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Game Previews Just Game Marketing? 282

Posted by Zonk
from the unsurprising-but-sad dept.
Kotaku has a feature up today written by James Wagner Au, formerly embedded reporter in the world of Second Life. He's now doing his own thing, and he's got a fairly cynical discussion over at the Kotaku site about the real purpose behind game previews in industry rags. From the article: "For the thing of it is, game magazine previews are almost uniformly positive, even for the most undistinguished titles. So it unrolls thus: publisher makes mediocre game; press previews depict mediocre game as being good or at least worth a look; excited gamers read previews, foolishly believe them, start making pre-sale orders of mediocre game; driven by preview press and pre-sale numbers based on that press, retailers stock up on mediocre game; publisher makes money from mediocre game, keeps making more games like it."
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Game Previews Just Game Marketing?

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  • by McGiraf (196030) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:22PM (#14903918) Homepage
    ... surprised
    • by ePhil_One (634771) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:33PM (#14903967) Journal
      Really, I think this guy may be on to something. Lately, I've been thinking hardware companies don't send review sites expensive computers for free out of the goodness of theri heart, I think they are doing it for Marketing reasons. This could blow the whole industry out of the water!

      • Freebie Hardware (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        Lately, I've been thinking hardware companies don't send review sites expensive computers for free out of the goodness of theri heart

        I remember reading on [H]ardOCP about how they do reviews of most(?) computer systems.

        They have an agreement with the Marketing/PR guys so that they can buy a system (like anyone else) and then get a RMA when they've finished reviewing the system.

        Either the deal works, and they get a random system like anyone else would, or the PR/Marketing guys intervene and the reviewer + se

      • by m0ng0l (654467)
        I think more so, the point he was trying to make is that reviewers get a gushy over *previews* of the game in question. The problem being, if they don't get "positive gushy," the publisher won't get any more juicy advertiseing dollars.

        So, the bad previews get editorialized into something positive about game X, despite the fact that they were using alpha code, or maybe just pre-rendered screenshots, or even just the design document. Then, readers get geeked up about the game, wait 6 months for preview numb
    • excited gamers read previews, foolishly believe them, start making pre-sale orders of mediocre game

      Yeah... big whoopee. You mean advertising works? Man I never thought I'd see the day. Here I was thinking they made ads purely for self-indulgence.
  • by black6host (469985) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:25PM (#14903926)
    I'm telling you, everything this guy says is gold. :)
  • by 77Punker (673758) <spencr04&highpoint,edu> on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:26PM (#14903933)
    It wouldn't make sense to say many bad things about a game before it's even finished; it wouldn't be fair. It does make sense that game writers would tell the eager fans everything they do have to be excited about. Should they write me an article telling me that some budgetware paintball game will have no features and the core gameplay will suck? No. That can be saved for a review. When something rad like Oblivion is being developed, it does make quite a bit of sense to tell me what'll make it so interesting beforehand. If they didn't, nobody would buy the magazine. It's not selling games, it's selling magazines.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:33PM (#14903970)
      That'a good point, but most companies stipulate that you can't say anything bad if you want to preview a game.
      • Just IM'd a buddy of mine who's an editor for one of the big sites. While the developer would certainly prefer only good things to be said in the preview there are no stipulations attached to getting stuff to preview.
        • While I wouldn't disagree with your buddy--he's part of the industry and I'm not--I'd also point out that reviewers who say bad things about a product may not get the next product to preview.

          So while I'd agree that there is no contract stating that saying bad things may be hazardous to your ability to get further Previews, I'm sure it's implied.

          I remember radio stations and record companies working on the same sort of system. If you don't want that hot single after everybody else has it, you'd better be ni
          • I can testify to that. Back when I wrote product reviews, I'd get an email from the company if anything got below a 6. We would take another gander at the products, but more often than not it was the company trying to say that we evaluated it based on the assumptions a, b, and c while they designed it around x, y, and z. Fair enough, except that people are making their decisions around a, b, and c - we evaluated it around most consumers' standpoints, not how the product is intended to be used. Sorry Zal
    • by FearTheFrail (666535) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:04PM (#14904091)
      I think, then, some of the most informative previews come out when the writers comment on the previewed game like my parents used to talk about me. You've seen it before, the guilty eyes, the sheepish smile, and the "Well, maybe his features will actually be a little refined when he gets older..."

      Granted, I haven't seen it often, but in cruising IGN I've seen at least a couple of previews (though, now that I think about it, this could've been 3-4 years ago) where you could tell the writers had that same look on their faces, and while they desperately want to be able to generate some positive hype about this feature or that, all they can offer is hope that things improve in the future.

      And really? Truth be told, who wants to read any more than the rare preview to say "omg this game is gonna sucks bad?"

      Honesty in previews, candid words and recognizing both the positive and negative in an upcoming game is, indeed, pretty much a dead breed.
      • Truth be told, who wants to read any more than the rare preview to say "omg this game is gonna sucks bad?"

