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How to Properly Review a Game

WeiseGamer

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Hey YTTalk,

Have you ever reviewed a game, but don't think you did it well? Perhaps you thought about reviewing a game before, but you didn't know how to go about it. I've been reviewing games through print, online articles, and videos for over 5 years now and, though I don't consider myself an explicit expert, I wanted to provide the tips that I've learned and strategies I use to help you form a great review that people will take into consideration and value. This will be focused on video game reviews, but you may be able to apply some of these to reviewing other products. Additionally, if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Formatting You Review: Plan before you play

When considering getting into reviewing games, you really want to consider what aspects people enjoy about a game and what would make you decide whether or not they are going to purchase it. Too many people call themselves a "reviewer" when they basically give some first impressions (maybe 15-30 mins), and make a call based on that alone which is in no way a valuable review. You want to seem informed, knowledgeable and discuss key points that will help the viewer decide whether or not they want to spend time and money on the game. Keep this format in mind, so when you play the game, these things will be more clear to you.

Here is the format I try to stick to when reviewing:
  • Gameplay/Story:
    • Theme/Genre - What does this fit into? FPS? Platformer? Adventure?
    • General Overview - What does the player do? Objectives? Mission or goal of the game?
    • What is the story - A quick synopsis is all that is needed to give a setting and frame of reference.
    • Unique elements/mechanics - What makes this game different?
    • Summarize - Restate any key notes in this category
  • Visuals/Artwork:
    • Style/Inspirations - Maybe its very much like another game, movie, or comic?
    • Overall Mood/Feeling - Scary/Horror, Kid Oriented, Cell Shading, Retro/Pixel Art, etc.
    • Summarize - Restate any key notes in this category
  • Audio/Sound:
    • Genre/Theme/Mood - Does it sound upbeat, fit the theme of the game?
    • Sound Effects - Do they work? Are they present?
    • Immersion - Does the sound break immersion, or does it help like in a horror game with jump scares for example.
    • Summarize - Restate any key notes in this category
  • Replayability/Value:
    • Unique mechanics - Restate mechanics that make you come back for more.
    • Challenges - Is there a challenge mode to extend gameplay for example?
    • Multiplayer - Is it fun, will it make you come back for more?
    • Game Mode + type things - Things that allow you to play through again but with a different ending or different mechanics and experience.
    • Leaderboards, dailies, achievements - Things to have you compete with friends
    • Value versus Price - Will you get enough time out of the game with the price point?
    • Summarize - Restate any key notes in this category
  • Drawbacks:
    • Negative aspects of the game, be respectful and constructive with negative feedback.
  • Overall Verdict
    • Summarize each category and give a final recommendation
    • Provide links to game, price, etc.
Preparation/Research: Be the expert

Viewers want an expert opinion. They deserve a well researched review, not some half-assed garbage of collected opinions someone read on the internet and threw together in narrative. For example, a recent indie game called "Stardew Valley" has been getting a LOT of momentum, however people that played and reviewed the game after 20-30 minutes give it criticism. In this game, a single in game day takes about 20 minutes in real life, and is FAR from a valid time frame to give a review of a game with a complex story and game-play mechanics that develop over time.

This is what I do for my research:
  • Review the Press Kit
    • Most games have some kind of press kit. They look like this: Slime Rancher Press Kit
      • Features list (a list you should cover in your review and showcase, test yourself, experience so you can speak to it
      • About the game, story, etc.
      • Release dates, platforms it will be on, pricing if available.
      • Images, Videos, Logos, for use in thumbnails and articles
  • Review who the developer is, anything significant or important?
    • Who is the developer?
      • Going back to Stardew Valley, the game was developed by one guy over 4 years.
      • Some reviewers say "Chucklefish" developed the game. Chucklefish is a published, the game was developed by "ConcernedApe"
    • Who's on the team?
      • A game on kickstarter I recently reviewed is a horror game, with the sound engineer from Outlast, a popular horror game.
      • Another game, The Flame in the Flood, has the art director from Bioshock.
      • These key elements make your review interesting and add weight to your opinion since you did research.
  • In case the press kit doesn't exist or doesn't cover it, know the price, features, platforms, and release date of the game.
  • Play the game!
    • This is something that may sound surprising, but a lot of people seem to review games based on what they hear, but never play the game.
    • Others play the game for maybe 30 minutes, but never touch most of the gameplay so they shouldn't give a review.
    • There is no set time you should play a game, but experience enough that you can give a valid opinion. Give the game a chance.
    • Personally, I try to put in at least an hour, some games up to 4 hours, to cover the game.
Get Recording: Use your knowledge

When I do a review, I record my commentary and gameplay separate. This is so I can focus entirely on my commentary and cover all the aspects. I record the gameplay in chunks, covering the various aspects. I'll explain why below:
  • One Continuous Commentary Session
    • When recording commentary, don't stop if you make a mistake. Keep your train of thought, pause for ease of editing, then continue. You can easily edit the mistake out.
    • Record various elements of the game.
      • So many people (I did this awhile back) record just a single long session without editing. THIS IS LAZY.
      • Record various short clips showcasing various elements of the game such as multiplayer, co-op storys, challenges, unlocks, etc.
      • Edit these together in line with your commentary as you discuss these aspects for a great video.
Miscellaneous Tips: Tips to make your review valuable

Here are some various tips I don't think fall into a category.
  • Don't accept payment for reviews:
    • You can disclaim the review all you want that you were paid, but your opinions are your own. This doesn't matter. As soon as you take payment, you are subconsciously going to give a different opinion because you want to have business in the future.
  • Be Honest
    • Don't lie if the game is terrible. It's hard, but don't lead people to think a game is amazing when it really isn't.
    • Be constructive in your negative feedback though, as you want to respect the developer's time and effort. Provide possible solutions if you have them on why certain things don't work for you on the game.
About the Author:

WeiseGamer has been reviewing video games formally for over five years now via print, online articles, and video reviews. His current outlet is YouTube.com/WeiseGamer where he focuses on reviewing Indie Games specifically. The review series has received consistent praise through likes and comments on the videos themselves, as well as other mediums and is considered by many indie developers and some PR agencies as an expert source to ask questions of when it comes to marketing their games, reviewing their games, and providing feedback for potential changes.

