Please enter your email address below and instructions will be sent to you on how to reset your password:
Please enter the user name you would like to use for The Game Effect:
The Game Effect XP
Earn XP
By doing almost anything on the site
Earn badges +XP by completing challenges
The Game Effect Shop
Buy items with GEP that you've earned
Connect with Facebook
Connect with
Tomb Raider
More Info...
More Info...
List image for related game.
All-time GEQ: 12514
List image for related game.
All-time GEQ: 8509
List image for related game.
All-time GEQ: 5058
List image for related game.
All-time GEQ: 4917
List image for related game.
All-time GEQ: 4265
The Game Effect Editorial

Are Games Critics Too Focused On AAA Titles?

Are we doing it wrong?

By Daniel Jones on 3/18/2013
Twitter can really be an unhealthy obsession. For instance, last week I read a tweet from Braid and The Witness developer Jonathon Blow that I haven't been able to stop thinking about since. It was a simple statement, but one that has wormed its way deep into my brain and taken root. Here's that tweet:

"If game critics were really critics, there would be a lot of discussion about Starseed Pilgrim now... instead of AC3 or Tomb Whatever."

For context; Starseed Pilgrim is a gloriously obtuse PC game that, from what I've read and seen on YouTube (I admittedly haven't played it yet as my PC is awful), is a 2D mix of The Unfinished Swan's gameplay with Fez's 8-bit homage art style. Go play it if you want to see what it's all about because I fear I'm doing a very poor job explaining it. My point, (and likewise, Jonathon Blow's point) has little to do with Starseed Pilgrim, though. Rather, it has everything to do with why I'd never heard of this unique, imaginative game before.

Embedded Image

It has to do with sites like Destructoid and Rock, Paper, Shotgun suddenly covering the game days after this tweet. It has to do with the channelling of information in the video game industry from PR company to website to consumer. It has to do with Tomb Whatever being advertised to death by Square Enix on the same sites that are given free copies of the game for review. It has to do with games like Tomb Whatever being big money makers not only for their publishers but for those websites as well. It has to do with the nature of games journalism in general and an infrastructure that just might be more than a bit broken.

Let's start by looking at games journalism. A lot of people find fault with this term for being a blatant misnomer. Most games journalists, bloggers, writers, what-have-you, are relegated (either by choice or complacent ignorance) to being middle-men. Video games are products and video game websites are often seen by publishers as free advertising for those products. Sure, Square Enix paid a few pretty pennies for those big banner ads you see strewn across large enthusiast websites, but those previews, developer interviews, trailers, cover stories etc. cost minimal compared to the eventual return on investment.

I'm not admonishing other sites or even denying that The Game Effect has worked with PR companies in the past to receive advance review copies of games and to interview developers. For instance, we will be previewing several games next week after PAX East, both AAA and indie. It's easy for me to claim to be above the role of PR mouthpiece when in reality it's more out of necessity than any kind of professional pride. The truth is, as a small website, we are normally seen as less than worthy in the eyes of most PR firms.

Embedded Image

So this weekend, we will be roaming the halls of PAX East, playing games, interviewing developers and writing those free advertisement previews for games like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Dead Island: Riptide. We're genuinely interested in covering these games simply because we're fans. You can't imagine how disappointed I was when we received an email from Deep Silver that Metro: Last Light had no open time slots for media appointments. Just as I'm disappointed that an indie developer named Monster & Glitch hasn't returned my email request for an interview about their charming iOS story-driven endless runner, Golden Arrow. In the case of the latter, I'd never heard of the game before reading the PAX press release, but after playing it obsessively this weekend, I was as excited to talk to the creator as I was when we scheduled an interview with the designers of Watch Dogs. Honestly.

And as a hopeless optimist, I like to believe that one of the unfortunate problems with games journalists is that most of us are fans. We have played games our entire lives, we devour all things gaming and pride ourselves on knowing all about the latest and greatest releases. Most of us rely on colleagues and those *gasp* PR emails to inform us of what we should and shouldn't be excited about. I receive dozens of emails daily from companies trying to promote games I have absolutely no interest in; and I simply don't report on those games. In the case of a game like Starseed Pilgrim, I never received a single email about it. That's a lazy excuse for someone who claims to be a journalist. After all, shouldn't I be out there scouring the internet to find the latest and greatest thing you've never heard of? Or is it simply enough to do like so many outlets did, and report on Starseed Pilgrim only after Jonathon Blow brought it to our attention.

Then there's the little factor of money. Video game websites need money to survive, and in order to get money, we need to get hits. The quick, easy and obvious way to do that is to cover the games that are most popular. Starseed Pilgrim may be a better game than Tomb Whatever, but it's not going to be Googled a bajillion times either. That's still a poor excuse. Sites like Metacritic only exacerbate the problem with smaller sites often rewarding positive scores to big games in hopes of garnering those top-of-the-page hits. It's an infrastructure problem that I don't claim to have a solution for. Games websites need to make money: big games bring in money -- small games do not.

Embedded Image

I reviewed Tomb Whatever and found it presented some creative ideas and a nice mix of old-school game design tropes with new-school flare. That's why I awarded the game with a 9.2/10. I enjoyed the heck out of my time with it. On the flipside, my 2012 Game of the Year was Journey. Similarly, not all indie games get a free pass. Papo & Yo was one that I wanted to love, but the poor mechanics and repetitive gameplay kept the game from true greatness despite some lofty ideals. I know it sounds like I'm saying "I'm not racist, some of my best friends are indie games", but really my point is that I play games for the experiences they provide. Some want to be blockbuster rollercoasters, some want to be emotional interactive dramas, some want to be creative mind-twisters and some want to be all things to everyone. If a game succeeds at giving me an experience worth having -- no matter what kind that is -- then I'm going to recommend it. That's the job of a critic.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go check Twitter to see if anyone is talking about a game I might not have heard of yet. God forbid.
Have something to say about this article? Let us know about it!
Other news from around the web
(Part of the ZergNet hub)
You must be logged in to vote. You must be logged in to vote. 0
voodoo24u on April 26, 2013
The question (are the critics too focused on the AAA titles?) of course they are but,when the AAA out sell the"rare hidden gem"20 or30 to1, I'd rather hear about a dog of a so called 'AAA" 4 times and save the$50 or $60  and search a little harder for that gem@$39 and pick up a sixpack for my effort,keep up the good fight...
Reply Icon Reply