Game and gadget reviewers, stop using these terms

Cliches are never a good thing to find in professional reviews. Often times we lean on them to convey an idea or concept in a quick or easy manner, but when we’re evaluating a product, it’s really important to avoid cliches and to opt for a more detailed and concrete description. Some things probably bother me more than most, and I probably use some terms and descriptive techniques that bother people, but here’s my list of terms I’d like to see banned from usage in game and gadget reviews.

Sleek

Often times people describe an interface, a menu system, or a hardware design as being sleek. The problem is that it’s a completely unhelpful term that vaguely implies a modern and clean look and feel. It can also mean streamlined, smooth, glossy, contoured, smooth, or even deceitful. It’s much more helpful to JUST SAY WHAT makes the object in question “sleek.” If we’re talking about a game’s menu system, use the extra words and say, “the game offers a streamlined menu system that’s easy to navigate and intuitive in its design.” If we’re talking about an mp3 player, I’d much prefer to read, “the player is smooth and comfortable to hold. The lines give the device an attractive look and the construction is tight and makes the player feel solid and modern.” Tell us what makes the object in question sleek, not that it simply is. Note: Slick is often used the same way as sleek for similar reasons.

Mixed Bag

Mixed bag is used a whole heck of a lot instead of saying that something has some high points as well as some low points. It’s far more effective to detail out the products high and low points and show the reader that it is indeed a mixture of pros and cons that constitute the overall package. Even when the term isn’t used to replace proper description, it still makes a terrible lead in phrase to say, “graphically the game is a bit of a mixed bag.”

Product X is Product Y on Steroids

This is another term that’s just a bit lazy to me. I’ve used it in the past, but I’ve resolved to not do it again. Saying that Vanquish is like Gears of War on steroids is a bit of a disservice to both games; but worse yet, it’s a disservice to your audience. Some gamers may be reading your Vanquish review because they have an interest in the game, but they may have not played Gears of War. Also, aside from the cover system, there’s very little Gears in Vanquish (and that applies to many similar comparison using this cliche). It’s far more effective to just describe the game or product and allow the readers to draw parallels between it and similar content or products. It is perfectly fine to compare things to one another, but go deeper than the surface of just a cliche.

Killer App

Killer app is synonymous to saying “AAA” or “must have.” Usually killer app is used when saying that a certain title fills an important gap in a console’s lineup or when this single game is going to send people out to stores in droves to pick it and its affiliated console up in droves. The term has just been overused far too much.

Cookie Cutter

Another shortcut term that allows the reviewer to avoid writing a detailed description. It’s not enough to say that a game only “offers cookie-cutter gameplay.” Use your words, people. It doesn’t take much more time to explain that the game uses tired tropes and conventions, but it’s far more useful to readers to know which aspects of the gameplay you’re referring to rather than just applying a single blanket term to everything.

Really I could name many more terms that I dislike, but there’s just one thing to remember when writing. Detail and specificity are always more valuable to readers than the repetition of cliches, even if the cliche is generally a well understood one within the context in which it’s being applied. That said, I’d invite all of you to ignore my past usage of many of these things, mmmkay?

Is the ESA creating a closed loop with their E3 Expo media requirements?

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I have been accepted to E3 for 2011 and have had a media pass for the last 8 years. However, I have seen many great journalists denied entry for E3 2011 that have always been able to go in the past.

