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Wolfy

Are Game Reviews Becoming Outdated?

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So after reading some thoughts from reviewers about how Bethesda isn't allowing early access anymore to their games, while it may totally not be related, it spawned a thought if maybe reviews as we know them are becoming outdated.

Most reviewers get a copy of the game early, have some time before the public to craft an idea on it's quality, write a review, and share it on release day to help give consumers an educated decision on a purchase. It's been a great check and balance for content creators and the masses to birth products that are quality for consumers. To echo from IGN's article on the Bethesda thing:

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However, there is a reason providing early access to critics has been the standard practice in the games industry (as well as film, books, etc) since the very beginning: It’s a show of good faith. Allowing independent critics to evaluate a product and recommend it accordingly is a courtesy to consumers, and a demonstration that publishers and developers have confidence in the thing they’re asking you to spend money on and in the review process

But something to address is how he compares this to film and books and whatnot. Those mediums are fixed on release. Games used to be this way too before the internet grew to the monster as we know today, but that said, I just don't think the same logic can apply anymore. Rarely do we have games that release anymore in it's final form anymore. With the availability of patching, game companies can now send out a product with the intent of it being improved upon over time after release. While that's another topic to wrestle all together, it's something that isn't going to go away. What's even crazier is how reviewers may even receive copies that don't even reflect the final form of the game anymore, and it's this kind of idea that is my main point.

Game reviews need to regularly be updated and contain a history of scores instead of a final determining score. It's kind of ridiculous to give a game a grand overarching "7.0" the day it hits the shelf, and expect that number to still be a relevant integer to go by 2 years later when a slew of patches have released. A good example would be Destiny. I know it's not the most popular game here on SSMB, but hear me out. IGN gave Destiny at 7.8 at the time of its release, and 2 years later with the release of Rise of Iron, that DLC was given a 6.2. These are acceptable review scores for the problems both of these entities hold, however Destiny is largely a way different game at this moment in time, to the point where the entire structure of progressing has been rewritten. This revamp has only seen praise by the player base and critics alike, even including IGN. The problem however is a new person, say someone here from SSMB that isn't familiar with Destiny all too much, just going on Destiny and seeing a 7.8 and a 6.2. This tells you that with Rise of Iron the game is at a worst point at this stage, as the current game is based around Rise of Iron. Keep in mind that 6.2 is graded just on the new content it brought to Destiny opposed to how Destiny is as a whole package at this point (as the game basically requires you to have all these DLC to keep up playing).

Then we have games like No Man's Sky. A game that had a controlled PR and reviewers didn't have ample time, or the environment to completely give an accurate score on release. It's these situations that you can't fault the reviewer as it's just the nature of the beast: there's not millions of people online to test along side with (even if that wasn't really a feature, it was still a feature that was assumed to happen by many through coverage before release). And that's kind of moving my point along: Are game reviews at this moment becoming archaic? Is this method really a sound way of receiving an educated guess on what to purchase? While I think Bethesda's cold shoulder approach is a little on the extreme side myself, I can understand if we're moving into an era where game companies aren't happy with the current way reviews of their products are being handled. I mean it's a huge part of their sales and success riding on a finite score on a product that's subject to change. It's a shame some game companies take advantage of this by releasing a not-finished product in hopes to patch it up in the coming months, but I feel like there are very real efforts by other companies that strive to make their game better. But for what? There's a real chance that their scores will still be reflecting what they released with despite any moving forward.

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In short, game reviews are an archaic system and should be updated frequently: as frequent as patches for said games hit to be honest. Share changes and keep a timeline of scores to reflect a game's life cycle and how it currently stands. While DLCs are largely reviewed on top of base games, they are largely treated as their own entities and not reflect how a game is at it's current state overall. While sometimes taken advantage of already by some companies by releasing games early to fix later, others that legitimately try to patch their game for the better from a polished product is a very real thing, yet not reflected upon in reviews. This is defeating for developers and spreading misinformation to consumers.

Anyway, feel free to share your thoughts, and while I'm sure many places out there DO update their reviews (even IGN does on some occasions), I'm talking about this being a wide spread revolution in the game review industry. I apologize in advance as this is weird rant/thought/pondering at 3:30AM haha. Also sorry to pick completely on IGN but as someone who frequents their homepage daily to just get a quick bite on what's happening in the gaming world, I can't help but have it be my anchor for this.

http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/10/29/a-response-to-bethesdas-review-copies-policy

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I'm going to be perfectly frank about my opinion on this:

No. Absolutely not. And they won't be for a while yet.

Are games more able to 'evolve' over time? Yes. But it's often quite rare that this 'evolution' ever fixes fundamental problems in the game that was launched, and games being an 'evolving' medium is no excuse for a low-quality work on launch. Usually major reworks of a game itself come in the form of re-titled rereleases that are enough to draw the attention of the press, such as Slain: Back From Hell, which took the rather disappointing indie game and revamped the mechanics and design in major ways to make it the game that players originally expected in terms of quality.

