Do you need to complete a game to review it?

My relationship with video game reviews has evolved over the years. After publishing them every week to then stopping completely, I now exist somewhere in the middle where I write them whenever the mood takes me or there’s an obligation to do so.

At the time of drafting this post, I’m trying to complete an upcoming title for which the developer kindly sent me a key. I don’t accept them as frequently as I used to and don’t look at all those I receive, because I’ve learnt it’s important to play video games for playing’s sake and there’s no point in slogging through something which isn’t your cup of tea. I now take review keys for point-and-clicks and narrative release only, as it’s more likely I’ll find something I’ll enjoy if I stick to my preferred genres.

This should be the case with this current game. The forty minutes I spent with a demo during one of the Steam Game Festivals last year showed promise of a sweet adventure with an interesting storyline and logical puzzles. The thing is though, I’m stuck. I’ve been searching for an object or what I need to make it for over two hours now and I have no idea what else to try. Although I don’t have a problem with checking a walkthrough when I need to, none have been published so far as the title hasn’t yet been released.

Sure, I could get in touch with the developer and ask for a hint, but it doesn’t feel entirely right to do so and I’m struggling to put my finger on why. Maybe it’s to do with pride? I’d feel embarrassed if their response pointed towards an obvious solution that I’d overlooked. The game is due to come out in two days’ time so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to finish and write a post about it before then – and it’s this situation that made me start thinking about whether you need to fully complete a release to be able to review it.

The default answer on many forums is ‘yes’ but commentors seem to have a range of opinions when it comes to the definition of ‘finishing’. Does it mean experiencing every possible bit of content within a title? Do you need to go for 100% completion or just get through the central storyline? What about games like Minecraft where no such thing exists, or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim where the main quest-line is only a fraction of the whole? And what about those releases where certain content is optional?

Although I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer, I certainly think there’s a line. For example, there’s no way you could play an hour of something like Horizon Zero Dawn and then be knowledgeable enough to write a full critique. The reviewer needs to at least get to a point where they feel confident in saying they understand what the title is trying to do and the message it’s attempting to convey, but even this doesn’t account for unforeseen plot-twists or mechanic changes that appear late in the game.

Maybe it’s more appropriate to publish a review about an unfinished release when it’s light on narrative and focused on gameplay? Let’s consider a simple example. I shared my thoughts on colouring-by-numbers title Coloring Pixels in September 2019 after completing several of the images. It didn’t feel necessary to wait until I’d finished all those available back then because, once I’d had my fill of clicking, the only thing that was going to change was the size of the pictures.

But adventure games are different and more complex. It’s impossible to properly critique a release which concentrates on narrative when you haven’t witnessed how the entire storyline unfolds; and there’s always the possibility of a bad puzzle right at the end which spoils the whole experience. But what about choice-based entries in the genre where the conclusion depends on your decisions? Do you have to keep replaying until you’ve seen all of them or will just once suffice for review purposes?

As a general principle, I’ve always set out to complete at least the main storyline in a game before writing about it. And in those situations where it isn’t yet available to the public or I’ve played only the demo, I’ll classify the post as a preview so there’s a boundary and readers know what to expect. But what about those titles I really don’t enjoy and can’t bring myself to finish, yet still want to write about? Should I force myself to continue with them even if I’m bored or frustrated?

My immediate answer is ‘no’. There’s absolutely no sense in wasting your precious free hours on something which isn’t entertaining. Although my review policy explains that I usually choose not to cover games I haven’t enjoyed, if there did happen to be one at some point, the post would make it clear that I hadn’t reached the end and go over the reasons why. This behaviour is something I’d respect from other bloggers too – but would I feel the same if it were a journalist?

blogging, laptop, hands, keyboard

On one hand, I think it’s important to take a step back and remember that people who review video games for a living are just like us. They have adult responsibilities, family commitments and conflicting priorities at work, and having to slog through a terrible release is soul-destroying for anyone. But on the other, journalists are paid for their content. I’m expected to complete projects fully as part of my job so shouldn’t they have to finish releases in their entirety before reviewing them?

