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 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.
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.