This year has been a funny one for reviews, we’ve seen several scandals revolving around games companies paying massive YouTubers and Streamers to positively review their products without stating that they were paid. As well as (the now standard) review embargoes on the day of release, the day after release and even review copies not being sent to publications at all!
It got me thinking, how important are reviews to gamers?
Do they really sway purchasing decisions for the masses?
I decided to take the highest profile review controversy case of the year the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (THPS5 from here) release. The only release this year to have NO reviews before it hit digital distribution services and shop shelves across the planet.
Do they really sway purchasing decisions for the masses?
I’m a big believer in reviews. As an informed consumer I read reviews as a gauge of quality. A review will never tell me what game to buy or not buy however, I read them and make an informed decision.
I hope other gamers have this attitude (although a quick glance at IGN comments would suggest not). And yet when THPS5 was released I patiently waited the reviews to come, except they didn’t. Now I’m a cynical gamer. I know review embargoes that fall on release day mean that the publishers know it’s a bad game and don’t want bad reviews to negatively impact on sales. The difference is embargoes are extremely common but the fact that a game can go on sale without reviews is a new one!
Knowing all this I made a decision. I bought the digital version that first weekend and would live with the consequences. Little did I know that Activision didn’t send the review code to publication on the day of release, therefore ensuring that no-one, at all, would speak negatively about their game. They didn’t even attempt to pay Streamers of Youtubers to review it.
When the reviews started coming in, it was tragic news – unanimously the critics all found it to be absolute shite. To be fair the reasons included nothing that I wasn’t aware of through my game time (although many of these reviewers experienced issues 100 times worse than what I did). While they wouldn’t have put me off (being a massive THPS fan), I would’ve waited until the price had dropped.
The initial lack and ultimately the wholly negative reviews really impacted the sales of the game though and although figures do not get released it never appeared in the UK charts. I think that this case-study shows that reviews do have a profound effect on the buyer, but this case also threw up another interesting question revolving around reviews.
How trustworthy are reviews?
THPS5 released on the 29th September 2015, and on that morning there was not a single review. It transpired that Activision had not sent the copies out for review until they knew they would be delivered the day of release, making well-timed reviews impossible. And yet, that evening, a well-respected online publication had their review live on site – it led to the question – how can this site have a review up, this early, when larger ones couldn’t?
How much game time was completed before this review was written and subsequently published?
In my experience reviewing a game is time-consuming thing. I like to see the majority of what the game has to offer, this means I finish the story and continue playing side quests etc. I know THPS5 isn’t the largest game, but for my review (coming soon btw) but I made sure I 100% completed it and spent a crazy amount of time in the create-a-park mode. This ensures that I had as full a picture as possible so I could deliver to you guys a well-rounded review that took everything into account. Could I have achieved this in a day (or less)? No way!
For me, this web publication had quickly cobbled together a review (possibly while finishing all the levels) and threw it up in the knowledge that they were the only ones with one. Why? I don’t really know, but I’d guess traffic.
How full of a picture did they have of the game? After reading the review it is not at all detailed. Sure it includes a brief level review, mention of the bugs, create-a-park in passing, even the soundtrack (review checklist complete). But the detail is notable in its absence and the review isn’t up to the publications normal standard.
Do I trust this review? I most certainly do not. don’t get me wrong THPS5 will not be getting my GOTY award, it’s nowhere near it. I know a bad game when I play one, and THPS5 is possibly the worst game I’ve played in 2015. I know this through weeks of play; not from a few hours, and although my review is late, it is fair.
In a world where gamers are a hugely cynical bunch; and rightly so, we approach everything with a level of trepidation. DLC and season passes garner nothing but hate and derision; review embargoes are used to gauge a games true value and yet reviews are often taken at face value. A game gets a bad review, it’s bad! Even though there are numerous examples of reviewers being “bought” by major companies.
Reviews aren’t going away. Neither are the controversies that follow them and I feel that they should stay. They have a very real role to play in our fledgling industry – they should provide a unswayable voice for the consumer. They should state when a game is broken, or unplayable. And they should send a message to developers saying that we won’t stand for it. Unfortunately the number of reputable sites is shrinking by the day with most being swayed for large amounts of money at best or Doritos and mountain Dew at worst.
Read every review with a pinch of salt, we have no idea what is going on with reviewers and not everything is written with the best intentions. My advice is read a range of reviews and form your own opinion. I have a few sites that I trust and read their reviews and I listen to the voices of the independent writer, my lack of faith in mainstream media’s representation of games drove me to find blogs.
The independent voice, I find, is the most trustworthy. I read every single review that appears on my reader page because I know that I can trust your opinions.
And I hope that when you read mine you feel the same.
How much value to you place on reviews?
Do they sway your purchasing decisions?
Who do you trust with reviews?
Tell me in the comments below!