Even after spending the afternoon writing this discussion, I’m still no clearer on where I stand on this subject and can’t give a definitive answer to most of the questions raised here. I guess it depends on what the release is, why you’re reviewing it, whether you received it from a developer or purchased it yourself, how much free time you have available and a whole bunch of other factors. What do you think: do you need to complete a game to be able to review it?

As for the title I’m playing right now, I’d like to finish it before publishing my post. The developer was kind enough to send me a review key and I’d like to show them the same respect by completing their project and doing it justice. There’s only two days to go now until it’s released. Hopefully someone will publish a walkthrough straight away and I can finally find that damn object.

Save point: goals for 2021

In Wednesday’s post, I looked back at 2020 and how Later Levels had done during its fourth year. Publishing the figures was a little scary but sharing this information will help me to grow as a blogger and might be of some use to those around me too.

It’s now time to look ahead to the coming 12 months. It’s hard to predict how the blogging landscape may change in 2021 because we’re living in strange times right now and so much is unknown about the future. But I’ve said that I hope to see a return to the community aspect and more collaborations, and if that wish is going to come true then I’ve got to do something to give it a helping hand. So let’s see what I’ve got planned for Later Levels during 2021…

Start: making The Great Blog Crawl an annual event

The Great Blog Crawl came out of a discussion between Ellen from Ace Asunder and I about the things were missing most during the COVID-19 lockdown. We decided to create a community event where we could recreate an evening spent with friends in the pub, while at the same time promoting the awesome bloggers in the community. Participants were sent on a ‘scavenger hunt’ around 50 of the best blogs before joining us for a ‘virtual pub’ stream, where Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes was declared the winner.

Ellen and I would like to make The Great Blog Crawl an annual event and increase the number of sites involved to perhaps 100. The only things standing in our way are the risk of low interest from members of the community along with our energy levels – which, let’s face it, were both been hit hard during 2020. But we don’t know if we don’t try and therefore it’s important we give it a go, so look out for further details about a 2021 event during the first quarter of the year.

Do more: commenting on other posts

blogging, laptop, hands, keyboardSomething I was incredibly guilty of in 2020 was leaving likes on posts I’ve enjoyed but not comments. After deciding to stop spending so much of my life online in July, the amount of time I’ve devoted to reading blogs and my enthusiasm for digital discussions has decreased. But the community aspect of blogging is all about conversation so this is something I need to change for 2021; and I’m therefore going to make more of an effort to comment on articles and chat to their authors.

Continue: streaming and raising awareness for SpecialEffect

JustGiving, LaterLevels, GameBlast20, SpecialEffectOne of the highlights of last year was completing our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20. We knew it was going to be demanding in terms of time and effort, and we weren’t sure we’d make it through the entire period, but reaching the end was an amazing feeling. I’ll continue to support and raise awareness for SpecialEffect, a charity which helps physically-disabled people to experience the joy of video games, and can’t wait for everything we’ve got lined up for GameBlast21 in February – including seeing Pete in that Pikachu costume.

Do less: admin for The Support Role

Last January was the beginning of The Support Role, a Discord server created by Luke from Hundstrasse and myself through a desire to make it easier for bloggers to get advice and support each other. It has now grown to include over 75 members and 20 channels on a variety of blogging, streaming and gaming subjects, and it has been lovely seeing members of the community interact in discussions and collaborations. Thank you to everyone there who helped make it what it is.

It’s time for us to step away from managing the server however, as both Luke and I have increased work commitments coming up in 2021 and need to take a step back so we can focus on other areas. We won’t be disappearing completely though and this isn’t the end of the group: the reigns have been handed over to the very-capable Gaming Diaries and Dan from nowisgames.com so please make them feel at home! New members are welcome and you can join the server using this link.

