In my opinion, there isn’t much in the gaming industry that’s more tricky than preview events. When playing an early build of any game, there’s this, more often than not, unspoken agreement between the writers and developers. Everyone knows the game isn’t ready. They know it’s got bugs and problems, but they’ve agreed to meet early for a glimpse at how things are going.
That’s not really the tricky part. The tricky part comes when writers get home, do up their coverage and present what they know about the game to their readers. It’s then that writers tend to take a softer approach to the games. They handhold them out in front people, explain that they played an early build and put the game’s best face forward.
As the industry moves forward and gets better at handling events like these, writers and readers are openly questioning the value of preview events. They’re wondering if writers should be more critical of the games they cover.
In a recent conversation with EA Senior Publicist Brad Hilderbrand, I asked him specifically about this.
I asked Hildebrand if he found himself wishing that writers covering titles at preview events would hit the games a bit harder with a more critical edge. He explained that this was a tough question.
Hildebrand offered that publishers and developers want people to be excited about their games. They want to show them at a stage in development when they think they’re ready enough to see the light of day. These preview events are, after all, a moment for publishers to build excitement and positivity ahead of release.
“At the same time,” Hilderbrand went on, “it’s–” He hesitated there. Throughout this full conversation, Hilderbrand was confident in his answers as we moved over all sorts of topics. This one, then, was one that he’s obviously wrestled with before. “I like when people say,” he picked back up, “’these are the specific I hope you look at before release.’”
Hilderbrand explained that he loves that sort of feedback in the preview phase. He compared it to their process for reviews. They’d actually gather all the feedback from the various outlets, boil it down into concise bits of criticism and decide what’s actionable. What can they address, change or fix ahead of release that would make whatever game they’re developing better?
“On the other hand,” Hilderbrand countered himself, “I don’t want preview event coverage to just be like ‘oh, it’s so buggy, it’s so broken.’ It’s an early build, and that’s part of what it is.”
The good news for Hilderbrand here is that most preview writers know what they’re getting into. They know that they shouldn’t hit in-game bugs hard in their coverage because they’re playing an alpha build. We at TechnoBuffalo have the policy of bringing them up in our writeups so that players know what we saw, but we don’t make the build’s bugs the focal point of the preview.
“It’s a very complex thing, especially for games that have been in development for years and years. You’ll run right up to the last minute with polishing, tweaking and making things better, so… that process is never done. It’s very tough to pull up at any moment in time, say three or four months before launch, and say, ‘this is our game’” at a preview event. “Well, it’s part of the game. It’s not the whole game, and that’s the thing. It’s like baking. You’re baking a cake for half-an-hour, it’s only been 20 minutes, and you’re breaking a piece off and taste-testing it on the side.”
As readers, what do you think? Should writers ignore the fact that they’re playing early builds and go at games hard? Should they stay positive while noting bugs and problems? Or, should they ignore bugs and faults altogether?