Friday Slide: Getting a 4 out of 4

Next week, I’ll be heading to Austin, Texas for GDC Online, where I’ll participate in a panel discussion entitled “Getting a 10 out of 10″. We only go to 4 here at Slide To Play, but here’s some of the advice I plan to share with game developers who want to see their game receive the highest review score possible.

Along with my co-panelists Jeff from 148 Apps and Levi from IGN Wireless, we’re swamped every day with requests from developers both big and small to review their games. Step one of getting a 4 out of 4 is getting your game reviewed in the first place, and I went over some of our behind-the-scenes editorial process in choosing games to review a few weeks back in this column. Once we settle on a game to review, there are certain things we do each time.

First, we research similar games in the same genre. Are you making a Match-3 game? Fine, but just assume that we’re going to compare it to Bejewled 2, the most popular game in that genre. Does your game involve flinging creatures at shaky structures? Better make sure it compares favorably to Angry Birds.

It’s not enough just to make another “me too” game in the same genre with the same gameplay mechanics. That might work for making a quick buck, but any savvy reviewer will notice the similarities. Unless you can leapfrog over similar games with more features, better graphics, or some other unique hook, you’re going to be living in the shadow of games that already set a high standard for players and reviewers.

Here’s another easy way to get a higher score from a game reviewer. Let’s say you’re developing an endless running game in the style of Canabalt. Take advantage of the many online leaderboard services, like OpenFeint or Plus+. There’s also Crystal, Agon, Scoreloop, and Apple’s own budding service, Game Center. With so many options, adding online high scores to your game is like low-hanging fruit, and it makes a huge difference in terms of enjoyment.

Finally, one more piece of advice: Take us somewhere new. When you’re brainstorming environments, don’t bother with fire levels and ice levels unless you’re going to do something interesting and different with them. Some of our favorite games introduce us to brand-new worlds, like the Glyder series, or Ninjatown: Trees of Doom.

Reviewers don’t make games. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to work for months or years on a complex project, only to have it dismissed with a pithy remark and a scathing score. But we do take our job seriously as a service for our readers, who need to know which games are worth their valuable money and time.

The most important thing developers should know about what we do at Slide To Play is that even if we don’t like your game, we’ll try to play it all the way through and give you clear, concise reasons why it didn’t work for us. Even having your game reviewed means it’s got our attention, and that is always better than being ignored completely.

Meanwhile, we’ll try to locate the hidden App Store gems and elevate those games that we think are more deserving of success. Readers need help sorting through the crapalanche of shoddy iPhone games, and they rely on our expertise and experience. It’s not easy to make a 4 out of 4 game, but if you do, we’ll shout about it from the rooftops.

Andrew Podolsky is the Editor in Chief of Slide To Play.