Stop: posting weekly #BloggerTalk questions

#BloggerTalkThe #BloggerTalk weekly community event also started in January last year and saw a blogging question posed to the community every Thursday. Although I’m grateful to everybody who joined in and shared their experiences on Twitter, it didn’t encourage as much conversation as I’d hoped for and some weeks were very quiet. I therefore don’t think there’s much to be gained from repeating the event in 2021; but who knows, it may make a return at some point in the future if the mood feels right.

Hopefully I’ll look back on today’s post this time next year and feel a sense of accomplishment at having completed some of these goals. Saying that though, it’s important to remember that blogging should be fun and this has always been the ultimate aim for me. As long as I can say I’ve enjoyed myself over the past 12 months, then I’ll consider them to have been a success – and that’s just the incentive I need to keep moving forward and carry on writing here at Later Levels.

So what have you got planned for 2021? Whatever your goals are, I hope they’re within reach and bring you much happiness this year.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Save point: a review of 2020

Tomorrow is the final day of 2020. It’s time for taking stock, looking back over our achievements and being proud of the fact that we made it through such a strange year. It’s also the perfect opportunity to consider where we want to go in the future.

I decided to publish a proper end-of-year review for the first time in December 2019. It was something I was initially nervous about because I’ve never really taken resolutions and goals for the blog that seriously, but then I realised: sharing this information wouldn’t only help me grow as a blogger, it might be useful to others out this too. Now I’m back with the 2020 edition to look over the past 12 months so let’s find out how Later Levels did and think about how this could potentially shape the site in 2021.

2020 overview
Followers:

  • WordPress:   1,667
  • Twitter:   627
  • Facebook:   92
  • Instagram:   236
  • Twitch:   200
  • Posts:

  • Total published:   221 posts
  • Most popular:   The Longing: knowing Shade
  • Most liked:   Blogging awards: breaking the chain
  • Most discussed:   Keeping my blogging to myself
  • My favourite:   Never growing up: too old for gaming?
  • Traffic:

  • Views:   33,075
  • Visitors:   18,958
  • Likes:   4,682
  • Comments:   2,298
  • Best day:   06:00 on Mondays
  • Achievements:

  • Raised £600 for SpecialEffect as part of GameBlast20
  • Participated in game-swaps with several blogger-friends
  • Hosted The Great Blog Crawl with Ellen from Ace Asunder
  • Mentioned during a SpecialEffect stream
  • Made more good friends through both WordPress and Twitch
  • Games played:

  • Played:   85 games
  • Completed:   56 games
  • Demos played:   42 demos
  • Previewed and reviewed:   39 games
  • Kickstarted:   10 games
  • Games of note:

  • Favourite played:   The Painscreek Killings
  • Favourite of 2020:   The Longing
  • Least favourite:   Thomas Was Alone
  • Favourite Kickstarter:   Chinatown Detective Agency
  • Most looking forward to:   Book of Travels
  • 2020 charts: blog

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    Views, visitors, likes and comments

    Although the average views per month has increased every year since Later Levels started in December 2017, a strange trend occurred in 2020: the number of views and unique visitors increased substantially since June. I believe I know the reason for this however and give an explanation in one of the sections below. The statistics might look good but the data is so skewed that it’s hard to get a true picture of how well the blog performed this year, because I can’t tell how many of these hits are from ‘true’ readers.

    The only thing I can say for certain is that the number of comments left on posts is dropping and COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the blogging community. At the start of the lockdown period in March, we saw an increase in the number of people turning to blogging and video games to fill their hours; then many moved over to more interactive platforms such as Twitch and podcasting as they sought social interactions; and now people are taking time out for themselves as they become digitally-drained as a result of lockdown-lifestyle.

    I understand this very well, having felt a similar way back in June after organisers of many of the annual expos decided to take their events online rather than completely cancel. In July I made the decision to take a break and I stopped spending so much of my life online. The hours I now devote to reading blog posts and commenting on them has reduced as a result; and as I’ve written before, how can you expect anyone to leave messages on your articles if you’re not doing the same in return?

