Reviewing Games as Services Rather Than Products

Joystiq’s Alexander Sliwinski has an editorial posted about reviewing games as services. Since the issue is getting a lot of discussion right now in the SimCity, EA microtransaction, and 2013 Game Journalism thread, I thought it would be cool to check out Alexander’s editorial.

He starts with the premise that game publishers and many developers want to evolve the industry so that games are services and not just final products. I don’t think that’s controversial. EA, Blizzard, Valve, Activison, and Ubisoft have all said that games should be services and should be sold that way. Valve, of course, thinks that games being a service means that the “service providers” have an obligation to provide ongoing support and add features as time passes. Other publishers seem content to just provide login servers, host a database, and leave it at that.

Whatever the level of service, Sliwinski thinks reviewers should stop separating the service from the game when they judge the product.

Comparing this to the restaurant industry, the game is the food and the internet-required connection is the table service. Back of the house and front of the house. What we’ve seen following the launches of Diablo 3 and SimCity are people paying money to walk into the restaurant on opening day and not being served a meal. In a restaurant there would be immediate and dire consequences for such poor customer service. In the video game industry, there’s no shortage of apologists justifying the outcome. Nobody genuflects to poor customer service excuses in a restaurant. Any restaurant review would treat the meal and service as one singular expression of the experience.

Why is the customer service experience not part of the review equation? I believe we treat developers (the chefs) and the service experience we receive from publishers as two different concepts. We’d never do that for a restaurant, but we do it for the games industry, an industry that will – make no mistake about this – become more and more about service.

I think he has a point. If publishers want me to pay for games and expect a service, then that’s how I should assess them. A review is a snapshot in time and should reflect the full experience, to include whatever service the publisher insists I use. I think that should include whether or not the service is riddled with microtransactions.