Game publisher Bethesda will no longer be handing out early review copies of their games. Instead, they’ve announced that they’ll be sending out new titles one day before their scheduled release date going forward, pretty much guaranteeing that reviews won’t be made public until after their release.
For a good while now, publishers have steadily increased their control on the distribution of new games. Naturally, as game production costs increase, so does the desire to sell as many copies as possible. No surprises there, but what’s concerning is the desire to get all of your money before the damn game is even released. Pre-order bonuses have long been the norm now, with varying success from the Hitman: Absolution pre-order bonus game Sniper Challenge, to the embarrassing ‘augment your pre-order’ campaign seen with this year’s Deux Ex: Mankind Divided, both from Square Enix.
It seems that chucking pre-order bonuses in every direction isn’t quite good enough anymore. Publishers now want to muscle in on game reviews, the only thing that can really allow consumers to make an informed decision on whether or not a game is any good, without actually playing it themselves.
This is well within their right of course, but convincing gamers to take a punt on new releases based purely on trust and hyperbolic marketing makes the whole situation seem inherently untrustworthy. You only need to take a look at the comments section on any article entitled “Where Is Our *blank* Review?” to see the sheer terror that ensues among gamers utterly convinced that said title is going to be rubbish. Bethesda’s own Doom was a pleasant exception, receiving near unanimous praise despite the late reviews. But a lot of the time, publisher’s hold back reviews because there is something wrong with the game, and they know it, as seen with the recently released, glitch riddled Mafia III.
If Bethesda’s decision to withhold review copies alone is untrustworthy, so too is their reasoning. They claim that they merely want everyone, journalists and consumers alike, to experience their games at the same time. This is all well and good, but it’s now common knowledge that Skyrim: Special Edition has been in the hands of so called ‘influencers’ for many weeks now. It has also been recently revealed that pre-order customers of Dishonored 2 will gain access to the game one day before everyone else. So much for wanting everyone to experience it at the same time, Bethesda.
I for one value reviews, if only to determine whether or not a game is broken at launch, which in this day and age is a legitimate possibility with any new AAA release. I don’t normally tend to pre-order, unless it’s a game I know I want and will be in short supply (hello Persona 5: Take Your Heart Edition!), or a new piece of hardware. I’m not here to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t be pre-ordering games, it’s entirely up to you. But you should be sceptical, and it doesn’t hurt to simply wait a while – games aren’t cheap, after all. Diving into a game day one is always going to be a gamble going forward, with more and more titles relying on servers which more often than not cripple under the weight of new players. Publishers don’t care about that though, they want your blind trust, and they will do anything to get it.