Like a one-term president we’ve had enough of, we’re ditching the Yes/No/Not Yet review system we’ve been employing for the last four years. What was meant to be a defiance of review scores became a review score. We don’t like review scores. Away it goes.
We’ll be keeping the rest of our review system intact, including the review box in which the Yes/No/ Not Yet used to appear. Why the change? Well.
The review box concept was simple: The written review can be whatever the writer wants. It can be a straightforward essay or a color-coded loved/hated list; it can be written in verse, or be nothing but a collection of captioned screenshots. The review box was the one constant. It contained basic information like platform, developer, and time played, along with a brief summary of a game’s strengths and weaknesses. It also contained a recommendation: Should you play this game? We chose from three options: Yes, No, or Not Yet.
We’ve been using that system for long enough to have a good sense of what works about it and what doesn’t.
What works: It’s nice to have a scannable box that quickly tells readers what we think of a new game. Plenty of people are in a hurry and simply want the gist; the review box provides that. The Yes and No recommendations are also nice and clear—a reader doesn’t have to parse the difference between two and two-and-a-half stars, or between a 7.8 and an 8.4 out of 10. The difference between Yes and No speaks for itself.
What doesn’t work: A lot of other things about the Yes/No/Not Yet recommendation. Our intent had been to distill things to the simple answer we would give to a friend in casual conversation. We’d be chatting, and a new game would come up. “I heard about this new game,” our friend would say, “Should I play it?” “Nah,” we’d respond, “It’s kind of a mess.” Or maybe, “Yeah, play it! It’s cool.” Nice, casual, and conversational.
That’s not how it wound up working. Our recommendations almost immediately started being thought of as verdicts, and they felt anything but casual. Rather than acting as an auxiliary recommendation, the Yes/No became the focal point of a lot of the discussion surrounding a given review. It’s easy to understand why: If you see a flaming red 135-point NO in the middle of a game review, it lodges in your mind.
We at Kotaku often joke about review scores and the futility of attempting to encapsulate a game with a 1-10 rating. We’re proud that we’ve never had our reviews weighed and sorted by the pitiless eye of Metacritic, and similarly proud of our history of running scoreless reviews. Except, well, lately, we have been scoring our reviews. In fact, by requiring a binary Yes/No, our reviews were arguably even more reductive—if less ambiguous—than a ten-point rating would’ve been.
The binary recommendation has been a challenge for our reviewers, as well. A bright green Yes often implied more enthusiasm than we actually felt for a flawed but ultimately recommendable game. A game might earn a No but remain interesting enough to warrant further coverage, or one of our writers might like it even though our assigned reviewer didn’t. That led to understandable questions from readers: Kotaku, you told us that this game isn’t worth playing. Why are you still writing about it?
The Not Yet verdict has had its own share of problems. It was theoretically the most useful option of the three, given that we could apply it to buggy or technically flawed games and update it to a Yes once those technical issues were (presumably) patched or otherwise remedied. In practice, even the Not Yet tended to be more trouble than it was worth. For example: If the PC version of a game winds up running well but the console versions are still messed up, does the game get a Yes? Or does the PC version get its own review box? At what point is a game declared past fixing, and when does a Not Yet become a No? And so on.
In 2016 and beyond, Kotaku reviews will no longer include a Yes/No/Not Yet recommendation. Our reviews will remain otherwise unchanged; they’ll still reflect the individual point of view of their author, and they’ll still be open to whatever creative approach that writer may want to take. They’ll still include a review box that summarizes what we liked and didn’t like. The only difference will be that the box won’t contain a Yes or a No.
Our broader approach to covering games will remain similarly unchanged. We’re still primarily interested in covering games post-release, and less interested in covering pre-release marketing narratives. We’ll continue to focus on telling stories about the people who make games and sharing the exploits of those who play them. We’ll keep writing fewer previews than we once did, giving most unreleased games, at most, a single hands-on demo from one of our writers. Our reviews will still prioritize comprehensiveness over timeliness, and we’ll remain as willing as ever to hold back a review until we’re sure we have a complete sense of the game in question. We’ll still reserve the right to update our reviews after publication to accurately reflect the changing state of a game. And of course, we’ll continue to review things other than new games, be they decades-old classic games, other publications’ exclusive reviews, or snack foods.
Game reviews are criticism, and good criticism should illuminate and enlighten. A critic should seek to achieve insight into whatever it is they’re critiquing, then articulate that insight in a way that helps their audience better appreciate the work in question. (Jokes are good, too.) Freed from the weight of a binary recommendation, we hope that Kotaku’s reviews will better serve our readers and more ably elevate the ways we think about, talk about, and understand the games we all love.
Will Kotaku reviews ever make everyone happy? NO. Are Kotaku reviews finished evolving? NOT YET. Should you keep reading them and joining in our ongoing conversation about video games? YES.
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