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In Defense of the of Executive Gamer

October 12, 2008

In a recent interview, game designer Tim Schafer has brought up the notion of the “Executive Gamer.” This primarily applied to the gamers in the enthusiast press who are required to review many games each month for their subscribers. The idea is that these gamers are forced to constantly play games in marathon sittings every week in order to put them out in review. The most notorious is being required to review a game like Grand Theft Auto 4 where there is over 100 hours of game play that the developer expects the gamer reviewer to finish in time to review. Schafer’s contention is that these gamers are more or less separate from the normal gamer who must save money for months to play a game that will inevitably be played for the entire month as opposed to a couple of days.

It is a reasonable contention but flawed, in my opinion. Cinephiles often watch dozens of movies a week and advent readers can go through a library of books a week as well. Does this mean that their opinion is placed at fault to what makes a memorable novel or film? I believe the conflict Schafer sees goes back to idea of the public and the critic. Video games, just as books, can be enjoyed in a single sitting or multiple sittings. But that does not mean that the person who reads a book faster than another person has any less opinion of the product. I would agree with Schafer when it comes to multiplayer experiences because the review is required to predict the loyalty of the community, the amount of enjoyment from game play variation, and how long the multiplayer should last. Every MMO does not require the same extended online activity like WoW, but players should decide for themselves if the length of the free trail is sufficient for their gaming needs.

But the idea that an avid gamer is less qualified to review games is ridiculous, and to think that these gamers are thought to be too disconnected with the public is absurd. The different between marathon gaming and periodically gaming is very little is the brand scheme of things. It comes down to opinion. And a reviewers job is to give his opinion, and more often than not their experience is similar to the one they advise to their subscribers. Readers understand the environment that these game reviews occur under and it is up to personal judgment whether they agree or not.

It has become a successful relationship between the gamer and the reviewer and I don’t believe that the idea of an “executive gamer” should not be looked down upon. And with the trend of game journalist turning over to developer side, their knowledge and expertise are not something to look over or take lightly when it comes to judgment.

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3 comments

  1. “Readers understand the environment that these game reviews occur under…”

    To be blunt I totally disagree with this sentiment. I don’t think the average consumer has a clue how game reviews take place. In fact at a GDC panel moderated by Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal, where he solicited questions from developers for a panel of games journalists, the majority of the questions were regarding the review process. If game developers themselves don’t understand the review process how can consumers be expected to?

    I don’t think Tim’s concern was so much with the speed at which journalists or other “executive gamers” played games but in the mindset they brought to them. They are playing them as a means to an end and not an end in itself. This something I know I am guilty of and I believe anybody discussing games in a critical fashion (Journalists, enthusiast bloggers) is likely to have taken this attitude to a game at least once. We want to comment on the latest game and so we play it with a different mindset to those who consume it purely for entertainment. I know I am guilt of this myself with Braid.

    I used to work with a group of people who were avid gamers, none of them thought about games on the level that I did, they were entertainment not necessarily something to be critiqued or analysed. I could discuss games with them but such discussion never went beyond the superficial “entertainment value” layer. These were not unintelligent people they were gamers all of them, they just had a totally different attitude to games, an attitude I find is generally not shared by games journalists or game critics. Quite simply “executive gamers” are out of touch with the vast majority of gamers, just as out of touch as either you or I. The very fact we are discussing this topic means that we are thinking about games in a totally different way to the majority.

    Yes there are intelligent people who enjoy informed criticism and discourse about games and gaming, but we are the vocal minority. If your job is to be a consumer adviser then you need to understand what those consumers are actually looking for and what issues they care about. Personally I’m glad that there’s a group of game reviewers and critics that are looking for engaged and enlightened discourse, but I do worry that for the majority of consumers this is exactly what they are not looking for. The average consumer wants to know if a particular game is worth their time and money, and that can be a very difficult assessment to make when you are professionally playing games.


  2. Thanks for the comment Justin. I remember hearing that panel at GDC last year and I have the suspicion that many game developers were just using the forum to find out how to get a better score on Metacritic. 😛

    But do I think you are giving many developers the short end of the stick in terms of what they think of their own product. I talked to a friend whose game was reviewed by Yahtzee at Zero Punctuation and he completely agreed with the many issues the online personality had against his game. Much of the fault was in the time they had to test the game and the business model for developing and releasing games.

    In response to your opinion of reviewers and their mindset, I would agree that they play games at a means to an end and that can be problematic. But most film reviewers I know see movies as a means to an end as well. However, their opinion of the film comes from their own barometer whether they can recommend the film or not. To be a responsible reviewer you should and need to understand your own limitations and your responsibility whether you recommend something as a purchase or even a rental for videogames.

    Though it does seem that we are in our little bubble when it comes to thinking critically about games. But I do believe we are a necessary to an extent for elevating, and at times justifying, our hobbies to the masses. You bring up a lot of great points concerning the average consumer and perhaps I am misjudging the audience.

    I think the biggest problem faced today in games criticism is the format with which games are reviewed on. It becomes more of a grocery list of comments on the elements of the game and not the substance. I believe when “executive gamers” stop reviewing in this form we will have much deeper discussion about what makes a good game and a good purchase for the consumer.


  3. I don’t think developers are naive when it comes to the quality of their product, in fact I think often they can be over harsh.

    I think such critical discussion is vital to the industry but I also feel that for the majority of game consumers it is irrelevant they are looking for a score and a recommendation of whether they should buy it or not.

    This can be seen by the response GFW Magazine and EGM got when they tried to review games without scores.

    I think such a view is limited but I appreciate that for a lot of people it is a mindset they are unlikely to change.



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