If you want to write reviews but don't know what to write

Many people here already feel comfortable writing reviews, and many of them have deep insights and analysis that I can’t really advise on, as I can’t match them.

But I know there are a few people that are interested in writing reviews and giving feedback but aren’t sure where to start.

The first thing to think about is the purpose of your review. Reviews have many roles, including (but not limited to):

  • A way to let the author know you experienced their game and had some meaningful interaction with it.
  • A way for potential players to know what’s in the game and what to expect
  • A way to evaluate the game and rank it against other games
  • A way to connect a game with similar games or other famous works

Below I have some tips on how to fulfill the role that you choose.

Review as message to the author
One thing I hear over and over again, from new authors and experienced, in private messages and on public blogs, is that their biggest hope is that people will play their games and then discuss it publicly.

When writing this type of review, it is helpful to point out your emotional response to different parts of the game. What was exciting? What was less exciting?

Write what you think the game is ‘about’. Either you’ll end up being right, pleasing the author, or provide a connection they never thought of, or help them realize that they might have expressed themselves differently.

If the author is new, it can be helpful to point out things that could have improved your experience.

Overall, remember that authors, even ‘famous authors’, are human and have feelings. When I started IF reviewing, I had a chip on my shoulder against ‘the cabal’ and wrote somewhat snarky reviews against big authors, and when I later learned more about them, I regretted it. It’s okay to say you don’t like something, but know that someone’s going to read that and may be upset.

Review as description of a game

Things people are interested in knowing about a game:

  • Its length
  • Content warnings
  • What kind of person would enjoy it? (Jim Kaplan wrote many reviews with this in mind)
  • The general genre
  • The presence and type of bugs and typos

Reviews as evaluation

Having well-defined criteria for your reviews can help with this quite a bit. My criteria are polish, descriptiveness, emotional impact, interactivity, and would I play it again?

Sobol is another reviewer with an explicit system:

“1 star: I don’t like it.
2 stars: I sort of like it.
3 stars: I really like it.
4 stars: I like it very, very much.
5 stars: I’m bedazzled, flabbergasted and awestruck.”

Having a system in place makes it easier to make meaningful statements about games. Being easily amused, I quickly ran out of ways to say “This is one of the best games ever”, so this gives me a framework when I’m stuck on what to say.

Reviews as connection

Many people have games that they loved, and reviews help them find similar games that they might also like. IFDB has a ‘recommend similar games’ feature that can be useful for this.

Beyond just suggesting similar games, you can also mention general movements or styles. Many people are on the lookout for Zork-like games, so you can mention if a game is like that. If it’s a mystery game, is it more like Hercule Poirot or Jason Bourne?

Anyway, I hope this useful. Thanks for reading!