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Game Evaluation Process

How I evaluate games to figure out if they’re worth buying.

The first thing I look for in a game is whether it’s a type of game I’m interested in. Some games just aren’t going to be for me, and that’s okay. It does feel a little sad when a game’s world seems really cool, but it’s a type of game I won’t enjoy. That happens.

Game trailers don’t always make it clear what the gameplay is. Some drag out cinematics, and only get to the game toward the end. Others seem to think cinematics are more important than the game, never showing what the game is. Art is great, but I really need to know what kind of game I’m looking at. Certain gametypes don’t interest me, usually because I’ve tried them and didn’t find them intriguing. But telling me what a game is up front doesn’t change that. I’m not going to play an MMORPG set in a great world or that has a really cool trailer. People who love MMORPGs will be more intrigued if they know that’s the game while they watch the trailer.

The second main component is art style and setting. If I see Anime-style art, I move on. I never got into Anime. It doesn’t appeal to me. That’s a good thing to put up front. It tells me instantly it’s not a game for me, and for people who like Anime, it’s a signal they should look further. Anything that looks like a bunch of lasers spewing from all angles—bullet hell—I pass. I have played some games with at least a bit of bullet hell, but I never really enjoy them even if I succeed. It just feels too twitchy. But lasers in general, I don’t know if that’s why I’m not a big Star Wars geek, or if it’s just a coincidence, but it’s there. Again, for people who like bullet hell, it’s a strong signal the other way. This is good: strong signals, strong differentiation.

After establishing that it might be an interesting game that’s not based in Anime or vomiting lasers, I immediately go to the user reviews. I don’t usually look for professional reviews, as most are too in-depth and too sympathetic to the developers. My main use for games journalism, in finding new games, is getting to the pre-review stage of interest: it’s got cool art and it’s a game type I will play.

I will read some of the positive user reviews, but I tend to read the negative ones more closely. I expect even games I love to have some negative reviews, but the negative reviews help more than positive ones. They tell you who didn’t like the game, and the more you feel like you could have written the review, the more likely you won’t want to play it. Bug reviews, noting a bad time playing, are also a red flag for games that aren’t being given the love they need.

While I’m reading reviews, I also keep a rough tally of the reviewers’ hours played, which I’ve started tracking for games I might buy. I understand that dollars-per-hour is controversial to some games journalists. Short games can be fun, they say. I don’t mind short games, but I don’t want to exclusively play short games. I mostly track gametime to try to balance my purchases a little better, so that I get some longer games and some shorter ones.

Some short games barely give you a feel of their world, and then the credits roll. Gaming feels empty when you jump from one short game to the next, never really getting your mind wrapped around anything. Most of my favorite games were ones that took longer to play, either by design or by choice. Games I got sucked into for months, those are the ones I look back on the fondest.

Some games don’t have many reviews. Smaller indy games, for example. If I’m interested in the game, I try not to let that deter me too much. The main hurdle here comes when a game isn’t made for Linux, as it might not be well-supported on WINE/Proton, and games with low review counts often don’t have reports on ProtonDB. This is something game developers can fix! Even if you don’t support Linux, you can try your game on Proton and report if it works!

That’s most of what I look at:

  • Is it a type of game I play. (Art style and basic game type.)
  • How do the reviews look. (Negative reviews don’t highlight a killjoy-level flaw in the game.)
  • Will it run on Linux (natively or via WINE/Proton)?

After that, it comes down to price. If it fits in my price-expectation (with some leeway), I’ll buy it. If not, I’ll put it on the to-buy-at-price stack and check again during the next sale. I’ll end up buying about two-thirds of games that get this far. The ones that don’t either never get a decent sale price or a negative review comes along to knock them off the list.

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