        I don't know, I for one may start buying game mags again if there were more "true" reviews. A magazine had that a few years ago, basically it had 2 or 3 pages devoted to speed test of crappy games, a single column for the impressions of the tester (e.g. all the flaws of the game, how it sucked, if it had anything to redeem it) and the note (usually under 40/100, when 70/100 meant "that game is not re

      • Well, I do (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Moraelin (679338)
        "And really? Truth be told, who wants to read any more than the rare preview to say "omg this game is gonna sucks bad?""

        Well, I, for one, wish someone gave me the full, honest picture for a start. If I'm gonna blow my money on a product, be it a game or a watch or a TV or whatever, I'd like to have the full picture, not just a lopsided hype-only half of of the story. I'd very much like to know the good _and_ the bad, so I can make an informed decision if it's the kind of game I'm looking for.

        Frankly, I neve
    • Like Morrowind before it, the Oblivion previews are uniformly gushing. (Though one previewer was silly enough to stick his head up over the edge of the trench, only to get it blown off [tripod.com].) Like Morrowind before it, Oblivion is going to be a poorly realized, buggy, performance-hoging, bore of a game.

      If Square is Ben & Jerry's, and if Black Isle is Häagen-Dazs, then Bethesda is whoever produces those gallon tubs of shit ice cream for fat people who don't care what they're shoving in their face so l
      • Poll: Name ONE Bethesda title that didn't suck! I remember back in the early 90's when Doom was all the rage, and everyone was making FPS games, few had the smooth feel of Doom. I had a demo of Terminator Future Shock by Bethesda and holy hell, it felt like I had downgraded back to a 25mhz 386 with EGA. It felt like this game was not only rushed, but 2 years late to market.

        They're not known for making innovative eye-popping works of interactive art, they're known for doing piss-poor me-too ripoffs of wha
      • Like Morrowind before it, Oblivion is going to be a poorly realized, buggy, performance-hoging, bore of a game.

        It seems you have already played the entire retail version of Oblivion; clearly you have far more specific insights to share. Do you realize how much money you could make writing magazine articles instead of whining on /.
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mboverload (657893) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:27PM (#14903937) Journal
    Would you base your opinion of a car on a video of a test drive of a prototype version? No?

    Then why would you do it with a game?
    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Radish03 (248960) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:41PM (#14903996)
      Exactly. Whenever I read a preview of a game that looks awesome, I think to myself "I hope that game ends up being as cool as this looks" and make a mental note to watch for the game later on when it's actually finished and reviewed. The preview doesn't usually do the advertising job of selling me the game. What it does is makes me aware of the game's existence.
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chris_7d0h (216090)
      Because it's better than simply reading the title and a summary at Amazon.com ?

      Really, what's your point? People pre-order cars since most cars are just new revisions / bugfixes to older models with very little changing over each revision (such as the yearly increments of the BMW E46 model for example). I don't think the car business and their merchandise can be compared to the software industry and theirs. Programmers prefer to re-invent the wheel far more often than any other engineering profession.

      The ga
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by UnrealAnalysis (738653) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:43PM (#14904233)
      Because there's far less financial risk involved in purchasing a $45 game than a $20 000+ car.
    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by krunk4ever (856261) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:48PM (#14904258) Homepage
      But it's that 1st review in your car magazine that actually gets you to go test drive a car, which might or might not lead to the final result of purchasing the car. Same thing with video games. You see some demos, look at people's reviews, see some actual game play, maybe even try it yourself, before you actually purchase the game. Of course that's what a "sensible" person would do... On the other hand, we have ...

      But my point being, without that first demo or review, you might not even hear of the game at all.
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aiken_d (127097)
      Actually, car enthusiasts spend lots of time drooling over prototypes, "concept cars," and all sorts of other trivia about new cars long before their specs are final or the model even has a release date. Ask me how I know this :)

      I don't see the problem. Casual gamers go down to Walmart and pick up a game. Enthusiasts eat up news months or years in advance. Is the idea here that those poor dumb enthusiasts who actively seek out news and rumour sites are suckered into hiding under a rock between the demos
    • Re:Why? (Score:2, Funny)

      by tresstatus (260408)
      i base my purchase of games on the amount of time i spend playing the warez versions. =-)
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperRob (31516)
      Exactly. Thanks for saying that.

      Most of the sites I've written reviews and previews for actually had it as a rule: Previews are to remain positive. Why? Because it's a look at an UNFINISHED product, and it's not fair to be critical at that stage, at least not publicly (we frequently give feedback directly to the development teams). I've seen good games go bad, and I've seen bad games become amazing. Everything deserves a fair shake, so we remain "cautiously optimistic."

