In the age of abundant choice, the issue becomes not if we can find something at all, but how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Down every tech and entertainment avenue, we turn we face hundreds or thousands of options, each vying for our limited time. While professional reviews were a great way for us to parse this information initially, today consumer reviews are just as or even more important.
A Reason to Exist
Outwardly, it might seem that the preferred choice in reviews should always come from the professionals. After all, these are the people who build careers on deep-diving tech and components, so they should always be the most important, right? Well, that depends.
Take, for example, the idea of smartphones. Constantly evolving as they are, and requiring the specialized tools as they do, understanding the base components of mobiles can be tricky. In this regard, professionals can use advanced tools to objectively measure the key aspects of smartphones in action.
The problem here is the reviewing professionally doesn’t mean living. Consumer reviews mean putting a smartphone through its paces, examining how it operates in real life. Sure, a reduced camera notch might be great conceptually, but does it help the end-users? Here, consumer reviews pick up the baton from where professional reviews leave off.
In the end, it is this aspect of more personal involvement that makes consumer reviews indispensable. Each piece of entertainment or tech has different sets of concerns for real people, and by listening to their stories, we can better appreciate how a product might influence us.
Consider the movie review site Metacritic. This website is used to aggregate both professional review scores and scores from consumers. The kicker here is that what critics love, users might not, and vice versa. The 2004 film Sideways was beloved by critics with a score of 94/100 for example. Users, on the other hand, only rated it at 6.3/10.
For more direct consumer reviews, OpenCritic pursues a similar ideal but with video games. There is a lot of contention in the gaming community regarding the quality of professional video game reviewers, generally regarded as great journalists but poor players. OpenCritic avoids this with a similar method to MetaCritic as they ensure there is a clear separation between the critics and the audience, so hardcore fans can voice their beliefs.
Towards the complicated end of the spectrum are reviews that concentrate on specific features of businesses, such as casino bonuses. Online casinos are unusual in that most of their games are shared through licensed software providers. With many websites sharing similar games, reviewers need to focus more on other aspects of casinos, which in this instance are their bonus features like free spins and deposit matches. This put the onus on reviewers to relay both objective and subjective measures equally, a necessary but inherently challenging task.
Free From Professional Bias
Connected to these previous points is the ever-present threat of professional review bias. History is full of examples where otherwise trusted major review services have swept their true complaints under the table in favour of offering a more positive view to a product that wasn’t deserving. There are multiple reasons why this can occur, but generally, they revolve around the challenging economics of being a professional reviewer.
Becoming a reviewer on a professional level is difficult for the fact that reviewers need an enormous audience to bring in enough funding. In the age of print media, finding this level of funding was comparatively simple. In the digital age, where anyone with an internet connection can become a reviewer, however, reviewers have a lot more competition to worry about. For this reason, some review services can rely on paid sponsorship for features like ads, which can have downstream effects on reviewer objectivity.
A famous example of this occurred in the video game review industry back in 2007. Working for GameSpot, reviewer Jeff Gerstmann published a negative review for the game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Normally this would have been fine, but as it so happened, the website had recently been paid a great deal to advertise the Kane & Lynch game. When the higher-ups used this as a reason to pressure Gerstmann into changing his score, Gerstmann refused. Ultimately, he was fired for perceived insubordination, when in reality Gerstmann was simply trying to stay objective. While this particular instance was well-documented, there are many more cases where such behaviour is not noticed, bringing some professional reviews into question.
In essence, professional and consumer reviews can act like two sides of the same coin. Professional reviews can help lay out and define more of the involved and technical aspects, which gives users a place from which to start. On the other side, consumer reviews give context to professional reviews, allowing users a wider frame of reference. Both are important, both can have a profound effect in changing the direction of a company, and both should be considered by a savvy consumer before making a choice.