What makes a user review useful to you?

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laughingman

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I'm thinking about writing some reviews for games that don't have any user reviews. I've played quite a few great ones lately that have little to no buzz on the site, and I'd like to spread the word about them. I'd like a little help focusing my efforts.

What makes a "good" user review? Detailed descriptions of game mechanics? How it compares to similar games in the genre? A narrative of the user's journey with the game? The user's gaming preferences and history with this sort of game?

Or is there something else that you look for?

I'd appreciate any and all thoughts on this.

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Pezen

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I'll admit I rarely read user reviews, mostly because I don't know the individual or their perspective. So if the only review I can find of said game is a user review I would probably be more interested in reading a more personal take than a technical take. There's so much one can learn through videos of a game, but if someone can make a good personal case for the game rather than try to only describe what a video already tells me that would be useful. How did it relate to you, what about it worked and why.

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TheRealTurk

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The primary thing with reviews that a lot of bad ones (which is honestly most of them) forget is that they are making an argument. A review is ultimately putting a score on the game, so the purpose of the review is to justify that score to the reader.

The thing with all of the elements you mention - talking about the mechanics, comparisons to other games in the genre, a narrative of the author's "journey" - is that, for review purposes, they are sort of pointless in isolation. You can describe the mechanics all you want, but the important part for a review is whether they were good or bad. If they were bad, why were they bad? If you really enjoyed your play time, why did you enjoy it? Was it the story? The moment-to-moment gameplay?

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laughingman

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Thanks for the advice, both of you. It tracks with what I was already thinking of doing: "here's who I am, here are my particular tastes, here's why I like what this game did." I don't want to spend a lot of time on the technical aspects unless I can say why they work or don't.

I'm doing this because I've had to buy quite a few titles blind lately. While I've enjoyed the vast majority of them, It would have been nice to have at least one other person's opinion before making the decision to buy.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

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nutter

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Context.

Some idea of the reviewer’s track record.

Brevity.

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PatODay

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For me I buy very few games right at launch, so by the time I usually pick up a new game there is a good chance there's either hype, negativity, or a mix of the two surrounding the game(s) by the time I'm really deciding to make the purchase.

I like what you said about what you were already thinking of doing:

here's who I am, here are my particular tastes, here's why I like what this game did.

That, to me feels like the most important piece. Otherwise, I would like to hear about what your expectations for the game were going in, and whether you felt it lived up to, surpassed, or didn't meet those expectations.

You're doing a community service by adding a review to a game you feel strongly about, so anything you add that is something you're happy with is more than enough in my opinion.

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MonkeyKing1969

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Short - Get to the point, user reviews above a few paragraphs lose meaning.
Accurate - Don't review until you are done. Double check assumptions you had while playing.
Avoid Hyperbole - although new writers think superlatives impress, they usually ring alarm bells for readers.
Avoid Logical Faciles - check your review for these logical falicies that are 'gamer centric'

  • Appeal to 8-Bit
    You argued that because something is 'classic gameplay' it is therefore valid, justified, inevitable, good or ideal.
  • Activision
    You judged something as either good or bad on the basis of where it comes from. All things from Activision suck!
  • No true Gamer
    You made what could be called an appeal to hardcore gamer as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of your argument.
  • Appeal to Gerstmann
    You said that because Jeff thinks something, it must therefore be true.
  • Casual Diss
    You appeal to popularity or the fact that many people do something as an attempted to say something is 'casuals'
  • Not My Game
    Because you found something difficult to understand, or are unaware of how it works, you made out like it's probably sucks.



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Sombre

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It isn't just:

1- THE WORST GAME I HAVE EVER PLAYED

10-THE BEST GAME I HAVE EVER PLAYED

So by this metric I can't read 99.9% of Metacritic reviews

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wollywoo

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Don't bother describing the game's basic mechanics - there are presumably already a lot of places you can go to for that, so you're not adding anything there.