      A well-written preview should ref
  • And... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by __int64 (811345)
    This is non-obvious?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:30PM (#14903953)
    Can you imagine a world where journalists were objective and direct about unfinished games? "This game sucks, it's full of bugs and there's only two levels!!"
    • I believe the "review" would be in the context of this is a preview of an unfinished game. Call it a "preview" if you will...

      Why are so many posters missing this point? It NOT the goal of this article to point out that previews should be the same as reviews. (BTW: I mean unbiased reviews, because most have the same problems)

      Things like vision, core graphics models, levels and premise are MOSTLY completed at the time of previews and can be commented on. But even things that are not finished can still be eval
    • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:51PM (#14904276) Homepage
      How about something like this (I made this up):

      "In Joe Bob's Grand Adventure you'll be playing Joe Bob as he fights to regain his Pickle farm from the evil Artichoke-Industrial Complex. In the build we played there were some bugs here and there, but the game was comming along nicely. The levels looked good and were interactive and had plenty of little touches making them seem alive and real, and the shooting mechanic felt very good. The AI provided some challenge (except for a few known bugs) and the game seemed fun. The world is enganging and the story is well presented. The game has a large number of weapons, but some currently feal very similar. The game is shaping up for a November release."

      or "In Joe Bob's Grand Adventure you'll be playing Joe Bob as he fights to regain his Pickle farm from the evil Artichoke-Industrial Complex. In the build we played there were some bugs here and there, but none severly effected gameplay. The levels looked rather drab and flat, with detail akin to a game from 3 years ago. There was no interactivity to speak of, and the shooting mechanic had serious flaws in the accuracy of aiming. The AI, while working, provided little challenge and was prone to getting stuck on the simplest of objects (like a stair). The scenerio is very similar to about a dozen other games; and the story seems almost bolted-on to the action and completely incidental to the game. The dozens of weapons play almost identicle, many even looking very similar to others. The game is expected to be released in November."

      The first was of a game that shows promise, the second was of a game that had some obvious problems. Let's look at what a "normal" preview looks like:

      >"In Joe Bob's Grand Adventure you'll be playing Joe Bob as he fights to regain his Pickle farm from the evil Artichoke-Industrial Complex. The game world is full of interesting characters and enemies all with AI that will be very realistic. In the build we played we ran around and shot stuff and since we didn't want to kill ourselves afterward, this will obviously be a "must have" game. The levels looked great, based on the pre-renders they showed us, and are supposed to be fully interactive using a real-time-inverse-kinematic-physics-engine. There are dozens of weapons in the game, along with what is promised to be the best online multiplayer for a console to date. You'll want to reserve your copy now so you can buy it when it comes out in November."

      It doesn't matter how boring or bug ridden a game is, they always get glowing previews. The only time you even see bugs mentioned in previews is in the previews of games that are expected to be great (due to lineage). You might see something like "In PGR3 we encounted a few small glitches but the game is already a blast to play." In a buggy game you'll see previews like "In Driver 3 you'll be able to drive around a GTA like world." Notice it doesn't mention that if there was a feather in the road it would stop your car dead if you hit it (example based on memory).

      The reviews themselves don't help either. The "average" game seems to get a score of about 80%. A game has to be really bad to get even a medium-low score (40-50%). I think we should force reviewers to use a bell-curve system to fight "Review Inflation."

  • But you have to bear in mind that they're trying to fight two of the mightiest forces in history: Marketing and Money.

    That said, as a gamer I'd describe it as the 'good fight', and I'm behind them on this one. (The most disappointing game i've played recently has been Star Wars: Empire At War - proof enough for me that even the Star Wars name can't save a mediocre title. And no, I never played Galaxies.)
  • That's why previews are largely worthless. To paraphrase H.J.Simpson, "(More) Tomb Raider? How can I lose?!"
  • by onion2k (203094) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:31PM (#14903960) Homepage
    Why do games, for the most part, unrelentingly suck such ass?

    Because making games is hard.

    See also: Websites, records, television programmes ..

    Anything that involves a creative input is difficult because thats the way we're made. We love to think of ourselves as wonderfully creative creatures all very capable of coming up with brilliant new ideas day and night .. but that's simply not the case. Thinking up something original is exceedingly tricky. Games cross a bridge between technical innovation and creativity .. that makes them doubly difficult. And on top of that it's (perceived to be) a big money, big profit, prestigious part of the IT industry .. and that attracts just about everyone regardless of their level of capability.

    So you have a difficult creative process blending with some hardcore technical requirements being worked on by just about everyone who wants fame and money.

