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Opinion: Can reviewers ever be truly neutral?

Can reviewers truly be neutral when appraising a game? Now that is a question. Of course the answer should be "yes of course, they are professional and therefore can take a step back and allow nothing to cloud their judgement," but is this really the case?

Let's look at things from a logical perspective. Reviewer 'A' is looking forward to the latest FPS. As you would expect he is a huge fan of gaming and loves his shooters. Ever since this FPS was announced he's been desperate to play it, he's watched all the trailers, been in love with play tests at events such as gamescom and has been talking it up to all his friends. Now Reviewer 'B' on the other hand isn't too fussed about the game, however he can't avoid the big budget trailers and the enthusiasm of all of his friends, who like Reviewer 'A' are all massive FPS fans. In this respect he understands that this could be the next big thing and the enthusiasm of everyone around him and the hype from other members of the gaming press is firmly in his mind when placing this disc into his console for the first time.

The fact is, influence is all around us. You can't close your ears to hype and others excitement. You can't close your eyes to ads and you can't stop all these friendly PR's whose job it is to make sure you score the game highly from trying to tell you how wonderful this title is. I've been doing this job a long time and I can tell you that most reviewers 'probably' know what score a game will get before it's even been released or have at least made a some sort of judgement call. In fact they could probably tell you how well a game will do just by watching a gameplay trailer.

Take for instance the response to Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified on the PS Vita. Even at the first play test I could sense the negative response to this game. I was present and talking to fellow press members I could see straight away that first impressions count and the impressions here were bad, so it was no surprise when reviews arrived at a negative conclusion once the embargo broke. On the flip side, huge franchises with big budgets and therefore loads of marketing always seem to leave a lasting impression on reviewers minds before their final verdict even arrives. Take Halo 4 for instance. Not being a fan it was easy for me to step back and see the many flaws in this game, I had no emotional connection to it whatsoever, in fact it's possible that in some small way this would make me even more critical of the game (I like to I was completely unbiased but I will leave you to judge), but is the opposite possible in that many reviewers let their love of the franchise rule their head? It's certainly worth thinking about. Let me said categorically I'm not accusing anyone, I'm just saying once again that you can be influenced without even realising.

I think the best judge of what I'm trying to get at is Metacritic users scores. Sure some aren't entirely accurate due to fan boys scoring them down, but generally they are a good way to measure the differences between what people who have bought the game think and those who have reviewed it professionally. Let's go back to the two examples I have already used. Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified currently sits on a critic score of 33 out of 100, while the average user score is around 51 out of 100. If I was to score the game myself (we don't score games obviously) then I'd probably side with the users on this one. Sure it's not the best game in the world, however it's certainly more average than it is terrible. Halo 4 meanwhile sits on a very high 87/100 with reviewers, while gamers only rate this big budget title at 6.9. Looking at the pattern for big budget titles you will see that users tend to score these lower than most reviewers do. So are reviewers influenced by the exposure of these games? After all, if you work in this industry then there is no doubt that you are exposed to the big budget titles a lot more than those which are barely talked about. Is it possible that our minds are already made up about a title before it is released? I honestly think there is some truth to this and it's certainly worth thinking about.

Another worrying thing is that many of the same games which gain these higher scores are often planted all over the same sites that rate them in the form of ads. Now I'm not saying that this influences scores, but if you work on a site plastered with ads for a game you are reviewing, does this have a subconscious affect? If you are invited to an event and the PR people and developers do a fantastic job of talking it up, compared to other times when they have had a stinker, does this increase its chances of gaining a higher score?

Like I say, I've been doing this job a long time and like all of my colleagues, to the best of my knowledge I go into a review with an open mind and an unbiased view point, however has the seed already been planted? Have you ever wondered why review scores never seem to fluctuate much? Everyone is an individual and has their own opinion, so why is it then that most games which you think will score well do? Does anyone here doubt that GTA V will score under a 85 or even 90 average on Metacritic before it's even released?

At the end of the day, the fact is that scores and reviews don't matter, because they are only a guide. The person you must trust the most to make the judgement call is yourself, no-one else.

