This title is likely ironic coming from me, a critic that has reviewed several games both positively and negatively. The point of this post is to emphasize what makes a review useful and why most reviews, particularly the positive ones, are useless. This is another meta post that I’m making to elaborate on how I do reviews in response to feedback on Steam.
So the first question we need to ask ourselves is what is a review? A review is an evaluation of a particular work of art. Since the evaluation is done by an individual, these are often likened to opinion pieces, however there is a key difference. While each individual may disagree on how the art utilizes certain features, most critics should be able to agree to some degree or another what makes a particular quality good. For example, I think you’ll find nary a critic that says Microsoft Excel menu navigation is good, so if a game has Microsoft Excel menu navigation, expect that to come up in the review as a source of annoyance.
Reviews serve two major purposes. First, they are tools for communities to tell other members what to expect when they purchase a product. If I review a product and tell my friend that it’s good except for this one thing and my friend thinks that one thing will make the game unenjoyable for them, then they may not want to buy it. It allows me to save my friend some time and money. This is why the developers get into so much trouble when they start deleting reviews. They are violating the trust of the community. Secondly, they are tools for developers to learn how to make better games. One need not be a good developer to write a good review, but one absolutely must be a good critic to be a good developer. Being able to understand the failings of games is crucial to avoiding the usual pitfalls that make a game unplayable. Being able to understand why good games are good is essential to crafting one’s own good game.
What you should find (at least across my reviews) is that I talk about the components of a game and how I received them. Story, character, interface, map, combat, and anything else I can think of should all be mentioned in every single one of my reviews. Especially the more recent ones, as each review is “practice” and ideally I should improve as I write each review. While you’ll definitely find my opinions within the review (as I do write these to entertain and inform), my opinion is usually backed up by some kind of evidence. And this is why most positive reviews are useless.
Most positive reviews that I see on Steam are “Good game, enjoyed the story, nice work” or something to that effect. This is useless for purpose one, as no one knows why you enjoyed the story (and it is possible to express why without spoiling) and it’s useless to the developer because they don’t know what exactly it is that you liked. Maybe the author is trying to keep it short because people on the internet have the attention span of a goldfish, but you’re doing it wrong. Learning to write shorter reviews that cover the key components is difficult (and it’s something I’m practicing), but you still need to evaluate the game on its merits. Negative reviews don’t often have the same problem, as most people that review a game negatively complain about why they didn’t like the game. In these complaints, a negative review always offers advice on how to improve and also serve to help other buyers make an informed decision on whether they want to buy the game or not.
Positive reviews are also sometimes coloured by how much the user enjoyed the game. One of my recent reviews (at the time of writing) for Kingdom: New Lands likely falls under this category (but I did complain about stuff in it so eh?). This leads to the author sometimes overrating the game, instead of evaluating the game based on its merits.
When I buy games on Steam, I very rarely look at positive reviews. If I’m on the fence, I go straight down to the negative reviews and see what’s wrong with the game. I will still look at some positive reviews, but only the longer ones as these usually tell you the flaws within the game. I guess at the end of the day, what I’m saying is that short reviews with little to no explanation are useless, and positive reviews often fall into this category. When writing (or reading) a review, these short reviews should be avoided because they won’t help a buyer make a decision and they won’t help a developer on their next game.
Anyway, that’s my stitch. Thanks for reading.