    To be brutally honest, the article should be asking how the hell any games are any good, not why most are bad.
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:45PM (#14904017)
      Actually, the reason most games (movies, CDs) are bad is because once a medium goes mainstream (with big money behind it) a degree of risk-averseness sets in. That is, once something makes money, milk it for all it's worth because trying some thing new might lose money instead. There's plenty of creativity available ... the problem is getting that creativity past the money people. The motion picture industry is a prime example of the long-term dangers of that kind of thinking: eventually the buying public gets bored with your retreads. When that happens, they stop shelling out hard-earned dollars for something they've already seen a dozen times before. However the movie studios, judging from several recent public statements, appear to be waking up to this: I'm not sure the music outfits have the wit to figure it out for themselves. But that's okay ... the market with figure it out for them.
      • Did you play games before our current degree of risk-averseness set in, say the C64 days? Yep, most games were clones and they sucked really bad, in fact they were a lot worse than the bad games of today. This is something you tend to overlook since you don't remember all the crappy games you only played for a few minutes or so. Sure, there was creativity then, but there is creativity now too. Also, the people who complain about the lack of creativity today are often very unaware of the wealth of games com
  • Who buys? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Threni (635302)
    Who pays £40 or whatever for a game without reading several reviews about it, or having played it first? I don't get it, but apparantly it must be lots and lots of people.

    No problem though - hang back a little, and you get to buy a game once the reviews are out, the servers are up and the patches are released.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:34PM (#14903973)
    Also reported today the sky is blue, foods give you gas, and hitting the ground from a fall hurts.
    • Actually, it should be a concern if the press isn't doing its duty and presenting the facts in an objective manner and disclosing all possible sources of bias, such as financial donations. A reporter has a duty to the readers of his or her stories, and a biased article that sweeps problems under the rug is very much a cause for concern -- and it's even more troublesome when it happens consistently and no one speaks up about it.
  • Easy to Criticize (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Trojan35 (910785) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:35PM (#14903975)
    Hard to get a solution.

    Here are your options:

    1) Gamers get positive previews and find out what games will look like, how they will play, but will not hear any of the negatives.

    2) Gamers hear nothing of new games and have to wait for reviews of the games after they are released. Or worse: purchase based on number of TV ads they see.

    Given those, i'll take option #1 anyday. It's not fair to game developers if they will get ripped for framerate issues when they let editors take an early playtest. There's lots wrong with the video-game industry (such as bought REVIEWS). However, overly-positive "previews" are not one of them. They're par for the course and an acceptable trade-off.
    • Re:Easy to Criticize (Score:2, Interesting)

      by urbaer (778997)
      They're par for the course and an acceptable trade-off.

      Looking at Edge 142, (thier preview section is called 'Hype'), most of thier previews run through what's in the game and what the developers will need to do to the game before release to make it decent. A few choice quotes:
      "... appears to do little of consequence and little to offend, but will that be to little to justify its price?"
      "Having only played through the initial levels in a tightly restricted early beta test, it would be dangerous to jump
    • I can excuse not disclosing negatives - many of them will be fixed before the game goes gold. But almost every preview I see in almost every print game magazine proudly announces these games as if they're going to change your life when they're released. I don't even read previews anymore. I might skim the pictures but that's about it.
    • 3) Gamers get actually-objective previews of new products, allowing them to make educated choices. You know, the option that is the best one, since it actually fixes the problem.
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      Hard to get a solution.

      Sadly, the submitter and almost every commenter so far seems not to have read past the first few paras, if that. He DOES propose a solution. So, for the benfit of those non-RTFAs:

      If editors were to break this unspoken agreement they've made with publishers to write groveling previews, they'd be heroes to gamers everywhere. They'd also be out of a job. Which is why it's up to gamers to save them from themselves--and in the process, to help save games.

      This is where blogs like this

  • by TomHandy (578620) <<tomhandy> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:37PM (#14903979)
    Really, I don't expect anything from a game preview other than to get an idea of what an upcoming game is going to be about, what it might look like, what kind of gameplay or innovations it will feature, etc. Granted, some of the hyperbole can be distracting (i.e. "this game is going to REDEFINE FPS's!!!!"), but it's not generally something I read a game preview for. Honestly, the biggest thing I care about is screenshots and online videos (something which is of course handled much better online than in magazines)..... I don't think I'd ever pre-order a game though or even buy it on the first day though (unless I was reasonably confident it would be good) until I read more final reviews, and also read more user reviews and impressions.
  • ...that people that post about video games are shills.

    That said, Madden NFL 06 is pure engineering genious. The new QB Vision Control and QB Precision Placement really brings you into the game. NFL superstar mode brings you into the world of top talent.

    Overall, Madden NFL 06 will totally change the way we think about console NFL games.
  • by ucaledek (887701) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:43PM (#14904004)
    Remember the good old days where we had unbiased gaming previews and reviews with none of those terrible corporate sponsorship problems? Wait, that's right I grew up on Nintendo Power. Their review of "The Wizard" was dead-on. That was the greatest film ever!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      i credit nintendo power for my cynicism. i remember issue #1, with mario 2, and how excited i was when it first arrived, and how every month i'd check the mailbox to see if it came (i was in like 4th grade, i think). the two best parts were 'classified information' and the preview thing... i think they called it 'pakTM watch'...i remember seeing my first screenshots of megaman 2 in there. later on i actually deciphered the megaman 2 and solar jetman password schemes, discovered a warp bug from airman to the
  • by tengennewseditor (949731) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:43PM (#14904005)
    Previews are necessarily positive because the media doesn't have access to the final game and has to take the developer's word. There's no opportunity to be critical, so they're just hype, but everyone knows that.

