Tag games journalism

I’m In Your MMO, Reviewing Your Beta

Last time there was any talk about how to (or how not to) review MMOs was around the whole Eurogamer vs Aventurine debacle (often called “Zitrongate” after the reviewer). This was obviously a deep and traumatic event for some people, especially Darkfall fans that still can’t stop taking cheap shots at Eurogamer (despite them doing a re-review of the game). To me, though, the question has crept back into the front of my mind, as I’m currently reviewing two MMOs at the same time.

Ensign Squid

Ensign 418 of 666, codename "Squid", at your service.

As I mentioned in my last entry, this is an incredibly stupid thing to do. Last time I had two MMOs on my hands, I decided to skip one of them because the other had more priority (Aion over the first Runes of Magic expansion), this time both felt important enough to warrant my attention. It’s Global Agenda and Star Trek Online, two completely different games that both feel interesting enough to cover. I kind of wish I had stopped myself, but it’s too late now. They shall be reviewed.

So how do I go about reviewing a MMO? Thing is, I’ve had access to both of these games’ betas, Star Trek Online all the way back since closed beta and Global Agenda since some point during open. If I just had gone down the same route as a lot of other games journalists, I would have played both extensively over a long period of time, then tried them out for a bit after launch and then getting my reviews done a few days after they were released. Job done, I can sleep at night, my editors are happy, our readers are happy, everyone is happy (except perhaps the developer/publisher, if I had decided to give the game low scores).

My problem is that I refuse to review a MMO based on beta. No matter what people say, a beta is not a finished product. It might be as close as you can get, and most of the time the end of open beta will look exactly like the launch candidate, but by calling it “beta” and not “head start” or “early access”, the developers themselves are saying that the game is not done. So I won’t review it based on my experiences during beta, just like I would not review a game based on a late preview build (which are almost always like the finished product, except for perhaps a couple of bugs). I am not going to play the beta for anything except for an early look at what the game might become, just so I can get a review in a few days after launch.

Also, more often than not, the developer adds some form of patch close to launch that changes some fundamental things to the game. It might not warrant the title of “miracle patch”, but it’s often enough to make the game at least a bit better (or, in the case of Champions Online’s launch day, worse according to a lot of people). It’s kinda sad that this doesn’t happen earlier during the beta process, but the reason is probably that the developer still thinks beta is beta, while the marketing department thinks it’s free marketing. I’ve seen way too many reviews, some even printed in a magazine and passed off as a “real” review, that have even taken beta rumors as facts.

Global Agenda

This is my Global Agenda recon character. She dies a lot.

Do I blame the journalists themselves for this? No, of course not. They have deadlines, we all do, and have to work towards them. Also, there’s often pressure from the readers, who are dying to try out the game but want to know what their magazine/website of choice thinks. The only way to review a MMO and get a review out quickly is to play beta. I am just lucky enough to have editors that allow me to take the time I believe is needed, up to a certain degree of course. And despite this, I never feel fully satisfied, always having to add a disclaimer that there is no way I have seen or experienced everything and that some players will always have had more time than me and is bound to disagree. That’s why we have comment fields, as long as the discussion can be kept civil.

What I would like to see is a civil discussion about how to review MMOs. Last time it happened, the discussion was filled with so much anger at Eurogamer, or disdain towards how Aventurine handled the situation, that it was almost impossible to catch the good stuff amongst the constant din. So I’m going to try here – do you want your MMO-reviews early, or are you comfortable with waiting for them? I do realize that I’m probably talking to the wrong crowd, since most of my readers here are probably just as fanatic about MMOs as I am, but I still want to hear your thoughts about one of the hardest genres a games journalist can tackle.

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My Stress, My Headache, My Love For Games

A lot of people think that all game journalists do is play games and write reviews. Reviewing is a big part of it for most of us, of course, but what people forget is that playing games can take a lot of time. For example, here’s what my current gaming schedule looks like:

Dark Void – Playing this for GRTV, not really enjoying it. I still have to spend most of tomorrow playing and taking notes. Because don’t forget, when you’re reviewing games, you have to play them no matter how much dislike them. Dark Void is OK, but imagine putting hours on hours into a game you hate. No, it’s not fun.

Napoleon: Total War – Review copy dropped in today. Embargoed, so I still have time left to really dig into it.

Star Trek Online – Head start begins this weekend. Reviewing MMOs can be the worst, have to spend a lot of time with STO in the near future. Luckily, I have a very understanding editor-in-chief who understand how these things work. Still, I am working under a deadline, just like I did with Aion. I really hope the servers are ready for the amount of players that might try to rush in next week.

Global Agenda – Head start this weekend as well. Easier to review than a “real” MMO, will still need to spend a lot of time with it. Luckily, what I’ve seen from the beta, it is a lot of fun. Team Fortress 2 with XP. Still, my beating heart. A bit worried how it all will fit together after launch, though. How does the future look for GA? Will Conquer mode work out the way Hi-Rez hope?

Global Agenda

Me and Sera from Massively tear it up in Global Agenda. We almost won the round, too. Almost.

Mass Effect 2 – The game I just want to play and play and play and play. Review is filmed at GRTV this week, I’m not the main reviewer so I don’t have to finish the game before that. For which I am thankful, since I don’t want to finish it in a long time. I want to savour every delicious moment.

Game under embargo – Review of this is already in for the magazine (we had deadline this week), but we’re filming a review this week and I need to put together a longer version of the review for the site. Embargo runs out early February. Need to take a lot more screenshots as well. Thankfully, I am enjoying the game. I count my blessings.

Then we have the games I want to play on my “spare time”, like Lord of the Rings Online (more blogging about that coming up), EVE Online (thought I’d actually join the EVE Blog Banter this time, CK is dangling prices in front of our faces), Mass Effect (yes, the first one) and Darksiders (which I need to finish). Then there’s new DLC for Dragon Age: Origins and DLC upcoming for Assassin’s Creed 2… And quarter one has just started, there is a huge amount of games coming – a whole bunch of them will end up on my desk.

I’m not complaining, I love what I do. But remember to hug your friendly neighborhood game journalist next time you see him (or her, of course! Thanks, Stargrace!).

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Why are the children doing what they are doing?

Just look at us, with our crappy basement apartments and our old sneakers. Look at our cheap haircuts and threadbare T-shirts and our cut-rate cat food for our cats. Worse still, I feel for the unfortunate men or women who fall in love with us.

Game journalism in action.

Game journalism in action.

While Scott Jones does a great job at detailing how the life of a game journalist can look these days (it’s a must-read if you are either a game journalist or consider becoming one), this part jumped out at me. As I currently only work as a freelancer, managing the small amount of money I have is almost a daily chore – every month is a new adventure in trying to make ends meet. Last month I did OK, this month looks like living hell. In short, I feel for the girl who decided that I was a catch.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m writing this wearing a Fallout 3 t-shirt that I got from Bethesda and drinking coffee from a Dragon Age: Origins-cup from the EA Business Lounge at Gamescom.

Need a freelancer, by the way? I’ve written about games for five years (reviews, articles, convention coverage, press events, etc), done a lot of web-TV so I’m used to standing in front of a camera, and I’m also able to write about film or music. I’m available both in Swedish and English. I accept money transfers or Paypal (if it’s international work). If you want me, contact me.

Professor Beej recently asked on Twitter “[why] do you do what you do?” My only answer to that is that I’m not sure if I’ve got much of a choice. Trust me, just like Scott, I’ve asked myself many times why I put myself through this. The question is, can I see myself not doing it?

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Virtual worlds, massive multiplayer games and assorted ramblings

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