EDITOR’S LETTER: On reviewing and learning

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There’s a learning curve we’re all trying to get past.

Fangirl is an experiment. It’s a test of whether a market exists for the kind of content we produce, the stories we tell and the mission we stand for. It’s also an experiment for each of us individually. All four of the co-founders, and many of our writers and editors, have never taken on a project quite like this one.

The tests come from everywhere. We’re learning how to navigate advertising agreements, staffing, convention coverage and, honestly, just getting enough content on the site every day to satisfy our readers. It’s a massive undertaking on top of the real world jobs most of us have at the moment, and we’re bound to make mistakes.

I want to talk about some of those, both in an effort to be transparent and to grow your understanding of how we do what we do.

Take, for example, our reviewing system. I’ve played games since I was 5 years old, and I’d like to think I have a good handle on what makes or breaks a game’s quality. However, I’ve never been a games journalist, and covering sports for about seven years didn’t quite prepare me for trying to give a review score to the latest title.

Our review of Halo 5: Guardians was a collaborative effort and much more level-headed than previous efforts.

Our review of Halo 5: Guardians was a collaborative effort and much more level-headed than previous efforts.

In the first couple of months the site was live, I gave Destiny’s “House of Wolves” expansion a 10 out of 10. It made sense to me at the time: The downloadable content turned Destiny into a very different experience, and it added enough to make the game the holistic experience everyone expected when Destiny came out.

Fast-forward to “The Taken King.” I’d already given “House of Wolves” a perfect score, so what could I give an even better expansion? A 15? A 20? I’d handcuffed myself because I didn’t have a formula or enough of an understanding of how to put the review together. It was a bit embarrassing, though it largely went unnoticed. I also realized at that time that there’s no such thing as a perfect game and that a 10 overzealous, even if the quality of the expansion was near-perfect.

Since then, I’ve worked on creating criteria for each review. I rank the graphics, the story mode, the multiplayer experience, the soundtrack, the frequency of bugs — everything gets its own score, and then I piece the final number together. Access has been an issue for reviews because we’re a small company emailing big publishers, but we’ve done a better job at consistency with our ratings. Our Halo 5: Guardians review, for example, involved multiple players and more than 40 hours of gameplay between people working on the review. It was a collaborative effort and one that allowed us to create a score that I felt was fair.

I’d handcuffed myself because I didn’t have a formula or enough of an understanding of how to put the review together. It was a bit embarrassing, though it largely went unnoticed.

That doesn’t mean there’s a consensus. Some commenters we saw on Twitter were angry about the number itself without much substance. Others made points we hadn’t considered in the review and provided context we’ll use in the future. I want all of our reviews to have worthwhile context, substantive analysis and be as thorough in their approach as possible, but to get there, we’ll need to screw up a couple (or a couple dozen) times. So bear with us. Help us. Let us know what you think. We’re listening, even when we don’t have time to immediately reply.

As I said, this is all new to us, and it’s a learning experience from the top-down — and hopefully for our readers as well.

Sean Morrison is a co-founder of Fangirl the Magazine. Say hi on Twitter at @sean_morrison.

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