Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 19, 2014
Before and after

Watch Dogs: 77. The Sims 4: 70. Destiny: 77. These are some current average game review scores from Metacritic for some of the biggest game releases of this year. In a scoring system where a good game has a score of 90 or more (and developer's bonuses depend on having a score of 90 or more), those are rather disappointing numbers. So how about some other numbers? Watch Dogs sold 8 million copies until July. The Sims 4 sold 400,000 copies in the first week. Destiny shipped $500 million worth of copies to retailers on release and sold $325 million worth of those in the first week.

Apparently there isn't much correlation between review scores and sales numbers. Especially not for first week sales, which usually happen before anybody had time to read any reviews. People buy games in the first week based on the hype around those games. So I wanted to go and check on the same website (preferably by the same author) what a game site said about a game before and after release. It turned out that this wasn't really possible, because such sites typically only have 1 review of a game, but tons of previews. Polygon gave Destiny a horrible score of 6 out of 10, but if you search the site for articles on Destiny you find a whopping 307 of them! Most of them from before release. Not all of them positive (e.g. there is reporting of bad voice acting). But the previews in general are much more positive than the review is.

I hate previews.

There are lies, damn lies, and video game previews. A video game preview is fake journalism, it is a press release from the publisher thinly disguised as the opinion of a journalist. Either we say that before the game is finished it is impossible to judge it, in which case we don't need all of those previews. Or we say that the preview material can already give a good indication how good a game is, in which case we have to ask ourselves why we get so glowing previews for games that after release have such bad reviews.

Now some Gamergater will claim that video game journalists are corrupt, but why the heck are they only corrupt in their previews? If the industry had bought those journalists, they could well expect for their money the reviews to also be glowing. Why would a journalist lie in the preview and then write a honest review? I am puzzled by this difference in reporting of the same game before and after release.

Previews are greatly influenced by hype, promises, expectations and carefully edited screenshots/videos.

When you get the final game.. .that's it. No more words, now you get the real thing. Does it meet the expectations, where everything was possible? Does it look like the amazing HD videos on YouTube, published 1 year before the release?

If the answer is "no", that's why they get a low score. Also, this is why low-budget/indie titles can be a real success. Lower expectations, less marketing, less hype, less "AAA!" babbling.
But everybody knows that. Shouldn't a journalist be able to see behind the hype and say "Look, these screenshots are great, but I doubt the game will look like that!"? Instead he first says "Game X is going to be the best evah, I've seen the screenshots.", only to then write a disappointed review after release.

I see how the hype can easily fool some customers, but shouldn't the "experts" be less likely to fall for the old hype and disappointment cycle?
You appear to be confusing some issues.

The smaller sites tend to be padding up the scores of their friends indie titles and not the big AAA's. They dislike the AAA's because most of them don't comply with their social justice extremist agenda - there is no wheelchair bound ethnic minority transsexual class in Destiny.

Usually it is the larger sites like IGN that are associated with AAA conflicts of interest which may or may not influence scores but as in my profession the mere presence of a conflict of interest is bad enough. IGN's review score of Watch Dogs is pretty generous.

As for the sales figures reflecting consumers true opinions of a game...

I suspect that the initial concept and hype determine much of the sales. After all the player can't really know if the game is good prior to buying.

Ask all those Watch Dog buyers how it compares with GTA 5 (a genuine 9/10 game) and you will see that they do agree with scores in the 7's.

Let's see how well the sequel does.

Going back to the first point here; the free Nexus tablets and the like potentially contributed to the massive levels of positive coverage and pre-review hype on sites like IGN.

I am sure a large number of copies were sold right there with many having been dispatched before the reviews had been read. This large number of pre-orders built up momentum such that even when the disappointing reviews came out many uncommitted buyers bought it anyway because all their friends were going to be buying it and playing online together.

I don't know about you and it could be related to me being quite fortunate when it comes to my disposable income for gaming but half the time I buy games for the purpose of being able to participate in water cooler/forum discussions and not necessarily because the reviews are good.

That has cost me dearly in the case of Watch Dogs but proved to be beneficial in the case of Beyond Two Souls.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Some possible reasons why previews generate better scores than reviews:

1. Preview versions of games are more often free than review versions. Some journalists may be predisposed to like companies that give them free things. This phoenomenon is known as reciprocity.

2. In preview versions, the journalist typically has to mix with fewer of the hoi polloi.

3. In preview versions, the journalist typically has heard fewer opinions of the game other than those expressed by the games company's staff (see
If anything, I find I'm the opposite. I like the previews, while mostly ignoring the reviews. Previews make me excited about games I wouldn't normally buy. Reviews tell me that I'm wrong to like the games I like.

Someone doing a preview looks at the material, gets excited about it, and throws their spin on it. A review seems far more like it's chasing the audience's opinion, rather than showing the reviewer's. A reviewer sees what the other reviewers are putting up, and finds something in their own experience that will support that majority opinion.

The preview feels more honest than the review. It might not always be right, reviewers can be mislead, but with a preview I know I'm hearing what they want to say, they're not just repeating everyone else.
Writers at Gamespot have and Forbes have already answered your question: Previews, and almost all the news about a game before reléase, are based only on the information shared by game developers. In fact they were as far to say that most of the news are already written, they just adapt the information to the style of the website. As proof of this they said that if you checked the news across different game sites (e.g. IGN, Gamespot, etc.) the previews are almost identical, which is true as far as I could check!

