Do Reviews Matter To Me?
Saints Row: The Third is coming out soon. I've spent the last few years of my life on it. Just living and breathing Saints Row, day in, day out. Now it's done. It hits the street on 11/15, which is right around the corner. So, I've been thinking a little bit about the reviews.
I've noticed a change in myself over the last couple of years. Back in the day, I worked on a lot of casual and indie games. Reviews were fairly scarce for these games in the first place, let alone a thorough one, so when a review had as much as a mention of the audio, it was amazing to me. I would study every word in that review, poring over it like it was a love note or something. I would revel in the praise and torture myself over the criticisms.
More recently, though, I've changed inside, and I'm not referring to my languished musculature and sagging organs from sitting in the same chair for three years, although that has also happened. It's more of a psychological change. It feels like I've realized some things about game reviews, both in general and involving the audio aspects. The bottom line is that they matter less to me as a developer these days.
First of all, on the audio tip, I find myself astonished when there's more than a few sentences about the audio. And beyond that, when there is at least some mention of the audio, a lot of reviewers out there don't seem to know how to provide a good critique of the sound effects. Some are pretty good at critiquing the dialogue, and some are good at critiquing the music. But when it comes to critiquing the sound effects, the vast majority of reviewers out there just don't seem to have the lexicon to express their opinion, or maybe they don't realize how much the sound effects are adding to their experience. So, what we end up with is a couple of sentences mostly about the voice acting, writing, and/or music, and maybe, if we're lucky, "the explosions were visceral," or something like that. Many of us internal audio designers are most interested in the reception of the sound effects because often we've made them ourselves, and it can be disappointing to have so little said of our work.
Secondly, a review is written by some working schmoe like me. It's just some other human being out there who is paid money to do their work. They may be qualified from playing lots of games and having some insightful views, maybe they're good writers, and don't get me wrong, writing a good review is an art in and of itself, but still... it's just some goofball who accidentally burps in the middle of their sentences just like I do. Sometimes developers seem to fear reviewers as they affect the almighty metacritic rating, or they put reviewers' opinions on a pedestal, or they think reviewers are evil, and there are reasons for these things, but really, they're just some schmoe getting paid money to do work, just like me. They put their pants on two legs at a time using the Pantsinator 3X just like me. Somehow this makes me care less. I don't know if it makes sense. It's just how I feel. Lately I've been feeling the same way about celebrities and world leaders. We're all a bunch of schmoes.
And the third and probably most relevant reason is that I've discovered that the actual act of doing the work is why I do the work. Of course I love the end results and love to see it all come together. But to me, the journey is more meaningful than the destination. I put my all into the work that I do because I'm on a team and other people are relying on me. I've learned more than I could have ever imagined. I've made relationships with people that are now very important to me. I've discovered things about myself that I didn't know before, things that I am capable of that I wasn't so sure about a few years ago. And because of this, it's less meaningful to me to have someone that I don't particularly care about critiquing my work. I already know that I've done my best.
Ok, so, all of that said, I need to be clear about a few things.
I do value feedback, even from complete strangers, but it's more relevant to me if it's feedback during the development process because I can do something about it. Now there is nothing that I can do about it. If a read a review that complains about the audio falling flat, well, I'll just have to swallow that tough cookie because there's no changing it at this point.
Also, I mean no disrespect to game reviewers. Reviewers play an important role in educating players about games, and I've found that some reviews are very useful and thought-provoking. I particularly enjoy reviews in which it's obvious that the reviewer isn't just going along with what the rest of the reviewers are saying and is instead speaking their own mind. I've learned things from reviews, and that's very important to me. And as a gamer, I do occasionally use reviews to influence my purchases.
And finally, I hope that this whole me-being-honest-about-my-feelings thing isn't coming across as cynical. I'm not summarily distrusting of reviewers, and I don't hate them, or think that they are evil, or that they're sheep, or scrubs, or anything like that. They're people very much like me, and we probably have a lot in common, like languished musculatures, and sagging organs, and many are proud owners of the Pantsinator 3X.
In conclusion, reviews just don't matter as much to me anymore, but I don't mean to devalue them. When Saints Row: The Third hits the streets, I will read my fair share. I'm sure I'll be excited by some and frustrated by some. But in the end, I'm much more interested in my next journey than the previous destination that I'm leaving behind.