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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript - Game Reviews Roundtable


December 13, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next
 

The following is a transcript of the December 5, 2006 edition of Gamasutra Podcast. To download and listen to the original presentation, please refer to the original news post.

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes a launch of not one, but two new consoles, and a veritable tsunami of games - some great, some not so great. With so many titles flooding the shelves, a lot of people turn to the enthusiast press and game reviews to help them sort out what to buy and what to avoid.

And reviews seem to have been on the mind of the reviewers, as well. Recently, the PC Gamer podcast and the official Games for Windows Magazine podcast each devoted nearly an entire episode apiece to talking about the reviews and PR process. They both touched on issues such as scoring systems, use of the full range of those systems - or not, as the case may be for some outlets - and offering an inside look at how reviews are considered from the perspective of the enthusiast press. If you'd like to hear some of that material, you can visit pcgamerpodcast.com to download episode 50, and podcasts.1up.com to get the November 13th edition of GFW Radio's weekly podcast. Both sites offer subscription feeds and iTunes links.

For this show, I present the first half of an expert roundtable on game reviews and press coverage. My guests talk specifically about how developers can work more efficiently and harmoniously with the enthusiast press to get the coverage they want. They also share their opinions on the value of game reviews, how the process could be improved, how developers can take a more active role over their own communications, and how they really feel about gamerankings.com.

Today we've assembled a panel of Editorial Directors, Editors-in-Chief of various game news outlets to talk about the process of game reviews, and perhaps it's not so much about reviews, but more about awareness. Joining us today, we've got John Davison. John is a Senior VP and Editorial Director of the 1UP Network. John shapes and directs all 1UP Network editorial products, including 1up.com, mycheats.com, gamevideos.com, filefront.com, gametab.com, S-Video Podcast, The 1Up Show Vidcast, EGM, and Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. With more than 16 years of experience in the gaming industry, John has seen action in every major gaming sector in the US and Europe, and has contributed to both consumer and trade publications, in print and online. Previously, John served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Official US Playstation Magazine, and prior to that, he led Electronic Gaming Monthly Magazine in the late '90s.

Next up, we've got Greg Kasavin, Editor-in-Chief of GameSpot. Greg spends his days supervising GameSpot's editorial operations, as well as the continuous improvement of its growing list of services. He then goes home to play with a bunch of games late into the night, while his wife, baby daughter, and two dogs waste away precious hours of their lives sleeping. He's been a prolific contributor to GameSpot since 1996, and is best known for his hundreds of game reviews. Kasavin holds a master's degree in business administration and a bachelor's degree in English literature. He was born in Moscow, but has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area ever since.

And finally, we've got Greg Vederman. Greg's the Editor-in-Chief of PC Gamer Magazine. Greg's been a PC Gamer editor for over eight years, serving stints as Hardware Editor and Executive Editor. He's a highly-regarded industry figure and has cultivated an enduring relationship with many thousands of PC Gamer readers, who rightly celebrate his unique wit, bottomless knowledge, and relentless enthusiasm for PC Gaming.

I've got you guys here today to talk about the topic of game reviews. I've noticed on your own blogs and podcasts that this has, for whatever reason, been a subject that you guys have kind of brought to the fore on your own. Certainly, I know, Greg Vederman, on your podcast, you devoted pretty much a whole show to talking about the review process, and I also heard on the 1UP Network, on the official Games for Windows podcast, they spent a whole episode talking about PR process and reviews, as well.

Maybe we'll start with you, John. You oversee a host of different websites and publications, and all of them, I'd imagine, have slightly varying review policies. With all of the different websites and magazines represented under the 1UP Network, how do you ever come to some kind of consistency with your review policy?

John Davison: I initially thought it was going to be a softball question, and it's not. [laughing]

We had a bunch of stuff that was all doing essentially the same job, print and online. We soon came to the conclusion that it was all going to end up in the same place, we were going to be funneling it all through online. And we had scores out of 5, and for a while, years ago, we had some that were using letter grades... but throughout all of it, the consistent thing that we had right from day one with this group was EGM. The review scale on EGM is about twenty years old, so we said, "OK, well, we're going to go with the one that we hope everyone has some grasp on what it means."

About two or three months ago, we decided we were going to apply that scale to everything in the group... which, when we sat in the meetings and talked about it, I thought would be just completely obvious, what we were doing. And it actually turned out that it's taken a much bigger communication challenge than we anticipated to get the message across about that, because EGM has a bit of a reputation for marking a little harder than everyone else. Of course, that upsets all the PR people that are incentivized by their Game Rankings rating, and now they think that there's a huge conspiracy from us to undermine the Game Rankings scores.

So I said "Game Rankings" first, so someone else can take it now.

Greg Vederman: [laughing] I was going to throw in there that there's a lot of debate these days - online, on message boards, and even, to a certain extent, from developers and publishers - about review scores in particular, and I don't think that the problem really is any one institution's scale, necessarily. I think that the bigger issue is - are, rather - sites like Game Rankings. There. I'll actually blame Game Rankings. I can be the first one to do that. Because they take all of our scores and all of our scales, and assume that all of our scales are the same. For example, what was a 50% in PC Gamer would suddenly become exactly what a 50% was on some other scale. But that doesn't actually work, because, for us, a 50% is merely OK, where for another outlet, 50% could be "Miserable. Stay away."

And so Game Rankings ends up - because so many people use it, and so many publishers use it - it ends up confusing things.

Davison: I love you for saying that. I have had so many fights - it's always at this time of year, as well - you get into so many fights about Game Rankings, and...

Vederman: Yeah.

Davison: Greg, and I know it's in your group, and we're not... this isn't pointing a finger at you directly, but it does...

Greg Kasavin: Well, yeah. I should disclose, before we go on too much farther, that the parent company of GameSpot owns not just Game Rankings, but also Metacritic, which... I think the two are often said in the same sentence.

Davison: Definitely.

Kasavin: I work for GameSpot, and not for Game Rankings or Metacritic, so I can speak to them, I think, kind of...

Davison: Well, I mean, you're probably getting some crap as we speak for... I mean, the GameSpot score is singlehandedly undermining the Zelda perfection, right?

Kasavin: Well, actually, we get that more from our audience than from publishers, and I certainly am not the one who fields complaints about Game Rankings. It's not a highly trafficked site. It's a site that seems to draw much more attention from the industry than from the public.

Vederman: Yeah.


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