Thoughts on proper reviews for early access games


#1

I know Waypoint’s not really a place for reviews, but I think this is interesting to talk about. I just saw Polygon’s review for Dead Cells and conversation on twitter that had me thinking about whether or not there should be proper reviews for early access games.

I mean I would say yes. And SBH’s video would do a better reason to explain than me so check that out if you’d like.

I think the biggest conflict for me is that I sympathize with the idea that early access programs should be some sort of platform for developers to get a game out, some extra funding, and let the most dedicated players try out the game as it gets developed and can understand not wanting bad reviews to make the game dead out of the water. I also feel that early access reviews to an extent wouldn’t be able to properly evaluate a game’s artistic merits and would be much more biased toward viewing a game as a product you spend money on, as often the last things to be placed in a game are major art assets and stories and the like.

But I also feel it’s unfair for games like ARK or DayZ (or almost any survival game let’s face it) to be able to stay in early access forever (while selling expansions too) and use it’s incomplete status as a shield to criticism. And given the more frequent use of early access programs, people should be given an idea of what the game is like, a review has a date beside it for a reason. And many games would benefit from this, like Dead Cells, or PUBG. while consumers would still be getting information on what they are actually getting and how it is.

Anyways, what are your thoughts?


#2

I think if a game is at it’s peak public awareness and it’s asking for money, then reviews are relevant. If that happens to be during Early Access then that’s fair game.


#3

I’m going to go with definitely not. It would really defeat the entire purpose of the early access. Which is this game is not ready for prime time but pay us for the non-prime time ready version to get it there.

If all the major sites covered early access title like complete releases. Then there is absolutely no incentive for developers to ever actually leave early access. The bigger game like you mentioned don’t need to leave because the early access shield is worth more than the pultry awareness bump major review coverage to their already massive awareness.

Removing that would just make the hugely successful early access games have literally no reason to ever exit it. The mid tier titles would have no reason to leave since it will not change thier success. It would actively hurt the lower tier early access games the really needed the early access period to get their games to a sellable state but would lose that delayed coverage bump they need to see the most success.


#4

Yup, if they’re actively selling their game then all bets are off. Plenty of officially released games are still in full development after launch.

This is arguably the case for Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege as much as any early access game. Ultimately a developer/publisher decides when a game is Ready for Primetime by releasing it, whatever form that release takes.


#5

Early Access is understanding that you are gambling on a game in an unfinished state and subject to wildly change at every update. Why would there be a review of a game under the pact that every player knows that they’re playing an incomplete product ?

That’s just seeking retribution for early Access games dragging their feet, but if someone feel they got ripped off it’s on them.


#6

That’s a fine sentiment when the lines are clearly drawn, but they’re not.

As some others have pointed out, where does that leave, say, an MMO - the kind of game where it is expected to go through several world and gameplay changes over the course of its lifetime. There have been Early Access games that made it to full release with fewer iterations than, say, WoW, or FFXIV.

Or where does it leave competetive multiplayer games, iterated on for similar reasons.

This isn’t just simple patches and bugfixes, these games are expected to be in a constant state of development.

Why should they be reviewed on launch, and an early access game might just up getting a few cosmetic improvements and balance fixes shouldn’t?

Surely rather than try to draw an arbitrary line for what’s reviewable and what isn’t, it would be simpler to say everything is reviewable, but the reader should be made aware of whether they’re reading a review of a final polished release, a work in progress, or something that expected to be iterated upon for years.


#7

I think this is kind of key to the entire discussion. Some early access games sell themselves as having their core game down and the only thing left are bug fixes and finalizing assets and are only going to be in early access for a couple months. Others might have a lot of work needed and will be in it for a year or two. And others even might have one really polished half of a game able to play and need early access to finish up the second half. And often it can be difficult to tell the trajectory of a game’s development. The only thing that really links all early access games is that they are available for the public to play. And in many cases, they cost a player money to play.


#8

An early access game is the studio specifically reneging on a proper launch of a complete product where the bulk of the sales are made to offer a preview of what’s to come and why players should support them. A game going out of early access does not offer a significant boost in sales, it’s about taking huge risk to convince players to bet in them and offer the ability to give feedback to improve the game and/or obtaining enough funds to properly realize the vision they seek.

If reviews happens as a game is still in early access, in a press who very rarely updates their scores and with a metascore that cannot be changed once submitted regardless of updates, you are effectively putting an end to all kind of early access in any form whatsoever as you do not give them the ability to show a complete product to review. The only metric that the whole press is going to give to their audience is the metric of an incomplete game that will follow the game whatever it will be when it launches.

Why other games like an MMO or FPS should be reviewed on launch, then ? Because we certainly expect that these games are complete, and the core gameplay remains the same. FF14 might have gotten expansions and fixes, but the base game (ARR) is the same for everyone regardless of when they played it. Rainbow Six might have gone through some improvements and new content, but the core gameplay is also the same.

The review of the game will often always remain relevant regardless of the kind of service operated in the lifetime of the game. I think the game and the service offered in its lifetime should remain separated. Selling a complete game on the promise that it will be supported and then asking for a change in review as time goes by is a deeply unfair process that will only benefit industry juggernauts like Ubisoft who is now shifting its strategy towards that kind of practice through most of their games (The Crew, The Division, Rainbow Six, etc.).


#9

I just think you’re making a distinction here which is fuzzy in practice.

What it really boils down to is that I don’t see how it’s unethical to review whatever you like in whatever manner you choose as long as you are clear about it. People can take from it what they need to, as long as they’re informed.


