Bethesda’s Anti-Consumer Review Policy and Why You Should Be Concerned

Bethesda has revealed that the company will now send out review copies to outlets just one day before a game’s release, effectively meaning that no thorough reviews of the company’s future releases will be available to consumers ahead of schedule.

The studio made the announcement in a blog post, claiming that the decision was made as a result of the positive reception to DOOM, a game which exceeded expectations despite the company choosing to not send out review copies ahead of its release. The statement reads: “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.”

The belief that Bethesda is trying to peddle here is that a publisher choosing to send out review copies a week or two ahead of a game’s launch, which has pretty much been standard practice for as long as the industry has existed, isn’t indicative of the quality of the product. While many consumers hold the belief that a publisher opting to withhold review copies is a sign that it is not confident in the quality of the game, Bethesda is trying to ensure them that isn’t the case by pointing to the success of DOOM.

But this is a flawed argument to say the least. Although DOOM was certainly a great game despite the lack of reviews at the time of its release, there are many more examples of games that haven’t cut the mustard being kept away from reviewers. Games such as No Man’s Sky, arguably the most disappointing game of 2016, had few reviews online ahead of its launch with many outlets being forced to buy it from stores that had broken its street date. This isn’t to suggest that publishers failing to send out review codes automatically means that the game they’re selling is bad, but rather that the reasoning behind a game not receiving review copies should always be questioned.

What’s in it for Bethesda?

Reviews essentially serve as free (save for the money spent on sending out review discs) promotion for video games, but only if a game receives a good score. For smaller games from smaller developers, it is essential to get their game in the hands of reviewers for it to receive coverage, with the ratings it is given almost always proving to be make or break in terms of its success. On the other hand, a publisher such as Bethesda doesn’t necessarily need that coverage, and it is potentially riskier for the company to take a chance on its latest release receiving sub-par reviews than it is for it to just rely on the Bethesda brand name and ample amounts of pre-orders.

Bethesda claims that the decision has been made because the publisher wants “everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time.” It only takes a cursory glance at the number of YouTubers and streamers who have already received copies of the upcoming Skyrim Remastered to learn that this claim isn’t true, and while the company is trying to position this move as somehow beneficial to the consumer, make no mistake that the only party this change in policy is benefiting is Bethesda. By having popular video makers upload gameplay footage ahead of the game’s release, the publisher can successfully promote it while ensuring that it won’t have a Metascore by the time consumers’ pre-orders are dispatched.

Why is this a bad thing for consumers?

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Bethesda owns some of the most popular video game properties in the industry, ranging from The Elder Scrolls, through to Fallout and the upcoming Dishonored 2, meaning that extensive coverage for each of its releases will still need to be carried out in order to satisfy readers. However, the publisher only releasing review copies a day ahead of release effectively ensures that it will be impossible to provide an adequate review of its games, meaning that any reviews you may see will fall into one of two categories:

1) The review will be rushed in order to beat other outlets to the punch and generate more views, and will be less well-informed as a result,

or 2) it will be published way behind schedule, with many of those who were previously interested in it having already bought it.

This means that when a new Bethesda game is released, if you choose to pick it up on launch day you will essentially be going in blind. Although some may receive the game a little earlier than others as a result of certain stores breaking its release date, you will not have access to a general consensus that informs you of whether or not the game is worth your money, with the purchase of a Bethesda game now being more of a gamble than it was before this policy change.

It’s incredibly likely that this won’t affect Bethesda’s bottom line whatsoever, because the company is big enough for a lack of reviews to not dissuade consumers from wanting to pick up its next release. The only people it will therefore affect is the outlets who will now have to scramble to put together coverage for each new Bethesda release, and consumers who won’t get to learn of their most trusted critics thoughts on the games ahead of their launch date.

Regardless of how Bethesda has positioned this new review policy, it doesn’t benefit us as consumers in the slightest. Hopefully this decision doesn’t spark a new trend in the industry.