How do you review something that changes from one hour to the next? My answer is simple: without mercy.
Oh hey, if you're surprised to see me after yesterday's comments then don't be. I don't really drink anyways, unless you count my own bitter tears over why shit like what EA pulled is still going on. Perhaps though, it would be better to say that I don't drink yet, because today I'm still covering that whole SimCity thing, just from a slightly different angle.
One of the unintended side effects of the botched launch of SimCity is that there is some confusion in regards to review scores. Certainly the majority of the user reviews are in agreement, one of a rather negative persuasion might I add, but professional sites and reviewers aren't quite sure what to make of all of this.
It is, unfortunately, understandable that as some titles and genres move towards being rooted in completely online play that things such as servers and service become just as important as whether the actual content of the game is good or bad. Trying to play Team Fortress 2 with no servers would go over about as entertainingly as watching grass grow or paint dry. Likewise with playing a game like World of Warcraft.
I can acquiesce to the fact that no launch will be perfect, to varying degrees of catastrophe and patching frenzies. Still, when a game like SimCity comes along and people don't know how to review it, it's a little stymieing.
My problem is that it really shouldn't be.
I will admit that there are a number of factors to take into account when reviewing a game that may not be running completely optimally. If there truly were unforseen disasters that no one could have really accounted for then sometimes it can't be helped. However, I firmly do not believe that SimCity is one of these cases. I can understand why Polygon and other sites are changing review scores on the fly as the experience betters or worsens depending on whatever cryptic voodoo magic EA seems to be enchanting the servers with. I can understand it, I cannot agree with it.
SimCity can be played as an online game, it doesn't need to be though. This problem could have been mitigated or even avoided entirely with the inclusion of offline play. As I mentioned amidst my grandoise vitriol yesterday, it was EA's decision to force people to be always online, and as such the consequence of them not being prepared for it should be theirs alone to bear.
To handle a game with kid gloves because the publisher went wide on delivering the service required alongside the actual content is, frankly speaking, bullshit. I know that the PAR article that I linked earlier begins with an analogy of a movie theatre that burns down after critics watch a film, rendering everyone else unable to watch it. I believe though that this is a somewhat faulty analogy as it is termed and themed. A movie is something that you don't really actively engage in, but it is an experience that can still be ruined. For example in real life my brother-in-law and I went to see a film. During the screening the movie stopped not once, but twice, for no apparent reason. Everyone in the theatre (thankfully for the owners only a handful of people) got a ticket to go see any movie they wanted for free after that, as well they should have.
Still, I think a more fitting example, and one that I saw among many comments made about this whole thing, is that the experience is more akin to going to a restaruant. Does it really matter how good the food is if the service is absolutely abysmal? The lack of one of these qualities certainly has a great effect on the other, they are not mutually exclusive requirements. As the article states, "When the consumer’s best move is to wait to buy a game they’ve already decided to spend money on rather than purchasing the game at release, something very wrong has occurred."
If a developer or publisher wants to bring something to the table that needs extended services, then they had better make damn sure that those services are in place from the beginning. I know that every contingency cannot be prepared for, but take your worst case scenario, then times it by ten, and prepare for that. If this sounds familiar it's probably because I said something akin to it yesterday to, but this is a point that apparently needs to be hammered into some skulls.
If proper steps to ensure a minimally painful experience with the required secondary measures isn't taken, the a game deserves all the dumping that it will get; whether that dumping be from the public at large, professional game reviewers and sites, or both. Perhaps it is only that way that will make companies learn that if you want to do something, you'd better make damn sure that you're doing it right for when it goes live.