I rarely read user reviews, but if I do, it's because I want a more personal take. Big gaming sites like IGN tend to try to "objective" somehow, and will rarely give a subpar score to an AAA game. I can think of some games where the critical response was nearly 100% positive, but the word-of-mouth after the hype has died down is much more mixed. (e.g., MGS2, Twilight Princess, BOTW...) User reviews can help fill that niche of giving an idea of the general non-critic reception. So I just want to know your personal take: was it fun or not? And why? Don't just describe what the game is like - describe what it feels like to play it.

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nutter

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@sombre: Good points. I rarely read reviews, but I usually filter out the 5s and 1s just to filter out the trash.

Sure, some of those reviews are valid, but most are people yelling into the void.

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nutter

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@monkeyking1969: Hyperbole is a solid point. Too many people try to make cute or snide film review-esque quotes that make the reviewer sound like an attention-seeking ass.

The review is about the subject, not the author. Contextualizing the author’s point of view is important, but there’s no need to let being a glib shit overshadow your opinion of the game.

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FrodoBaggins

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At this point? Just give me the clean, hard, facts about a game.

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jaycrockett

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"here's who I am, here are my particular tastes, here's why I like what this game did."

You nailed it, this is 100 percent it. I don't need detailed explanations of the game. Just where are you coming from, and what you liked and didn't like. The longer the review, the more other details you can put in, but this first part is the essential bit.

Now particular to your current quest, putting reviews on games that don't have one, I could see coming at it from several different angles, just to provide more context, but that sounds like more work with diminishing returns.

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laughingman

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Solid points all around, and good advice for anyone who's thinking about it. I'm no professional reviewer, and I'm not trying to be one. I just want to spread the word, you know?

I suppose I should start working on them, then.

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Bonbonetti

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#15  Edited By Bonbonetti

My main approach for answering your question is to list my favourite reviewers and write about that I like(d) about them.

Twitch-streamer CohhCarnage is not technically a reviewer perhaps, but always leaves his impressions or opinions after finishing or testing a game. What's great about his reviews, is that he has the intelligence to understand that people might like different things, and has a good understanding of what those things might be, as in: "if you liked game X, you might really like this game" or "if you like this gameplay element in a game, you might enjoy this game". This comes from his experience of playing lots of different games and genres; Indie, Mid-sized, and triple-A.

It's rare that a reviewer takes the extra intellectual leap to understand what other gamers might be looking for.

That method is far more beneficial (and pleasant) than the typical "game1 vs game2" formula that is far too prevalent, where reviewers pit one game against another, as if you are not allowed to enjoy more than one game. What's worse is that the games pitted against each other are often not even in the same genre or have very little in common, revealing the reviewer's lack of experience in anything outside of mainstream titles.

Classic Game Room. What I liked about Mark's reviews was that he didn't get bogged down into big lists of details and categories, but focused on a few core things that he was hoping to experience in a game. He also had a very distinct taste in games, and you quickly learned the types of games he would enjoy, what he was looking for. It was like a compass in a way. He had a good way of zoning in on the core experience.

TotalBiscuit. I liked his consistency, he had a formula for presenting his opinions and stuck to it. I always felt like he had principles or priorities that didn't sway, whether you agreed with them or not it gave you something to compare against.

In stark contrast: most mainstream reviewers change their priorities with every game: "5 second loading times are a huge problem in this game , but not in that game", "bad camera angles is a problem in this game, but not that game" and so on. Most reviewers don't have much in terms of principles, there's no consistency of what they value in a game, instead they seem to just follow whatever opinion is trending.

Joe, The Alternative Gamer. A Youtube reviewer. He usually looks at games from a different perspective than 90% of the reviews that's out there. For example, it's refreshing to see someone who gives mid-sized studios a respectful chance instead of just dumping on them by default (like the GB crew consistently does). He too is very good at zoning in on the core experience. He's also very good at analyzing who the target audience for a game might actually be, instead of forcing all gamers into a small narrow group sharing the exact same tastes.