Title: Notes from a deranged webmaster
Posted: April 04, 2010 (11:35 PM)
It's no secret to anyone reading blogs and forums today that there's some tension on the site. I feel that as the guy who started the site, I should comment on some of those things. This site is obviously (I would hope 'obviously' is an appropriate adverb there) very important to me, as is its community. I consider many of you my peeps, at the very least, and in many cases I consider you friends. I'd like for us to continue to enjoy that relationship for a long time to come.
I love game reviews. I like to see them for new games because new games are mostly what I play these days and so it's more likely that I can get involved in any discussion. I'm often very familiar with a wide variety of new games and in more cases than sometimes is evident from the titles that I actually review, I'm playing the new games or reading press releases and other coverage for them.
I like reviews for old games, too, for many different reasons that are no less important. I like hearing about a gem from the 8-bit or 16-bit era that I may simply have missed. I like hearing how a game that I loved or hated sits with someone else. I like studying how different people approach those same games that I remember so vividly from my childhood and I like hearing about the impact they had on the lives of others.
My hope is that many of the reviews posted on the site will be written by people who feel passionate about whatever they are reviewing--or who at least have an interesting opinion--and I hope that the people doing the reading will say "Wow, that's really cool!" I've seen some reviews come through that were covering games I don't imagine I could possibly care less about, but I was happy to see those reviews because they're the sign of a thriving community that will meet the needs of readers with interests different than my own, readers who will help give the site an extra dimension and who can foster discussion that we might not see if everyone reviewed--as was the case several years ago, to some extent--only games that fit a certain type of style that had become "acceptable" by a few vocal members in the community.
In short, I like well-written reviews that cover a diverse range of games. I think that in general we do a nice job of covering the hot new games that interest us, and there are a few who do an excellet job of covering older stuff that I barely even knew existed (even though I often added the listing to the database). Folks like LowerStreetBlues, Zanzard, overdrive, pickhut, Felix_Arabia, sho and others are constantly surprising me with new looks at old classics and I love that about this community. It's something special we have here that I honestly haven't found anywhere else online and I want to see that continue. Please keep doing what you guys--and ladies, in some cases--do and I'll go right on loving it!
I've critiqued hundreds of short stories and novels from chapters and reviews and I've learned a few things about reviews. This is my blog, so I will commence with the sharing on my perspective. Here's my list of how to write a helpful critique:
1) Don't write a critique that's about yourself. Like the game being reviewed? Hate it? Don't give a crap? Disagree strongly with the review's angle? That's fine. Mention it if it's relevant. Don't explain at length Why you disagree, though. Doing so would create two problems: 1) it would turn your 'critique' into your soapbox, depriving the actual reviewer of advice and feedback he or she deserves; 2) it will derail discussion faster than you could possibly imagine.
2) Don't try to fix everything at once. Does the reviewer have several big problems going on with his text? Focus on the worst. This prevents your critique from feeling like an attack. If you don't know how the person on the other end will react, it's always best to assume that he or she will be sensitive. Most people won't mind if you go easy on them. They'll be more likely to appreciate one substantial criticism--properly supported--than they will a list of complaints that are more likely to come across as you just being an ass.
3) Remember the positive. By pointing to some positive things that a review does, you show that you respect what was written and you give your victim more reason to appreciate everything that you have to say. You can mix positive and negative, as well. Example: "I like the way you described the javelin sailing through the air and the words you used, but I've noticed that sometimes you have trouble with comma placement that could get in the way of what you're trying to say." Maybe that's not perfect, but it shows that you see the good in a review. A truthful compliment probably has never hurt anyone. Probably.
4) Don't attack the reviewer's character or pretend to know his or her secret console allegience. This isn't really any different than calling the poor individual a fanboy. The difference is that you haven't said that in so many words. The sentiment is there, though, and the people who regularly contribute reviews to this site are smart enough to catch it. You may believe that person X is a fanboy and you may even be right, but review feedback isn't the place to constructively voice such concerns.
There's more to keep in mind, of course, but those four points cover a lot of ground. I often find that if there's a row over a review, people who started the feedback thread forgot one or more of those four points.
On this site...
Just so you all know, I don't plan on the site disappearing anytime soon. I'm still putting a lot of effort and thought into its design. I'm still looking for opportunities to grow its audience, to find and nurture new writers. If I'm not always around--or visible--in the way that I used to be, it's because I'm often doing different things behind the scenes or I'm continuing to square away financial debts that stand in the way of me being able to work on the site as passionately as I would like to.
I'll continue working hard to keep this community as vibrant and healthy as possible, but I can't do it without you. I appreciate all of your support, whether that be financial (you know who you are and so do I) or content-related (we all know who you are) or both. Thank you a thousand times over for helping to make this community what it is. Let's keep having fun doing this together.
Posted: April 05, 2010 (03:36 AM)
I'm posting in this blog entry because it's comfy, it makes sense.
Posted: April 05, 2010 (02:57 PM)
Good stuff all around, boss man.
Posted: April 05, 2010 (10:49 PM)
Agreed. I'm glad you wrote this post.
Item # 3 is probably the most important in my eyes. I always make it a point to list at least a couple of positives to show I appreciate the effort put forth by the author, and so it doesn't look like my post is simply an attack.
I really hope people read this blog and take the advice presented here. This would clear up a lot of problems.
Posted: April 06, 2010 (09:38 AM)
I think it's easy to forget that, yes, we have an established, unspoken baseline for reviews that everyone here holds themselves to before hitting the "submit" button.
I also tend to be of the opinion that only 20% of a review on average is really a person's best writing and the other 80% is just stuff that needs to be done--or even risks they want to take and fail.
And I think that's tricky, because I know I want to try new stuff, yet it's easy to picture a critiquer
1) saying "What the heck is this" and giving up
2) going easy because he's not sure what criticism means
I generally try to mash writing that sounds cool with technical errors and work from there, and I think it's also important to gauge what writers might have meant but they didn't quite get down. In that vein, the best criticism may be questions, e.g. "What does this do/how does this work" rather than this didn't work/that didn't work, or even "why didn't you expound on this--it seems interesting."
I mean, I don't write/read reviews to tell/be told straight-up good/bad/right/wrong. There'll be grammar or style issues that are, of course. I read/write them because they give me new questions to ask or consider, and sometimes even new games to try. If they aren't doing this, then I cool off on reviews for a bit.
Posted: April 06, 2010 (01:42 PM)
Interesting post, I like your ideas on critiques. That's probably why I continue checking the site on a near-daily basis. I don't know of another gaming site where people actually care about their writing along with the writing of their community, simultaneously. At least, none come to mind.