Why review "Early Access" games?
We'll review early access releases for largely the same reasons we review so-called retail or "shipping" software. Polygon seeks to offer clear opinions on relevant games in a way that helps our audience navigate the vast entertainment options before them at any given time. Some reviews seek to analyze highly anticipated games; some reviews seek to explore games with "buzz"; some reviews give exposure to lesser-known but interesting titles that might otherwise be lost amidst the constant barrage of software released. All of this applies to early access software.
Why do you think you can review early access games?
"Early access" has become a catch-all term for games that are not in a "shipping" final state but are nonetheless being sold to consumers, often at final or near-final cost. It is Polygon's position that any title being sold to customers may be evaluated within the context of a review.
This does not mean we will review every early access title. "Not finished" is an overly broad adjective for a growing number of games in various states of completion, and it's easy for buyers to miss so-called "small print" — it's difficult to be fully aware of an early access game's functionality based on its Steam page.
More importantly, A list of finished or unfinished features can't properly inform a potential player whether that game is or isn't something worth their time. A game is the result of many things working in concert. A game with 10 levels, solid mechanics, and a laundry list of unfinished features may be a considerably more rewarding experience than a game with hundreds of unfinished levels and half-formed design decisions.
Early access reviews will have scores
A score underlines the conclusions our reviews emphasize. Scores on Polygon can be updated over time, which allows us to take into consideration a game's evolution, improvement, or a developer's failure to properly support that game.
Early access reviews will be done at our discretion
As with all coverage, Polygon editorial staff will make any final determinations regarding what we do or do not cover. It is the opinion of Polygon reviews staff that a product being sold may be fairly subjected to critique and determination of value to our audience.
Polygon will always endeavor to be fair in our review process for early access products. As with all releases, we do not take the efforts and work required to make a game lightly, regardless of the size of the team making it. But we also will not take the time and resources of our audience for granted.
Priority will be given to games with a broad or at least perceptible amount of popular interest as determined and decided by Polygon staff. We will also try to focus attention on smaller titles we feel our audience would be interested in.
Early access reviews will clearly indicate that the game is in active development
Early access reviews will include easily discernible visual cues denoting that they are for early access software.
Early access reviews will evolve to reflect the game's state
We will be diligent about updating our reviews to early access titles in an effort to most accurately represent our current opinion on those games. The rate and frequency with which we will re-evaluate early access titles is up to the discretion of Polygon editorial staff.
Early access reviews will not be featured on Metacritic
Metacritic is a platform for the aggregation of reviews of "shipping" games — titles which are ostensibly considered "1.0" releases that are feature complete and (theoretically) absent major bugs. This is similar to Metacritic's aggregation of film reviews on their theatrical release. Metacritic doesn't refactor reviews for new cuts of old films in most cases, or theatrical re-releases with additional endings or content. Possibly in deference to that idea, Metacritic will only accept one published score per outlet and platform for any game in their system.
It is our view that early access games are not "shipping" or "1.0" releases — they are works in progress. While we feel no compunction about evaluating these games in an ongoing fashion, we would prefer not to remove our evaluations from that context by listing these reviews on Metacritic. In discussing this with Metacritic, they understand our reservations and wishes, and have expressed a similar sentiment for reviews for early access software.