Last night, the game journalism Twittersphere exploded as Polygon’s long-awaited site finally went live. Since February, they’ve been temporarily operating under the banner of Vox Games (which wasn’t a bad-looking site in its own right, and will continue to operate in Polygon’s absence), but as month after month went by with promises that the site would be worth the long wait, I began to wonder whether it would ever be completed. Well, it’s finally here, and it is indeed a sexy-looking piece of HTML.
As I had originally hoped, the site content seems to be equally divided between news, reviews, and features. The first one is about what you’d expect and is capably headed by former Kotaku boss Brian Crecente, but it’s the last two tags that have got me in a pondersome mood.
I read Matt Leone’s Super T.I.M.E. Force feature, and while it was a well-written article on its own merits, I was mostly struck by the beautiful layout of the article. The artistic spread looks like something you’d see in a print magazine, not on gaming news sites where style has traditionally been eschewed in favour of substance. IGN’s presentation has always been hampered by their stubborn reliance on “pagination” of online articles, a relic of the print era, while Kotaku is little more than a blog format with a screenshot header. Every Polygon article looks like an immense amount of effort went into its presentation, and in the Super T.I.M.E. Force article in particular, the use of pixel art from the game liberally sprinkled around the article makes for a classy presentation. The white-and-maroon colour scheme of the whole site is simple, yet clean and unobtrusive.
Something games journalism has struggled with as of late is the philosophy of reviewing games. Nearly every media outlet has a different review scale, making it difficult to compare scores between sites that use numeric scales, letter grades, no scales at all, or something else entirely. Out-of-five scales like the old GamePro mag had (probably influenced by the industry standard for movie reviews) are too tiny and don’t allow for enough variation, especially when scaled up to match the industry norm of a ten-point scale . Conversely, allowing for scores like 8.6 and 5.7 allows for too much variation and renders the decimals pointless; can a writer really tell the difference between an 8.6 and an 8.7 game? Letter grades are okay, but numbers are easier to reconcile with aggregate programs like Metacritic and make comparisons between sites easier (is an A+ equal to a perfect ten, or is it anything above a 9?) Kotaku was somewhat correct in assuming that appending a numerical score to the review renders the actual writeup redundant to a vast majority of readers, but they then missed the point completely by marking games on a “yes/no” scale. If you’re against review scores because you feel they invalidate your writeup, then why would you render your writeup completely irrelevant by attaching the simplest review scale in journalism history to your review? Of all the games journos out there, it appears Kotaku has struggled the most with reviewing games; earlier this year, they ran a horrid series of “Gut Checks” that told readers whether they should buy the game based on their initial feelings (and well before they had played enough of the game to warrant an actual review). Hilariously, these Gut Checks usually included the opinion of a reviewer who hadn’t even touched the game yet.Games are complex things, full of quirks and nuances that all affect a review score either positively or negatively; by simply telling gamers whether they should buy the game or not, a lot of those individual components get tossed by the wayside. I do think it’s possible to add up these components and convert them into a standardized score. Speaking from experience, it’s a bit messy when one first starts out because you lack a strong point of reference for, say, a 7/10 score, but over time you’ll know exactly what a 7/10 feels like and be able to readily compare it to other games you’ve scored as 7/10.
Personally, I feel that scoring games out of 10 with 0.5 gradations in between whole numbers is the way to go (because sometimes games feel better than a 6, but not quite a 7). Perhaps that’s why Polygon’s rating system just feels right to me. But another part of their reviewing philosophy resonated with me even more than that: their practice of using non-static review scores. In today’s day and age, where DLC and patches can rapidly change the game’s value and playability at the drop of a hat, I feel like fluid review scores are long overdue. Many people are acting like we’re going to see games swing between 3/10 and 8/10 every time a patch drops, but I seriously doubt any of these so-called “amended reviews” will bring such drastic changes on a regular basis. To paraphase Shigeru Miyamoto, a bad game is bad forever, and no amount of patching will usually fix that. Bugfixes can render a game like 007 Legends playable, but at its core, it’s still a shitty, underdeveloped cash-in lacking in gameplay, and at this stage, Eurocom won’t be able to save it. On the other hand, a game like Fallout: New Vegas that was marred by bugs upon release but was still, at its core, a pretty good game could be dinged a few points by Polygon on Day One, then could have had its score bumped up once the patches rendered it a better game than its predecessor. Mass Effect 2 was a great game, but even its score could’ve been bumped up following the release of the widely acclaimed Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. And what about MMOs that continually release new content? Compared to the bulk of the game, all of these patches and DLC are small changes that wouldn’t change the overall review score by more than a point or two. I could only see this becoming a contentious issue with games like Star Wars Galaxies that essentially revamp their core gameplay over their lifetime, becoming a completely different game in the process.
It’s too early to say for sure, but Polygon could very well become my primary source of video game news. I currently use Kotaku for up-to-the-minute news, Gamasutra for more thoughtful insight into the industry, and the Penny Arcade Report for editorials. But if the content flow remains strong and the presentation continues to be top notch, Polygon could well surpass all of them in garnering my clicks.