How do you find out new games? Where do you go for information on upcoming games? The internet, right? But where on the internet? For me, I find that I’m increasingly not interested in reading “first look previews” and “world exclusive reviews!”. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate games journalism or the expertise they bring to bear. It’s just that what they have to offer is so much more compelling when it’s more informal.
It’s no secret that as consumers we value the opinions in our social circles much more than we do the opinions of experts and mavens. I work around games, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overheard my customers telling their friends that they heard that Grand Theft Auto IV sucks. This critically acclaimed title is sitting at a 98% score at Metacritic, which is a site that aggregates the scores it was given by reviewers. The experts loved it — or so their review scores would indicate — yet for many they heard from the friends about the repetitive missions and the lack of “play” available and decided it wasn’t the game for them.
I have also heard many of these same complaints from games journalists, and it wasn’t in their reviews. It was in their podcasts, their blog posts, their twitter posts, on their posts in internet message boards, in the comments section of their websites. Anyone with access to a computer can expand their social circles far beyond that of their geography. Because of microblogging services like Twitter, RSS readers which make it very easy to keep up with a large number of blogs, the podcast phenomenon which lets us listen in on the experts having the kinds of conversations with each other that we have with our friends, you can eavesdrop on the entire cycle of a games lifespan. A review is a single moment in time, trapped in amber. That is how they felt when they wrote the review — but how many of us still feel the same about a game a few months after we’ve put it back on the shelf as we did in the afterglow of completion? Some games hold up to the test of time; others do not.
I weigh the opinions of critics whose opinions I value more highly than I do those of critics whom I am not familiar with. Because of social media, I’m much more familiar with a wider range of gamers, both expert and amateur. Because of social media, I can follow along with these same critics along the entire cycle: how they felt after first being shown the game, if the game held up when they got to play it, their deeper thoughts after getting the play the final version, and, most valuable of all, how they respond to what others are saying once the game is out in the wild. The kinds of back-and-forth discussion that result are much more in-depth and wider-ranging than a review can, by it’s very nature, be. The most fun part of watching a movie with your friends is hashing out your thoughts afterwards.