I’m not as passionate as some people are about video game reviews (and how flawed they may or may not be.) I think there’s clearly room for improvement in the way the average review is conducted, but I also think that the answer to the problem will come in the form of review sites that cater to specific audiences; i.e. the 30+ crowd, or the socially-conservative crowd, etc. That said, I would like to express the opinion that all review sites, in general, should be careful how they incorporate “lasting appeal” into their scoring system.
The inspiration for this post comes from the IGN review of Braid. I’m absolutely not complaining about it — the review was positive and enthusiastic, and the reviewer did exactly what they were supposed to do within the particular constraints of the IGN review system. But IGN’s final score is one of the lowest given to Braid, apparently because Braid lacks “lasting appeal” — one of IGN’s five primary review criteria. IGN appears to define “lasting appeal” as a combination of sufficient game length and replayability. So how about it… does Braid really lack “lasting appeal?”
Does The Godfather Have “Lasting Appeal?”
Before you answer that question, ask yourself this: do films like The Godfather and The Empire Strikes Back have “lasting appeal?” It doesn’t take long to watch them, and once you’ve done so, you’ve seen everything there is to see. Nevertheless, I’ve watched both of those movies more times than I can count. And I’m fairly certain that despite having solved its puzzles, I’ll come back to Braid at some point, even if many years down the line (when I’ve forgotten most of the solutions!) I’ll also be loading Braid every time a friend who hasn’t played it drops by (much the same way I’ve chosen to re-watch great movies that I’m already “finished with” when friends who haven’t seen them drop by.)
Is “Lasting Appeal” Even Relevant?
Perhaps that argument doesn’t sway you. If not, ask yourself another question: how much money are you willing to spend for an hour of uninterrupted, high-quality entertainment? I know that’s not an entirely fair question; after all, everything is relative when it comes to price and consumption. (Just because you’re willing to spend $10 for a two-hour movie doesn’t mean you will be willing to spend $10 for a two-hour game.) Nevertheless, if Braid gives you three to six hours of great entertainment for $15, isn’t that a reasonably good deal in and of itself? Does it even matter if you never touch the game again?
For a young person with lots of free time and very little cash to spend, perhaps the answer is “yes.” But for someone with little free time, many obligations, and other interests besides gaming (i.e., most of my friends) replayability is a minor concern at best. Such people want to have fun, experience new gameplay and new narratives, and then move on to other things. They — that is we — don’t care about IGN’s definition of “lasting appeal.”
Which leads me back to my original point: the answer to the problem with reviews is more focused review sites that cater to specific target audiences. Many such sites already exist, but don’t necessarily have the legitimacy of an IGN or 1UP. We in the industry need to make an effort to identify the best of these sites and embrace them, so that they are not at a disadvantage relative to the old traditional standbys, and so that they can eventually attract a large enough audience to help change the way we all think about games — for the better.