The question of “in-progress” game reviews

Maybe I’m just new here, but what’s the deal with “in-progress” game reviews?

And why did I bold reviews?

Hmmmm…?

Over the past few years, partial and “in-progress” reviews have become quite commonplace on gaming sites, mostly large, but some small. And it’s becoming more and more routine to see these pop up within hours after a game is released. Understanding that views are king in this online world, it seems perfectly reasonable for folks to want to get their opinions out in the open as soon as possible. And the honest truth is that with many games these days is that it’s fairly easy to formulate an informed opinion of a game after only a few hours of play.

But can these initial opinions honestly be called reviews?

“Initial” or “first impressions” posts are common online. In them a writer offers an in-the-moment rundown of sentiments, pros/cons, likes/dislikes concerning a particular thing, be it a video game or a coffee maker. It’s inherently understood that these impressions should be taken as in-the-moment, quick, and mostly importantly, fluid feelings. As important as first impressions can be, they are also changeable. Very often, writers follow “first impressions” articles with more substantial reviews that, while certainly not set in stone for the ages, represent their truest and most cultivated thoughts on that video game or that coffee maker.

Unfortunately, it seems that the word “review” has become quite abused in the online world, especially when it comes to games. When I seek out game reviews, I expect that the writer (1) has at least completed the bulk of a game if not finished it, and (2) the writer has also ventured at least a few hours into a game’s underbelly through side quests and such. I’m more than happy to read someone’s “I’ve played for an hour and here’s what I think” post, so long as it’s not titled a review. Because it’s not. It’s can’t be. (Well…unless the game is only an hour long. Then there, you got me.) A review should be something that helps enlighten the judgement of the unfamiliar reader; a helpful tool for someone who simply wants to understand whether or not something is worth investing in. A review may be opinionated, but it shouldn’t be only a list of (hasty) opinions.

More unfortunately, this leads into a larger discussion about the current and somewhat questionable state of gaming journalism. No doubt that it’s a tough world in which to pursue this noble venture. Where once people had to set pen to paper into order to complain to their favorite author about their review of this or that game, now e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e has the ability to make their unhappiness known e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e else with just a few keystrokes. But, bad comments or no, when the point of a gaming site is to host game-related articles, it’s no wonder that that semantics are thrown aside in favor of PUBLISH NOW! I can’t say that I necessarily miss the days when game reviews didn’t come out in print a month or two after the game’s release, but [old person alert] at least those articles felt more substantial and more meaningful in the end.

I enjoy reading what people think about and do in games, and I’m more than fine with wading in the shallow end with folks and their first impressions of games. As it’s often during a game’s first impressions phase that one’s strongest and most lasting views are formed. Realizing that my case here is merely a seed in the breeze, I’m only searching for a little more transparency. First impressions of a game are just that – one’s first-time gut reaction to the beginning elements of a game. Call them “initial impressions,” “first thoughts,” “opening views,” or whatever suits a particular fancy. But please, don’t call them reviews.


What do you think? My expressed opinions are my own, so am I just being too much of a fuddy duddy? (After all, game reviews aren’t going to solve world peace or save the whales.) What are your thoughts on game reviews in the Internet age?

Lede image by Flickr user Beautiful Games (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

27 Comments Add yours

  1. Yeah, using the term “review” just seems weird. I mean, I *guess* they’re reviewing the portion of the game they’ve played and feel comfortable discussing, but “first impression” seems more transparent until a final review is written.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Yeah, just a change in the wording would make all the difference. And I can certainly understand that with some games, it’s easy to “review” things in stages, especially if the game is ever-changing (i.e. No Man’s Sky), but at some point, you gotta draw the line. There could be little point in writing a full-blown review after you’ve already written a bunch of tiny, in-the-moment ones. Which ones are the readers to believe in the most? I don’t know, but it’s a tough call.

      Like

      1. I think this is the main reason I don’t pay attention to reviews for titles in Early Access/Xbox Game Preview. Those games change constantly (or sometimes go forever unfinished).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Imtiaz Ahmed says:

    If someone has only played a portion of a game and calls it a review, I do find that a bit questionable. Unless they state that they only played a portion for a reason and say something to the effect, i could not get passed this point because of such and such things with deter me from playing and liking the game. Again, a reviews job is to be 100% honest and transparent.

    I’m ok with first impressions to, I do them myself and title them that way, but I see your point. Some reviews which are to be made for launch could feel like first impressions almost. Especially now when this games of a service thing is becoming a thing and games are constantly changing for the better after release.

    At some point, we’ll probably see re-reviews for games that change substantially since launch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Y’know, I actually like the idea of revisiting reviews. I understand that people have got to get their reviews published asap, so a little hasty thinking probably ends up happening just because of deadlines and such. Once the writer has really had a chance to get into whatever game is being reviewed, and if their thoughts have changed since their first write up, then yeah, why not write an update? It’d be way more honest than stringing readers along of a course of “in-progress” “reviews.”