Also, the example you used is Destiny, which is essentially an MMO-lite. It's one of those genres that 'evolves' a lot more than any other, and essentially an exception, genres outside of MMOs and MMO-lites (and other constantly-changing online games) don't change so much (and even Destiny hasn't changed nearly as much as, say, Warframe, which is pretty much a completely new and way better game compared to when it launched). Besides, last I checked, the expansions don't really actually change the base game progression anyway, just lets you skip it if you want. Most game expansions are generally just expansions to the base content, and thus judged on their own merits.

tl;dr: You're severely exaggerating the extent that most games 'evolve' through expansions and patches. Reviews around launch are still quite important, and usually reflect the game's quality long after release, barring certain exceptions.

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Worth noting that reviews aren't really looked at after the game is in the wild for a while. Once it is, people will typically just ask around on social media about it. Reviews are good for whether you should pick the game up on launch like so many publishers are desperately begging you to, so they're very much welcome for that. Once the gaming community realizes they don't have to have these things immediately as a collective, though, they'll stop being as relevant. 

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In no way do I think reviews are becoming irrelevant, not by a long shot.  While I will admit some games held back on their full content (i.e. Splatoon) to keep it current end up being better for it, others don't.  If your game isn't totally finished when it releases and will need patches, then it's not the reviewer's fault they gave it a poor score.  If you wanted something higher, then you should push the release date back to give the full package.  Delayed games is one of the most, if not the most, annoying part of the games industry these days.  Devs get overambitious about release dates and wind up pushing out an unfinished product begging for a lesser score. 

Besides, people like to think in the now, therefore prefer a review now rather than later.  If reviews were held up until a title had all its patches, DLC, etc. released it will likely have been months and by then the unofficial reviewers will have posted their thoughts on it and render official critics reviews almost moot.  Right now, I'm perfectly fine with how game reviews work.  If people like Bethesda aren't letting early access because they're unhappy with what critics say, then then they should make better certain that their titles are well prepared in advance to handle any critical eyes.  I highly doubt they lack the ability to.

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Interesting point. I'd imagine an easy way to tackle this is to launch secondary review articles every time a new patch is added, or add a small summary of changes to the main review for each new patch the game has. That way a review article written at launch wouldn't be completely outclassed by future patches, and would instead provide the reader a better insight on how the game changed from launch to it's current state. Summaries would probably fit better here given how patches usually address existing issues first and foremost, issues which could've harmed the original review in the first place.

Personally I barely even read reviews these days. Most of my impressions come directly from other people on Twitter, and their impressions usually keep me informed better and faster than an (would-be outdated) launch review would. A "Patch Changes/Impressions" section or something like that would help a good lot to keep up with the times.

Not sure if that change alone would help in the long term, though. Lately it feels like appraising video games has become more of a community driven thing than a review publisher one, but that might be just me.

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Reviews aren't just for people like us, they're for people who buy 4 video games a year or purchased a PS4 or Xbone as a FIFA machine and want to pick up what scores well besides. There's a reason why companies like Bethesda are so touchy about their review scores, and about reviews by harsh critics (I heard about the Bethesda thing from Jim Sterling's video, where he mentions that he's greylisted by EA for their biggest titles, like Battlefield 1 etc), which is that positive reviews make for positive sales, and that it's very important to get a high metacritic score fast during your highest opportunity for sales. There are company bonuses tied to positive Metacritic reviews, after all - this is a pretty wide practice across the industry. There are millions people who will pick up the new CoD sight unseen, but even those who are being relatively savvy will check a review or two first. Or watch something on Youtube, which is why WB's PR forced Youtubers to do that manipulative agreement for Shadow Of Mordor.

I mean, we know all too well what consistently poor reviews can do for a franchise, we're Sonic fans, and a publisher will do anything do to avoid this. Even doing some unethical shit.

Bethesda are running scared - They are notorious for gamebreaking glitches and errors in their games at launch, and lots of these never get patched, or a patch will break something else, because their QA department is a goddamn joke. They are probably worried that, at some point, the press will just start marking games down immensely, because it's been nearly 15 years and a Bethesda openworld RPG is synonymous with 'bugs' that should not be acceptable at their budgets and price, and they should have fixed this shit by now. It's not an unreasonable request, but Bethesda make enough money with their buggy crap to sweep it under the rug.

As for updating reviews with patch notes, unless a game is completely fucked upon launch (Hello, Arkham Knight on PC, or even No Man's Sky) it's worth an addendum to a review to note that its fixed. But most game patches do not change up the whole experience significantly, even after several iterations - MGS V is on 1.10, and whats changed is mostly balancing resources and loot stuff, for one example off the top of my head - but unless you're playing a MMO, like Destiny, a patch never seems to warrant a new review. These things are mostly for obscure bug fixing, stability and cleaning things up, not huge swingeing gameplay changes. No Man's Sky has been patched extensively, but the experience still seems as boring and spiritually bereft as it was when it was launched. As a contrast, Stardew Valley's recent 1.1 would warrant an edit of the original review because it adds a bunch of new content - but even though there's a lot of new content, that doesn't change the main experience of the game. 

