Videogame Reviewer

Videogame Reviewer

Dan Amrich

Los Angeles, CA

Male, 41

I started reviewing videogames professionally in 1993, when Genesis and SNES roamed the earth. Over the next 15 years I worked for magazines and websites like GamePro, GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, and World Of Warcraft Official Magazine, while freelancing for Wired, PC Gamer, and many others. In an attempt to guide the next generation of reviewers, I wrote and published Critical Path: How to Review Videogames For A Living in February. Ask away!

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Last Answer on June 13, 2013

Best Rated

How much can a really good or bad review affect game sales?

Asked by Lazlo Hollyfeld over 6 years ago

Depends on the situation. Consider how many times you've heard someone say "I was looking forward to this game but it's only getting a 78 on Metacritic, so I think I might skip it." I hear it a lot, and I've let other people's reviews affect my buying decisions myself, so I think it's pretty common that a review can change people's minds from undecided to either yes or no -- but I am less sure that you can change someone from no to yes or yes to no if they started at either extreme, just from a really strong review. If it's one really good or really bad review -- say, everybody hates it except that one reviewer -- it probably won't move the needle. But a strong endorsement from a major outlet, or a particularly compelling assessment of a game can shift people's perspective...assuming they want it shifted. That's part of the key -- many people look to reviews not for buying advice but for confirmation that the decision they have already made (skip it, buy it, rent it) is "the right one." If they are not there to receive the advice in the way it's intended, you're not going to change their mind. In the press or in the audience, nobody likes to be that one lone dissenting opinion, for sure. I used to get nasty mails for reviews that simply didn't match what the reader wanted them to say -- my assessment didn't affect their buying decision because they'd already made that decision, but it might have made them look like "they bought the wrong game" if they were insecure about it in the first place. If preordering that game made them look uncool, then it's the negative reviewer's fault for calling that mistake to light. And then they tear me a new one. We actually got a really nasty, insulting complaint at GamePro for giving Metroid Prime a 4.5 out of 5 instead of the top score of 5 out of 5. This was someone who was not looking for a review to inform their buying decision, you know? On the publisher side, being able to say you got a high Metacritic ranking or a 10 out of 10 from a major outlet does give you serious buzz and a weapon for your marketing arsenal; it can put a game into someone's awareness where it wasn't before. So yes, there, good reviews can affect sales if properly amplified. But more organically, a good review can also create great word of mouth. Gamers trust their friends more than they usually trust an editorial outlet, because those friends are having the same gaming experiences as they are, in real time; they are going through these games together. The press is already a lap ahead of them so it's not a shared experience, and they're not facing the same purchasing decision as the audience either. But if a writer you trust says "really, give this a shot," and you mention that to your friends, that could be a tipping point for your entire peer group, and then that can spread. A lot of indie games find success with larger audiences this way, and reviews can be part of what helps make a louder noise for them.

Nintendo Ice Hockey, NHL ‘94 (one-timers, ldo), or Blades of Steel?

Asked by Ericmoz over 6 years ago

NHL Open Ice.

What do you see as the future of videogames in the next 5 - 10 years? What's the "Next Big Thing"? Is there a technological breakthrough on the horizon that will make things possible that up til now haven't been?

Asked by bort_wins over 6 years ago

I'm really not much of a prognosticator, nor am I an engineer. I don't make the games and I don't have a functional knowledge of the technology required to create them, so I don't have a good perspective on the next big thing. Besides, if I knew the answer to this, I'd be investing heavily in it. :) I do think digital distribution is inevitable -- it's a good idea and it's worked so far -- so I expect there to be more and more games bought digitally, and the storage media sizes will climb to meet it.

What games of the last 20 years stand out as "watershed moments" in that they changed the playing field because of how awesome they were?

Asked by AllYourBase over 6 years ago

Doom in 1993 is the first thing that leaps to mind. Wolfenstein 3D had established the first-person genre at that point (it wasn't the first first-person perspective game, but it was the first really badass one), but Doom's curved surfaces and advanced lighting simply weren't thought to be possible at that point. It redefined what games could be. Half-Life then showed what you could do narratively with the genre in 1998 and everybody noticed. I like to remind people that Half-Life was 18 months "late" from original release projections, which caused gamers to grouse like crazy...but once everybody got the game, the only topic of discussion was the experience itself. Both of those games altered the course of the industry.

What old-school videogame does it make you sad that your kids aren't going to get to play?

Asked by e.weinbach over 6 years ago

All of them, because I don't plan to have kids. :) But I honestly don't believe there is a significant game that future generations won't be able to play. With the combined forces of emulation, flea markets, eBay, and serious undertakings like the Digital Game Museum (http://www.digitalgamemuseum.org/) I can't think of a reason that any significant game would be forgotten or completely out of reach.

What is the worst game you had to do a review on?

Asked by Derek over 6 years ago

I tackled this in another question, but I think the worst games I ever reviewed were Combat Cars for the Genesis (a top down racer with no mini-map) and Chicago Enforcer for Xbox, which was a very very bad 1930s FPS. The AI, the graphics, the music...nothing about the game really met my expectations for what even a budget Xbox game should be. I was amazed that it made it through certification. I also remember really disliking No Escape, which was a Genesis game based on a Ray Liotta sci-fi movie. A go-right shooter, sort of like Contra but far worse, with no checkpoints. It was brutal.

Is there a game where your review differed dramatically from the general consensus of other reviewers?

Asked by AllYourBase over 6 years ago

Yes, several times -- it is inevitable, since every review really is just an opinion. It should be a researched, experienced, and backstopped opinion -- but you are always risking the possibility that your opinion is not in line with other people's. The original Need for Speed -- the one for 3DO -- was a game that did not impress me. I thought it was too slow, especially considering the name. I came in on the very very low end of that game's public reaction and I took heat for it. I gave Space Giraffe for XBLA a 2 out of 10, while others gave it a 10 out of 10. That was a very polarizing game, but when the developer goes after you and calls you rude names in public about the review...well, ouch. But as long as my opinion is explained -- illustrated by specific points, put in the context of the experience or other experiences that the player could obtain -- I think that's just part of the job. You roll with it. It's why you have to be diligent with writing every single review and never half-assing it, because you will be challenged on it; it's just a question of how dramatically and by how many people. I think a lot of people assume that a review that falls outside of the average is "wrong," but it really should not be seen that way. Every review is information to help you make your own decision about whether that game is worth your time and money, and it should never tell you what to think. When I see one that's off the trend, I see if it has something of value to say before I discredit it.