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Are Our Tastes Influenced By the Play Habits of Critics?

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It's a shifting world in the entertainment industries, and a vital part of entertainment is critical reception. With a symbiotic relationship between industry and critical media, any change in one can have dramatic consequences in the other. One of these changes is the rise of independent games criticism untied to a larger outlet, and that means a rise in personality-driven criticism. Of video games' many different qualities, another being added to the list is the secondary entertainment factor of passive consumption of games through Let's Plays and otherwise longform video content from increasingly recognizable and distinguishable games critics. The voice of the successful critic is louder and more understood than it ever has been before, and so I think that taste-making has a larger role than it ever has before.

You don't need to look much farther than PewDiePie's single-handed revival of interest the Skate franchise to understand that personalities, whether framed as traditional "critics" or not, have greater mindshare among potential consumers than they ever have. But I feel this is also true for people who don't necessarily command the attention of millions of tweens on Youtube. Any major outlet has only seen increased traffic and more people plug into the cycle that most of you reading this have been a part of for years: scoping out industry news, checking in on major game reviews, watching examples of gameplay through videos with commentary, not just going in to a store and letting the boxart or the clerk be the front line for a potential purchase. Increased downloadable content (and the prevalence of smart phones) has made it more tempting than ever for people to pay more attention to games media, becoming effected by all the ways its changing and growing.

It's not hard to draw too many of these conclusions and to see how closely related all of these systems really are, and so it got me thinking about what other things might be linked, however inadvertently. I stumbled on the idea when thinking about the life of the professional games critic, of the people who review or at least spend time with dozens of games by virtue of their job. To hear it from them, there's a great deal of pressure throughout the process to make sure you're not lingering too long on one game so you can move on to the next. Content needs to continue and diving too deeply into a game isn't always an option, even if the critic might long for it. I'm sure every critic will have his or her own answer to this, but I wonder if this hasn't modified their taste in games in a significant way. Sure, the thorough critic will have spent dozens of hours with a game before completing their review, but across a short period of time. It's generally not how games are built to be consumed, at least.

A Fancy Chart!

So to what degree does this trickle down into their assessment of games? If a game fits better into the life style of the critic, is it more likely to be considered a good game? I'm not suggesting that this is a conscious decision or based on something as simple as "shorter games get higher praise", because neither of those things are true. But the industry does wish to produce well-received titles as critical reception is at least believed to increase sales (see: salary bonuses being tied to Metacritic averages), so tailoring a game for a positive reception seems a likely thing to me. That really only leaves the point about the high-profile critic's valuation of games having something to do with games that are easier to evaluate.

I'm not a professional reviewer, I don't know firsthand what it feels like to be under the gun for multiple reviews of wildly different games of varying length and style. But I know it's just not possible for them to go all-in over extended periods of time with a single game, and that their experience represents an opinionated take through just one way of playing. I've read and listened to several critics in the past discuss their thoughts on if their high exposure to games doesn't jade their opinions, and if that even matters. I don't have a problem with any of that. But how much does it represent the average consumer's experience? I know that, at least, it did not represent my own until fairly recently. So if taste-making is more potent that it ever has been, across all sources, how much is a faster course of sales retention attributable to the pace of critical output?

It might all sound like I'm reaching, but I don't think I'm reaching a whole lot. When you include the aforementioned Youtube personalities into the pool of tastemakers and critics then, like it as not, I find it easy to think their quick paced output can have an impact on how quickly games "expire" in stores, whether physical or digital. We hear about that all-important "first week" of sales. A week for products that cost as much as Hollywood movies to make all of their money back! It's no wonder we've seen the explorations of business models, like Free to Play, become so wide spread; or that thanks to the lack of a price increase, the most expensive games have made strong pushes for DLC, like Season Passes or multiple versions.


This is just a theory, I'm not pretending that I've just put forth evidence. The title of this is in the form of a question for a reason. At the least I wanted to explore the interconnectedness of this whole business of games. None of these factors operate independently, and enough of it is in flux right now that I don't believe anyone really has solid answers on how the operation truly succeeds or fails. Whatever the case, I'll leave it to you to consider it for now. One big misread or something with some truth to it? Let me know!

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About Dr Melone of us since 10:58 PM on 01.31.2012

Hello, curious browser. I've been a reader of Dtoid for several years now and continue to enjoy the unique sense of community around these parts. I think I'll stick around, if ya don't mind.