In my last blog I talked a bit about game reviews and how they might be improved so that they don’t just represent the opinions of one individual, with whom the reader may or may not agree. This time I wanted to continue to discuss how gaming journalism needs to evolve to reflect the modern video games industry…
The Problem: Reviewing a Work in Progress
Every so often a new game come out, like Guild Wars 2 for example, that launches well, without any real game-breaking issues or server crashes or other bugs that dampen its arrival. This is great for reviewers because the state it launches in is representative of the ‘final product’.
However, there have been a number of games where the launches have been a bit more problematic; games with balance issues, server instability or that were full of bugs. And it’s not just MMOs, there are console games that have launched with unplayable multi-player and other major issues that were only fixed by patches later on. There has also been the launch of things like the OUYA console (as well as the XBone and PS4, come to that), where the console has launched with many issues, disabled features and without many games to play on it.
It’s good to get a review out so that we know whether a product is worth adopting on day one, but a lot of things can change in the weeks and months following a product’s launch. The PS4 will get its blu-ray capability unlocked at some point soon, the OUYA could have had system updates to fix issues and more games released on its marketplace and an MMO could have had numerous expansions and updates to fix problems and add new content beyond what was there before, potentially fundamentally altering the game experience.
MMO The Secret World, for example, was released 18 months ago to mixed reviews. I am very interested in this game, but all I have to go on is those mixed reviews that were written when it launched. The same is true for the OUYA; I really like the idea, but I have no way of knowing if the mixed reviews from 8 months ago still apply.
It’s quite simple really. I want to see more reviews that come out across the lifetimes of these evolving products, or which evolve alongside them. I want to see reviews from people who have been living with the OUYA talking about what it’s been like, as well as from people who have only bought it recently. The same is true for the Secret World and other games and services. I want to know if they have improved (or worsened) since they launched.
Now, I realise that there are a fair few people who write about games who don’t do it immediately after they launch (me for example!) and that there people who write retrospective reviews or even do exactly as I have just described. But I would like to see more ‘One Year On’ or ‘Ongoing Review’ features (or, as of next year, a ’10 Years On’ review of World of Warcraft, perhaps?) on mainstream sites like IGN and The Escapist, that tell us how these experiences have changed.
Gaming has evolved as a medium. It is no longer the nineties where a game arrived on a disk or cartridge and that was it; we no longer have to manually research and download patches for our games. We are now in an industry full of constantly evolving MMO and Free-to-Play titles and games on all platforms that continue to receive support after launch. Gaming journalism needs to update to reflect this and to keep gamers informed not only of what a game is like now, but how a game changes and evolves over their lifetimes.