a fan can just post some of the high points of the game, a solid game review usually has positive and negative points about the game. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to make up something good in a game you hated, or something bad in a game you loved! As you write more, you’ll be training yourself to see nuance in games, whether it’s finding one area with room for improvement in a game you loved, or a small glimmer of creativity in an otherwise terrible game.
Every game aspires to be fun and interesting and cool. Well, almost every game…. there was that one time I reviewed a cotton-picking simulator… But in general it’s best to stay away from adjectives that could be applied to any game. Think about what this game has that others don’t. So instead of saying a game is interesting, explain what holds your interest. Is it complex moral decisions that affect character arcs? Puzzles with multiple solutions? Nostalgia factor? Innovative UI?
Be Critical, Not Evil
There are so many cutting and clever ways to describe an abysmal game to your readers! I’ve enjoyed reading reviews in which the reviewer requests a refund for the seven and a half minutes he spent playing this game, or admit that he’s had a better time doing his taxes. Don’t be afraid to be critical if the game warrants it. With so many paid-review sites, a harsh critique speaks really well for a reviewer’s honesty.
But the focus must be on the game. When fans blog about how dumb the game’s designers must be, it makes the blogger look like a wannabe developer. And when a player dislikes a game and threatens to kill a developer, I cringe for our entire industry. (How does one even make the jump from playing an underwhelming game to deciding the developers should die?)
Hate terrible games by all means but trash them with snarky vocabulary and critical comparisons, not personal attacks.
Describe The Difficulty Level
Achieving the right difficulty balance is one of the more challenging parts of game design and it’s also one of the hardest problems to describe. When you encounter a game that’s too hard or too easy, think about exactly why that difficulty balance is off. A fan blog might say that a game is no fun because it was too hard, while a thoughtful reviewer will say that the player doesn’t acquire energy fast enough to engage any of the action without paying premium currency, or that combat is too difficult because the conditions for mana regeneration is not intuitive.
Clever, Not Cutesy, Headlines
Travis Fahs has written about the tragedy of bad headline writing. “Grand Theft Auto Races To Success!” While I’m all in favor of bad puns and clever references in your review, don’t be overly cute here. A twee headline can read as amateur, and you don’t need a supercute headline if your review is solid.
Unfortunately, I’m not exactly an expert at this. There’s an art to inviting readers through headline writing, have a look at BuzzFeed.com or similar sites that make a living through clickbaiting their content. If left to my own devices, my articles would be called Thing I Wrote About Games, Part 2043. (Sorry, Hardcore Droid editors.)
Play Through Several Times
I might write on my blog about a game I’m in the middle of playing, especially if I’m having an amazing time and want everyone else to play too, or if I’ve thrown the controller down in disgust. But a thoughtful game review requires playing the game several times. It’s hard to separate a frustrating game from an average RPG with a poorly designed rogue class without playing it through several times.
When I’m playing QuestLord for my own enjoyment, I love chance to play a female dwarven warrior, and i choose Kara Rokblade every single time. But my readers might not all be fans of lady dwarves, and so when I reviewed the game, I tried out the other character choices as well.
Read Other Reviews
As you write about games, make sure to read a lot of the reviews you like, and try to separate a review you like from a game you like. Sure, we can’t all work several uninterrupted hours of blog reading into our days, but do try to make keeping up with industry publications a part of your routine.
KillScreen and Gamasutra are great places for good games writing, and you can find great work on smaller sites too. I’m fond of Indie Gamer Chick because even when she’s rolling her eyes at a particular game, she loves the hobby. You don’t have to love every reviewer or every gaming magazine, in fact you’ll probably find yourself refining your reading tastes as well as your writing.
And keep writing. There’s the Ira Glass explanation about making bad art and realizing your work falls short of what you know good work is, and how the only cure for this is doing more work. The answer is to keep writing, and keep writing.
Revisit what you wrote last year and if it makes you cringe, that’s great! You’re improving! Making bad art is the first step to making OK art, which is the first step to making good art, and game reviewing is really a creative art.
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