    Reviews ensure that developers have a reason to make the game as good as possible. If previews drive sales too, then it allows developers to take more risks -- because an ambitious game that ultimately fails will have a good preview writeup and sell enough not to be a total loss.

    The author is trying to posit an implied (but untrue) connection between previews allowing mediocre games to sell and all games 'sucking.' Mediocre stuff sells in every entertainment industry that exists -- if only the best games sold then the market would be too risky to enter.

    • Previews are necessarily positive because the media doesn't have access to the final game and has to take the developer's word. There's no opportunity to be critical, so they're just hype, but everyone knows that.

      You'd think that, but look at the number of previews that are critical: "Oooh, this game is gonna rawk", "we can't wait to see this game" (subtext: neither will you), "even at this early stage ...", and so on. This has happened for years, even back in the 8-bit days. As someone said below, how

    • The author is trying to posit an implied (but untrue) connection between previews allowing mediocre games to sell and all games 'sucking.' Mediocre stuff sells in every entertainment industry that exists -- if only the best games sold then the market would be too risky to enter

      I was going to say the very same, but you sumed it up nicely. That previews are basically sold to magazines and media (giving them a shiny cover story in return for a favorable review) is nothing to go into shock about
  • Is it just me, or does this read more like pimpage for a new upcoming feature on their (Kotaku's) website? The fact is very well known that the bulk of the videogame press - EDGE excluded - shill for publishers, especially when high profile, high budget titles are delayed or don't meet development expectations. Actually, I'm surprised that the normally-sane Kotaku is making a big thing of it. That /. is interested does not surprise me.

    Next on Slashdot: Movie critics shill for movie studios, film at 11.

  • So it unrolls thus: publisher makes mediocre game; press previews depict mediocre game as being good or at least worth a look; excited gamers read previews, foolishly believe them, start making pre-sale orders of mediocre game; driven by preview press and pre-sale numbers based on that press, retailers stock up on mediocre game; publisher makes money from mediocre game."

    He missed out "???" before "Profit."

  • You might notice that a lot of reviews rate the games out of 100. I think people already have a slant about that sort of system based upon school. At school, when your efforts are rated out of 100, it feels like there's very little difference between somebody who's gotten 20 and somebody who's gotten 45. I think it's similar with how people look at games. Look at some of the reviews that fanboys put out for their games. They'll say it's worth a 78, for instance. Try to get them to explain exactly what it is
  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @06:59PM (#14904073)
    I always rate the credibility of a game reviewer on the INVERSE of their score for the game Master of Orion III, which was widely acknowledged to be an awful title.

    Yet you'll find reviewers who give it quite a good score "4.3/5". And they'll wax poetic about some of the worst and repetitive features of the game. "I always turn up the speakers when I've gotten a diplomatic message to hear the wonderful alien voices."

    Compare/Contrast the following reviews. Who would YOU go to for the truth next time?
    #1: http://www.stratosgroup.com/reviews/games.php?sele cted=0303moo3 [stratosgroup.com] "4.3 out of 5"
    #2: http://pc.ign.com/articles/386/386281p6.html [ign.com] "9.2 out of 10 and Editor's Choice Award"
    #3: http://www.avault.com/reviews/review_temp.asp?game =moo3&page=3 [avault.com] "3 out of 5"
    #4: http://www.gamespot.com/pc/strategy/masteroforion3 /review.html?q=master%20of%20orion [gamespot.com]
    "6.7 out of 10"
  • by payndz (589033) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:13PM (#14904122)
    Speaking as a former games magazine editor, I can say this with authority. The reasons magazines do all those more-or-less uncritical previews on upcoming games is...

    To fill pages.

    No kidding. When you start the month, you have anything between 100 to 164 pages to fill. (Certainly where I worked, the editor had no say in the total number of pages - that was decided based on projected advertising revenue and the whim of the publishing director.) The advertising department says they expect to need X pages. You know fairly well how many games will come in for review based on the release schedules, and can allocate pages based on that. You have all the standing pages - news, letters, cheats and guides, house ads, subscriptions, etc.

    Anything left over has to be filled. And the nature of the games business means they either have to be filled by either wacky filler features (which the magazine writers love because it gives them a chance to be self-indulgent, but the readers generally couldn't give a shit about)... or you have to talk about games that haven't come out yet. They might be lengthy interview-based stories, or they might be based entirely around the latest set of screenshots that have become avilable. Either way, they're previews.