#10

‘Core gameplay’ is a pretty ambiguous phrase, I’d say the core gameplay of both these games has changed pretty substantially since launch, and I think the developers would take issue with the claim that either game was ‘complete’ at launch.

And this.


#11

I am absolutely not saying it’s unethical. I’m saying there’s only ever 1 review that matters and in an industry obsessed with metascore that cannot be edited, it’s going to be the first one. I’m not advocating against reviewing in any way you like, but giving complete freedom does have consequences that needs to be addressed, even though a hands-free position is the most neutral one can make.

It’s always going to be ambiguous when we’re talking about games. Yet, in the case of R6:S and FF14, I think original reviews remains relevant today and I don’t think someone playing through base game A Realm Reborn would have a wildly different experience than me years ago. The game fixes itself up with expansions in any case (and they are reviewed if i’m not mistaken).

The game and the service that comes as a follow-up should be treated separately is all I’m saying.


#12

That’s not the critics problem, nor should it be.

This is why the only metric you can use as to whether or not a game is ready to review is whether or not it has been released for public consumption.

Devs can attach whatever label to their release they want, but thats not the critics concern, their only duty is to their own audience.


#13

Another part of this is that some early access games fail. I think it would be valuable for professional reviewers to give a view on whether a game is worth your time right now otherwise its all hype and word of mouth, which might not actually get into the kinds of specifics reviews can be useful for.


#14

So a conclusion I’m sort of arriving at regarding this: official reviews unfortunately have a sort of finality to them as a side effect of the industries (and larger consumer audiences?) obsession with metascores, which is a severe detriment to a game that isn’t considered complete. So we’re stuck in a place where reviewers both hold responsibility to consumers and developers alike. Ideally, professional reviewers should not be beholden to developers - which is why I want reviews of early access games - though I can also see why publications would want to hold back on putting down any official verdict (or let’s face it - numbers).


#15

An MMO or game like Overwatch have AAA publishers backing them. That is massive difference. With that backing they better be in a primetime ready to be reviewed state when they are released to the public. Early Access is a publisher money alternative method for getting a game off the ground for a real launch.

Journalists already let publishers dictate when a game is ready to be reviewed with all the nda on pre-prelease versions they get to see. I think it is nice and fair thst they extend the courtesy to early access titles to give the small dev to compete on a more even playing field with the big publishers.

What is the real positive impact would early access reviews really serve? Negative reviews would not negatively impact early access juggernauts in anyway. They already got there money and the public opinion is mostly fixed. All a negative review would do it promote fan backlash against reviewers and start up a discussion which would only be free publicity for the game. You just reward them.

Sure awareness could be brought to early access games that are already good and ready for primetime. But that same end is accomplished by the dev taking the game out if early access themselves. Why force thier debut when they are not ready for it.

The only real impact would probably be punch down at games they are shakey at best that could have the potential to turn it around.

The only real change to the early access system that could have positive effect on helping customers to make a more informed decision about buying early access titles would be to completely segregate them from normal market spaces. They shouldn’t appear on best sellers it recommendations or in sales or any if that. They probably should even show up anywhere in the steam application. You should have to run a separate launcher to get to them. That way no one who buys them know exactly what they are getting into.


#16

There’s nothing stopping a smaller dev from giving press access under an NDA, formal or otherwise. I’m sure it happens all the time. This is not the same as releasing the game for general consumption under an early access label.

The same positive impact all reviews serve.

This happens with AAA games all the time, why should smaller devs be held to a different standard?

A critics job isn’t to serve the interests of developers or publishers, whatever scale they are operating at.


#17

I have absolutely no problem with a reviewer taking a look at a game that is being sold to me early access and that reviewer telling me that in their opinion it is not something worth my time and money unless I am super interested in seeing the game in an unfinished and very flawed state. Especially if the review is clear that it is talking about an early, in development version that is on sale.

If you’re the sort of person that is interested in being involved in the community around developing a game at those early stages, that kind of review isn’t going to affect your decision. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then you just saved some money. So the only way this could negatively impact a game is if people are buying Early Access games based on incorrect expectations.

If the economy around early access games relies on people thinking they’re getting more of a finished product than they really are, then I don’t think that’s a very good system in the first place, and any effort to keep people better informed about that, especially when the variety of states Early Access games launch in is so wide, is probably worth doing.


#18

Yeah, obviously it’s quite complicated no matter where you stand.

Strongly believe early access is a good thing though. More power to devs to realize their projects :+1:


#19

If you are a small dev relying on the early access model to make your game then of course you can’t nda your game like AAA title because it is literally impossible to nda an early access title.

The purpose I see normal reviews of normal titles is to act as a counter balance to marketing of a product. A bad review for an excellently marketed game steers readers away from buying a title they might otherwise bought. The same is true for good reviews if poorly marketed game. They can also confirm that the marketing was right and this game is good.

Early Access games don’t have a marketing push by there nature. They are pretty much completely sustained by word of mouth. There is no real reason for a product review to argue for or against public opinion on a thing. Now they wanted to do a real release with a real marketing cycle sure review them all you want. You could also do critical pieces on early access games all you want.


#20

You can if you don’t, you know, release your game to the public. No one is putting a gun to dev’s heads making them release games before they feel they are ready, or making a game which which they cannot finish without releasing it in what they consider an unfinished state.

I…disagree. The purpose of a review is to convey the reviewers experience of the game. That’s it, nothing else merits consideration.