That's the thing - reviews are about what experience the game is trying to communicate, and how effectively it does that. If bugs break that experience, and they get patched, you can just change the word document. Metacritic will only accept your score once (which is why people are reluctant to review Early Access games, among other things), but hey. But, for Stardew Valley, No Man's Sky, Destiny, or MGS V (and obviously a lot of games besides) the core things the games have you do don't change with patches or expansions.

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1 hour ago, Mystwalker said:

Not sure if that change alone would help in the long term, though. Lately it feels like appraising video games has become more of a community driven thing than a review publisher one, but that might be just me.

I think you're quite correct.  It seems to me that there's an increasing consciousness in video game communities - perhaps because of present mass participation in the Internet - that video game reviewing will likely (indeed, can only) give you a very individual impression, and while there are always technical things which you can refer to objectively like how well a game runs and whether it suffers from any glitches - which is what this thread is largely about, so I'm not downplaying it - outside of that a review can be a very subjective thing.  If you've aligned yourself with a review site where past experience tells you that you tend to agree with the likes and dislikes of that site's individual reviewers, then that's great!  But what if they like things which you personally dislike, or vice-versa?  What if you have completely different opinions on style and tone?

This is the real use of things like Metacritic, honestly.  Averaging out review scores is not necessarily very helpful, but I think it is far more valuable to be able to look at a range of considered impressions than just one individual's thoughts.  Ditto social media responses, messageboards...  The wider the range of opinions you're exposed to, the better an idea you'll get not of what an experience is technically composed but of whether you as an individual will enjoy it - the more likely you are to find an individual whose tastes are shared by you.  When I'm interested in a game I'm not yet certain that I'll like, I always look up multiple reviews these days.

(This is also helpful if your tastes are contrary to the majority.  I personal thought "too much water" was a completely legitimate criticism of ORAS.)

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I'll give my full opinion at a later stage, but right now I think Jim Sterling's latest video brings up interesting points on reviews.

My short opinion is reviews need to stay. They're important for us to determine our opinions on a game's worth before buying it, something very important now that game renting is becoming very very scarce so if you buy a game, you need to buy it with some kind of information with what you're getting into. The bigger issue is how publishers are abusing the review system through corrupting/bribing/pressuring reviewers to give them good scores by basically saying "If you don't, you won't get a review out on time, and your website will be taking a huge hit compared to those who will get the game to review". It's a scummy system. See this video as well:

 

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Going off some of the comments, I want to clarify that I don't think reviews should be abolished all together, and even welcome day one reviews still as normal. However, I think it would be important to update reviews over time, even if it's just a small blurb on the changes and how it impacts the game overall. While not every game sees drastic changes, most games today still see a slew of patches that aim to right any wrongs they struggled with at start. Its still a punishment if a team decides to push a game out early riddled with bugs, because their score is going to be lower at launch; the time where your sales matter most. That said, if a game remains relevant over time, then I still think it should be updated to reflect how the game currently stands. While Destiny was my example, I still think it applies to any game with a lasting online community like GTA V, Battlefield 1, Overwatch, Dark Souls, what have you. Hell I even remember people talking about how Battlefield 4 got better over time and addressed many of the weird junk it had going on at launch. Too bad there's not a review site I can visit that reflects upon that other than many a random Youtube video.

I just hope this isn't viewed as a personal attack on reviewers, and more of a question on if the nature of reviews can be improved on any. After some thought after what you guys said, maybe I should've narrowed this a bit to "should certain games receive scores over time?" Like in your opinion, would Minecraft deserve a different score today than compared to it's initial release? The core idea of the game still exists, but do you think enough has changed to warrant a new score all together? While it may be true that people don't really look at reviews once a game is out for awhile, as they can just flock to whom they trust more on the internet instead via twitter/youtube/etc, do you think having such updates on certain games could bring readers back to referencing reviews?

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So, publishers like bethesda and reviewers like jim sterling are in a constant battle with each other. What they fighting over is greater influence. Believe me when I say that reviewers and journalists are fully aware of the power they wield to "influence the conversation", if you know what I mean. That's probably too much power, so this is bethesda trying to take some of that power away from them.

Excuse me if I wax lyrical here, but:

Personally, I don't like how a reviewer can call a game bad, and then that becomes the gospel truth. I once heard the argument that a review is just an opinion that you don't have to agree with, but I don't feel like this is really the case. A review takes the opinion of the person writing it, and empowers it with such weight and influence, that it ceases to be an opinion - it becomes the truth. Now you look like a fool for disagreeing with the truth. The truth is, with a million people watching, they don't just listen - they believe.

Restricting the privileges of the games media to try and reduce their power is something I can personally get behind.

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