    And the sad fact is, if you preview a game that's still some months from release and get all snarky about the lame concept, the horrible control system or the blatant swipes from other games, even if it's deservedly so... the publisher is likely to tell you to fuck off when you ask for final review code down the line. Which will leave a hole in your predicted number of pages for the review section. You can fill that either by extending other reviews, even if the games aren't worth the extra space, or throw in another last-minute filler feature... or add another preview. Either way, you quickly learn to walk the fine line between gentle mockery and actual criticism, and to keep the latter until you actually have the game in your hand.

    Jerry Seinfeld said it best. "Magazines are another medium I love, because 95% is simply based on 'How the hell are we going to fill all this blank space?'"

    • by Buran (150348) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @08:03PM (#14904318)
      And apparently, you just don't care about actually telling the truth in your articles and serving the people who pay to subscribe to your magazine, because I don't see anything anywhere about writing objective, fair articles but I see lots of bragging about happily filling the pages with bullshit.

      I wrote to PC Gamer once to politely correct a photo error in one of their articles, and they published my letter -- and made fun of me, comparing me to a fictional character on a TV show. For politely correcting an error in the way that one is supposed to do when writing to a magazine or newspaper editor! In the same way in which I've found errors in the NY Times and Time magazine and written to them -- and either gotten a very polite, grateful response from them or seen the correction published in the errata in a future issue.

      That one act meant I did not renew my subscription and I have never subscribed to a gaming magazine since -- because some asshole doing the same job you do proved that his profession didn't deserve any respect.

      Grow up and do your fucking job. You know, the thing they teach in journalism school about, I don't know, following the rules of journalism ethics.
      • I've been getting that magazine since.. at least the first CD issue.

        If you haven't noticed, they used to make fun of just about everyone in their letters section.

        They've got a new editor (Greg "The Vede" Vederman, the guy who did/does their "Hard Stuff" section) and I don't recall them flaming anyone in the letters section recently.

        Anyways.... how long ago was this insult to your dignity and honor? Was it really that bad or do you just have thin skin? Did people write you for weeks afterwards telling you wh
        • It's simple: I take pride in writing well when I write something that is intended for an audience outside family and friends -- I had several English professors tell me that I wrote very well and would do well if I wanted to write for a magazine or a newspaper -- and I believe that an editor of a publication, no matter what its type, has an obligation to be respectful of its readers -- even when it comes to taking criticism. If someone points out a mistake, does it politely, and even goes so far as to cite
      • ...and they published my letter -- and made fun of me, comparing me to a fictional character on a TV show.

        Was it Comic Book Guy?

      • by edunbar93 (141167) on Monday March 13, 2006 @12:32AM (#14905167)
        And apparently, you just don't care about actually telling the truth in your articles and serving the people who pay to subscribe to your magazine

        Congratulations. You have just independently rediscovered the principle that you are not the customer. You are the *product*. *You* are sold to the advertiser. The advertiser is the customer who pays to make the magazine cheap.

        And guess who the advertiser is in this case? That's right, the game publishers.

        Of course, you could just stop reading the magazine if you don't like what the writers have to say and how they say it...
    • I was never an editor for a mag. But I can say as a consumer that if there is a hotly awaited game, and a magazine does a cover stating they have a scoop on it ("exclusive screenshots!"), then people will see the magazine and buy it. It will increase sales of that issue.

      So more than just being cheap filler, previews can cause people to buy mags that they wouldn't otherwise buy. At least that's what I've noticed as a magazine buyer.

      Yeah, the previews are usually useless fluff, but you've already bought the m
  • by 91degrees (207121) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:25PM (#14904172) Journal
    It's not just games magazines. It's all magazines. A large portion of their content is made from press releases. They have a magazine to fill up, and regurgitating press releases is a cheap easy way to do it. When all the papers were waxing lyrical about the Segway, did the journalists think "Wow, that's a cool toy. Let's find out about it"? The papers want you to think that, but what most likely happened was a P.R company sent a load of photos and bumph, and the editor got an office junior to rewrite it into an article.

    But these are only previews. The purpose of a preview isn't to tell you what a games like. The sole purpose of a preview is to inform you that a game exists. This is not a bad thing. Gamers want to know what's coming. They just have to understand that a preview is not an opinion peice, but a promotional piece. To find out whether a game is any good, wait for the review.
  • This should be from the "No Shit Sherlock Dept."

    When the game isn't out yet......, reviewers have nothing to go on except what the developer lets them see/tells them. Now....if you were the developer do you think you'd be saying "we have some concerns over our gameplay being mediocre.....so I'd hold off on buying our title until we see what the whole thing comes together as"? I mean, I can't exactly blame them. What I CAN do is blame the people who write previews and judge things to be the best thing sin

  • by Lewisham (239493) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:38PM (#14904210)
    I did some writing for a couple of print magazines in the UK. As the new guy, I'd be handed the stuff no-one else liked writing, and that included previews.

