How I’m reviewing games the same way as tasting wine

Or in my case beer tasting.

Over time I’ve been reading people’s thoughts about game reviews.  When I do a “review” its usually my gut feelings on the game roasted over a sampling of the problems I faced and the things I enjoyed.  Its not an exact science though, its opinion piece, at the end of the day I just really want to say “go play it” or “don’t touch it with a 10 ft pole”.  To me that’s how I like to hear reviews, but gaming is just somewhat more complicated than that.

Some of the complaints about game reviews I see and hear often are: “there’s no consistency”, “there’s no standard to the numbers”, “they don’t review the stuff I care about”, “the reviewer doesn’t seem to be a fan of the genre”, “this reviewer seems to have a grudge against these games”, among some other complaints.  I honestly think these are all valid and when I read a review that I just straight-up don’t agree with I think all of these exact sentiments.  Of course many like to hide behind the “its just an opinion” shield, which has its merits, but ultimately its pretty weak.  If I said “The Godfather is an overrated and boring movie” then I feel like I’d have to back that up somehow due to the prominence of said movie.

When a new video game comes out, there’s not a lot of prominence established yet, so pretty much anything you say about the game goes, straight-up opinion or detailed critique.  I once saw a Destructoid article that decided to not review Metro 2033 over the fact that they died when they thought they shouldn’t of.  But anybody who’s played Metro 2033 could probably tell you it was the sleeper-hit of 2010 and an amazing experience.

I certainly don’t hate on the idea of reviewing a game like you would a book or movie, in fact I intend to keep up that format myself, but maybe its time to get some things in check.  Some weeks ago I had an idea to do “The Technical Review”, (name was definitely a work-in-progress). The idea was to make a short video about the technical merits of a game.  While the game might be considered A+ in a straight opinion piece, where does it stack on graphical issues?  Online updates?  DRM issues?  Does it have co-op options or competitive multiplayer?  Are the controls easy to learn?  These were questions I saw people come up with occasionally in review comment sections and I realized there might be a niche for a quick technical run-down of a game.

Unfortunately the results on my first pass were incredibly boring and I decided to scrap the idea for awhile. I did, however, take some copious notes and came up with my own grading scale.  This was the result of hours of brainstorming and retooling all sorts of aspects I thought were important, distilling them and retooling them until I came up with 5 categories, each with 4 different aspects:

I’m still unsure about whether to go forward with any of this, so while many of the aspects need explaining, I’m not going to get into too much detail today.  Stuff like “Automatic Updates” probably sounds weird, but is an increasingly important aspect of new games.  The whole “Support” category might seem odd actually, but contains things that generally aren’t touched on in game reviews, such as DRM, things that are becoming very important to PC gamers.

When I looked at my notes again I was  somewhat reminded of a recent outing with my beer tasting club, where we rated beers in a very similar fashion, always touching on certain qualities of a beer while trying to describe aspects of it.  I realized games reviews might benefit from this format, even on more artistic aspects of the game.  My original concept doesn’t apply so well to certain genres though, like single player-only RPGs or casual games, but it could be tweaked.  The first pass at it was intended to cover as many types of games as possible and not touch on the more opinionated parts of the game, such as artwork, story or music.  Ultimately the wine tasting approach works best for describing the qualities of a game that can be compared easily to others, which I think I just about captured.  But if I were to take it to the next level I would need to figure out a way to incorporate those aspects too.

Take what you will from the concept, I like the idea and given a few weeks I might start doing some regular features with the format, but for now it is what it is.

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About Ryan Saul

Hailing from Portland, OR I work by day and blog by night. I like to consider myself a video game connoisseur, playing as many new things as I can get my hands on. Its hard to hold me down to one game for very long before I move on to the next big thing. Luckily, that works pretty well in terms of video game blogging.

2 responses to “How I’m reviewing games the same way as tasting wine”

  1. giantsbane says :

    This is very cool. I strongly support you doing a unique type of reviewing like this.

    On a different note, you are in a beer tasting club? Are you a beer expert now or perhaps a poser? I have a few friends that are really into that and when I participate in tastings and they make remarks about the beer I almost always just smile and nod. Maybe my palette just sucks and cant differentiate subtle things. I can usually tell what style a beer is (IPA, Pilsner, etc), but other than that all I can contribute is “I like this”, or “I don’t care for this”.

    • Ryan Saul says :

      Yep, well, beer brewing club, but ultimately we do a little bit of brew tasting and a lot more tasting other brands. So you do get a sense of all the different parts to a beer. Our favorite descriptor is the “horse-blanket” taste which totally made sense to me after I tried a farmhouse ale.

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