IGN announced earlier today that they are changing their review policy for particular titles that have the capacity to transform themselves over their lifespan. Re-reviews will be done on popular games that have been updated, patched, or stuffed full of DLC that it warrants a second look. Since NAG Online is tied in, in the background, with IGN through IGN Africa, it’s a policy that some of the staff manning IGN Africa have to take up as well. Its an interesting change and, I guess, mirrors some of the things being done at Polygon and addresses (but doesn’t yet solve) a few issues I raised in an earlier column, Should Day One reviews be delayed?
There’s a few things to take note of with this announcement, though. Despite the good intentions and the lip service it’ll be paying to games that truly deserve a second chance (along with the extra advertising revenue and the good publicity for the game developer/publisher involved), there are some angles that need to be addressed as they take this further.
It can’t be applied to all games in all genres
One of the aspects of a re-review policy that needs to be kept in mind is that not all games will benefit from this kind of thing. It’s expected, for example, that Battlefield 4’s multiplayer will be fixed over time and won’t be drastically changed from what it currently looks like. The same goes for games like Call of Duty, sports titles, RPGs or adventure titles like The Last of Us. Many of these games don’t see the kinds of changes that would distinctly change their character and for that reason alone, the majority of titles won’t see a revisitation. As IGN’s Reviews Editor, Dan Stapleton writes;
“While there are still many fire-and-forget releases that come and go as they always have, many more are constantly growing and changing after release. Through major patches and free content updates, a game that’s merely okay at release can become something good or even great just a few months later, and remain popular for years to come. A review set in stone can unintentionally mislead people seeking new experiences away from something we believe they’d enjoy if they pick it up today, and that’s contrary to our goals as critics and as gamers.”
So it’s more going to help games like League of Legends and DOTA2 to gain better scores and more fans through a revisitation of their offering and others like SimCity, Hearthstone and even GTA Online may see a re-review in the future. This would work particularly well for games that have emergent gameplay like DayZ Standalone or Minecraft and would be a definite change to the way free-to-play/pay-to-win games are assessed.
I’d certainly enjoy it if, for example, Gran Turismo 6 saw the same treatment. GT5 on launch was nothing like the game included in GT5: Academy Edition. Polyphony Digital’s changes to single and online multiplayer made it so much more fun and challenging and GT6 will probably continue that trend. In fact, it would be interesting to see how racing games with an online component change over time, especially with regards to how the community changes as people’s skill in the game goes up and the racers get tighter and more competitive.
But does this change launch reviews?
More specifically, does this address my questions in my earlier column as to whether launch reviews were being generally representative of the game and the experience that most people would get from it? Probably not. If it was possible to re-review all games that achieved commercial success or gained a cult following then perhaps that would open up the avenue for reviewers, journalists and Lets Players on Youtube to be more open and honest about the game as it stood for them on launch day.
No-one talked about the myriad of issues surrounding Battlefield 4, few people questioned the claims by Maxis that SimCity had to be online to work properly and provide a good experience and even fewer people called out Forza 5 for mixing in microtransactions with a pay-to-win model and massively reducing the visual quality from what was shown at E3 2013. I saw hundreds of people last year on forums around the world become burned by games that had positive reviews, but didn’t handle too well once the public got hold of them.
Note that not everyone is affected by the problems that come with the launches of titles such as these, but it is a problem that has been increasing in frequency thanks to the internet age. Even without something like this, I maintain that a game that is largely broken on launch should not get a good overall score.
However, re-reviews open up the avenue for writers to be more critical of game releases because there’s every chance that they can improve over time. In a similar vein to Cliff Blezinski’s comment that the $60 Day-one-on-disc model for game launches isn’t working anymore (never mind what merits that argument may or may not hold), the truth is that games have changed significantly in the past decade since the release of Half-Life 2 and Steam (what I consider the turning point of the industry to what it is today). Perhaps it’s time for some people to sit back and consider how to review games in the future because their delivery methods have drastically changed how they’re packaged and delivered to consumers.
Hype will still be hype and people will still be disappointed with how games handle in reviews but that’s the way things are today. Its not possible to please everyone but it is possible to please most people with a good game. So, I personally hope that a policy change like this allows good games to be honoured properly, as well as warn gamers against those that have not fared well following a release.