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When is a game ready for review?

January 29th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 14 Comments · Industry, Media

There’s a lot of talk in my circle about the public beta for THQ’s Dawn of War 2, a game they are still doing a lot of balancing for. This is, after all, a beta.

Still, Future publishing has had no problem running reviews of the RTS.

Considering the prevalence of balance patches throughout the lifetime of a real time strategy game, I suppose many reviews go to print without being the “final version.” But beta means work in progress. So how much work needs to be incomplete before you can tell the media that its ready to go?

And don’t reviewers have an obligation to write in their reviews that the version is, in fact, still being tweaked?


14 Comments so far ↓

  • James Allen

    Retail release day is the benchmark I use. I think if a review comes out before then or on the day of release, then it’s assumed that the review used a beta or gold version that might not be exactly what the retail/release version is.

    Speaking of DoW2, is “beta” the new demo? At least if they say it’s a beta then people will assume problems will be fixed by release time, although that’s usually the case with a demo that’s out before release.

  • Thomas Kiley

    @ James Allen, yes since Halo 3 (which actually was a beta) every game has been hopping on that train and releasing “betas”. I think it is partly because it makes players feel like they are involved in the game development and it gives them an excuse if it sucks!

    Personally, as I can never compete with Gamespot, I pride myself on taking my time reviewing games to get a feel for the whole game (read: I don’t get around to it for ages)

    But as for reviewing a beta, that’s just stupid and a blatant attempt to get ahead of other websites. For one, the single player and half the maps AREN’T EVEN INCLUDED. All that websites should do are some impressions.

  • Troy

    To be clear, Future was not reviewing the beta – they obviously have a full build with a campaign and single player skirmish.

    But the multiplayer portion is in beta and there is still unit balancing going on.

  • moromete

    Well, did Future focus on the multiplayer element? If they did then too bad for them. If they focused on the single player and skirmish then I guess it’s OK.

    Om a tangent: I think every comment on a game should specify what status the game version used was (gold; alpha; beta; retail; patched to version X)…

  • JonathanStrange

    Interesting question: I’ve read reviews of game’s that criticize (or at least note) problems that had been fixed or patched before the review appeared – and I’ve thought the review somewhat unfair. However, given the buggy state of so many games, often released unfinished or with known issues, I’d rather any problems that the reviewer had be mentioned.

    Otherwise, game creators will continue to shove unfinished games out the door expecting us to snap ’em up and hope for a patch later. Any incentive to reduce/stop that practice, I’m in favor of.

  • SwiftRanger

    From what I heard there is still going to be a separate demo for DoW II. In PCG UK, one of the Future mags with an early review, they’re listing a demo to be on the next cover DVD.

    Given the many problems with matchmaking/Live/game stability in the current beta (and the fact two new maps and an army painter will be available on the day of release) it would be a mistake to regard this as ‘finished’ or even as a demo, although you can already see what the multiplayer is about. Aside from the dual Live/Steam implementation DoW II mp (3vs3 at least then) itself is one of the best things that could have happened to online RTS’s since WiC imo. Online beta tests are as old as the street on PC and I think it’s good more and more RTS’s are doing them (the first DoW even had one…).

    That PCG UK review mostly talked about the singleplayer (which is a disappointment apparently with repetitive missions as the primary concern) but it briefly touched on multiplayer as well. I think the mag will do an update on the mp part as they did with other ‘early reviewed’ games like FC2 and GTA IV.

  • Troy

    By the way, the game went gold on January 19th, and anything that saw print in the last week or so would have to be much older than that – at least six weeks from the publication date.

  • Primemover

    PC Gamer (got it yesterday) gave it an 86%. They obviously reviewed a pre-released version. That seems a departure from their norm, as they typcially put out reviews in an issue following the game’s release. That does not necessarily mean they reviewed a finished version, but I will leave those comments for people like Troy who know much more about that process.

  • Thomas Kiley

    To quote an email I got from THQ Press Net

    “Review code will be available around the 13th feb”

    Maybe they have exclusive contacts (which I obviously don’t!) but that is a pretty big gap.

  • James Allen

    Game companies occasionally send out gold masters to select review sites in advance of everyone else; I know I have gotten a reviewable version of a game well before (2 weeks) the release date in the past, and have also been told that a major gaming site had first dibs at publishing a review of another game.

  • cheeba

    It’s not that unusal for PCG UK to get review copies long in advance of the regular review crowd – they’ve always seemed to have strong contacts, and have been doing such for all the years I’ve been reading them, it seems.

    And anyone thinking of calling shenanigans should bear in mind – a major print mag like that can’t just pull a review out of their ass without severe consequences. Whatever the state of the review copy, it was certainly passed to them directly by THQ and declared fit for review, which to all intents and purposes is the equivalent of handing them the final master as far as critics are concerned. If they have reviewed an unfinished version, THQ have no-one to blame but themselves.

  • Justin Fletcher

    “And anyone thinking of calling shenanigans should bear in mind – a major print mag like that can’t just pull a review out of their ass without severe consequences.”

    Maybe things are different in the Mother Country, but the only consequences I’ve seen for that behavior in the U.S. is a bunch of folks like me bitching about it on forums and blogs.

    That’s not the sort of thing that strikes terror into the hearts of publishers stateside.

  • cheeba

    Well, if they’d reviewed without publisher approval, they’d be a loong time in getting another exclusive. In some notable cases, publishers have withdrawn support completely and left the mags to buy their review copies from game stores on release. Which for a print mag, is of course much too late to cause any significant impression. not to mention withdrawing advertising, another major blow in itself.

  • Andrew.

    @primover: Actually, reviewing unfinished games is officially PCG (US) policy:


    And they are not talking about “gold masters”.

    I hate referencing my own material, but this had to be pointed out in this discussion because I don’t think many people fully realized the gravity of admissions like these.