What does a video game review look like today? How have reviews changed in the last decade? On his latest episode of Kona, Benj Edwards takes a look at the history of video game reviews, from their emergence in the early 20th century through to the present day. Kona is a video gaming podcast hosted by Benj Edwards and Alex Monroe; every week they take a deep dive into some of the most obscure, interesting and underrated games ever created. Read on for more about this week’s episode of Kona.
What is a video game review?
A video game review is a critical look at a video game and its place in the context of other games. The goal, at its core, is to examine all aspects of the game, from its gameplay to its story and atmosphere, in order to determine if it’s anything more than a video game. By looking at video games from an outsider’s perspective and asking critical questions about their quality, a video game review is a tool for readers to decide whether a video game is worth their time.
How have video game reviews changed in the last decade?
As the internet has changed the way we consume media, so has the way we consume video games. The advent of the internet began to open up the world of video games to a wider audience than ever before, but the still-growing medium of video games was shielded from the impact of this wider audience until the late 2000s.
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The advent of smartphones and tablets meant that even those without a computer or console could enjoy games, but again, this medium was still largely shielded from the wider audience. The last few years, however, have seen a huge change in how people consume media, and video games have become just another source of entertainment.
The transition from purely an offline medium to online media has been gradual, though, and the changes to video game reviews have been no different. With reviews becoming more frequent online, and forums growing in popularity, video game reviews have changed significantly, too. While the concept has remained relatively the same, the way in which it is delivered has changed dramatically.
The Importance of Reviews
In a 2013 article for Polygon, writer Ben Kuchera argued that “what we do with video games will determine what we are in the future”, calling reviews an “integral part of that discussion”. They are an important part of the gaming community, and one of the most widely accessible ways to share your thoughts on a game with fellow gamers. In order to shape the gaming industry, consumers need to be able to tell what they like and don’t like in a way that helps others determine whether they should play a game as well.
As such, reading reviews can help highlight what works well in a game and what doesn’t, but they are more than just a list of thoughts on a game. By being critical but also objective, consumers can tell when a game is worth playing and when it isn’t. They can also tell whether a game is worth the money that it is being sold for.
The Origins of Video Game Reviewers
The modern video game review was born in the early 20th century. The earliest form of criticism was word-of-mouth, and it was through this that early reviews were created. Games were not reviewed in the same way that films were reviewed, with critics using pen, paper and a platform to share their thoughts on games. Instead, they were shared with other gamers, who then offered their own thoughts on the game.
Originally, reviews were only written down by gamers who had also played the game and were then passed on as oral tradition. Oral tradition quickly gave way to writing, and by the end of the 1930s, video game reviews were a staple of the gaming community. By being critical about games, these early reviewers set standards for the industry that remain in place today.
Fake Reviews and Marketing Ploys
As with all media, the internet has had its problems with fake reviews. While the practice is not widespread enough to be a major issue for games, it can be a serious problem for filmmakers, music producers and even authors. The easiest way to spot a fake review is to look at the reviewer’s background. If they are giving out free games in exchange for reviews, or if they have an obvious conflict of interest, then they are probably not meant to be writing reviews.
If a reviewer has a poor track record of reviewing games, but they keep getting promoted, they are probably being paid to write a certain number of reviews. While the practice is not widespread enough to be a major issue for games, it can be a serious problem for filmmakers, music producers and even authors.
Kona Games: The List
The list of games discussed in this episode is a long one, but there are some titles that stand out for their importance to the history of games.
Wolfenstein 3D – One of the first first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D was a landmark title for the genre. Created by id Software, the studio that would later become Bethesda, Wolfenstein 3D helped to shape the direction of first-person shooters.
Buck Rogers – Released in 1979, Buck Rogers was one of the first commercially successful video games. The game was the first commercial example of the flight simulator genre, where the player controls a plane and tries to land at a destination. Tecmo Super Bowl – Released in 1987, Tecmo Super Bowl was one of the first sports games to be a commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies on release.
As with all media, video games have had their fair share of fake reviews. Fortunately, the internet has made it easier for consumers to spot these reviews and report them to sites, which have pushed publishers to have better policies against fake reviews.
The medium is still young, and there’s still a lot of room to grow, but the transition from offline to online media has been a gradual one, and the changes to video game reviews have been no different. The concept has remained relatively the same, but the way in which it is delivered has changed dramatically.