Scott Nichols is creating Good Criticism for Bad Games
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Good Criticism for Bad Games? What's that?

Bad games tend to get shafted when it comes to reviews and critical writing. All too often they are simply written off with a cursory, surface level critique and a general attitude that poor quality makes a game less worthy of examination. This is especially true if you dive into review archives for older games, but the temptation to write reviews as a buyer's guide is still around, and with it the urge to simply inform readers that a game is bad and move on.

Good Criticism for Bad Games is built on the idea that "bad" isn't good enough. I've reviewed my fair share of bad games over the years, and I have found that they are often the reviews that I most enjoy writing. Not because I get to rant and complain, but because critiquing a bad game challenges me as a writer.

Ok, that's a nice mission statement, but what are you actually going to be making?

I am going to put out one Good Criticism for Bad Games feature each month. The initial goal will be $60 per feature, at which point I'll write a 1,500-2,000+ word feature critiquing a different bad game each month. That's significantly less than my usual freelance rate for something that length, but I am really excited to get started with this, so I'm setting the bar low so I can get to it sooner.

The real goal though is if we can hit $150 per feature. At that point I will record a Critical Play video (like a Let's Play, but with less screaming and more thoughtful commentary) each month in addition to the written feature.

So wait, is this like an Angry Video Game Nerd or Yahtzee type thing where you're just going to rant and complain about bad games? Do we really need another critic doing that shtick?

No! That is almost the exact opposite of what I'll be doing here. Simply making fun of a game for being bad would hardly live up to the "good criticism" that I named this project after.*

I'll frame it through the example of a game I reviewed last year. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a terrible game for numerous reasons, but the way the game is structured is actually really interesting. There is a road trip mentality to the level structure that is quite ambitious and could have made for a good, or at least very interesting, survival game. An article about The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct from Good Criticism for Bad Games would focus on the missed potential of that structure, look at how the game's other elements conflicted with that structure, and use the game's mechanics to make educated guesses about the developer's intent and where it might have lost track of that vision.

I will also make an effort to reach out to the developers of each game I write about here to get insight into what development was like to work on these "bad" games. I can't guarantee that I will always find a developer willing to speak with me for each game, even anonymously, but I can guarantee that I will make the effort for each game.

*I will add, though, that I think Ben Croshaw's work is very frequently "good criticism," it's just told with a certain sarcastic tone that I'd hope to avoid here. I love sarcasm, and I love how Ben uses it in his videos and writing, it's just not the tone I want to use in my Good Criticism for Bad Games features.

Why would you talk to developers? That's not something you would normally do for a review.

No, it isn't, but Good Criticism for Bad Games also isn't about doing reviews. After all, the premise here is that I'll be looking at games that are widely considered "bad," which is to say that the games are understood to have failed on some level. Now, I have a hard time believing that developers set out to make a game that fails in some regard, so this is a case where I think it would be fascinating to learn more about the developer's intentions. In the worst case scenario, most developers won't want to talk about their bad games and each article consists of my own critical analysis, possibly informed by a few choice quotes that someone was willing to share anonymously. In the best case scenario, well, how great would it be to have a Critical Play commentary track from playing through Diakatana while interviewing John Romero about making it?

On a similar note: if you are a developer with a game you're not particularly proud of and would be willing to critique it with me on camera while we play it, by all means get in touch.

What exactly qualifies as a "bad" game? What kinds of games will you be playing/writing about?

Most of what I plan to cover are notorious games, or games that are bad by reputation. Games like Diakatana, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Superman 64, Aquaman for the Gamecube, and The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. I would also love to mix in a few games every once in a while that are from my own personal dislike pile that might not have the same reputation, like Ryse: Son of Rome, Bubsy, and the Sega Genesis version of Jurassic Park.

Will you take requests?

Sure. I can't promise I'll get to all requests, especially if it's an older game that is difficult to track down or for a system I don't own, but ultimately I'm writing these features and making these videos for you. If there is a game you want to see, I would love to accommodate it.

I'm a developer, can I submit a game for you to review?

You realize these aren't really reviews, right? I'm going to be dissecting your game with the expressed purpose of explaining why it isn't very good. If that's the kind of masochism you're into, I won't stop you, but these features and videos probably are not going to be the best PR tools.

Wait, who are you again?

I should properly introduce myself. My name is Scott Nichols, though there is a good chance you know me better as @Duckols on Twitter. I am a freelance writer and video game critic from all across the web. You might recognize my writing from places like IGN, GameSpot, Digital Spy, GameFront, GamesRadar, OXM, and if you have a good memory then perhaps even the lost but not forgotten G4 and GamePro magazine.

