In just about every industry, people on the outside have misconceptions about what life is like on the inside. That goes for everything from rock stardom to accounting. But since I’m no rock star, and I have no idea if I’ve ever filed my taxes correctly, I can’t speak for those industries.
But I do know video games. Here are some common myths about video games and reviews that I’ve seen floating around.
1. All we do is play video games
When you write about video games for a living, you hear it all the time: “So you basically play video games all day, right?” It’s not quite that simple.
Writing about video games means following industry news and looking for interesting angles to write about whatever is happening that day. It also means you spend a good deal of time reading press releases and emailing with PR reps. You might supervise freelancers, or you might be a freelancer and have to manage relationships with editors and follow up on invoices. Oh, and occasionally you’ll have to write something. Then you’ll probably have to rewrite it, edit it, and prepare it for publication.
Only a small percentage of my time is spent actually playing games. The same goes for people I’ve talked to on all sides of the video game industry. We’re in it because we love playing games, but we all wish we had more time to play them.
2. Game publishers pay for high scores
This is probably the biggest myth of all. Many gamers seem to think review sites are on the payroll of companies like Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Ubisoft, and more. These people think reviewers inflate review scores because they just cashed a big fat check issued by the game’s publisher. For the overwhelming majority of sites — and every site you’ve probably ever heard of — it’s simply not true.
If there were a big Payola-like scandal, it would be a huge story and you’d hear about it. The site caught taking money for inflated scores would be discredited and no one would ever trust its reviews again. That’s why sites don’t take money for positive coverage, and why no game publisher of any size would ever offer it.
Instead, if a game maker doesn’t expect high review scores, it simply won’t distribute review copies to reviewers. You can read more about it here.
3. That “objective” reviews exist
A small but vocal group of gamers have been complaining recently about reviews not being “objective” enough. The fact is, there’s no such thing as an objective review. By definition, a review is subjective. It’s someone’s opinion. It can contain some objective facts about the game, but the meat of a review is the writers opinion on whether it’s a good game or not.
The best thing to do if you’re looking for trustworthy reviews is to find a few reviewers who like the same kinds of games as you. Then you can frequent their site, or follow the reviewer on Twitter to see more of their work. By definition there are no objective reviews, but if you find a reviewer you trust, you’ll have a much better chance of agreeing about the games they cover.
4. That reviewing games is always fun
To be sure, reviewing video games is probably more fun than most jobs. But it is a job, and it’s not always a sunshine and coconuts. Any number of things can make reviewing a video game a pain. Generally, reviewers are required to beat a game before finalizing their review. This can become a nightmare if the game is bad, or if it’s overly long, or if certain parts are hard or frustrating to beat, or if the reviewer is under a tight deadline.
And let’s not forget the writing portion of the review, which can be difficult to complete for any number of reasons. If a game is bland, it’s not always easy to find a fresh angle from which to discuss it. If you have complicated feelings about a game, how do you convey those feelings in a way that’s enjoyable and informative to read? Worse yet is when you post a controversial review and nameless commenters go to town on you, insulting or even threatening you.
Reviewing games is a great job, but it’s not always as breezy and fun as playing games.
5. That anyone can do it
As stated above, playing games tends to be breezy and fun. But there’s a big difference between playing games and playing games and then writing a good, entertaining, informed review. The review business takes a lot of work and years of experience to do right. Some reviewers can do it adequately. Fewer can do it well. Fewer still can do it exceptionally.
So find the reviewers with similar taste in games to you and follow their work. Their job is great, but it might be a little different than you thought.