Millions Play 'Peggle,' But Few Review It -- Problem?

'Pegg;e'You've either played "Peggle" or someone you know has. I'm sure of this. The game was a monstrous hit last year, a 2007 PC puzzle-game release that was downloaded more than 10 million times. It's a so-called casual game, popular with moms, but with that many downloads it's surely relevant to all gamers.

If you wanted to know if "Peggle" was any good, you could download it. But maybe you'd like to read a review. There isn't one on GameSpot. There isn't one on IGN's PC site. I didn't recall seeing one in Game Informer or … anywhere.

And when I checked Metacritic, that review aggregation service showed me why: almost no major gaming site has reviewed the heavily-downloaded "Peggle." (Until the iPod release a year later, that is.)

I asked some major reviewers and one of the people behind "Peggle" what they thought of this turn of events. Was this an indictment of the reviews system? Or the system serving its audience appropriately?

First, here is what reviewers said:

Skipping "Peggle" was a mistake -- possibly. That's what I learned from former GameSpot head reviewer and current Giant Bomb editor Jeff Gerstmann, who said he finds "Peggle" to be "pretty awesome." He told me it was part of his job responsibilities at GameSpot to decide whether "Peggle" should be reviewed. Bear in mind that we're talking about a game not typically targeted at GameSpot's gaming crowd. So reviewing it wasn't a no-brainer. "That's a call I made. I played 'Peggle' and said 'We are not going to review "Peggle."' That was a mistake. I think it was because there was a lot more stuff coming out at the time. That was kind of a below-the-radar [game]."

None of Gerstmann's readers complained about his decision, he told me. "I think 'Peggle' was below their radar for a long time as well," Gerstmann told me. "The audience isn't necessarily always looking to be turned on by something new and quirky and cool. When you get to that mainstream level of reaching however many millions, the largest portion of your audience wants to know about 'Halo' or 'GTA' or 'Madden' or whatever is big at the time."

IGN's Tal Blevins admits his outlet just missed the PC version of the game. "Yes it was a popular game," he told me in an e-mail, "But since it was on PC, it was one of those titles that just got overlooked until it made a big splash with gamers. Downloadable content on the consoles is available in a more centralized manner than on the PC, so it's a bit easier to keep track of. With that said, I imagine we will do a review of Peggle when it's released on Xbox Live later this year." IGN has reviewed the iPod version, giving it a 9.0.

And what says Greg Canessa, former XBLA general manager and now a vice president at "Peggle" publisher PopCap?

"It’s up to the gaming press to meet us halfway here," he said to me in an e-mail. He's pleased with the positive press the game got in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Onion, but said he wished the gaming press had shown the game more attention. He believes there were three factors keeping that from happening:

"First, I think that many of the gaming outlets are focused on console these days, moreso than PC. When we bring 'Peggle' to video game platforms, as we plan to do for XBLA and others, I expect that the amount of coverage will increase.

"Second, I do believe that the major gaming outlets have a hard time evaluating 'small games' in general. These games simply don’t compute to them, and don’t fit into the typical review model. Major gaming outlets have a hard time judging 'small' games on their own merit, since they cannot help but evaluate them on a comparative basis in the context of big retail games. To them, it seems unfair to favorably rate games with simple and accessible play mechanics that take a fraction of the time and money to make, relative to 'big' games (i.e. how could I gave a 9.5 to 'Peggle' when I gave 'Halo 3' a 9.0 – that isn’t fair!). This is an unfortunate reality today, and will require a shift in mindset amongst the game reviewers to look past how much a game cost or how many people it took to design it or how cool the graphics are, and judge each game on its own entertainment and artistic merits.

"Think about movies – a great review can go to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster or the smallest indie film (more often the latter), regardless of budget or time or sophistication. Movies are judged based on how well the reach an audience and achieve the objective they set out to accomplish, be it entertainment, enlightenment, or whatever. The game review space needs to evolve to that level.

"And third, marketing budgets are tiny to non-existent for “small” PC games and casual games in general, and 'Peggle' is no exception (marketing is a foreign concept to many of these companies). So, it can be hard for companies to reach the gaming outlets and get attention without all the hype and buzz that major publishers throw out there for their big games."

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I'm not sure this is an open and shut case. So someone else must decide.

For much more about game reviews, check back all week to follow my reviews series here at MTV Multiplayer. Got a comment you can't bring yourself to share below this post? Drop me an e-mail.