Does the World Always Need a Game Review the Moment a Game Hits Stores?
The other day I was at the bank sorting out some bank bullshit--I'm good at earning money, but managing it makes me absolutely miserable--and I was pissing and moaning like a kid who'd been dragged into the Lady's Department at Sears by his mom. (Something that happened to me a great many times in childhood.)
Once it was all mercifully over, my account guy William and I started chatting about games, which is only my favorite conversation topic in the entire universe. He asked me about Assassin's Creed II. I told him it was terrific. He told me that he had played the original Assassin's to death, and that he was curious about the sequel, particularly after my endorsement.
Considering the pain I'd just put the man through, I said, "You know what? Let me buy you a copy of the game, and I'll bring it with you to our next appointment."
After some polite, Canadian-style cajoling, he relented and accepted my offer. This, despite the fact that our next appointment was not until the first week in December.
On my way out the door, I asked, "So you're fine not playing the game until December?"
"Of course," he said. "I'm pretty busy with other games just now anyway."
As someone with de-bug units (those magical machines that play alpha and beta builds of games), as a person who is accustomed to playing everything yesterday, this confused me.
William, it seemed, was more than OK waiting a few weeks to play Assassin's Creed II.
Which made me think, once again, about the industry's never-ending push to have comprehensive reviews posted the very second a game hits store shelves. (Or, ideally, one second before a game hits store shelves.) Just how necessary is it to do this?
To most people, to average gamers, like William, it's probably not nearly as necessary as we think it is.
Look at what some journalists went through, and the ethical sacrifices they made along the way, to post timely reviews of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. (Thanks to Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica for the story, by the way.)
Truth is, for us, getting builds, also known as "early code," is very, very difficult.
I probably blow five to 10 hours each week in the name of trying to get a build of, say, Tekken 6, or The Saboteur, or Left 4 Dead 2. I'm talking about writing strings of emails, and leaving voicemail messages, and at times, threatening to go over someone's head, all in the name of having a review ready when the game ships. It's this perpetual of feeling like I am swimming upstream; of always feeling like there are forces in the universe that are working against me, that are actively making it difficult for me just to do my goddamn job.
You try getting caught between a deadline and an empty mailbox every day. It's not fun.
And the excuses that PR people and publishers feed me, just to keep me at bay? "It's on the way." "Huh. That's weird. It should be there by now." "OH, it went to the wrong address." "It's not my fault; Japan hasn't sent us anything yet." Look at all the time they're wasting.
Seems really fucking silly when you think about it.
Do reviews get written under duress sometimes?
Can these experiences with PR and publishers ultimately color a writer's take on a game?
And do we need day-and-date reviews for games?
You mull all that over while you're eating your turkey this week.