Q & A: Ask questions in thread, I'll try to answer and update this section with them.
 
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CaptainDelugo

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This is an amazing guide and ofcourse it's from the best of the best on the forums here!
Appreciate the effort you put into this and thanks for doing so! :)
 
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WeiseGamer

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This is an amazing guide and ofcourse it's from the best of the best on the forums here!
Appreciate the effort you put into this and thanks for doing so! :)
Thanks! Not sure if I would say I'm the best of the best, haha, but I get a lot of compliments here, have written quite a few guides here, and every developer I've ever worked with has given me positive feedback. I recently found a local indie game studio that's been around for 10+ years and has worked with Disney, Hasbro, etc. They are inviting me out to a lunch and have been picking my brain about stuff as well. Also a local group is starting a convention in the sense of GDC in San Francisco, I was asked to be on staff next year for their fourth annual convention and try to put some panels together and possibly give my own keynotes.
 

CaptainDelugo

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Thanks! Not sure if I would say I'm the best of the best, haha, but I get a lot of compliments here, have written quite a few guides here, and every developer I've ever worked with has given me positive feedback. I recently found a local indie game studio that's been around for 10+ years and has worked with Disney, Hasbro, etc. They are inviting me out to a lunch and have been picking my brain about stuff as well. Also a local group is starting a convention in the sense of GDC in San Francisco, I was asked to be on staff next year for their fourth annual convention and try to put some panels together and possibly give my own keynotes.
You tried to debuff my opinion but instead of doing that you have just proven to yourself that you're really good at doing what you love to do ;D
 
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Shehzad

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Nice, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I think preparation is key to all commentary videos too and knowledge is also important so you know what your talking about. I find structure whether reviewing or normal commentating very important since the video can fall apart if you don't have engaging commentary or if the commentary is all over the place. Thanks for sharing this.
 
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WeiseGamer

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Nice, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I think preparation is key to all commentary videos too and knowledge is also important so you know what your talking about. I find structure whether reviewing or normal commentating very important too since the video can fall apart if you don't have engaging commentary or if the commentary is all over the place. Thanks for sharing this.
I completely agree. I don't go off a script ever, I usually do one full take without mistakes even. HOWEVER, I know what I am going to say because I've played the game enough (or used the product enough, whatever it applies to for you) that I can speak freely, naturally, and not stumble around with a basic rubric/guideline/outline.
 
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Shehzad

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I completely agree. I don't go off a script ever, I usually do one full take without mistakes even. HOWEVER, I know what I am going to say because I've played the game enough (or used the product enough, whatever it applies to for you) that I can speak freely, naturally, and not stumble around with a basic rubric/guideline/outline.
Small bits of scripting you can't avoid, like jotting down ideas or mental notes. I have tried properly reading from a script for a whole video and the only video that I find is only good for a script are my gaming news one's because they are purely informational. I generally jot down bullet points so if I get stuck it takes a quick peek to put me back on track. I hugely prefer unscripting as I sound more natural but scripting really allows you to improve your writing. Some people are generally better at adding emotion from a piece of paper than others. My mind tends to naturally flow but I make sure I have structured a start to end by bullet pointing key points on my notepad. But am In the same boat as It usually takes one take for me when I've done my preparation and through the power of editing any pauses can get cut down. I've started live commentaries now and it is crazy the amount it helps you with being able to speak naturally in real life from all the practice I get doing commentaries. Stumbling was part of the learning process for me but I just caught up with it very quickly after getting so much practice doing daily commentaries.
 

WeiseGamer

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Small bits of scripting you can't avoid, like jotting down ideas or mental notes. I have tried properly reading from a script for a whole video and the only video that I find is only good for a script are my gaming news one's because they are purely informational. I generally jot down bullet points so if I get stuck it takes a quick peek to put me back on track. I hugely prefer unscripting as I sound more natural but scripting really allows you to improve your writing. Some people are generally better at adding emotion from a piece of paper than others. My mind tends to naturally flow but I make sure I have structured a start to end by bullet pointing key points on my notepad. But am In the same boat as It usually takes one take for me when I've done my preparation and through the power of editing any pauses can get cut down. I've started live commentaries now and it is crazy the amount it helps you with being able to speak naturally in real life from all the practice I get doing commentaries. Stumbling was part of the learning process for me but I just caught up with it very quickly after getting so much practice doing daily commentaries.
Outside, the outline I listed in my OP is what I use with even less info, and I just have the title/headers on them. I don't even take physical notes (or digital, haha) on anything. I take mental notes I guess as I pull from that when I'm doing the video, but I never have issues and go off mental thought.
 

Shehzad

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Outside, the outline I listed in my OP is what I use with even less info, and I just have the title/headers on them. I don't even take physical notes (or digital, haha) on anything. I take mental notes I guess as I pull from that when I'm doing the video, but I never have issues and go off mental thought.
Yh, am still in the process of learning so It's ganna be a while before I can manage that but I find some people are more natural at commentating that others. Keep it up though!
 
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