Reviewing the review policy

Back in early 2017 I wrote several posts where I mentioned not enjoying writing video game reviews. Having previously come from a blog which was heavily review-focused with strict formatting templates, at that time I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather write less.

Blogging started as a creative outlet in 2013 but it had changed into something different and less fulfilling after three years. I eventually realised I was approaching each new gaming experience in a way that was almost clinical. Always having one eye on the lookout for material for the next article had turned my hobbies from something fun into essentially a job; and stepping back from it made me see I’d forgotten about the pleasure that comes from simply playing a video game.

Eastshade, video game, countryside, mountains, hot-air balloon, easel, canvas, painting

It’s therefore no wonder I stayed away from review-writing for a long time after starting Later Levels in late 2016. I avoided accepting free releases from developers because doing so came with an obligation to produce a post, and I just didn’t have enough spare time to be able to play a title quickly or thoroughly enough to be able to do a summary of it justice. In addition, I didn’t want to spend my free hours playing a game I wasn’t enjoying yet was unable to stop because of a promise I’d made.

Over years since however I’ve slowly found myself entering back into review territory. This shift feels like a natural transition: I like both playing video games and writing about them, so why wouldn’t I want to share my thoughts? The difference now though is structure. Whereas there were formal guidelines for sections and numerical grading for the old blog, nowadays it’s more organic – as the Later Levels’ policy states, there is no set format for reviews.

Sometimes I’ll begin by writing about a particular gameplay aspect of a title and the draft will slowly develop into a critique. This is what happened with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard as I liked the way it handled playable cutscenes through VHS tapes; and Silence, because it contained a spoiler which ruined it for me. Other times I’ll write about a game as a whole if it made me feel something special. This was the case for Eastshade, an absolutely beautiful release which is now on my list of favourites.

Regular Later Levels visitors may have realised there are very few negative reviews here and the reason for that is quite simple: I don’t enjoy writing them. There are thousands of other summaries of the same game out there so I don’t need to provide one on the blog if I choose not to. I’m not scared to share a negative opinion about something I’ve played, but if I find myself not looking forward to writing once I’m sitting in front of my laptop then I’ll step away from the keyboard.

Downward Spiral, Horus Station, space, planet, stars, arms

That’s not always possible though. Accepting a free key from a publisher doesn’t mean you’re legally required to publish a review, but it does mean you’re somewhat obliged to do so. Taking a game can be seen as an agreement and I’d feel guilty if I didn’t follow through on my end of the bargain. This was the case for Downward Spiral: Horus Station last year: sadly there were very few positive things I could say about the title, but I wanted to meet my obligations as a blogger.

It’s situations like this which have made me realise it’s vital not to accept every key you’re offered. As mentioned above, it’s important to remember to play video games for playing’s sake and there’s no point in wasting your time on a release you’re probably not going to enjoy. I now stick to taking keys for point-and-clicks and narrative titles only, and have built a relationship with a certain PR person with a similar taste in video games so she knows the sort of things I’d be interested in.

If you don’t yet have a review policy for your blog, think about creating one so visitors know what to expect. It will give you the chance to set out the standards for what you do and don’t cover, the way you’ll share your opinions and whether you’ll accept free keys, so there won’t be any surprises for both publishers and readers. Try to create something that works for both you and your site because, and I’m speaking from experience: it’s no longer fun when it turns into a job.

Critiques here on Later Levels may change again at some point in the future. But returning to them after several years away has been a positive experience and I’m happy with the way they’re turning out right now. Maybe one day I’ll actually use the medium of interpretive dance, like I’ve stated in the review policy – who knows?

13 thoughts on “Reviewing the review policy

  1. I got bored with reviewing video games myself on my site. I’m trying to make it more thoughts & opinions when it comes to video games. As for accessories I’ll still review those. I have more fun reviewing accessories.


  2. Reviews are just… So high effort. xD

    I’ve done a few near-review ‘impression’ posts, and one actual review, but the effort that goes into doing them properly is just too high to be sustainably fun for a hobby blogger like myself.

    I don’t object to doing the odd one, but I’d very much want to avoid becoming beholden to more than one such post at a time, I think. And as you say — ensuring you say no to anything not of actual interest would be important to keeping the fun factor up.


    • A good review can take a lot of work! I do enjoy writing them occasionally but my previous blog taught me it’s so important to have fun, both with writing and playing video games.

