I'm not sure about everyone else, but when the great exodus began, (the top talent from around the gaming journalist world leaving to join the then unnamed Vox gaming site) I was excited! Sure, I was sad to see Chris Grant leave Joystiq, but I loved the Verge and couldn't wait to see this new product.
Well, a few months ago, Polygon launched. And boy, what a launch it was. It's a gorgeous website, with a fantastic looking layout and great features. The reviews look so good that you just want to throw your dollar bills at the monitor RIGHT NOW. But...lately I've started to realize a few things. Mainly, Polygon is nothing new. Its your typical gaming website dolled up with lots of pretty makeup.
I think a clear explanation of my recent realization is summed up in two issues I've found: the weekly podcast, "The Besties", and the game reviews. The Besties started off as something extremely unique. Rather than discuss the latest games or talk about gaming news, each member brought one unique game to the table and tried to boil the essence of why that game was the best of the year in three minutes. At the end of the show, there was a round of debate and voting, and one game was crowned as the best of the week and then brought head to head against the current reigning champion. Those first besties were fantastic. It was fun, informative, and simply enjoyable to listen to.
Now? I don't even know why its still called "The Besties." No longer is the best game of the week discussed. Instead, its simply four guys shooting the shit and talking about what they've been playing for the last week. Call me if you haven't heard of that podcast before. What was once a unique podcast is just another ho-hum water cooler discussion that drags on. Gone is the extremely unique (and fun!) idea.
Another typical tradition of gaming websites is to attribute scores to their game reviews. Joystiq and Kotaku have shirked away from this tradition in interesting fashion, but I was disappointed to see that Polygon chose to do nothing unique. Well...kinda. The unique twist with Polygon is that they'll "update" their reviews and scores. More on that later.
So...reviews. And review scores? All those big websites? IGN, Game Informer, Gamespot, etc. They give all their reviews scores. So does Polygon! Guess what? All those websites score an unreal percentage of their reviewed games in a range from 5-10 instead of 1-10. Very, very, rarely does a game earn a sub 5.0 score. Guess what? Polygon likes to do that too! Out of the roughly 160 games that Polygon has reviewed so far in its existence, only 19 games have earned a score of 4.5 or below. That's 11%! According to Polygon's review policy, for a game to achieve a sub 5.0 score, it needs to "fail in design, execution or basic functionality." So...for a game to fall below the 5.0 mark, it has to be broken. Simple as that. If its not broken, then it gets rated between 5-10. Please, Polygon! I thought you were trying to do something unique here?
Wait...they are doing something unique! They like...update their review scores! See, SimCity was rated a 9.5, but after a bad launch is an 8.0! See! Their system works! Sorry folks, it doesn't. Why? Go to metacritic.com. What's that score next to Polygon's name? A 95? Oh...hmm...
See, the issue is, to protect sites from being bullied after publishing poor reviews, metacritic only accepts the first review score a site issues on a game. So, as far as EA is concerned, Polygon gave them a 95, which helps boost the current average score of 90. Why is this a bad thing? Publishers and developers make money (usually in the form of bonuses) off metacritic review scores. So, if Polygon really feels the game is an "80" level type game, it doesn't matter - as far as metacritic and developer bonuses go. What about the reader? Well, they probably read the original review. Saw the original score, and made an original decision about the game. Do you think the fact that Polygon updated that score a couple days, weeks, or months later matters? I don't think so. Most gamers, if they're like myself, already have a predetermined idea of whether they're going to buy a game or not. When that first review hits the 'net, it either confirms or contradicts their original decision. I doubt they'll care if Polygon later updates that score when they've already spent $60 on the game. So again, something that appears to be unique...is not really so.
To wrap this massive post up, I want to clarify a few things. I love Polygon and its writers. They're great people. I'm not trying to bash them or the site. My problem is this website brought the promise of a new way to do things. I was hoping for something so revolutionary and so unique. Something like the verge. If you compare and contrast the verge to say...engadget...its mind blowing different. Polygon? Not really the case. They have a great looking site, but the content is not unique or revolutionary. Where are the video reviews? Where's the new form of game reviews and scores that is original? Where is a weekly videocast that covers this week in gaming, and gaming culture? What about a monthly late night show that invites other journalists, game developers, and game industry leaders to discuss gaming in front of a live audience?
Suffice to say, my honeymoon period with Polygon is over. I'll keep reading, and keep hoping, but, simply put, I'm disappointed.