Writing Your First Freelance Video Game Review

July 21, 2016
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So the big moment has arrived. An online gaming publication has given you the greenlight to write your first game review.

  • Where do you begin?
  • What should you talk about?
  • How long should you play the game for?
  • How much time do you need to write your review?

These and other questions are probably swirling through your head right now. But fear not! I am here to provide you with some handy tips for crafting a review that is both professional-looking and infused with your personal flair.

Time Limits & Commitments

Since many online gaming publications don’t provide reviewers with an advanced review copy of a particular game, chances are high you’ll have to snag a copy of the game after it is released to the public. And since many gamers usually read a game’s review on the day it comes out or maybe a few days after, that means you’re working within a narrow window to play through the game, write the review, edit it, and get it to the site you’re writing it for.

As a general rule of thumb, most online publications usually expect a game’s review to be up on their site no more than a week after the game has been released.

Now, don’t panic, because if you do it right a solid review doesn’t actually take too much time to write. You also don’t have to devote hours upon hours playing a game to form a solid opinion on it (7-10 hours is more than enough).

Jotting Down Notes

One important habit to develop early is to take notes as you play.

  • Does a specific element of the game stand out to you?
  • Are there any glaring problems?
  • How well do the game’s unique features (if any) work for you?
  • What elements excited or bored you?
  • How does the game compare to competing games?

Having a handy list of notes can help you quickly recall your likes and dislikes, and even certain emotions you had experienced during and after gameplay.

Word Length & Substance

Writing a good review is all about maintaining balance. You want to provide the reader with essential details and insightful opinions without bogging them down with unnecessary details and useless musings.

You’re not just reciting a list of the game’s features and faults, nor are you crafting an epic and immersive blow-by-blow recounting of the game’s entire narrative.

A typical word count for a finished review should be around 1,000 words: some sites might want more (maybe 1,200 to 1,500 words), and some might want less (800 to 900 words).

Several factors can determine the length of the review, two of which include:

  1. A big triple: an expansive or in-depth game like an RPG. You’ll want to shoot for that 1,000+ word goal.
  2. An indie game: a lesser-known indie game or a smaller game like a mobile phone or handheld app. You can focus less on length and more on substance, 800-900 words.

When deciding what to cover in your review, many gaming sites will want you to discuss:

Even if you don’t normally pay attention to a certain element, such as a game’s music or graphics, it’s important to mention what the game offers in those key areas as they could matter a great deal to the reader.

However, don’t force yourself into devoting more time to a subject than you feel comfortable doing. If you admire a particular part of a game, write about it! Readers always enjoy reading about how much the reviewer enjoyed a certain element of a game, rather than staring at a few stock paragraphs showing how “neat” or “interesting” the reviewer thought another element was.

Polishing Your Review

Once you’ve played through the game, jotted down notes, and crafted your review, the next steps are important:

  • Step away from your review and wait a couple hours, maybe even a whole day if you can spare it.
  • Give your brain some time to refresh itself and then go back and read through your review again.
  • Correct any spelling/grammar/punctuation errors you find.
  • Fix any sentences that look awkward. (If a sentence sounds awkward when you say it out loud, then it’ll probably look awkward to your readers.)
  • Break up any paragraphs that are too long.
  • Let a trusted friend or relative read through your review to find any errors that you may have missed.

Any error that you catch now is one less error your site’s editor will have to fix.

If your editor wants you to provide images for your review, Google’s Image Search is your best friend. Just make sure:

  • the image fits the site’s size requirements (if any);
  • the image doesn’t contain another site’s watermark (which is usually located in one of the image’s lower corners); and
  • you have permission to use the image, or the image is released into the public domain, or is sharable under a Creative Commons license.

If you need to resize any images or screenshots, you can use the free online browser program Pixlr.com to do just that.

Submitting Your Review

When your review is all set, spell-checked, proofread, and edited, and you’ve picked out a few images if needed, now all that’s left is to submit your review and breathe a deep sigh of relief. Usually what will happen next is one of the site’s editors will look over your review, make changes that are needed, and then post the review to their site for the world to admire. Most editors offer some form of feedback, whether it’s advice, praise, or criticism. Be sure to share your live review with anyone you know!

While writing a solid game review may seem like a daunting task at first, it gets easier the more you do it. You’ll also find that the more reviews you write, the better quality they’ll become. Just remember that a review is about more than just listing what’s good and what’s bad about a game. It’s an opportunity to delve in and express your thoughts through a medium that can reach millions of Internet users worldwide. Every great game reviewer has to start somewhere; hopefully this article will make your first game review less intimidating to tackle.

About the author:

Shortly after graduating from college, Nate realized that his writing skills were at their strongest when he applied them towards what he is truly passionate about: gaming. While he does enjoy covering the latest happenings within the gaming industry, Nate is also keenly aware of how gaming affects other aspects of our culture such as politics, history, social media, and the arts and, naturally, enjoys writing about them even more so. Nate is currently based in his home state of Massachusetts where he balances his freelance writing career along with helping his folks care for their three horses.

Also by Nathaniel Hohl:
1. How to Use Your Publisher’s Backend Content Management System (article)
2. Engage Your Video Game Readers with These Five Article Templates (article)

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