Every year the E3 Expo is the industry’s biggest showcase for games to be released over the next year or two. Major announcements are made at E3, media is able to get early impressions of games behind closed doors, and general attendees can play games that are still months from seeing a release date. For those that aren’t too familiar with the requirements to enter E3, here are the ways to get in:

  • Qualified Media – The ESA gives free E3 passes to qualified media members. This is how I’ve been going for the past 8 years. To qualify, you have to prove you are employed by a member of the gaming press and the site you represent must meet certain standards (traffic, quality, reputation, etc.) defined by the ESA for entry. The number of attendees from each media outlet allowed depends on how prominent your site is in the industry (usually defined by traffic numbers).
  • Exhibitor – If your company is showing games, hardware, accessories, or industry related services off at E3, you’ll be allowed to enter. A company can only secure a limited number of exhibitor badges, which depends on the amount of floor space they purchase.
  • Exhibits Only – Exhibits only badges are for people who are part of the industry but do not qualify for media or exhibitor badges. This can be developers, hardware makers, entertainment outlets, or anything related to the industry; even if the connection is rather loose. These passes are not free and must be purchased. Journalists that don’t qualify for media badges may get an exhibits only badge, but they must pay the $400 ($500 after the early registration deadline) for entry.

Nobody under 18 is allowed in the show, but exceptions are made for VIP guests (usually famous teen actors/singers). VIP passes may be handed out by the ESA or certain companies may secure them for special guests or contest winners. All of that looks fine, but I have issues with how the media passes are doled out.

What is happening with E3 is that only the bigger media outlets are being given free passes. I spoke with someone in the registration office and they said it is to cut down on overall numbers and that publishers have been asking for tighter control for years. Again, I ¬†understand the need for crowd control, but the ESA is going about this all wrong. Rather than locking out the smaller sites, it would be far better to limit the numbers being sent by qualified sites. By locking out the smaller media outlets and the enthusiasts, they’re basically killing the best chance each year that these sites have at increasing their readers since they won’t have access to E3 demos and to publishers for interviews. Everybody will still flow to IGN, Gamespot, 1UP, etc. since they’re the ones allowed into the show with full media access. Also, the companies that can most afford to send people to Los Angeles for three days are getting their passes for free.

The ESA is playing a huge role in deciding the shape of games journalism, and it’s disappointing that the locking out of the little guys from E3 will be far more harsh this year than ever, despite the growing swell of support for the enthusiast press by the gaming audience. While this is all disappointing, it’s even more unnecessary to give large outlets a disproportionate presence when you consider all of the pre-E3 events.

Publishers understand that E3 is a busy convention and there’s not quite enough time for every game to get covered in great depth. They also know that the show floor is loud and crowded. In response to this, many publishers hold pre-E3 events where they invite top media sites and freelancers to come see their E3 offerings ahead of time. These sites get quality hands on time with the E3 demos before the kiosks have ever even been set up in the Los Angeles Convention Center. When IGN rolls into E3, they’ve already played most of the stuff they’re worried about and the stories have been written. So why do the big boys need to send 50 people? Well, they don’t really. In speaking with editors from larger sites they’ve always told me that E3 is an excuse to get away for a few days, attend some parties, and hang out with other journalists. They don’t have to sit up until 4:00am each night trying to pound out demo impressions on their computers because they wrote them up the week before after attending a pre-E3 event.

Given that these pre-E3 events are becoming more and more common, it seems that the ESA should be more lenient about letting smaller sites into the show. They can still have restrictions on entry, but maybe they need to scale back the numbers being sent by large companies and reduce the number of attendee passes they sell. Obviously the ESA is hoping that those that don’t quite make their thresholds for media clearance will buy their way in, but ultimately most smaller sites will just have to sit the show out.

Maybe publishers will be happier with the smaller crowds this year when they’re able to have more breathing room in their booths, but I have to wonder how much they’ll love the decreased chatter from the enthusiast press when it comes to impressions of their demos that they spent millions of dollars to put on exhibit at E3 2011.

I’m hoping that those that struggle to get into the show this year are able to make their voices heard and that for E3 2012 the ESA will re-evaluate their approval process and allow for the little guy to attend the show again. If anybody is left out of the show this year, and they need a hands on preview or two, let me know and I’d be happy to do some freelance work free of charge in exchange for a link or two my way.

