Do Bad Games Get Short Reviews?

Ombudsman reader (and general Curmudgeon) Matt Matthews wrote in a while ago to ask about “the relationship between popularity of a game and the number of pages that go into a review.” Specifically, Matthews pointed out that GameSpot’s review of the ultra-hyped Halo 2 was four pages, while “relatively lesser-known” (but still highly rated) Astro Boy for GBA got a one-page review. “Which factor is more important: popularity or quality?” Matthews wondered.

In GameSpot’s case, the answer is supposedly neither. “We intentionally avoid rigidity when it comes to review length, because each case is at least slightly different, “GameSpot Executive Editor Greg Kasavin said in an e-mail. “There’s more to say about Halo 2, which features a variety of modes of play, than there is to say about Astro Boy, which is an excellent but simple game. So why should Halo 2 be given short shrift just because it attempts to do more than Astro Boy?”

Kasavin stressed that he has “never once imposed a word count limit or page limit on a GameSpot review,” nor tried to stretch out shorter reviews to garner more page views. “Reviewers are simply expected to cover all the major bases, and when it comes to higher-profile games, there tend to be more. We include nothing in any of our reviews that we think is extraneous.”

I think Kasavin’s policy is, in general, the right one when it comes to imposing editorial restrictions on review length. Each game is different, and asking different reviews to conform to the same length specifications, especially on a medium with near-unlimited space like the Web, isn’t necessary or desirable. A review shouldn’t be any longer or shorter than it has to be.

That being said, in my experience, reviews of large, highly-expected games tend to be a lot longer than they have to be. Consider IGN’s Halo 2 review, for one ripe example. True, any game that you’re calling “the greatest Xbox game of all time” deserves a little extra space, but this monstrosity of a review repeats itself over eight long pages before finally coming the merciful conclusion. The review spends nearly two pages pretty much listing every multi-player mode and option — information doubtless also found in the game’s press release and instruction book — and about a page finding different ways to say “the graphics are great.” Just because there shouldn’t be strict editorial control of review length doesn’t mean the author shouldn’t show some self-restraint.

Some might argue that reviewers are simply giving the audience what they want by giving highly expected games more review space, and it’s true that many eager readers want to get as much information as they can about the latest “game of the millenium.” This is a valid point, but just because there readers want a lot of information doesn’t mean you have to put it all in the review. Separating out the nitty-gritty details and more expansive descriptions into sidebars or separate features can allow devoted followers to get all their information and more casual readers to absorb the basics in a leaner, more straightforward review. For sure this is essentially a stylistic choice, but it’s one that I feel most sites err on the wrong side of.

In my book, a short, well-written beats an overly-long, overly-detailed, overly-repetitive review every time. Give me the essence of the experience in as few words as possible and then let me worry about whether or not I want mountains of more detailed information.

7 thoughts on “Do Bad Games Get Short Reviews?

  1. “The review spends nearly two pages pretty much listing every multi-player mode and option — information doubtless also found in the game’s press release and instruction book”

    Multiplayer details generally get shorted severely in game reviews. It can be exceedingly difficult to find real details about multiplayer modes and options in a game before the game is actually released, simply because reviews generally just give a passing sentence or two to their existance. And even after release, it is easier to find the information by looking at a gameplay FAQ at something like GameFAQs than to read reports.

    As for the instruction manual… If you already have the instruction manual then you’d already have the game, and wouldn’t actually need any review.

    As for IGN, their reviews are just too many pages anyway, with six to eight page reviews that barely seem to say anything at all.

  2. Reviews of Bad Games are the Best

    It’s nice to get the skinny on the hottest and best games, but when it comes to entertainment value, bad games often times get the best written reviews. I read Electronic Gaming Monthly, among other things, and I just love Seanbaby’s “Rest of the Crap” article. The reviews are very short but they are also often times very funny! Other magazines also tend to inject more humor into reviews of bad games. I think its great that mags and web sites review bad games at all. It’s entertaining and very helpful. I’ve saved a lot of money by avoiding games that got negative reviews in what I read. I sometimes write reviews of my own on Epinions.com and 1up.com. It is harder to write a long review of a really bad game than it is a game that you just love to play. Some games are just so bad that you can’t bring yourself to finish them and sell or trade them instead, so you don’t see the end of the game. Other times, your time and attention is taken up by the good games so much that you don’t devote much time to playing the bad games. I do think that the ads in paper mags are getting out of hand though. They keep getting longer and longer. I got a Gamepro mag a while back that had an ad for Call of Duty’s latest expansion pack as the stupid cover of the mag. You could peel it off since they put in on with that gummy glue, but still the whole cover was an ad. That’s going too far I think.

  3. Simple: more hype equals more readers, and more pages equals more ad views. That’s all the super-length of IGN reviews has ever been about.

  4. From the January 2005 issue of EGM’s letters, concerning short reviews of essentially good games:

    “I’ll bet you a million bucks if we took a poll of all EGM readers and asked whether they wanted to see a bigger Otogi 2 review or more Halo 2 screenshots, almost all would pick the latter”.- Dan “Shoe”

    Now, I know a screenshot isn’t a review, but the principle is still there, they’re (the gaming media) just trying to cater to it’s demographic, and as far as advertising space goes, that’s really based on the mag’s page count as a WHOLE, not to mention circulation numbers.

    BTW some very mediocre games get wayyyy too much coverage, remember the hype for XIII?

  5. I think ign in general goes way too long with their reviews regardless of amount of hype, type of game, or quality. It is a violation of a key journalistic rule that you say what you need to in as small a space as possible.

    But I do understand differences in length in reviews. In my own practice I find Game Boy Advance games much harder to write over 500 words than the home consoles. I tend to find that mediocre or games that are really bad and expected as such tend to be shorter reviews than games that are very good or very disappointing. A negative review of one of the Batman games will be short but of Resident Evil or Jak 2 will be long.

  6. Any website which uses ‘interstitial’ web ads or pages that interupt the flow of the article/review gains from longer reviews. Popular game features will produce more page views than those for the more obscure. Many gamers will devour any coverage they can find of the most hyped games, IGN is simply padding their bottom line. Their business model is based on advertising revenue, not journalistic integrity.

  7. As I said in my original post, I don’t think lot’s of coverage for a hyped-up game is a bad thing… I just don’t think all the information has to be in the review. A short review with prominent links to other content is an ideal solution, I think. Journalistic integrity and good business practice don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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