MomoCon 2015: Critiquing Critique

Janelle Bonanno, editorial director of The Escapist and Defy Media, moderated and facilitated a necessary discussion regarding the importance of reviews in the modern era and how they have evolved throughout the years.

At the crux of the conversation was Josh Vanderwall, Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist, who indicated that graphics are the least important aspect of the review process. At one point, pre-PS2, pushing the graphical abilities of video games was a necessary part of the growth of the industry but since then the focus is on creating experiences that are worth the time of gamers.

Josh Engen, freelance writer, echoes the sentiment of Vanderwall from the perspective of reviewers. Engen indicates that video games are art and can express emotion and deliver intricate stories, there isn’t one thing that the reviewer should or shouldn’t harp on – it’s the entire package and the execution of all the different elements which culminate together. There is no other medium quite like it.

Rounding out the panel was the developer for Brawlhalla, Zeke Sparkes, who believes that reviewers can still articulate the experience of the game without necessarily having played through everything within the game. This theory comes in light of the vast amount of games available and increased gameplay length that can push 30, 40 or 100 plus hours to see everything within the game world.

Vaderwall agrees that it is possible for the reviewer to impart the experience of the game without having completing everything and that it isn’t necessary because most players don’t finish the game either. If reviewers go this route, Vanderwall indicated that they must be transparent and forthright to the audience.

When asked about the importance of aggregate community review sites, Sparkes calls out that gamers who purchase, play and review a game are pre-disposed to like the experience. He still thinks these reviews have value, but admits being biased as his game sits at 95% with 2,000 reviews on Steam.

Vanderwall indicates that their isn’t really a distinction between fan and profesional reviews today – anyone who plays a game is a fan, and anyone who takes the time to write out or record their thoughts is a reviewer. The only real distinction is that some are blessed with a more high profile platform to speak from and larger audience.

Engen speaks out that when he reviews a game in a genre that he isn’t familiar with he has a tendency to be more lenient than one he knows inside and out, because he doesn’t know the elements that hardcore fans would be looking for in design mechanics.

The panel concluded with Vanderwall saying that review scores will always have a place and are important for some segments of the audience, thus are important to reviewers. He concedes there are people who jump straight to the score that never bother to read the review, but the score is still providing a valuable service for them. There are people who read the review and don’t care about the score. It’s up to reviewers to serve both audiences – including a score with the written review really isn’t hurting anyone.

The Escapist aims to capture and celebrate the contemporary video gaming lifestyle and MomoCon provides a stage for necessary discussions about the industry to occur. For more thoughts on the changing environment of video games, their creators and those that cover them be sure to check out MomoCon next year and every year!


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