Yesterday, video game publisher Bethesda Softworks drew the ire of the video game community after they released a blog post detailing their policy regarding how it will handle reviews of its games moving forward.
The policy reflects that of Doom earlier this year, where the game publisher withheld review copies to critics until a day before the game released, which resulted in speculation regarding the quality of the game. As it turns out, Doom was a commercial and critical hit, so it neither hurt critics nor consumers. As such, Bethesda has decided to do the same with their two upcoming titles: Skyrim: Special Edition and Dishonored 2.
In their announcement, Bethesda detailed the plan and some of the reasoning behind the move.
“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.”
It’s important to note that while critics haven’t received advance copies of Skyrim, many YouTube personalities have. Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo relays one YouTuber named Grohlvana was given a copy because he was a “great supporter” of the series. Many other YouTubers have been able to stream and release videos leading up to the release of the game, yet there has been no chance for true criticism to take place, as the critics who would be doing so have yet to receive a code.
Bethesda is certainly well within their rights to do this, and no game reviewer or critic should ever expect they are getting a review code. The decision to do this doesn’t omit the policy from being examined by the media and fans alike. Bethesda’s policy has been met with a mixed reaction of sorts in the games community, and many critics and journalists are upset about the move. Some sites have decided to no longer cover Bethesda as a result, while others are calling for the stoppage of preview coverage on their games. However, some fans have praised Bethesda, seeing this as a victory over the critics whose job it is to provide information to those same cheering fans.
It is sad and infuriating to see how many people, who it is my job to serve, see today as a victory for them over my colleagues and I.— Vincent Ingenito (@Vincogneato) October 26, 2016
I stopped preordering games a while ago, but Bethesda has guaranteed that I'm never buying one of their games new again.— Frank (@FraynkWash) October 26, 2016
Games media I think it's our moral obligation now to refuse Bethesda previews.— Holly Green (@winnersusedrugs) October 26, 2016
The issue with Bethesda's review policy is that they're more than happy to use those same outlets to get the word out via preview coverage.— Jeff Gerstmann (@jeffgerstmann) October 25, 2016
Bethesda's decision is fine with me. Since YouTube,I've found I get more out of watching someone play a game than reading someone's opinion.— Angelo Grant (@ARoguishHam) October 26, 2016
This is a complex, nuanced issue but keep in mind: no matter how the blog spins it, this is not player-friendly. It's Bethesda-friendly.— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) October 25, 2016
I like how game journalists are suddenly saying you shouldn't preorder games ever since Bethesda refused to give them review copies.— M∀RK (@FireBomberSeven) October 26, 2016
Bethesdas "we wont send review copies more than 24 hrs prior to launch" is anti-consumer but sadly not unexpected.— John Bain (@Totalbiscuit) October 25, 2016
Business is not a zero sum game. For you to win, others don't need to lose. Bethesda's policy ensures only they win. Media & consumers lose— Civilishanktion VI (@ShankTheTank) October 26, 2016
To their credit, Bethesda has urged customers who do rely on media reviews to make an informed buying decision to hold off on their purchase. However, it’s hard to take the company seriously when they will push pre-order bonuses to those willing to buy a game sight unseen.
And for Bethesda, this is likely something they are banking on, given the power of their game franchises. Many players will buy Skyrim or the next Fallout game because of the name alone, regardless of critical acclaim. However, as Erik Kain of Forbes points out, this policy can set a dangerous precedent for the medium moving forward.
Many are viewing this as anti-consumerism and a way to control the information given to consumers. And it’s hard not to agree, as this all but ensures that pre-release criticisms of Bethesda games are non-existent.
As Game Informer explained in their article on the subject, this only stands to benefit Bethesda.
“Only Bethesda stands to benefit, by gaining more control over what players see and hear about a game before it’s out on store shelves and selling copies.”
Warning: The following video contains some adult language.
It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out moving forward. More and more developers might also make this move, with news of 2K Games doing the same for the likes of Civilization VI and others. Bethesda is being transparent on the subject, which is good in a way, but ultimately this can hurt the consumer long-term. Less metered, critical information the consumer has access to, the more the consumer loses.
What are your thoughts on how Bethesda is handling their reviews moving forward? Sound off in the comments below.
[Featured Image by Bethesda]