Edited On 08 Feb, 2013

No, not unless they're a robot imo. The best thing you can probably do is try and find a reviewer with similar tastes, I guess.
Gummy 2 years ago
I agree, a reveiwer can't be honest with every game they review. Whether they are a fan of the franchise or not is what I think effects the overall score.
THussain 2 years ago
There is always going to be some form of bias, no matter who is reviewing the game. Not every reviewer likes every single genre of game, so there are going to be mixed scores. Not picked up any notable bias from you though, I have loved halo since the original but agree with the flaws you have put it your'e review. When it comes to GTA V i agree that it is going to score 85 or 90 on metacritic even though very little has been shown, it is merely down to expectation and people know what Rockstar are capable of.
LFC Bywater 2 years ago
Of course they can't. Everyone always has their own preferences and opinions on what they want out of any game. What matters is that a good reviewer will try to look past that and analyse what else is similar on the market and how the game matches up to it, as well as matching what the game delivers to the target market and their expectations. If the reviewer does all this then their review is alot more likely to give a balanced score, but as soon as they start writing about it will usually become clear whether the reviewer is excited, disappointed, or disinterested with the game and the tone in what they write will inevitably influence their readers.
ASC 2 years ago
Lavindathar's avatar
It's an age old question, but also a good one.

As a former games journalist (note the former), I can look back and say what I want without any comeback.

I think, I was perfectly neutral. HOWEVER. There were things that influenced me. Maybe, only one thing, maybe its a big thing.....

In this industry, we are all judged by figures. Magazine sales. Website hits. Money. Thats the goal, the end game.

Now, one of the biggest factors in getting there, is who gets what games first. Sometimes I got review copies 3 weeks before release. Sometimes a week. Sometimes on release. And that, is all down to the publisher.

Lets take an example. When I reviewed Skyrim, I got it three weeks early. But, lets say, I reviewed Oblivion when that was released. Lets say I hated it. Went to town on it. 4/10. (I didn't, but lets say).

Now the publisher, has a few choices. To ignore this. To not give me my review copy 3 weeks early, but a week early. Not give me a review copy at all.

So, this was always in the back of my mind. Im not saying it altered my review scores. If a game was bad, I'd mark it so. But, the language I would use would be sugar coated maybe. I'd soften the blow. I'd make it sound like there was a fault, but I wouldn't go to town. So, in that sense, I guess it influenced me.

