Editorial: Reviewing Responsibly

The subject of reviewing videogames has long been a touchy subject among the hobby’s fans. More than console or standalone titles, MMOGs are extremely tricky beasts to review. There are around FIFTY reviews already out for the recently released Champions Online and it's just now a month old. William “JoBildo” Murphy urges the critics of the gaming world to think carefully before assigning their verdict to a newly launched world in this editorial.

Aion had barely taken flight before the reviews poured in.Aion had barely taken flight before the reviews poured in. There are people in every camp.  Some believe that the ten-point scale is good enough and accomplishes what it sets out to, others believe that a number is really too shallow of an indicator for the quality of a game, and some believe that no scoring system is needed and that a review should rely solely on its content.  I personally have always been fond of the “Buy It, Rent It, Burn It” approach as a summation of the general tone of a review. 

But the process of tallying up a game’s plusses and minuses as to make a recommendation to prospective customers on said game’s worth is a really weighty idea when you think about it.  Reviewers are charged with the task of determining whether several dozen (or sometimes one hundred plus) people’s work is worth your time and dollar.  Reviewers can make or break a game’s release and seal the fate of development studios. 

But most modern console or offline games are released these days as complete products that will rarely change from the product they are on launch day with the exception of bug fixes and purchasable or free downloadable content.  MMOGs, on the other hand, are always changing beasts of patching and content upgrades that are rarely the same the day they launch as the day the company had the instruction manual printed.  Look no further than World of Warcraft’s manual for proof of that. 

I'm sure Cryptic would like to shoot a few reviewers...I'm sure Cryptic would like to shoot a few reviewers... So is it fair then for us to treat MMOGs the same as any other software release?  Should a type of game that is widely accepted to be a perpetual work in progress ever really be assigned a score that does not have an asterisk next to it denoting it as such?  Take for instance the Eurogamer review of Aion: The Tower of Eternity.  Now truthfully, the game had been out for months in Asian territories, before being ported to the US.  But there are factors that should be taken into account before assigning a score.  The dust should settle after a game’s launch and early buzz before a score, if any is really needed, is assigned.  It’s no secret that MMOGs change drastically in the first few months of the game’s launch, either for better or worse.  And yet the same site published a review on The Wrath of the Lich King just a few days after its launch.  Champions Online was assigned the score of 6/10 just a week after it launched.  In the past few weeks I could note about a dozen changes to Cryptic’s game that could raise or lower that score depending on the person. 

But one thing that Eurogamer and other review sites are getting right when it comes to reviewing these online games is that they deserve to be revisited.  Re-reviewing games at the one year mark is an excellent practice that should garner more attention from the public eye.  I was a big supporter of Warhammer Online when it launched last year, but as I got into the upper reaches of the game, the luster wore off for me.  I have recently begun playing the game again with the changes that are on the Public Test Server, and suddenly I find myself enthralled again.  The changes of the past six months since I played are enough to have me questioning why I left in the first place.

What is the point of this lengthy diatribe of mine?  It’s simple, really.  As media, we influence the opinion of people more than we might care to admit.  And when it comes to reviewing games, and especially MMOGs, we have the power to ruin lives and careers with the simple writing of a number.  I propose a new code of reviewing when it comes to online games: Beta Impressions during the Open Beta stage (which is largely a PR stunt these days anyway), First Impressions within a week of launch, and no review until at least three months in, with periodic re-reviews on the anniversary of each game as it’s warranted.  Even better, just follow the format lined out in Ethec's recent episode of "Loading...".

The main reasoning behind such early reviews is mainly for attention-seeking and page-views that come with people rabid for info on a new release, so why not get those same page-views and level of attention in a more responsible way?  Remember… only YOU can prevent job losses.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  A turd is still a turd, but even fecal matter deserves a fair chance to get its feet planted before being gored by those with hefty opinions.

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