Once again we find ourselves at a crossroads over the way outlets review games. During the last great debate, there was much contention over scoring systems and how they were applied. Was an eight really an eight, and what exactly did it mean? How did that relate to a seven? Or how does a seven on a ten point scale, relate to a seventy on a hundred point scale? And of course, all of this was made only more complicated with the addition of sites like Metacritic, which attempted to aggregate those scores into one. Suffice it to say, it was a mess, but one that I am happy to say at least seemed to end more positively with several games websites opting to abandon scores altogether, relying now on their written word than the arbitrary scores that are assigned to them.
But now the time has come again, and it is no longer about scoring systems, this time, it’s about when reviews are released; enter Mortal Kombat 11.
In the latest in a long line of titles that continue to have portions of their game unavailable during review copies being sent out, Mortal Kombat 11 has found itself receiving a fair amount of flak over its painfully slow in-game progression and the perceived high cost of unlocking everything through microtransactions. While the later would prove to be incorrect (due to the method information was gathered), the former currently still exists as an issue that Nether Realms is actively working to address. But the point here isn’t why these problems exist (that’s another topic), instead, its how the misinformation regarding the microtransactions came to flourish and how many reviewers failed to cover an issue that consumers would take a significant problem with.
It isn’t a mystery why these problems came to rise—in fact—it’s been an issue for a long time for reviews. The only difference is now we have the perfect blend of misinformation and chaos that had come with Mortal Kombat 11’s launch. These issues were brought about by one thing, and one thing only, time.
When it comes to reviewing games, time is always the enemy: one’s personal time, work time, the internet’s time, the reader’s time, etc. All of these play a factor on when and how a review needs to be produced to be genuinely worth the venture of writing the review in the first place, with few finding exceptions. Consider for a moment the time table of reviewing a game and the factors at play to get a review out as soon as possible:
- Receiving the game
- Playing the game
- Writing or Outlining the Review
- Lead time for editing
- Embargo date
All of these play a factor in getting a review out “on time,” which in many cases, is when the embargo date lifts. This isn’t without reason, websites want to generate the most traffic to their pages so they, in turn, can earn advertiser money and keep their website staffed and running. Part of that effort is to make sure you are the first and most prominent site to be hosting that content; when Google goes to crawl your site for the new content and knows you are a leading website for a particular topic, you will be listed high in the search rankings, garnering the lion’s share of views. So for a site or content creator to provide a later review, it either needs to offering something that differentiates itself from other reviews or is from a source that isn’t reliant solely on page views for its survival (Ex. Patreon). When it comes to most major outlets, their revenue source is derived from advertisement revenue, and thus the need to provide a review immediately is paramount. Being the first is far from being the best, however, and by being first, issues like Mortal Kombat 11 begin to crop up.
In an effort to be that first, the time constraints mentioned earlier begin to affect the reviews being produced. In a perfect world, a review would consist of a full account of the game, but that is entirely too impractical. Instead, concessions are made, and less time is spent overall reviewing the game. This can take multiple different forms in how that shortened time is spent, but the overall result is the same, less time was available and thus, things will be missed. For the vast majority of games waiting to be reviewed, this isn’t an issue—most games only require certain milestones to be hit to make an accurate assessment of their quality. Unfortunately, this isn’t a trend that is moving in a positive direction, instead, it has been slowly regressing thanks to games being more of a service than a product than ever before. We see updates throughout a games life, some as soon as day one, consisting of significant changes to how the title functioned originally. This one consideration alone should be enough to bring pause to a review published before release: What changes lie beyond day one? Day ten? Day sixty? Is what is being reviewed before publication, with its short time constraint and incomplete picture, the type of review we as a community should promote?
No, otherwise we end up with Mortal Kombat 11.
We get reviews that didn’t have the amount of time needed to discover the problems that laid below the next layer of content. We get reviews that are unable to dismiss false micro-transaction claims because that function was unavailable during the time reviewers reviewed. This doesn’t only apply to Mortal Kombat 11, it applies to any game that has had a day 1 patch, a mechanic or function that can only be fully understood after so many hours, changes to fundamental systems midway through the game’s life, and multiple other scenarios that involve changing a game after reviews are done.
It’s impractical to expect a review after every single change in a game, but I don’t believe it’s asking much that as a community, and move towards accepting reviews that don’t come before release and rejecting reviews which try to do so with missing content during a review. I don’t expect outlets to change on their own, after all, money is at stake for these websites, for us, our stake is quality and accuracy. We need to shift our behavior, and be skeptical of early reviews, even going so far as ignoring them if we hope to have the type analysis that takes more time, delves more in-depth, and waits until everything is available to a reasonable degree to reviews.
Good things come to those who wait.