But, on things like friends opinions, basically hype, I dont think that is influence as such. I think the hype of a game, is part of a game. If it has a positive vibe, and everyones talking about it, then thats a positive, and it should be shown in the review.
Lavindathar 2 years ago
I don't like numbered scores. They mean nothing to me. People look at them and think that a 9/10 is automatically a good game and very rarely find out why it's a good game. I have a friend who only buys 9/10s and has barely played half of them and just wants to have a collection of 'good games' reviewers are also very unfair at times. Dynasty Warriors always gets low scores from reviewers due to it being 'repetitive, the same game over and over.' yet these same reviewers will go out and rate Halo, NSMB or COD and give them 8/10s. User scores should be banned. Look at the professor Layton Miracle Mask on amazon. 99% of the 1 stars that has is due to the public's inability to read the front of the box. (seriously. look at it. It's hilarious.)
Robichoico 2 years ago
Had a look at the professor layton comments and it really doesnt surprise me that people are that stupid. As far as the reviews go i dont think its possible for anyone to be completely neutral thats why i dont usually bother with them will usually decide from gameplay videos and so on if im interested
Zombieflamingo 2 years ago
i think some reviewers will give a game a better score if they like that type of game, although i do not always listen to the number scores as i feel you can judge by playing the games your self many a time i have picked up a low scoring game and thought what were they thinking when it turned out to be better , take dead space 3 for example thought the demo was very good but if i had read some reviews before playing it many people will see some low scores and just not give it a chance at all , end of the day dont base buying a game on all reviews you should at least play it first or you can miss out on some gems out there
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
no no one can ever be 100 percent neutral for every title, but there are mor honest reviews. a team of reviewers is probably going to release a more accurate assessment of a game or movie. take me now you put resi in front of me resi 6 let's say a game with poor opinions and i will give you a 9/10 i enjoyed it but was always going to whereas fifa whatever will probably get a 3/10 as however good it is i just dont get it. send us dead space 3 and i am sure it will gt a 8 or 9 due to the game it is. look im fluttering my eye lashes at 100mph
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
should start a review compo to win a game lol
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
i would stand no chance cant even get the basics right the best three i reckon on here apart from you would be saiyan, gloria and beazi i reckon
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
a fan already lol
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
not that i colud write a review as i struggle to string sentences
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
Of course not, as someone who worked in the gaming press for a number of years I've had bad feedback from my reviews because I was biased against, or towards several games, hell I've even managed to get a website taken off Rockstars PR list for only giving the 360 version of Bully a 7. It's all about editorial allocation really, you don't give an FPS fan an RTS to review, you've got to give the games to the person who will give them the fairest review.
Gloria 2 years ago
you do if you are called Gamespot
Robichoico 2 years ago
Can't say I've looked at Gamespot in years.
Gloria 2 years ago
Game developers want to get rated, publishers want to sell, and reviewers what to get noticed and up their own reps - it doesn't get more greasy-palmed than that. When I see ads plastered all over some sites, you know they'll be plugging it to death. Just look at gamer reactions when a new title doesn't quite get the review score they were expecting, you'd think they'd just killed a family member!
Barada 2 years ago
when games do not get the scores they were expecting some just cast it aside with out trying it first , which should not be the case
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
when games do not get the scores people were expecting some just cast it aside which should not be the case
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
No more so than anyone with an opinion is, but the good ones can at least be fair. Too many of them though... like many fans... allow their gaming opinions to be dominated by nostalgia for certain franchises and companies. I've taken to ignoring "professional" reviewers on places that have a clear agenda or bias (Example: IGN review of one of the Disgaea games opens with the reviewer stating that they hate the Disgaea games) and usually just go by opinions from people on forums who have opinions I know I can put some stock in. I have nothing against you either btw Joe, just in case you were wondering :p
PrometheusFan 2 years ago
im always on here reading joes reviews as they are always unbiased and if there's a genre he likes or don't like he will make it clear whereas some reviewers favour developers ea has a lot of these fans. what do you think is an average games score nowadays
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
i think prob most are 7-8 for most new titles thats what ign tend to go for
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
agree i always go to shop to reviews as they give a good idea about the games and prefer the pros and cons instead of just numbers
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
Nope, also have worked in the industry and you are penalised for honesty. There is also a lot of personal opinion comes into it as well so you can kind of see it from both sides. I can tell you now for a fact when Tomb Raider comes out reviewers will be trying to tell you that they have not just copied Uncharted. I have played it and they have just copied Uncharted.
Datastatic 2 years ago
is a 7-8 a good score? it should be a 5 for an average title i also like reading the shopto feedback reviews in each section some are very interesting
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
i think it should be 6-7 for average 7-8 for very good then 9 for the best games with alot going for it , although some games have been given low scores but turned out to be good
Dark572Assassin 2 years ago
data static you might be able to enlighten us about this so a ps3 game which is pants but made my ea is likely to get a higher score than a game made by deep silver due to who publish it noone wants to fall out with the big one do they if so its grossly unfair but guess ea will send promos etc