This is nothing out of the ordinary in journalism, if you check news across different newspapers they tend to be the same (in fact, in many countries the same company writes them!) they onlly differ in opinión articles, which is the main differentiator netween newspaper nowdays. This is just how the modern journalism looks like...

That's why, by the mouth of this journalist, you should never trust previews since they are mostly self promotion of a game.

If you want to check the articles I could provide the link, but I have no acess to it right now; but I am sure that one of them was written by Erik Kain at Forbes.


There is some peer pressure to review like everyone else. Imagine the shame if you gave the original D3 a 10/10?

Kostner talked about fun being learning. The reviewer is going to be encountering less new stuff in a "need to get review out within 24 hours" when they may have already encountered a lot of it in preview, alpha and beta. If you want to maximize your enjoyment of a game, you don't spoil it with previews, alphas or betas. Does a long-married couple in production mode find everything as exciting as the preview days?

I don't think previews are significantly more fake journalism than the final review. The reviews need to be rushed out (an early review is far more profitable for a site than an accurate one.) And the public and meta aggregators demand a numeric score but what does Sims/PC scoring 0.6 higher than Destiny mean?

I don't feel reviews have much relationship to the game and even less predictive value to whether I will like it. There are religious issues about which console brand or pc master race or cash shop or f2p or feelings for the publisher or "another WoW clone we need sandbox" or pvp or owpk or ... And I find those preconceptions really color and drive the review.

The herd is hyped initially and the previews reflect that. Then the jaded, faux-sophisticates can't be seen to be fanboi so the review reflects that.

I would also like to point out that fansites are in the business of getting views, not providing accurate reviews. Most games getting a review that says "like most games, this is average" would be far more accurate than profitable.

tl;dr: I don't think reviews are that helpful, including for purchasing decisions. Thus, they just aren't important for me.

+1 for Michael and Woody
Hype is part of the gaming world, as much as hyped trailers do an amazing job to convince you the next movie will be aaaaawesomeeee.
Games journalism isn't corrupt. People just don't understand the industry.

People need to realize the client of a game review site is the game companies buying advertising. The readers are not the client. Thinking you are the client leads to this feeling of corruption, but if viewed properly it's not corruption; the review company is just managing their credibility to maximize revenue. You are not the client. You are the mark. Viewed properly it becomes obvious the industry is basically a marketing company that needs some independent credibility to work.
Long response follows, sorry!

I'm a former games journo and my personal 5 cents is that previews are like demos. When a publisher puts a demo or a preview together, they choose the best part of the game to show off. Most of the time it's a 1-2 hour snippet, more like a trailer than a real game experience. Sometimes the preview/demo is even worked on separately to make it more polished than the rest of the game. So lots of times the preview will look really promising but then the rest of the game turns out to not evolve into the great game the preview made it seem to be.

As for hype, many of the journos I knew were actually influenced by it in the other direction - seeing all the overhype made us look at a game more critically, not less. (We've never been offered money by companies for writing anything, by the way, I guess that's something that plagues bigger publications than the one I wrote for).

Now I'm helping promote DestinyQuest Infinite and I get to see the story from the other point of view. We're going to have a preview, because it's a way to get the news out there. I can email 100 media outlets saying just "we're making a game" and get nothing. But if I email 100 with something playable, it might get published. Which might make other media outlets see it and write about it too. (Much of the games writing industry is all about rehashing things. You try to get your own unique news, but you end up rewriting someone else's). Our preview is literally just the first two quests in the game, so hopefully we won't have a problem!
Hm reading through the other comments I realize you guys see previews as literally just writing about a game based on nothing but press releases. Those do suck. I had to write one, it was really just about what I HOPED for the game to be, not what I knew it to be. But journos do actually get playable previews. Most of the previews I've written have been based on those. Those are the ones I was talking about in my comments.
Shouldn't a journalist be able to see behind the hype and say "Look, these screenshots are great, but I doubt the game will look like that!"? Instead he first says "Game X is going to be the best evah, I've seen the screenshots.", only to then write a disappointed review after release.

I'm not a gamergater, but I do follow and support one aspect of one of their issues - in that as long as gaming enthusiasts continue to call themselves "gaming journalists" the gaming press is never really going to garner any real support or respect from the mainstream media outlets. The issue at hand is one of credibility. Is it not worth exploring why other sports and entertainment venues benefit from having "celebrity" reporters offering their perspectives as subject matter experts? Jackie Stewart did a wonderful job as a racing reporter and announcer for the events he covered, and not once was he ever accused of being biased or partial.

But somehow, someone who calls themselves a gaming journalist, who also might go by a fictitous internet name, isn't taken nearly as seriously. That's not a jab, it's just that I'm of the opinion that the "gaming press" is just not ready to "grow up" just yet - because the industry is too powerful and doesn't want them to.
That is where I found some video game magazine (canardpc in france, ...) to be a lot better.
With the magazine being release every 2 weeks, they can afford to take time and clearly state what they could really try during a review and emit reserved on everything else.
Usually it ends up by: Do not buy it until we have reviewed it completely which mean 2 weeks after the game release at least.
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