    Every editor I spoke to told me to be positive. This is not the same as jacking up hype from the PR guys: I never even spoke to them. Most of the time they'll talk to someone higher up because they don't know who I am, and then I'd get the preview handed off to me. Most of the PR junk we recieved was exactly that: junk. I found it difficult to make any more favourable words simply because I had a Spiderman Web-Shooting Gun.

    The reason I was told to be positive is that there is no reason to be overly critical of preview code. Most preview code looks like ass, plays like crap and has some show-stopping bugs. That's because it isn't finished. The idea of preview code is to show ideas and direction to the journalist. Exciting games get more column inches because they show better ideas and promise, *not* because their code didn't suck. And a lot of games that have very poor preview code brush up. Development is organic. You can't be critical of every piece of code that comes through the door: it's all crap. You pick out the good bits, show it to the reader and say "you might like this when it comes out." Some games are of interest to more people than others, and might get more column inches.

    Until a game ships, it never deserves derision, just encouragement. It would be very ego-centric to kick the shit out of every game that I recieved just because I could in the name of "truth".
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:42PM (#14904226)
    Imagine there are 2 game mags at the store. One has a preview of the Ultimate New Game you've been waiting for. One doesn't. Which one do you buy?

    Right.

    Now, how do you get a preview? Unless it's available for download (well, if it is, every mag's gonna have it, so let's ignore those for now), the game company has to send you the necessary goodies.

    And now the big question: Will they send you their next preview if you write "This sucks! Bugs, flaws and no interesting gameplay, even if they spend another year on it it will STILL suck!"?

    No. They'll send it to a magazine that hypes it into heavens and back. And the magazine that has the article about the preview sells more copies than the one that doesn't.

    Sipmle as that.
  • by Vo0k (760020) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @07:43PM (#14904235) Journal
    What magazines lack is a "crap" column. Most reviews rate games with 70-100%, but most of these games deserve this rating. It's just that games rating lower don't get reviewed - they get very little press at all. The editors play a little, decide this is a shit, don't bother writing a review and taking up space in the magazine, then move on to the next title that is more interesting.

    People complain about how many bad games are released nowadays but they forget shitty games were like 80% of the market ALWAYS. Thing it, they got forgotten and we don't remember them anymore. You remember Zork and HHGTTG from Infocom, but you forget a dozen of more medicore games they released. You remember Revenge Of The Mutant Camels, but where's Herbert's Dummy Run? Quake is there, a dozen of Quake knockoffs is forgotten. And press rarely bothered to mention them too.

    Though I agree - we're at a crisis moment. Making a game to be of quality comparable with the market leaders is way out of reach of small developer groups. And big players want to play it safe, so they dump innovation. There's fewer good new games than there would be at any moment of the gaming history in the past. And magazines write reviews comparing games to the average. Quake 4 is still at upper 95% of the quality of currently available titles, it's just the quality of currently available titles is at about half the level the quality was in times of Quake 3.
  • "Once bitten, twice shy."
    "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

    I'm sure there's more but I'm not a native english speaker. If people believe in that crap, let them. It's their own bloody fault if they do.
  • Could you imagine if the software or auto industry did this, then we'd... ohh wait... never mind.
  • by whorfin (686885)
    I work in the software industry as well (not games), and we send out 'press kits' that include detailed product reviews, and all the rights to use the content without attribution. I've seen on more than one occasion a "real" review that was the exact copy of the reviewer's guide. I'd be surprised if the game previews didn't come with the same sorts of materials.
  • ...now there's a name I haven't heard in a while.

    I'll just let Old Man Murray [oldmanmurray.com] do my talking.

    Or just read this [salon.com] - I challenge you to make it past the first page.

  • They're in a race that cannot be won. Game development cycle stretches into years with budget into millions, but has six to twelve months of shelf life and price point of about $40 a copy. A dud can bankrupt a company Application software (think M$ Office) on the other hand has shelf life of up to three years and price point of at least a hundred dollars.
  • It seems that this Wagner James Au character hasn't become any more qualified to write about games since Old Man Murray used to tear his clueless, self-absorbed drivel to pieces five years ago.

    Most previews are positive? Holy shit! Previews help to sell games? Bring me the fucking Bat-phone!

    Publishers are interested in publicity, not critical acclaim in reviews that are six weeks late and which nobody reads. Magazines want as much repeat business as they can, so if they know that readers want to hear about
  • Yep, this is called marketing. One might even call it sleazy marketing, but it's not a patch on what goes on in most other industries.

    Have you ever seen an entertainment show (Entertainment Tonight, etc.) claim that an upcoming movie is going to suck? Or that an actor can't act?

    Have you read a BAD review of any audio equipment? The high-end audio industry is probably the single biggest collection of criminal liars in the world.

