About the review process and some ethical stuff

What does the header picture have to do with the topic, you ask? Absolutely nothing—I just have a lot of puppy pictures lying around my computer from my time helping out with animal rescue stuff and didn’t have anything more relevant.

But on to the reason I’m writing this: my recent NyxQuest review may have led to some questions because it occurred to me after posting that not everyone has direct access to my mind and I haven’t ever actually described how things around here work. In said review, I posted a screenshot of Amazon where the date I purchased the game is visible (July 15th) and claimed that I bought it because my last couple reviews were negative and I was looking for something I’d like. However, the first of those negative reviews was posted on July 18th.

Shenanigans, I say!

Actually, this is due to me always trying to get to a point where I’m 1-3 weeks ahead of reviews. Basically, what that means is that I had played both of the games and got all screenshots, notes, etcetera worked out by that point, so I knew that those reviews were going to be negative when I bought the game. Going over that in the review itself would have been needlessly confusing, though. “I bought this game because I was-going-to-but-already-have-by-the-time-I’m-writing-this put up a couple negative reviews in a row” is a bit of a distraction from the point I was trying to make. And like I said, I sometimes forget that you all can’t read my mind.

But why post reviews for games weeks after playing them, you ask?

At first, it was laziness. When I first started doing this site, I panicked upon realizing that I had no content and proceeded to grind out a review every day for games that I hadn’t played in quite some time. That, combined with my complete lack of experience writing critically at the time, resulted in some ugly reviews. Go ahead and skip back all the way to my very first few reviews if you want to be embarrassed on my behalf—I’ve left most of them intact. Eventually someone pointed out to me that I was driving myself into the ground, and so I started (and have largely stuck with over the past 3 years) a loose one-review-per-week guideline. Sometimes games take twice that long, while other times they prove to be 2-3 hours long. Since I was trying to stick to one review per week to keep from getting burned out, I used the free time gained from the latter to move on to other games. This also gave me a cushion for sudden life-related things that demanded large chunks of time. Other times, I came to appreciate having a week to cool off from a bad game or look for flaws in an otherwise good game that only became apparent in hindsight. Thus, my unspoken “be 1-3 weeks ahead of the site” thing came into being.

It’s a good thing, too, because sometimes I start playing through a game and am just not in the mood for whatever it has to offer. That’s a “me” problem and it’d be unfair to the game to review it in that state. Then there are times where I’ll start playing something, only to realize days later that it’s an incomplete episodic game that can’t be judged in its entirety (I don’t review episodic games until they’re complete because hyping up a good beginning can come back to bite you if the end doesn’t deliver—I suppose this is another rule I’ve never bothered to explain). This happened recently when I started playing through Heroes of Steel both on the PC and Android, only to realize several hours in that it’s an episodic game with unfinished chapters. Since I’m a game and a half ahead of the site right now, I could drop it without having to worry about not having anything to post this week.

And now, some random ethical stuff!

This is yet more stuff I assumed you could all mind-snatch out of me. Basically, I don’t talk to people in games. I’m not on any mailing lists or Facebook groups with other people who do reviews, I don’t communicate with PR people, I don’t accept review codes, and I try my absolute best to keep as much distance from devs as I can to the point where I routinely ignore the emails of people in the industry. If I happen to speak to a developer, I’ll disclose this when reviewing their game. If something happens that constitutes even the smallest of emotional involvements (like if they speak out on something controversial on a forum and I agree with their stance to the point where I feel that any opinions I could have about their game would be colored by it), then I won’t review their games. This has happened, sadly, but it’s one of those lines in the sand that has to be there.

Emotional involvements that don’t stem from firsthand experience are a bit trickier. These are the givens in the industry: EA is evil, Ubisoft has developed a fetish for sub-par Assassin’s Creed releases, Tim Schafer is an A-hole. There’s really no escaping these narratives because of their ubiquity. I’ve found that I’m able to put these aside entirely when covering games that might be affected by those expectations, though. Just see how much I loved Child of Light (Ubisoft), Costume Quest 1 and Costume Quest 2 (Schafer), and while I don’t seem to have any reviews from EA-developed games to back up my lack of bias against them, I practically grew up on Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 Madden games and the heated conflict that they so often incited. If that’s not enough, then take the EA-published Crysis as an example, developed by Crytek, who I quite possibly have even less positive opinions about. Regardless, it’s a positive review (and one of the early ones that isn’t up to snuff, so don’t judge).

This is starting to sound like a guy on the defensive with his girlfriend, trying to explain why he came home smelling like perfume.

I know that, and it’s a good thing—people who do this review thing should always be mindful of what they’re doing. This only works if there’s a trust between the writer and reader that nothing influenced the review but the game itself, and that only exists when there are rules. Arguably more important than even that is communication and a willingness to listen; that’s why, unlike so many others who do reviews and are completely baffled at the idea that they could somehow be in the wrong, I’m open to criticism and being questioned by readers. You can find the link to my contact information on the bottom-right of every page if you want to contact me with questions, suggestions, or anything else.

But if you’re a developer or affiliated with one, I won’t respond. Them’s the rules.

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