      And you’re right, so many games nowadays change over time with updates, patches, and the addition of new content. The game someone is reviewing in hour ten may hardly be the same game once they reach hour 100. So then you write your 10-hour review and your 100-hour review. Now that’s a plan!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hatm0nster says:

      They’re actually doing things like “re-reviews” on several sites already. They call them things like “state of the game” posts or “revisited” or other things along that line. They tend to be treated as separate pieces rather than just getting appended onto the original review, though.

      In-progress reviews are definitely an iffy-thing. As Cary said, it can’t be a review if haven’t gotten your head around most of the game. Calling a piece based on an incomplete experience a “review” is a bit misleading. There’s at least on site that does something called a “review log” or review diary”. Those kind of read like a play-by-play of the authors experience with the game. They’re a bit better, but still…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. simpleek says:

    I agree with you. If you use the word review that better mean you finished or are at least 90% done with the game. I think because everyone has that I want it now mentality and social media makes it easy to make stuff live in an instant, there is that pressure to get that review out. Doesn’t matter if you’re not really ready to publish something. In a way, I’m glad I’m not a games journalist tasked with doing reviews because I know I’d hate to rush anything I write and it wouldn’t accurately reflect everything I want to say anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Yeah, I really don’t envy the pressure any journalist is under, let alone a gaming journalist. Games come and go so quickly these days, and it’s a shame that most folks probably aren’t allowed the time they want (or need) to offer in-depth reviews. Like I said, I’m fine with all the “quick thoughts” and “first impressions,” but just leave the word “review” out of the mix until you have time to write a real, honest review.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Emon says:

    I’m not a big fan of “review in progess” either to be honest, I think its really done for the views. Something IGN does a lot, I’d rather wait an extra few days and get a proper review from it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Nothing against IGN, but yes, you’re right. It’s really common to see these “in-progess” deals there. I, too, would rather see someone take time with a game and write up a meaty post about it over something written solely for views.

      Like

  5. Kariyanine says:

    There are a few reasons this is done and have become more prominent. The first is obviously views. I’ve talked to numerous people that work at different big name sites and they all say the same thing. Traffic on their reviews drop exponentially if they don’t hit first or at least at the same time as everyone else. Because of how quick the industry moves (new games every week), if the review isn’t out before or immediately around the release of the game, the consumer/reader has already moved on to next week. If your competitors are posting things that say review and you are posting something that says first impressions, your opinion seems less valid. Its not necessarily true but the viewing trends seem to speak to that and being as these are sites that run off of advertising money, content clicks are your bread an butter.

    Another big reason is that Battlefield 4 and SimCity happened. These were games that EA had review events for, reviews went out to generally good praise and then the games launched busted. Games content can be reviewed but the online experience might not match up in a live environment. Hence, here is your review but its “Provisional” or “In Progress”.

    And finally, we have the live games. Games that aren’t content complete when they launch and for that matter might never be content complete. Games like Destiny or The Division fall in this category. (I’m going to completely disregard MMOs as reviewing them is a whole different can of worms) In many cases, the reviewers have already spent hours and hours with the game, far more than a first impression, but can’t honestly give a final opinion on it because big parts of it are missing and haven’t been experienced (like the raid in Destiny).

    My experience with reading these “In Progress” reviews is that the final review has only added a touch more to the “In Progress” piece and for me, I don’t have a problem with it. However if I did come across a review that read like a first impressions piece, I’d question what the reviewer/site was doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Aha, much obliged for the extra insights here. Taking these factors into consideration, I certainly see how tricky it can be navigating the gaming waters as a reviewer. I don’t mean to discredit the work that it takes folks to get their first reviews made public as soon as they possibly can. At times, it must be harrowing! I also never really thought that a “first impressions” piece might be taken less seriously than something titled a “review.”

      My grumbly nature stems more from the fact that all too often, when I go to look up a game review, my search results end up with more “in progress” articles than seemingly finished ones. I guess that having “in-progress” (or some variant) included in the title, at least, helps me distinguish what I want from what I don’t. But with so much writing happening now, now, NOW! it can be difficult from the reader’s standpoint to wade through it all. (Or maybe I just miss my physical magazines where what you got was all you got, haha.)

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  6. Yeah, I think it’s important to be clear on how far you got in a game, and reviews should be reserved for games you’ve finished.

    Like you say, it’s so competitive out there, with everybody finishing games so fast and posting their thoughts, it can be hard to keep up. But that’s the beauty of the “Initial Impressions” post! I love writing those, and also reading them because I usually want to see what a game is like shortly after it comes out, so I know whether to buy it or not. But I agree that they should be called what they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      There you go! I can deal with reviews titled “3 hours with [game name]” or “[game name]: 15 hours in,” because I know what to expect moving forward. “In progress” is vague and can become meaningless as one progress, and then write further reviews. And a great “first impressions” post can be just as helpful as a long-form review for readers. Those first impressions can really make or break a game sometimes, so why not offer them up as soon as one can? They do make for good reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As a descriptive grammarian aka not quite as much of a total ass as a *prescriptive* grammarian, but still pretty pompous, I’d say that language evolves to either encompass or omit certain things.