      It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of free keys, and it’s flattering when developers contact you. I’ve had a few bad experiences over the years though and have had to slog through titles that just aren’t entertaining so now I put a lot more consideration into the ones I actually accept. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you pretty much only play MMORPGs as I do, reviewing just means an endless sequence of posts about what you’re doing and what’s changing in the game. I realize pro sites have to come up with some kind of review whenever a high profile MMO releases but really it’s a futile excercise and everyone knows it.

    I do do a lot of “First Impressions” pieces, though. For most players all they’ll ever see of any MMO is the tutorial and maybe the first few levels. The drop-out rate is incredibly high. It’s easy to summarize that experience and it’s all most readers are ever going to need or be interested in.

    As for enjoying reviewing, reviews are one of the most fun things you can write! Reviews should never be about whether to buy the game – reviewers aren’t personal shoppers. Reviews should be entertaining in and of themselves. As a reviewer what you’re selling is your ability to entertain and amuse as well to inform. Reviews are fantastic opportunities to be witty, sarcastic, ironic, whimsical, cynical or gosh-wow naive. They offer one of the best plartforms to try out different writing styles, approaches and personas. I really should take my own advice here. I don’t do as many reviews as I should – or could. I think I used to do more. Not sure why that stopped.

    I’d point to Killed In A Smiling Accident as a template for how to review video games in a way that tells you something about the game but makes you more keen to read more reviews by the writer than to play anything he’s writing about. Wilhem at The Ancient Gaming Noob is also geat at reviews that make you feel you understand the experience of playing the game without actually having it all tabulated out in a predictable format. Even Tobold is quite good at it, dry though his style is and his old Nemesis, SynCaine is a master at getting everything you need to know into a sharp and cynical handful of paragraphs.

    Plenty of good reviewers out there in blogland, al with their own styles. I enjoy reading all of them.


    • “Reviewers aren’t personal shoppers.” Love it. This is so true. ❤

      Video games are subjective and everyone plays for different reasons. If you're going to look to reviews for recommendations, it's important to find a writer who has similar tastes but can remain unbiased – and it sounds like you've done that with the creators you've mentioned above. I much prefer reading a review when it feels as though their personality is coming through and I'm getting to know the person behind them.


  4. I’m glad that you now feel in a position to return to reviewing games on your own terms. The reasons you have mentioned above are pretty much the reasons I don’t make reviews. I found that I wasn’t enjoying writing them for the most part and I think that may be because I didn’t have a policy in place.

    I’m very much into the same types of games as you so it would be very interesting to talk to you some more about your process, so that I may be able to better myself and provide valuable content to my readers.

    This was a great read that I connected with personally and I’m looking forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      The biggest lesson I learnt from my first blog was that if you’re not enjoying writing something, then it’s important to stop. It can feel as though you’re giving up on a post but it’s the only way to move forward! Right now I’m enjoying writing reviews and I’ll keep doing it as long as it remains fun. Feel free to drop me a line whenever you want to chat. 😉


  5. I haven’t done many reviews lately, but I think I needed to read this. I remember being so caught up in thinking about reviews and pushing to complete a game that I stopped enjoying it as much. I do love writing reviews though! I think I just need to keep striving for a balance. I think I’m on the right track now, but we’ll see lol


    • I think that when you play a game simply to review it, that review loses all its heart and readers can no longer see the personality of the writer behind it. Now I make sure I keep asking myself whether I’m enjoying playing something or writing a particular post – and if I’m not, then I stop! Except when it comes to fishing in ESO, obviously.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m going to try and keep this in mind even more as I go! I think I’ve done well lately, as evidenced by me playing a bunch of older games and not worrying as much about that stuff. But we will see as time goes on!! 😛 And I understand: that ESO fishing must be addictiing!! hahaha

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As soon as my blog went live I made sure to include a specific page about my review process and how I approach writing. My intention was never to try to say “this game is good, you should buy it!” but moreso to focus on discussing what I feel like the game in question did well and what it didn’t. I guess my point is that different kinds of reviews have different merits/appeal depending on what people are looking for. But I love basing mine on my opinions, and chatting with other people about theirs – it’s one of the most fun parts of getting your thoughts out there!


    • I really like it when blogs include a page setting out their review policy as it advises everyone on what to expect! It also helps me figure out whether the writer is going to give the kind of recommendations I’m looking for and if their suggestions are going to be good ones for me. I enjoy reading people’s opinions on games and seeing their personality come through – that’s much more fun than reading through a dry review with no personality whatsoever. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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