The Hidden Genius Behind Amazon Preorder Credits

Amazon.com is easily the best place to buy video games online. If you’re an Amazon Prime user, there really shouldn’t be any other place to even look when you preorder games; especially on titles that offer free release day delivery. Amazon’s greatest incentive, however, is all of the $10 and $20 credits they give out for preordering select titles. We see the chance to save some cash, and we’ll jump at games that we’ve been watching. So what reason does Amazon have to do this? Why do they seemingly cut into their profit margins?

Well, Amazon doesn’t say if some of these credits are subsidized by publishers, but even if they aren’t, the credits still work out in Amazon’s favor. First, it definitely drives up the number of people wiling to pay for Prime memberships since online shoppers have started to move their game buying almost exclusively to Amazon. Secondly, the credits expire in a fairly short window, so you’re forced to return to Amazon.com to shop soon after your initial purchase to make another or you risk losing the credit. And since it isn’t an instant discount, the credit is essentially shared between two purchases (example: you buy the first game at $60, receive a $10 preorder credit, and buy the next at $50. Basically you bought two games at $110, which is more of a mild discount overall.) Finally, you must preorder the game to get the credit, meaning that you’re paying full price for the game and not buying it after any sorts of price drops.

Another thing to consider is that Amazon.com now takes games back in for trade-in credit. What many people are doing is preordering games that offer the credit, playing them to completion, and then selling them back to Amazon. When it’s said and done, the game ends up costing the gamer about $20-$25 depending on how quickly they finish it and send it back, but Amazon.com is free to sell the game a second time in the used market where they don’t give any cut to the publisher. In this case, if a game carried a $10 credit, Amazon.com sells it for $60, subtracts the $10 in revenue from another purchase, leaving us at $50. They later buy the game back for $30, and sell it again for $50. They’ve taken in $110 revenue and paid out $40, for a net price of $70 for what was originally a $60 game. It’s also possible that that same game comes back in as used again and out the door multiple times, each time making Amazon a bit more profit.

The system is amazing both for Amazon.com and for its customers. For people who buy 2-3 games per month, the preorder bonuses get used and rarely expire, making their hobby just a bit cheaper. It’s up to them if they want to trade the games back in to Amazon, but it’s just as good of a place as any to do so. Amazon has created a system where the retailer increases their revenues but still manages to lower prices for the end consumer. In these days it’s truly rare to see a win-win scenario between retailer and customer, and Amazon should definitely be commended for what they’ve built.

Note: For those unaware of what Amazon Prime is, it’s a yearly fee that Amazon users can pay in order to receive free 2-day and heavily discounted overnight shipping on all eligible items (basically anything shipped by Amazon). It also gives users free release day delivery on many of the bigger name video games.

Bulletstorm Video Review

Here’s our full review for Bulletstorm. Overall it is a great shooter with some intense action, an interesting combat system, and memorable moments throughout the campaign. The pacing is a little uneven, but the second half of the game more than compensates for the game’s slow start. Take a look at the review below.

Final Score: 4 out of 5


The End of the Game Over Screen?

At this year’s GDC there was lots of talk about it possibly being time to do away with the game over screen in games and to find new ways to deal with failure states in video games. Some argued that the game over screen was nothing more than a relic from the arcade era when the game was needing to demand more quarters from the player. Since early console games were either ports of arcade games or versions of the games already out in arcades, many of the conventions found in arcade gaming made the leap to consoles.

In our upcoming podcast we’re going to be discussing failure states in current games and whether or not the game over screen is necessary. We’re hoping for extra input from our readers and Gamer Theory forum users. If you want to comment on the issue, please visit the Gamer Theory Forums and chime in.

Link to the Gamer Theory Forums discussion thread: The Gamer Theory Forums – The end of Game Over?

Best Zelda fan art ever?

In honor of The Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary, an artist in Japan posted this image that he created himself. The picture is amazing (click the image to enlarge), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this artist had a future in doing concept art in the gaming industry somewhere. Check it out, it’s quite good.

The Legend of Zelda Fan Art (click to enlarge)