    Best days and times

    Like 2019, the best time of the week for Later Levels visits remains on Monday morning – although the time has changed from 06:00 to 07:00 in the past year. The blog parties still seem to be a driver for this as they take place at the start of the week and these posts always receive the highest number of likes and comments. In an attempt not to skew the data any more than it already is (see above), I’ve removed these events from the overview table given at the start of this review.

    Saturday, 29 March 2019 is still the day that had the best views ever and I’m still unable to work out why. No posts were published on this date and, although there were a few big blogging events on the site that month, they all occurred well before or after. The best I’ve been able to come up with looking at the WordPress statistics is that a particular visitor from the UK checked out an awful lot of posts on that day – although I’m unable to say who this was and what they were looking for.

    Popular posts

    The most popular post during 2020 by far was The Longing: knowing Shade. Now why on earth would an article about a small indie game that really won’t be to everybody’s tastes have done so well? I think have the answer. In digging through the WordPress Stats and Insights, I was able to discover that a link had been placed on a somewhat dodgy-looking website where you can apparently find places to download the game for free. Sorry to anybody who found the post this way: you’re not getting any pirated freebies here.

    The next most popular posts were Twitch tips: advice for new streamers and Good games for non-gamers. As mentioned above, many people have turned to streaming during the COVID-19 lockdown and are looking for guidance on getting started; and non-gamers have been searching out new pastimes to fill the additional free hours. I’m sad to report once again that there were no rude search terms for this year – and I have no idea how 53 people managed to find the blog after entering ‘amazon’ into Google.

    Friends and commenters

    The WordPress statistics show an average of 10 comments and 21 likes were left for each post published during 2020. The lovely people mentioned in the tweet opposite deserve a round of applause: between them, they left a total of 221 comments so we clearly had a lot to talk about. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes and Nathan from Gaming Omnivore through their streams after our game-swaps; and Ellen from Ace Asunder has become a good friend this year thanks to a shared love of cats and memes.

    It’s hard to predict how the blogging landscape may change in 2021 because so much is unknown. I’m hoping we’ll start to see a return of the community aspect and more collaborations over the coming year but perhaps that’s a little too much to ask for, considering everything else happening in the world right now. The silver-lining of 2020 has been the bloggers whom I’ve had a chance to know better and being able to support each other through these tough times.

    2020 charts: Twitch

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    Streaming statistics

    New for 2020, I’ve added statistics for the Later Levels’ Twitch channel into the review post as we started streaming consistently this year. This began when we decided to attempt the 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 throughout January and February: a stream of at least an hour each day for that period rounded off with a 24-hour marathon. Although it took a whole lot of effort and sore thumbs, we managed to raise awareness and funds for SpecialEffect and made us realise how much we enjoyed playing games on Twitch.

    There’s an obvious dip in the figures for June and this correlates with my decision to take a break. As a result of the lockdown, I felt as though I’d been living too much of my life online – work, socialising and entertainment – and needed to step away for a while. This resulted in me writing a short series of posts about our experiences with streaming in July and, as mentioned above, one of them turned out to be the second most viewed article during 2020.

    We’ve decided to stick to a streaming schedule going forward because it feels like the best way to keep ourselves motivated. But this comes with a caveat: since the summer, we’ve agreed to give ourselves the space to be able to pull out of a scheduled stream if something arises or we’re just not feeling it. Streaming should be fun and it won’t be that for us if we start treating it like a job; statistics don’t mean anything if you’re not enjoying yourself, raising awareness for a worthy cause and spending time with friends.

    So there you have it: a round-up of Later Levels’ performance over the last 12 months. But what does this mean for 2021? Come back on Friday for a post sharing my blogging goals for the coming year and in the meantime, have a very happy New Year’s Eve tomorrow.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    #CreativeChristmasCollab: in celebration of friendship and memes

    Christmas is a time for coming together, celebrating friendship and playing video games. 2020 is no different despite its weirdness, and the lovely Chris Durston has put together an event to raise our festive spirits.

