Bethesda has released an official statement about not sending out review copies of their games. Something other publishers like 2K Games have been doing for a while now. How does this effect game websites and consumers?
Here is the official statement released on Bethesda’s blog:
At Bethesda, we value media reviews.
We read them. We watch them. We try to learn from them when they offer critique. And we understand their value to our players.
Earlier this year we released DOOM. We sent review copies to arrive the day before launch, which led to speculation about the quality of the game. Since then DOOM has emerged as a critical and commercial hit, and is now one of the highest-rated shooters of the past few years.
With the upcoming launches of Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2, we will continue our policy of sending media review copies one day before release. While we will continue to work with media, streamers, and YouTubers to support their coverage – both before and after release – we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time.
We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision, and if that’s the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts.
Skyrim Special Edition releases globally on October 28 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Dishonored 2 releases globally on November 11 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
Where do I start….
Before we get into why this is bad for consumers, lets point out some of the misleading statements made in the above post.
Bethesda tries to use DOOM as an example of this new policy working out. They say that because review copies arrived a day before launch, speculation on the quality of the game aroused. Yet DOOM was received very well with the critics. Yes, consumers tend to believe that if a publisher doesn’t want reviews of a game out before it’s released, that they lack confidence in the product and it will not be very good. Unfortunately the DOOM example they try to use is flawed. They didn’t ship review copies one day before the release because they wanted everyone to experience it at the same time. No no no. It was absolutely because they had little confidence in the product after seeing the many negative previews of the multiplayer portion of the game. If only they had known the single player was going to be great and on many people’s GOTY lists, maybe they would have sent review copies out earlier therefore giving consumers a good reason to buy the game on release. Pre-order it even!
Next, Bethesda says they want everyone to experience their games at the same time. This is just a straight lie. As you can see at the end of the blog post, Skyrim Special Edition releases globally on October 28th. However, YouTuber Grohlvana released a gameplay video of the game on October 21st stating in the description that Bethesda reached out to him and sent him an early copy of the game so that he could make videos of it. No other prominent video game review sites received a copy, yet an enthusiastic YouTuber happy to get the game early was contacted by Bethesda and overnighted a copy of the game well before the public gets the chance to play it. Starting to see a problem here?
Lastly, they say “we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thought”. Yet they advertise pre-order bonuses like being able to play Dishonored 2 a day early (a whole other issue I would like to write about). Doom pre-orders included extra multiplayer content and the classic games for consoles. It seems a little contradictory to me to encourage people to wait for reviews yet offer pre-order bonuses like these. Why can’t we have both? Money.
That last point may be a stretch, but you can see what I’m getting at here. The only reason Bethesda is doing this is to increase sales of their games and make more money. That’s it. They don’t care about everyone experiencing a game at the same time. They believe that pre-release reviews will hurt sales more than it helps, no matter the score. They want people to get hyped and join the pre-release craze of previews, YouTube videos, and pre-order bonuses to maximize profits. Look at Fallout 4. I bet it wouldn’t have sold as much if people knew how bad the performance was on consoles along with the copious amount of bugs.
It’s truly disrespectful to games media who bank on people coming to their websites for critical analysis of the latest games. Most reviews are sought the day of release and the following few days. Receiving the game a day before release is not enough time to finish and create a well thought-out review of a game. The media can’t release their reviews in the window that people are looking for them. So what will people see? The enthusiastic YouTubers and streamers who either received the game early or are being sponsored to play the game. You know, the people who have nothing but good things to say, who are happy to just have been able to receive a free copy of the game and be in some sort of contact with their favorite game developer. They may have even signed a NDA stating they can’t say anything bad about the game.
The problem is Bethesda has no problem taking advantage of that same audience they are depriving of reviews with previews and developer diaries. Why would a website run a preview of a game, which is basically an ad, to their audience and at the same time not be able to educate them with a review of said game on release. Get out of here.
This hurts consumers in the long run. There will be less constructive criticism of games on release and more untrustworthy forms of overly positive controlled press. The less information about a product, the worse it is for consumers. Maybe I’m being a bit cynical here, but we may see traditional games media websites go out of business because they can’t get reviews out in a timely manner, therefore getting a decrease in traffic and so on. They will have to adapt. Games media coverage has changed in the past few years. I feel like it’s more and more video based than text. People can usually tell if they are interested in a game just by watching 5 minutes of it. Although, I usually like to supplement my thoughts on a game with reading analytical reviews to see if they line up.
More and more publishers are going to start to do this. 2K Games have been doing this recently with Civilization VI and Mafia III. Although they haven’t released an official statement, we know why they do it. Even though this doesn’t really effect the websites that I go to on a daily basis, I don’t like where this is going.