Thoughts on Reviewing Games

Checking my Twitter account feed, I came across a link to this editorial over on GameSpot.  I suggest you read that article, as it’s well-written and being what brought me to my present musing.  The short form is that games today are different than they were before, with day-one patches (or just patching in general, if you want to go that route), that, as that GameSpot article puts it, “games are no longer static pieces of entertainment […] many of them evolve over time […]”.  That is one large part of why I concern myself with older games.

What is written in the About this Site and About the Retro-ish Gaming Critic pages is the most important—that casual gamers aren’t, I feel, given the same consideration and resources as “hardcore gamers”.  Part of what led me to that, though, is the semi-recent trend in game development to, one could say, release “incomplete” games.

There was a time when if a game was released with severe bugs, the publishers spent a lot of money to re-print the game cartridges/discs, and the player went through the hassle of returning to the store to exchange the buggy game for one that worked properly.  This meant that developers were pushed to make sure the code worked darn well, that there were as few bugs and glitches as possible, and ones that were allowed through didn’t alter the game play much.  (That didn’t always happen, of course, but that’s a different topic.)

Now, a publisher can release a glorified alpha-stage product to stores, since they can then focus on working on the patches.  A.I. path-finding code not complete so non-player characters end up repeatedly smacking into walls?  Not a problem, release the game and get to work on a day-one patch.  N.P.C.s required to complete the game don’t actually exist yet?  That’s alright, that can be patched later, too.

It’s getting to where you can chuck a rock in any game store and, before being chased out of the store by employees for throwing rocks, you’ll hit more than a few games that are technically playable out of the box, but require at least a patch or two to function well.

The problem with that is there’s not really any one thing or person to blame.  One can say it’s the developers’ fault, but no developer really likes releasing buggy software.  One can say that it’s the publishers’ fault, then, for making the developers release said buggy software—but they don’t really like doing it, either.  One can also say it’s ourselves, the gamers, for demanding new games as quickly as possible.  While that last is, admittedly, the most tempting, we aren’t completely to blame, either.  Rather, it’s a combination.

To be sure, we as gamers—especially those of us more interested and invested in new games—are a hard fan-base to please.  Developing games is insanely difficult, and publishing them isn’t easy, either.  Both aspects of getting a game to store shelves require skill, talent, and relevant acumen, though we generally don’t remember that.

Even so, at best it’s a trifecta of reasons—a combination of the developers, publishers, and we gamers.  At worst, it’s still a trifecta, but which side deserves the most blame changes on a near-hourly basis.

The problem with that is that at the end of the day it almost doesn’t really matter who’s at fault for games being shipped “incomplete”—they’re still being shipped that way in the first place.  We as gamers have to deal with it, and the publishers and developers have to deal with us complaining about it.

Another issue to mention is that not every console is on-line.  A little over a year ago, Gamasutra published a study that claims the PlayStation 3 had the highest percentage of consoles connected to the Internet.  If we assume those numbers are more or less still accurate now, and going by the numbers of consoles sold as calculated here, that’s still tens of thousands—potentially millions—of units not connected, and thus not able to receive patches.  The numbers of units not connected grows for the X-Box 360 and the Wii.

That means that gamers who don’t have their consoles connected to the Internet—whether simply by choice, circumstance, or whatever else—are actually being punished by not being allowed to get “complete” games.  On top of having to pay whatever exorbitant price new games go for in your region, in order to make sure it’s functional you have to pay extra to get your system on-line.  If you can’t—say due to the financial situation—then, in the vernacular, you’re hosed.  Tough noogies for you, as they say.  The worst part about all of that is that we stand for it.

I still believe that most of the gamers being targeted by current publishers are in their teens to early twenties—ages where an Internet connection is generally not paid for by the gamer.  Whether by the gamer’s parents, college, or whatever else, many gamers of the targeted age group can have their consoles access the Internet, so I believe they may not really think about the gamers who can’t.

I don’t think it’s stupidity, selfishness, or any other such thing, I really don’t.  I think it’s nothing more than ignorance, itself not inherently a bad thing.  They simply aren’t really being told about the other side to the coin—yes, they have access, but not everyone does.  Not everyone can.

My “target audience” isn’t solely gamers with consoles who can’t or won’t connect them to the Internet, but they are a part of it.  As I’ve said quite a few times, “casual gamers” run a spectrum of definitions, and part of that spectrum is gamers who play inoften, either by themselves or with a friend in the same room with them.  Once more, that definition isn’t the only part of my “target audience”, but they are a part.

I can’t, in good conscience, concern myself with games that need patches to function and still try to say that I am trying to provide information for as much of that spectrum as possible.  Perhaps, one day, when I feel more comfortable with the numbers of systems connected to the Internet versus systems not connected, I’ll edge more into such games, but that won’t be for quite a while, if ever.

I just don’t feel I’d be doing justice to one part of the group of gamers I created this site for, the group who, again, don’t have many resources given specifically to them.  Maybe that will change.  A part of me really hopes it does, one way or another.  But if it does, it won’t be for a while, as disappointing as that might be.


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