And why should I give you money?

Hopefully it's because I'm writing articles and making videos that you enjoy and want to continue seeing. I'm treating Patreon much like any freelancing gig, so to me it just makes sense to be compensated for my work. There is also the matter of that extra stretch goal just sitting there...

How exactly does Patreon work? Am I paying once or is this an ongoing thing?

Patreon lets you pledge a small (or large) amount which will be charged once a month when I post the next Good Criticism for Bad Games feature. Unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Patreon is an ongoing campaign where you pledge an amount per each piece of content rather than toward a lump sum for a single project. If you are worried about breaking the bank, there are ways to set a maximum donation amount over a period of time so that if I hypothetically went overboard with and posted a lot during a single month, you still wouldn't be charged more than the maximum you set for the month.

If I contribute to this Patreon, does that violate some ethics of journalism?

Nope. Not even a little. I could see why you'd think that, but no. Since learning from the mistakes of other games is a potential area of interest for developers, there are bound to be some developers among my backer list. All backers have the ability to set their account to private so that their contribution is anonymous, and I would encourage developers to do so to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest. After all, if I don't know a developer is a backer because they are anonymous, I can't really give them positive coverage elsewhere. But for developers who don't make their account anonymous, there will be no issue. You pay, I provide content. It's a pretty simple, mutually beneficial relationship that does not extend to any of my work beyond this Patreon. There is no way I will let a developer's contribution influence my writing elsewhere or jeopardize my reputation as a game critic. So unless a developer can bankroll this project well beyond my last stretch goal, they are entitled to nothing beyond the rewards promised at the bottom of this page.

Header image taken from NYU Game Center's Bad is Beautiful exhibition until I get around to making an original logo.
Tiers
Pledge $1 or more per Article/video
6 patrons
  • Access to the patron-only feed including articles and embedded videos
  • You can suggest games for me to write about in future articles
Pledge $5 or more per Article/video
4 patrons
  • Access to the patron-only feed including articles and embedded videos
  • You can suggest games for me to write about in future articles
  • Download for each month's complete Critical Play video (if that goal is reached)
  • Complimentary copy of my game Halberdier for Hire when it is complete (if that goal is reached)
Goals
$30 of $60 per Article/video
I'll begin writing a Good Crit for Bad Games feature each month.
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Good Criticism for Bad Games? What's that?

Bad games tend to get shafted when it comes to reviews and critical writing. All too often they are simply written off with a cursory, surface level critique and a general attitude that poor quality makes a game less worthy of examination. This is especially true if you dive into review archives for older games, but the temptation to write reviews as a buyer's guide is still around, and with it the urge to simply inform readers that a game is bad and move on.

Good Criticism for Bad Games is built on the idea that "bad" isn't good enough. I've reviewed my fair share of bad games over the years, and I have found that they are often the reviews that I most enjoy writing. Not because I get to rant and complain, but because critiquing a bad game challenges me as a writer.

Ok, that's a nice mission statement, but what are you actually going to be making?

I am going to put out one Good Criticism for Bad Games feature each month. The initial goal will be $60 per feature, at which point I'll write a 1,500-2,000+ word feature critiquing a different bad game each month. That's significantly less than my usual freelance rate for something that length, but I am really excited to get started with this, so I'm setting the bar low so I can get to it sooner.

The real goal though is if we can hit $150 per feature. At that point I will record a Critical Play video (like a Let's Play, but with less screaming and more thoughtful commentary) each month in addition to the written feature.

So wait, is this like an Angry Video Game Nerd or Yahtzee type thing where you're just going to rant and complain about bad games? Do we really need another critic doing that shtick?

No! That is almost the exact opposite of what I'll be doing here. Simply making fun of a game for being bad would hardly live up to the "good criticism" that I named this project after.*

I'll frame it through the example of a game I reviewed last year. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a terrible game for numerous reasons, but the way the game is structured is actually really interesting. There is a road trip mentality to the level structure that is quite ambitious and could have made for a good, or at least very interesting, survival game. An article about The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct from Good Criticism for Bad Games would focus on the missed potential of that structure, look at how the game's other elements conflicted with that structure, and use the game's mechanics to make educated guesses about the developer's intent and where it might have lost track of that vision.

I will also make an effort to reach out to the developers of each game I write about here to get insight into what development was like to work on these "bad" games. I can't guarantee that I will always find a developer willing to speak with me for each game, even anonymously, but I can guarantee that I will make the effort for each game.