    Chris’s aim for the #CreativeChristmasCollab is to make this year a little less strange by bringing the community here in our WordPress group closer together. Participating bloggers were asked to provide a link to one of their favourite posts and then, after he’d worked his Secret-Santa-style magic, write something nice about the person we’d been matched up with and their article. I can now reveal who I’ve been gifted for this collaboration: the lovely Ellen from Ace Asunder.

    I laughed when I received Chris’s message and saw her name. You see, although Ellen and I have always been in the same blogging circles, we started getting to know each other properly about a year ago and now talk pretty much every day. We’ve joined forces to run several community-events together too, the most recent being this summer’s Great Blog Crawl, and it’s something we’re hoping we can bring back again for 2021 but in an even bigger and better format.

    But she’s more than just ‘someone I know from blogging’. I now consider her to be a friend in real-life regardless of the fact we’re almost 3,000 miles apart, have never met in person and COVID-19 screwed up our plans to change that. The past several months have been tough for everyone and Ellen is always on hand to listen and give advice whenever I’ve needed it – as well as plenty of memes for those days where I’ve been stuck in eight conference calls in a row.

    She’s also been there with a huge amount of support right from the start of our GameBlast21 plans. It’s thanks to her that our cat Zelda appeared in the promotional video for the event and the team received a lovely mention during one of SpecialEffect’s streams. We always look forward to completing gaming marathons for the charity, but we’re now even more hyped for next February and are looking forward to roping genniz0rz (Ellen’s Twitch name) in for a few games.

    When Chris told me about his collaboration idea, I thought I’d take the subject of the article created by the person I’d been matched with and dedicate a post to them on the same topic. That’s difficult here though because, in a similar vein to Ellen’s The Legends of Twitch, I’ve already written about some of my favourite streamers from the community and shared this back in July. So instead, I’ve come up with something different to celebrate our friendship and I think she’s going to approve.

    As mentioned above, she’s always there with a meme whenever you need one and we’ve sent so many to each other over the past months. Our favourite subjects seem to be cats, making it through the coronapocalypse or dealing with working in an office. Check out the gallery below to see some of the best, being mindful that a few of them contain strong language – and make sure you go visit Ellen at Ace Asunder and on Twitch.

    #StrengthInSarcasm

    Memes 2020 photo gallery

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    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    Gamers’ blog party: winter 2020 invitation

    Christmas may be less than two weeks away but before that: it’s time for the latest blog party here at Later Levels. There’s no better way to celebrate this time of year as well as meet some new blogging friends and read their awesome posts.

    The rules are simple:

    🎉   Arrive at the party: don’t be shy and stand in the corner – say hello and introduce yourself in the comments below! Give an introduction to your blog to welcome new readers and let us know what you’re all about.

    🎉   Present your gift: think about the posts you’ve written this year and choose your favourite or one which was fun to write. Leave a link to it in your comment and explain why you’ve picked it.

    🎉   Show us your festive spirit: a blog party is nothing without good music and video games. Tell us which favourite festive tune you’ve brought with you, and the video game you’ll be playing this holiday season.

    🎉   Mingle: grab yourself a drink, put on a party hat and get to know your fellow guests! Check back on the comments throughout the day to discover excellent sites and meet new bloggers.

    🎉   Party all day: the comments below will be open for 24-hours until 06:00 GMT on Tuesday, 15 December 2020 so you’ve got plenty of time to meet and greet. Plus your posts will be shared on the Later Levels’ social media channels!

    These blog party events are my way of giving something back to the amazing WordPress community and showing my appreciation for all of your support. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some lovely people and talented writers since starting the site at the end of 2016; here’s a little thank you and a way of finding some awesome blogs you may not have come across already.

    Have fun – and excuse me while I grab some more ice for the drinks and turn the music up louder!

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    Blogging awards: breaking the chain

    Blogging awards usually involve sharing guidance for other bloggers. This is the case for one I was nominated for recently: the rules stated I’d need to give Later Levels’ origin story along with five pieces of advice before nominating five to 12 other bloggers to take a turn.

