Reviewing and the curse of relevancy

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Game development has changed.

That might seem like a weird statement. Of course it has changed, there’s lots of fancy new tech, engines are more convenient and powerful than ever before, and budgets for creating games have rocketed skywards. However, the most important change and one the industry still hasn’t fully adapted to is the widespread use of the internet.

Before online distribution the game you bought was the game you got. There was no way to patch a console game on cartridge or disc and patches for PC games were cumbersome as developers had to send you the files by physical mail with instructions attached. If your game had bugs, performed poorly, or just wasn’t fun to play there was no way to fix that after release. In other words: you only had one chance to get it right.

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Nowadays you  can buy a game on launch, run into a few nasty glitches, only to see the developer release an update two days later that fixes those. While it might present an initial annoyance, and there is a case to be made for developers becoming more sloppy in recent years, overall this is a positive development that results in better games for everyone. Except, not everybody is on board with this.

Video game journalists have a powerful role in this industry. While nowadays forums and word-of-mouth sell games arguably better than traditional journalism, it is reviews that will be recorded on a game’s wikipedia page, that will forever stamp a number on a game on Metacritic, Mobygames, and other sites like that. And while games are continuously improved upon, sometimes for years after launch, reviews only record what the game is like for, at best, the first two weeks of its existence.

Whether it is the written word, a video review on Youtube, or a Let’s Player tackling the latest indie hit, none of these people ever go back to their old material to update the information presented in them. A major reason for why I started this site was a review I regret while working under Rely on Horror.

Claire

I was tasked with playing Claire, an independently-developed horror game very akin to Lone Survivor. It was a beautiful game and I really enjoyed the story, but when I played it the gameplay was underdeveloped; the chase sequences were pretty mediocre, puzzles glitched out, and the effects of the sanity meter weren’t that interesting. I posted my review and the final number I arrived at was a 5/10, a number that, for as far as readers are often concerned, might as well be a 0. Nobody gives the time of day to a game that scores anywhere under a 6.

It felt terrible to post that review and I kept monitoring the game’s steam page. Within a week a patch came out that made hiding spots for the chase sequences more tactically placed and fixed the issues with the puzzles. I then received an email from the developer who explained his vision behind the game’s sanity effects and of course even more patches followed after that. The game I reviewed was gone, replaced by a much better one, but anybody looking the game up would find my critical review that no longer reflected the product they could purchase.

There is no benefit for reviewers to fix outdated reviews. It’s a lot of work to keep track of various patches coming out for every game you ever reviewed, much less play the game again each time to see if your opinion has changed any. Even if you could somehow pull that off, sites like Metacritic only record the first review you ever did and you’ll never earn enough ad revenue through these updates to make it worth the bother.

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That is why Legacy of Games maintains a policy that we will only make exceptions for in rare situations: Any game we review must be a year old. A year gives developers ample time to adjust the game and fix any glaring issues, as well as release any extra content they might want. If they are still working on essential fixes a year down the line (and it’s not an early access product) then that shows us that maybe the game was nowhere near ready for release to begin with, and If the developer is still regularly releasing content updates for the game by that point, then we will definitely praise them for it!

But we can do that because Legacy of Games is a passion project. This site is cheap enough to run it without ads that benefit us (the ones you see are by WordPress) and since gaming history is our thing we aren’t really affected by hype for the latest games. Sadly, I have no solutions to offer for this problem, so only time will tell how reviews evolve alongside technology. For as much as I stand behind our system, regular reviews are necessary to inform customers as soon as possible. So many people buy games in the first week of release and the first priority of reviews should always be to inform customers; making sure the statements made in the review are still relevant a year down the line is just an extra I hope some writers and outlets are thinking about.

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