Why I don’t review videogames any more

Checking through my files, it transpires that the last time I got paid to review a game was September 2005. Black & White 2, since you’re asking. Not my best work. My PC wasn’t really up to the job and I let the game off lightly. And then I got asked back to a freelance non-videogamey job that I’d been doing a few months earlier, and then that turned into a real job, and here we are. I think I’ve done one other piece of games writing since then – they asked nicely and it looked interesting, which is my main consideration these days. Happy to write about them, given the right circumstances. But review them? Ask away, but chances are I’ll turn you down politely.

First up, I’ve become incredibly protective of my downtime, and if I’m going to spend it playing games (which I do, obviously) then at least it’ll be games of my choosing, at my pace, without any pressure. If I want to spend a month on Forza 3 then I can (and indeed I did), rather than having to hammer through of much of it as possible over a weekend and then never want to set eyes on it again. I’ve lost count of the number of decent games I’ve had to speed through in order to meet a deadline, only to find that I really couldn’t be bothered with doing it all over again when I got my hands on the boxed copy.

Which kind of brings me on to the time factor; it’s rare that you get to spend enough time with a game to properly judge its longevity. Case in point: Burnout 3. I got to spend a luxurious amount of time with it before setting fingers to keyboard; it might even have been two days of caning it something chronic. Loved it to tiny little heart-shaped pieces and rewarded it with an over-excited review bursting with fanboy hyperbole. Then it went on sale, I got a copy (I may have even bought a copy) and within a week I was bored of it. Unlocked everything, the crash time novelty had worn off and I was left with an admittedly brilliant looking racer that had no surprises left for me. Had I the time I’d have been able to spot that and dial back the enthusiasm.

I was working in-house then, though, so it needed to be done so I could get on with whatever was next in the pile. Had I been at home I could have probably taken it at a more leisurely pace and get a feel for its shortcomings, but then that would have raised another issue: the money. Spending a week on a four- or even six-page review? It’s just not worth it. As a rule, reviewing games represents an absolutely appalling time to payment ratio.

And after a while you find yourself turning out the same tired old sentences again and again. Oh, look! Yet another game with the most impressive graphics ever! Crikey! It’s another reinvention of genre X! Stap me! In-game narrative has literally been redefined yet a-fucking-gain! The bar keeps raising but we’re stuck with the same superlatives; I’m happier leaving their use to hipper,  younger and less jaded gunslingers.

At least where a commission and money and a deadline are involved, not to mention all those screenshots and boxouts and captions and snappy summaries and an arbitrary percentage that’ll either delight or enrage a marketing team somewhere despite the recent revelation that marketing has three times more effect on sales than any review score.

If I’m going to review any games, I’ll be doing it here, out of the goodness of my heart. You’re welcome.

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