Title: Judging The Online Experience Before The Release Date?
Posted: September 24, 2007 (01:07 PM)
Yep, one of the harsh realities of reviewing is that games with expansive online multiplayer experiences can't be comfortably reviewed in full before their release date. There just isn't enough of an online community yet to judge them, so most reviews that come out before that time will have to exclude it altogether or give it the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, there are enough reviewers in the same boat or open multiplayer access, so that it's possible to play through each multiplayer mode until you're confident in your judgment, but many times, this just doesn't happen.
Just trying to get an online match for some games that are already out is hard... Hour of Victory...
Then there's the issue of putting out reviews early and getting content - especially hyped content - up as fast as possible. Publishers and developers already put embargoes on when coverage of their game can be put out, so journalists are already pressured to get work up faster than everyone else.
Speed = More Readership = Money = You Keep Your Job
In the best case scenario, a review copy would give a critic the full opportunity to go through the single-player experience, thereby saving time for when the game does come out and the critic then can pay full attention to the online part. It's really up to the site or publication to review their policy on this touchy subject as well as with respect to the game at hand. As a reader, I have learned to keep in mind that not all reviews are created under equal circumstances, and that any review caught in this sticky situation needs to have recognition of the online context for it to be useful. Certainly as a reviewer myself (and gamer, I might add), I wish this didn't have to happen, but it's a part of the business politic that just has to be accepted and dealt with carefully.
Posted: September 24, 2007 (01:12 PM)
Yeah, I always thought of that factor and thought it was a cool advantage us non-pro's have over the big names.
Posted: September 24, 2007 (01:19 PM)
That's quite true. People complain about low-quality reviews, but there are a lot of issues that go on behind the scenes (that don't have anything to do with someone paying for a good review, contrary to public opinion).
The pressure to provide a day-one review is definitely there. Game publishers like that, and so do consumers. So does the web site or magazine, because that means the crowds looking for information will go there first. Posting a review a week or two after a game's release means you've missed the bulk of people who might read the review, as many of them will have made a decision on whether or not to buy the game and will have moved onto something else.
At the same time, one thing HonestGamers has decided (and you're familiar with this) is that we're only going to post a review when it really is ready. We just posted an MMORPG review for a game that has been out for a few weeks. We could've spent just a few hours with it and maybe our review wouldn't have read a lot differently, but that really wouldn't have been fair to anyone (even if it would have resulted in more traffic).
Every web site and every publication has to make that decision (or has to let advertisers and investors make the decision). It's funny how much a person's perception about such things can change once he actually has a little information rather than speculation from gamers with agendas but no idea how things really work. ;-)
Posted: September 24, 2007 (04:35 PM)
I wouldn't worry too much about being too early when it comes to MMOs. Fans of the genre know that MMOs are constantly changing because of the user-base, future content, and patches. Except for the names, characters, and maps, WOW is hardly the same game that it was two years ago. Everything from items, spells, abilities, and combat have been severely overhauled.
As a MMO fan, I want to know if the game is playable or glitchy, exciting or boring, expansive or limited, etc. Don't get bogged down by details like "Spell 1 out of 200 isn't as balanced as spell 2 out of 200." Chances are, neither of those spells will be the same in the next year.