    That being said, a review implies that the entirety of a narrative has been experienced. I have written reviews on games I’ve only watched, and in such cases, I focus on narrative and not gameplay since I don’t have experience with that, and, at best, can only guess at it per what I observed the Let’s Player do.

    A “review” that doesn’t take everything into account has a misleading name, and like everything on the Internet, it should be taken with a grain of salt. I’d also say that people who use the term loosely might have their credibility called into question 😉

    P. S. I love this white against red!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      You raise a good point about semantics, and I will admit that I’m rather stuck in my ways when it comes to what I think is and is not a review. But you’re right, the Internet has quite affected our language generally. I still have a ways to go in accepting that as fact. 🙂 (Unrelated: Glad you like the look of things here! The change of scenery has worked well, so far.)

      To peel back the curtain a little, what brought all this on was a handful of “in-progress” reviews of Marvel vs. Capcom Ultimate, which each read as little more than a bunch of knee-jerk reactions to what every knew was a troubled game. The writers weren’t reviewing anything, they were merely reacting. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with someone putting pen to paper in the beginning throes of a game, but those words don’t equal a “review.” And to be fair, it’s not just game reviews that have me fuming, it’s “in progress” reviews of anything, from mattresses to desks. If you’ve got to get your words out ASAP, fine, but save your honest reviews for a later date.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not going to lie; I really don’t have any interest in reaction videos of any sort. I don’t watch them for any surprising/revealing TV show scenes, because if I don’t know the person, I’m not really invested in their reaction to something. A lot of times when a game has a major issue, you’ll constantly see said issue regurgitated all over the internet as if people are vying for views and clicks on their take on it. This is not to say that’s a terrible thing, but if you’re just repeating what you’ve heard and adding nothing else to the conversation, what differentiates you from the rest? I understand not wanting to forget your first impressions, but in that case, just take a note. Of course if you decide to shelve the game/not finish it, it’s perfectly fine to write a DNF review, but yeah, I agree, it’s a bit clickbaity and deceptive to say you’re going to give a review, when all you’re doing is giving a first impression.

        Like

  8. CAN YOU DO A REVIEWABOUT DOTA2

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Sorry, no. I’ve never played it, but I hear it’s quite popular.

      Like

  9. Assurance Aigbodion says:

    Nice post. I recently reviewed a game. You might want to see it. http://www.diamondsheart.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Cool! I’ll have to head over and check it out. 🙂

      Like

  10. Brandon says:

    You hit the nail on the head, I can’t stand the first impulse reviews. Nor can I stand a review for a game when the damn thing just came out. A lot of times if I’m really interested I’ll check out a live stream and just make my own opinion from that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Great point! Early videos and live streams are perfect ways to see a game in action without even messing around with reviews. It’s really bothersome to see sites littered with “reviews” of a game within hours of its release. I get that some of these folks probably had early access to the game, but still. Things like that read as suspect on the viewers end.

      Like

  11. duckofindeed says:

    I’ve written my fair share of in-progress impressions of games, and it didn’t occur to me the difference between impressions and reviews until I read this post. As far as I remember, I had always titled them “impressions” because, as you said, one can’t review a game until one has either completed it or put their best effort into doing so. And even when I write these first impression blog posts, I won’t do this unless my impression is positive.

    I feel like, more so than ever when I’ve only just started a game, that I need to respect the people who have completed it. And fans of the game don’t want to hear uninformed complaints about something they enjoy. If I feel negatively towards a game, I feel like I need to give it more time to form a true opinion of it, first impression or otherwise. On the other hand, I don’t think fans mind hearing that a newcomer is enjoying a game they just started.

    Very interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thanks! The phrase “uninformed complaints” is really key here, because that’s really at the heart of this matter. I mean, besides that fact that I take issue with the word “review” being tossed around lightly, it’s really troublesome when someone’s “review” turns out to only be a bunch of gut reactions. That’s not a review, and it’s not really helpful for folks looking for information. (I mean, you wouldn’t review a movie after seeing just the first hour. That’s preposterous!)

      I’ve played Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite for a few hours, and it’s enough to know that I’m not sold on it yet. But I certainly wouldn’t go out and write a “review” based solely on those few hours. Those initial reactions belong in a “first impressions” post, and they are great. I really enjoy reading about how a person’s experience with a game changes as he or she progresses. And sometime, folks will even write up a full and honest review after they’ve posted a bunch of progress reports. That’s what a review should be.

      Like

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