    This is so old that it's not even non-news. It's just par for the course. Assume
  • This is just another good reason to warez the game... try before you buy.
  • Previews are horribly positive. Until today, that didn't upset me. If there's ever the proper space for a lovefest in a gaming mag, it's right there, in the previews. Developers are more likely to spill the good beans if you're being positive, and since the games aren't done, why not continue to give them irrationally large boats full of benefit from your doubts?

    This is called journaltisement -- the magazine gets inside access because they provide a service, "free" advertisement. Your journal is giving
  • I remember people making fun of James Wagner Au about something a long-ass time ago.
  • Here's my "assume no wrong" take on it. A preview of a game can show what technologies and features might be in the game. A preview has had more time on adding neat things than cleaning up problems, therefore it is a more reliable indicator of what neat things might be in the game (and proof that they are even possible), but not as reliable an indicator of what might be wrong with the game, since fixing problems doesn't require as much (unpredictable) creative inspiration.

    Thus, you can reliably determine th
  • Two observations made in this thread are true, and explain why previews are usually uncritical page-fillers:

    1. Previews are by their nature incomplete and journalists hold their fire because it's not entirely fair to trash a work-in-progress.

    2. Readers want previews, and their desire for previews can be a decision maker at the newsstand.

    The bigger question is this: why even do previews at all? Consumers always want to know what hot products are coming down the pike. But journalists in many industries res

  • by argStyopa (232550)
    Might I comment from the PoV of an actual game reviewer?
    I used to write for a number of media, from computer game sites like www.strategy-gaming.com to Computer Gaming Monthly magazine.

    Previews are simply that, PREVIEWS.
    Someone hands you something that isn't finished, and basically says "hey, it's still got some rough edges, but what do you think?".

    Would it be fair to take them to task for things that are wrong? It's NOT DONE.

    Personally, I would tend to be positive (or at least optimistic) on previews, but
  • So why is it that games alone have this problem, and not other media? Why are film reviews not always positive? Likewise with book reviews, TV reviews, music reviews, theater reviews, and reviews of every other art form and creative project?

    One difference, it seems to me, is that none of these fields have the equivalent of "gaming magazines", at least not that have any significance or popularity. Yes, you can find magazines about movie stars and TV shows, and they are filled with promotional puff pieces abo
  • by wjamesau (221905) on Monday March 13, 2006 @04:06AM (#14905746)
    Thanks for the fascinating conversation, Slashdotters. Two quick corrections:

    - My name is actually "Wagner James Au".
    - I'm still blogging about Second Life as an embedded journalist at http://nwn.blogs.com/ [blogs.com], though now on a commercial basis with Federated Media, the kids what bring you Boing Boing, Metafilter, and other juicy goodness.

    Lot of worthwhile points worth discussing, but rather than wade in too deep, let me hit at one in particular:

    > The author is trying to posit an implied (but untrue) connection between previews
    > allowing mediocre games to sell and all games 'sucking.' Mediocre stuff sells in
    > every entertainment industry that exists -- if only the best games sold then the
    > market would be too risky to enter.

    Actually, I didn't say all games sucked. What I did say is that due to previews, the few games which don't suck have to compete for shelf space with the 95% of games that do. Preview hype, not game quality, is what guarantees retail store shelf space--especially if the game is backed by a large publisher and/or it's connected to a known brand. And since the average consumer only buys the games that are on the retail shelf, they are far more prone to walk away with a shitty game. This means good games are artificially disadvantaged on the market, which is not open, and it's substantially different in this sense from all the other mediums. A good book or movie can cut through the clutter by word of mouth or good reviews, while it's far more difficult for the same thing to happen with a game, because all the good reviews in the world won't help a game that isn't even on the shelf in the first place.
  • by west (39918) on Monday March 13, 2006 @07:22AM (#14906247)
    To be honest, I really hate previews. But then, I grew up reading game reviews without a final rating (that long ago - horrors)! However, for the most part, readers value previews over almost any other feature, and they their not big fans of negative reviews.

    They read previews to be excited for a few months, enjoying the anticipation of playing the greatest game ever. They're reading the magazine to get a little lift. In short, most readers *aren't* curmudgeons.

    With positive previews everybody wins. Pages are filled, publishers get free publicity, stores pre-order more games, magazines get a closer relationship with the publisher, advertisers (who want happy game-buying readers) are happier, and readers get their thrill of anticipation (which takes their mind off the game they're playing now...)

    Outside of a few curmugeons like me (and many of the previous posters), people no more want honesty in gaming magazines than they do in health magazines ("forget special diets - simply eat less calories and get moderate exercise" doesn't benefit anyone. The advertisers don't want it, and neither do the readers). The magazines give people what they want, and the one's that chose different paths have all gone bankrupt.

    If you want *real* reviews by people who paste games that "deserve it", smaller websites that don't depend on readers or game advertising for financing (i.e. labors of love) are the only viable medium.

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