Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rant: Game Reviews

An interesting news story made the rounds last week. It concerned Electronic Gaming Monthly choosing to not review the prerelease version of Metal Gear Solid 4 due to the excessive limitations imposed by the publisher. The sequence of events does something like this. The review magazines want to get the reviews out about the same time that the game is released. To do this, they need access to a prerelease version. The lead time on publishing most magazines is over a month. In order to gain access, the magazines have to agree to certain limitations. But this time, in this case, the limitations were too severe. Thus the story.

First, a little background on me. Before turning into the cranky old man that I am today, I was once, like 15 years ago, a hardcore PC gamer. And I loved my gaming magazines. Do you remember those four page reviews in Computer Gaming World with more words than pictures? I used to devour those magazines. I used to buy the British version of PC Gamer for a different perspective. I ate it all up. I was so naive.

In reading various accounts of the EGM/MGS4 story and related forum posts, I noticed that no one seemed bothered by the fact that there are ever limitations imposed on the reviewers. Everyone seemed to praise EGM for making a disciplined stand here. All I could think, how could they ever agree to any limitations on any review in the first place. Every review in EGM is now tainted. At the very least they should disclose the limitations at the beginning of the review.

Every game review magazine does this, and they have been doing it for a long time. So, it is unfair for me to single out EGM. Worse, my beloved Computer Gaming World became Games for Windows few years ago and was jointly published by Microsoft. Basically, it became a PR rag for Microsoft and people stopped buying it. The print version died in April of this year. No one shed a tear.

For me, the end of game review magazines came with the PC Gamer review of Diablo 2. The reviewers were only allowed to play the prerelease version at Blizzard's site on Blizzard's computers. They gave it a great review. When the game was actually released. It was buggy. The usual stuff: it would not work with certain video cards, etc. I, and many other people, happen to have one of those cards. It was very standard video card, but I cannot remember which one. At that point, PC Gamer became worthless to me. I quickly canceled by subscription. They forgot who their customer was.

In the end, Blizzard patched Diablo 2, and the patched version is a great game. But the game I purchased would not run on my computer, making it one poor game. PC Gamer took some flack but did not make any real changes.

My other big complaint about the reviews was the lack of information on copy protection. They would have the occasionally have a story about how annoying copy protection is or a fluff piece on the evils of StarForce. But, what they would not do is just list in the info box for each game, along with how much disk space it needs, the method of copy protection. That would have been great for us, but would have pissed off their masters. Once again, they forgot who their customer was.

The lack of objective reviews has really hurt the PC gaming industry. As much as car makers might grouse about a bad review in Consumer Reports, they know that having informed consumers actually helps their industry. Customers feel more confident that they are making the right purchase and thus make more purchases. PC game publisher's failed to understand this.

Maybe I am just bitter that puzzle and logic game fell out of favor.


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