I've reviewed a lot of games over the years. The number is probably up around 1,500 games at this point, in fact. And I've always been a bit curious as to how my work is received by the people on the other end. I've been talking to a lot more actual game developers, as well as the marketing and public relations people that surround them, over the past 11 months, and I've gotten a variety of answers.
To some, the enthusiast press is completely irrelevant. Some people don't read any reviews of their own games, positive or negative, instead placing more importance on the users of their company's message boards. Some people only care about sales figures. Or focus tests. Or satisfaction surveys. Or what their friends think. Or phases of the moon.
Others seem to live or die with every review. And some seem to hang on every score with no concern for the text--they're probably working for companies where their bonus or royalty rate is determined by their Metacritic average.
Occasionally people get in touch privately to say thanks for a positive review, which always strikes me as a little weird because it's quite rare. More often, official lines of communication are opened to air grievances over a review that's perceived to be a negative one. And most often, you don't hear anything. That's fine, too. No one gets into this line of work--which in a lot of cases still involves extreme abuse and rampant character assassination across as many message boards as possible--to be praised. Or, at least, no one should.
With that in mind, I found comments from Peter Molyneux about his reaction to the (mostly positive) reviews of Fable II to be really fascinating.
In a brief communication to CVG, Molyneux confessed that the first reviews of Fable II that hit this weak made him "incredibly emotional" as he read them all, noting the different ways that the different reviewers played his game.
There's also this quote...
"Fable II must have been one of the hardest games to review. The world is so big and the story and gameplay are enormous. How reviewers manage to distill such an experience into a few pages is incredible."
To speak from experience, the hardest games to review are actually the middling games with nearly equal parts of good and bad. Those are the grinds, where you're met with crushing disappointment around every corner, as every single positive point about the game that you want to latch onto and love is offset by an equal or slightly stronger negative. When games get to be as good as Fable II apparently is (as soon as I'm done reviewing Rock Revolution, Fallout 3, Red Alert 3, and whatever else comes along between here and Thanksgiving, I intend to sit down and play it for myself), the review becomes more of a process of figuring out which information is relevant to the prospective buyer, and how much information is too much. After all, we're not writing a Fable II guide or walkthrough that covers every possible option the game offers. THAT would be hard.
Like any game, Fable II was developed by a sizable team of human beings, people who probably threw aside large sections of their lives and devoted anywhere from one to three years to turning a vision into reality. I don't think I could do that. In fact, I sort of had the chance to pursue that career change late last year, and I gave it a lot of thought. Ultimately, I felt like I had more to say and do in this line of work than I had said up until that point, and throwing in with the amazing gentlemen we've partnered with to deliver Giant Bomb quickly turned from wild idea to wilder reality. Also, the thought of playing the same game for three years never sounded very appealing at all.
I could probably stupidly ramble on about this for several more inches, but instead I'd like to briefly salute Peter Molyneux and his team for what still seems like a monumental task when you sit down and think about it: getting a game out the door and onto shelves for people to enjoy.
That salute also goes to those of you who shipped games during this crazy year, as well as those who are still putting in long hours to frantically finish up the games we'll be playing over the next month or so. Keep fighting the good fight.
(But just to be clear, respect doesn't translate into stars on our review scale. Not even half-stars. Sorry.)