Friday 6 October 2017

The Train of Thought #2: Early Access Review Rant

How long should you play something before you review it? Aka the overexperienced reviewer

Well, for wargames, I always thought "a couple of hours" or "a few games" and for PC games, usually more - maybe a couple of dozen hours.  But browsing Steam, I've come across a phenomenon - the negative reviewer with huge gameplay time.

Obviously games can change; if a core game mechanic changed to make a game unenjoyable, I understand why a longtime committed player might "go off" the game or cease to recommend it. Or if a game became pay to win or introduced some dodgy or unbalanced content.  But these are guys who have played for thousands of hours.  2000+ hours.  That's 250 8-hour working days.  They're still playing. Sometimes they've had 100+hours in the last two weeks. And yet they say in their review "Don't buy this game, it's too bad/grindy/RNG/insert reason."


If you have played the game for 2000 hours, I think you've got your money's worth. If it took you 2000 hours to realise the game was "bad" either the game was really good at disguising how "bad" it was (i.e. it's fun) - or you're an idiot for taking that long to realise it was "grindy" or whatever.  If you're still playing the game for 50 hours a week, is it "bad?"  If it's always bad/boring/unfun and you've played it all this time/are still playing it, you're an idiot.

Play anything for long enough and I think you will see the flaws/get bored/get tired of it.  I've played the World of Tanks/Warships for 1000s of games and I regard them as deeply flawed.  They are very repetitive - but I'd probably play them one session a fortnight. However I do think the average gamer would get fun out of them, so I wouldn't recommend against it - after all, I'm still continuing to play them.

Early Access Reviews

I see a lot of reviews in PC games with the caveat "it's good for early access" or "it has potential, so I recommend supporting it."  For those unfamiliar with the term early access, it is a genius move that allows game companys to charge money for an alpha/beta copy of their game. Under the guise of "getting player feedback" or "working together to make the game the community wants" it's an excuse to use idiot consumers as beta testers/bug testers who pay for the privilege to play an incomplete game.  It's insane.

If, 20 years ago, someone said, "I"m going to charge $30 for a glorified tech demo, full of bugs, with almost no content, develop it slowly, and perhaps complete it in several years time" - I think they would have been laughed at. Now we call them millionaires.

Now, "early access" not only a way to cash in early in the development, and free bug testing: but I have an issue with the other benefit: EA games seem to get a free pass for any faults as it is "early access" and not expected to be polished or complete.  But the thing is - you paid for it.

If I sold you a burger at full price, but did not include the sauce or the beef patty, would you recommend my restaurant? "It's an OK burger for early access - his salad shows promise, so buy a burger and support him."

I don't blame the game companies. Heck, if idiots want to throw money at you for an incomplete product and pay to test bugs for you...   ...but reviewers need to not use the early access crutch.

It's a product you pay for - so it can be judged alongside other products you pay for (complete or not).
Is the game fun now? Is it playable now? Are the bugs gamebreaking now? Will you get enough fun/gameplay for the cash?

For example Ark:Survival Evolved was in early access for years. It has terrible optimisation, it's sometimes buggy - but the game is very playable, it huge amounts of content, and it can be judged against a complete game. At $15, I could recommend it without using early access as a  factor.

I think my approach is: Is the game worth the money now? If the devs never did another line of code for this game, would it be worth buying?  Yes/No? 

I guess the takeaways are:
+ Is it possible to be too experienced to review the game objectively?
+ Is it fair to "downvote" a game you have spent 1000s of hours on and continue to play? (and has not changed its core mechanics)
+ How should "early access" or "beta release" games be reviewed?

Obviously I am talking with PC games in mind, but I've seen a few "early access" wargames rules starting to seep in....


  1. It always cracks me up when you see the guy with 2000 hours on file and the review s “there’s nothing to do”

    1. My recent favourite was "I'm warning others not to play this as I thought it would get better and it didn't - I was tricked" (<- 2000 hours and 70 hours in last week...)