*I will add, though, that I think Ben Croshaw's work is very frequently "good criticism," it's just told with a certain sarcastic tone that I'd hope to avoid here. I love sarcasm, and I love how Ben uses it in his videos and writing, it's just not the tone I want to use in my Good Criticism for Bad Games features.

Why would you talk to developers? That's not something you would normally do for a review.

No, it isn't, but Good Criticism for Bad Games also isn't about doing reviews. After all, the premise here is that I'll be looking at games that are widely considered "bad," which is to say that the games are understood to have failed on some level. Now, I have a hard time believing that developers set out to make a game that fails in some regard, so this is a case where I think it would be fascinating to learn more about the developer's intentions. In the worst case scenario, most developers won't want to talk about their bad games and each article consists of my own critical analysis, possibly informed by a few choice quotes that someone was willing to share anonymously. In the best case scenario, well, how great would it be to have a Critical Play commentary track from playing through Diakatana while interviewing John Romero about making it?

On a similar note: if you are a developer with a game you're not particularly proud of and would be willing to critique it with me on camera while we play it, by all means get in touch.

What exactly qualifies as a "bad" game? What kinds of games will you be playing/writing about?

Most of what I plan to cover are notorious games, or games that are bad by reputation. Games like Diakatana, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Superman 64, Aquaman for the Gamecube, and The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. I would also love to mix in a few games every once in a while that are from my own personal dislike pile that might not have the same reputation, like Ryse: Son of Rome, Bubsy, and the Sega Genesis version of Jurassic Park.

Will you take requests?

Sure. I can't promise I'll get to all requests, especially if it's an older game that is difficult to track down or for a system I don't own, but ultimately I'm writing these features and making these videos for you. If there is a game you want to see, I would love to accommodate it.

I'm a developer, can I submit a game for you to review?

You realize these aren't really reviews, right? I'm going to be dissecting your game with the expressed purpose of explaining why it isn't very good. If that's the kind of masochism you're into, I won't stop you, but these features and videos probably are not going to be the best PR tools.

Wait, who are you again?

I should properly introduce myself. My name is Scott Nichols, though there is a good chance you know me better as @Duckols on Twitter. I am a freelance writer and video game critic from all across the web. You might recognize my writing from places like IGN, GameSpot, Digital Spy, GameFront, GamesRadar, OXM, and if you have a good memory then perhaps even the lost but not forgotten G4 and GamePro magazine.

And why should I give you money?

Hopefully it's because I'm writing articles and making videos that you enjoy and want to continue seeing. I'm treating Patreon much like any freelancing gig, so to me it just makes sense to be compensated for my work. There is also the matter of that extra stretch goal just sitting there...

How exactly does Patreon work? Am I paying once or is this an ongoing thing?

Patreon lets you pledge a small (or large) amount which will be charged once a month when I post the next Good Criticism for Bad Games feature. Unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Patreon is an ongoing campaign where you pledge an amount per each piece of content rather than toward a lump sum for a single project. If you are worried about breaking the bank, there are ways to set a maximum donation amount over a period of time so that if I hypothetically went overboard with and posted a lot during a single month, you still wouldn't be charged more than the maximum you set for the month.

If I contribute to this Patreon, does that violate some ethics of journalism?

Nope. Not even a little. I could see why you'd think that, but no. Since learning from the mistakes of other games is a potential area of interest for developers, there are bound to be some developers among my backer list. All backers have the ability to set their account to private so that their contribution is anonymous, and I would encourage developers to do so to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest. After all, if I don't know a developer is a backer because they are anonymous, I can't really give them positive coverage elsewhere. But for developers who don't make their account anonymous, there will be no issue. You pay, I provide content. It's a pretty simple, mutually beneficial relationship that does not extend to any of my work beyond this Patreon. There is no way I will let a developer's contribution influence my writing elsewhere or jeopardize my reputation as a game critic. So unless a developer can bankroll this project well beyond my last stretch goal, they are entitled to nothing beyond the rewards promised at the bottom of this page.

Header image taken from NYU Game Center's Bad is Beautiful exhibition until I get around to making an original logo.

Recent posts by Scott Nichols

Tiers
Pledge $1 or more per Article/video
6 patrons
  • Access to the patron-only feed including articles and embedded videos
  • You can suggest games for me to write about in future articles
Pledge $5 or more per Article/video
4 patrons
  • Access to the patron-only feed including articles and embedded videos
  • You can suggest games for me to write about in future articles
  • Download for each month's complete Critical Play video (if that goal is reached)
  • Complimentary copy of my game Halberdier for Hire when it is complete (if that goal is reached)