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Expertise, Enthusiasm and Game Reviews

February 12th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Media

Part Two of the Shawn Elliott sponsored game review symposium of the stars is up at his blog. More thoughts once I digest it all.

A nugget from John Davison:

On both PC Player, and PC Zone back in the UK, I found that it was our strategy guys more than any other that wielded significant influence over the audience of their niche within a niche. These guys had an encyclopedic knowledge of historical warfare, were extremely comfortable with hex-based war games, and could tell you things about individual weapons (and whether the game employed them correctly) that would make your head spin. Not only did we use them because they knew their stuff, but we also used them because — let’s face it — you have to be wired up a certain way to be that into something like that, and other people on the team just couldn’t tolerate these kinds of games. We knew there was a portion of the audience that was equally nerdy about such things, so we put the war game guy on the war games — and everyone was happy.


8 Comments so far ↓

  • George Geczy

    “so we put the war game guy on the war games”

    This is the difference between today’s print magazine press in North American and in Europe – Europe puts the war game guy on war games, PC Gamer puts the Zoo Tycoon guy on wargames.

  • Chris Nahr

    It’s somewhat amazing that this needs to be pointed out: we assign articles on certain subjects to experts on that subject! So is the usual practice to assign articles to writers without a clue?

  • moromete

    Well, will only the long time experts try out that new wargame? Or it might help to offer a perspective for the FPS junkie who wants to try out something new? Sometimes a layman opinion is needed…

  • Chris Nahr

    Just read the context of Davison’s quote — he was replying to Robert Ashley’s suggestion that people should indeed assign writers without a clue. Wow…

    moromete: An outsider’s perspective might be useful as an extra opinion but that’s most definitely not what I want as the main review.

  • Chris Nahr

    PS: In fact, Davison also mentions EGM’s old triple-review system which often included the voice of someone who wasn’t a genre fan or expert. I agree that those voices were certainly useful, as additions to rather than replacements for the main review.

  • JonathanStrange

    Yes, a triple review system might be desirable, especially in the area of less-popular genres like wargaming but probably often impractical.

    I’d prefer a wargaming expert to someone without the background, all other things being equal.

    However, I do dread the expert who’s virtually impossible to please or who’s so grateful that his area of interest – say Egyptian/Hittite warfare – is being portrayed that maybe he’s too willing to overlook the game’s lethargic play or other faults a non-enthusiast can’t ignore.

  • Alan Au

    In general, I would prefer that reviewers be knowledgable about the quirks of a particular genre. That way, they can focus on evaluting the aspects that most impact the gameplay experience.

    Sure, there’s something to be said for an outsider perspective, but unless that perspective is similar to mine, the observations aren’t likely to be useful for me. At least with genre specialists, there’s a better chance of sharing a similar opinion with a self-selected audience.

  • George Geczy

    I have no problem with the “outsider” review if it is a secondary element (sidebar etc) and is clearly marked as such.

    I have also no problems with somebody starting their reviews of my company’s games with a line like “this is a complex and detailed game, those looking for lighter fare please turn the page”. But I absolutely can’t stand a game like we make – which is clearly targeted to a niche audience – being reviewed by somebody with no awareness of that niche. We’re not looking to be played by FPS or RPG players, but we do know there is an audience out there for a product like ours – so review how well it will do for that audience.

    I made the “Zoo Tycoon” comment at the top of the comments as a specific dig – our first title, “Supreme Ruler 2010”, generally received reviews in the 60%-85% range, except PC Gamer North America – they gave it 34%, barely more than half the score of the next lowest major reviews. What was the only other printed review of that author? Zoo Tycoon (which he apparently enjoyed, maybe he still plays it today…) What did two of Futuremark publishing’s European sister publications to PC Gamer give us in Europe? 80% and 84%. In the US they did a disservice to their strategy gaming audience by not reviewing our title from a strategy/wargame perspective (or maybe they just thought they had none of those readers left).

    (Troy only gave us 60% in CGM, but I’ve forgiven him :) )