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
I think love for a franchise can sometimes cloud judgement. I remember all the people who claimed Uncharted 3 was the best of the series. I'm a fan of Uncharted myself, but Uncharted 3 (whilst still a good game) did not feel as 'epic' as Uncharted 2 at all and left me feeling a little disappointed in comparison. I tend to take reviewer's personal opinions with a pinch of salt. I've been playing games long enough to know what I'll enjoy without having to have somebody tell me whether I'll enjoy it or not. All I'm looking for in reviews is whether the game has good controls/enough decent features/a good overall game length/etc. to make it worth me buying at full price or not.
TromaDogg 2 years ago
this is why it's so risky to create a new ip for a small developer as people know what to expect with resi or dead space or tekken or fifa but all these as established ips normally get good reviews
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
Reviewers shouldn't fear the reviews they give, as with Dead Space 3 - some high-profile sites are daring to give the game 7.8 (or lower) - it's being honest, at least . Been there - killed that. ;)
Barada 2 years ago
but did black ops 2 deserve the universal praise it got
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
Absolutely not! The game is such a clone of everything before it - generic FPS gaming. I could think of at least 10 FPS games better than it now! ;)
Barada 2 years ago
Black Ops 2 isn't really that much different to the previous Call of Duty games. Personally I think Activision got gready over money so they decided to release a new Call of Duty game every year. From Call of Duty 4 to Modern Warfare 2, they were known for having the best online FPS but as it went on it just felt like the developers got lazy. Not saying that Black Ops 1 was bad but Modern Warfare 3 was just a slap in the face. It looked exactly like Modern Warefare 2 but only had a few different guns. This was downright lazyness from the developers and believe it shouldn't have been released for such as expensive price.
THussain 2 years ago
i listen to people on youtube who ain't getting paid to review games they are doing it for others to see if they like it ign is money money money.
knockton 2 years ago
people who have like over a certain amount of subscribers do actually get paid from advertsiement
sam 2 years ago
black ops 2 9.3 ok a generic copy and paste game gets 9.3 makes sense
knockton 2 years ago
when i write my reviews http://zaksgamez.wordpress.com/ (feel free to spead the word for me :D) i am biased to be honest... but i do try to be as fair as possible! which is easier said than do if u dont enjoy something its easier to see its faults... if u love it u see its positives more!
0000000000 2 years ago
good blog kiki i like it agree it is easier to write about something you like opposed to something you dont so much do you get promos to write reviews will spread word btw
Kelly-Marie 2 years ago
only just recently started writing my reviews but in time and i am patient about this i want to make a career out of it! if anybody can help me by spreading the word.. ill love u forever
0000000000 2 years ago
no, reviewers can never be truly neutral, not only from how people view some games but also on how the play too, i remember watching a review for sonic unleashed a while back and the guy reviewing it said it was hard but it was obvious he sucked at the game, however i found the game fairly challenging and rather enjoyable.
J-D 2 years ago
This was a very interesting read, Joe, A good point to raise. I always take reviews with a pinch of salt. I read multiple reviews and find out which each reviewer considers the good and bad parts of the game then make a note of persistent problems.
Konakona 2 years ago
My favourite awfull reviewers have to be that appauling excuse of a mag called 360 gamer, they just have (or seem to anyway) just dislike everything apart from Forza, Me personally I dont wait for a review or rarely read them I just normally go for the sort of games I like ok if something special comes along that woulnt normally come up on my radar (Dark Souls last year springs to mind) then yeah I may check a review or two but the problem with reviews the news and the media in general to be honest there will always be a strong element of bias its human nature isnt it
inspector 74 2 years ago
The fact games cost so much, I rarely just dive in and snap up ANY game - whatever the price. Feeling for a general consensus - either good or bad - is what matters with reviewer opinions. Why would I pay for something universally bad? Reviewers have their own personal favourite genres, but they could just be the reason I don't buy a stinker of game!
Barada 2 years ago
The only real review can be made by yourself reading someone elses opinion is not an apt way of finding out if a game is good or not, to say if they are neutral or not is hard to answer due to people having prefrences.
sam 2 years ago
I like ign review
knockton 2 years ago
IGN are good reviewers, however I do believe not all their reviews are accurate which does dissappoint many fans including me. As an example, the review they did on Gravity Rush was a let down for me as I loved that game and believe it should of gotten a higher score. This also upsetted many fans and they also believe the game was underrated
THussain 2 years ago
I don't think it's possible to find a neutral reviewer. If you like the game then you automatically give the game more positive criticism than if you didn't like it. It's actually a trick in our minds to persuade other people to believe your thoughts on the game. The best game reviewing companies I like are IGN and Gamespot.
iPenny 2 years ago
Reviewer 'A' reminds me soo much of my friend who loves FPS games. Especially Call of Duty games. I'll say i'm more like Reviewer 'B' who plays FPS games due to his friends playing it. I'm not a big fan of FPS games as I enjoy games of all genre's. There are different types of reviewers out there, some who enjoy a specific genre than the other, and based on that they do show a bit of favouritism towards the game and give it a high score. That doesn't mean that person should no longer do a review but I believe the best way to do a review for a game is to do it based on fans oppinions, as they are the one who put their heart and soul into playing the game, so by having their reviews up their it would help new comers to the franchise to decide whether they should buy the game.
THussain 2 years ago
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