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Commentary: I’m So Sorry

By
Posted on July 1, 2014 AT 04:00pm

Associate Editor
Josh Harmon

How did this get here I am not good with videogames

It’s been almost two years since I first joined EGM as an intern, and in that time, I’ve had phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and accomplished many things I’m ferociously proud of. But those successes aren’t what race through my head at night when I’m lying awake. No, that honor is reserved for the very real, very public failures that have dotted my tenure here.

And, boy, are there plenty to choose from.

I sang the praises of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified—a game I still stand by as a matter of personal preference, but one that was clearly a disappointment to average players and publisher 2K Games alike, given that they’ve since shuttered the studio that made it.

Among my anticipated titles, I highlighted Takedown: Red Sabre and Thief. The former was so broken at its PC launch that it was borderline impossible to even find a server and play. As for the latter, well, you can just take a look at my review to see how that turned out.

But the pièce de résistance, without question, has to be this quote from our Roundtable in Issue #258 of EGM print magazine: “I’m also really excited for Aliens: Colonial Marines from Gearbox. I think the multiplayer on that’s coming together phenomenally.” I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

Seeing my past mistakes laid bare like that, you might wonder how this kind of thing happens in the first place. Am I lying to you? Have I even played the games I’m writing about? Am I being paid off with ornate, solid gold hats? Am I burdened with the low intellect and childlike wonderment of beloved film character Forrest Gump?

In order: No, usually, definitely not, and maybe, but I know what love is.

The truth is far less sinister and far more nuanced than any of that that. When we get to play games early, it’s usually in controlled environments designed to put the game in the best light possible. Before we ever grab a controller or lay eyes on a hands-off demo, the creative leads give us their elevator pitch for the game. Sometimes handlers watch over our shoulders and chime in if anything goes less than smoothly. “That’ll be fixed.” “This is an old build, and the game’s in way better shape than that now.”

I can’t guarantee that I’ll always steer you in the right direction, but I can promise you that I’ll never give it anything less than my level best.

In previews, we’re speaking to the developer’s vision for the game, and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. It wouldn’t be fair to harp on an unfinished title just for being unfinished, nor would it be particularly valuable to you, the reader, to hear about a bunch of glitches and curiosities that might well be fixed before you can ever play. We have to look for the potential behind the rough edges, and all but the very worst games have potential.

The other side of the coin is that game coverage is very tightly leashed by the publishers and PR reps. If we ask hard-hitting or probing questions, more often than not, we’ll be met with a polite but curt, “Sorry, we aren’t talking about that today.”

When I championed Gears of War: Judgment’s multiplayer, for example, it was because I thought I’d played a meager selection of many game modes, not the entire bare-bones assortment the game would launch with. I was stonewalled when I requested some sort of hint as to what else was on the way, but I assumed that meant they were keeping some modes secret, not that there wasn’t any secret to keep.

But who could blame Microsoft or any other publisher? They’ve invested millions of dollars in making these games, and part of their strategy for making sure they earn that money back is controlling the narrative. They put their best foot forward because they want us to feel positively about a game. In turn, they hope we’ll encourage you to feel the same way, and eventually, you’ll open your wallet. To them, this industry is equal parts art and business.

It’s our job, of course, to dig past the marketing fluff and find the kernel of truth at the center of every presentation, press release, and demo, but without unfettered access, there’s only so much we can do. Guessing where a work in progress will eventually end up is less science and more wizardry.

That’s something you’d do well to keep in mind as you read my previews in upcoming issues and here on the website. I can’t guarantee that I’ll always steer you in the right direction, but I can promise you that I’ll never give it anything less than my level best. I’m sure the rest of the EGM Crew stands beside me on that.

So, when one of us makes another colossally embarrassing mistake—and I can promise you we will—just remember: We’re only human.

Except Andrew. …I’ve already said too much.

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in EGM Issue #263.

Josh Harmon, Associate Editor
Josh Harmon picked up a controller when he was 3 years old—and he hasn't looked back since. This has made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from behind. He joined EGM as an intern following a brief-but-storied career on a number of small gaming blogs across the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @jorshy. Meet the rest of the crew.

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