    I was totally stumped and had no idea what to write. Drafting a response post to a separate award nomination just the week before meant I was all out of new advice and I’d already explained how the blog came to life in previous posts. Hoping it might give me some inspiration, I decided to stop staring at the blank screen on my laptop and instead figure out where this current award had originally come from because it wasn’t one I’d ever heard of in my seven years of blogging.

    blogging, laptop, hands, keyboard

    Tracing back through the chain didn’t take long at all because it had only been in existence for several weeks. In their originating post, the author explained how the award had been created to build links within the community and collate a pool of useful tips that everybody here could benefit from. I struggled to see how it was different from the other honours doing the rounds though; its rules sounded awfully like several other existing awards and I wasn’t sure what this new one added.

    I then noticed that the creator had given their own guidance for new bloggers and had mentioned search engine optimisation (SEO) in one of their tips. Anyone who’s ever read a website or book about the subject will be familiar with the practice of improving your search rankings by getting a link back to your blog on as many good sites as possible. A blogging award where nominees are required to give up to 12 nominees of their own along with a link to this original post seemed very convenient right about now.

    I realise just how cynical I sound. My negativity is in part brought on by what we’ve experienced over the past eight months because the ever-present risk of COVID-19 has done a wonderful job of sucking the motivation out of me. Combine this with recently looking at how blogging had changed over the years and the disappointing realisation that it’s far less community-orientated than it used to be, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this award had an almost chain-letter smell about it.

    I realise that such recognitions are meant to be a sincere way of celebrating our blogging efforts and I really am honoured each time Later Levels is included. But let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s time to finally admit that they’re a pain in the butt. As mentioned above, it can be difficult to give advice you haven’t already shared, provide different answers to questions you’ve been asked several times or tell your origin story in words you haven’t used before.

    blog, award, awesome, epic, trophies

    There’s also the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to nominate someone who hasn’t already been recognised because we all have friends in the same blogging circles. And once you’ve finally managed to choose your people, it’s impossible not to put them under any pressure to accept an award no matter how much you try. Nominees usually feel obliged to publish a witty response post because they don’t want to be considered ungrateful, unfriendly, or unwilling to get involved.

    I’m not sure I’m ready to do what others have done and put a badge up on the site declaring that it’s an award-free zone though. The truth is that it’s always nice to be recognised – everyone likes to receive a compliment occasionally and hear that their content is appreciated. I’ve also found that the more creative questions asked as part of some awards make for great writing prompts, like this one about explaining horror game storylines to children in a way that doesn’t scare them.

    I just think that there’s got to be a better way of showing your admiration for your blogger-friends than giving them the Blogger Appreciation, Blogger Recognition, Liebster, Mystery Blogger, One Lovely Blog, Real Neat Blog, Sunshine Blogger, Unique Blogger, Versatile Blogger or any of the other awards out there. (I took up almost half a paragraph there just listing those I could remember off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are hundreds more out there.)

    The best thing you can do to show your appreciation for someone’s content is to share it. If there’s a post you particularly enjoyed, don’t keep it to yourself: leave a comment to further the conversation and share the link with others. Write a post about the same subject if you’re feeling inspired to do so and get in touch with the author directly if you’d like to talk to them about it. There’s no need to wait until the next round of blog awards to give a deserving blogger a pat on the back for their hard work.

    make kindness the norm, World Kindness Day

    World Kindness Day is coming up again on Friday and drafting this post has given me an idea for a celebration: a way to give a shout-out to the bloggers we admire and the posts we’ve enjoyed. It’s just a small thing considering everything else going on in the world right now, but maybe a little bit of positivity may be just the thing we need to give ourselves a boost in time for the weekend. Check back later this week to find out what I’ve got planned and how you can get involved.

    And I promise: you won’t need to give your origin story, several pieces of advice or nominate 20 bloggers.