Bethesda’s New Review Policy Isn’t Surprising, But It Is Disappointing

It can be difficult not to get sucked into the hype and excitement leading up to a game launch – that’s the entire point of the marketing campaign up to that point, after all. We’ve all been there, where we’ve picked up a game on day one that we were looking forward to, only to be disappointed. Getting burned like that teaches us to look before we leap, to wait on something we’re not sure of and see what other people’s opinions are.

That’s where game reviews come in, often being published being published before launch or on the day, with the support of the game’s publishers in getting advance copies to reviewers, streamers and YouTubers. But in a statement issued last night, Bethesda announced that they’re stepping away from that.

“At Bethesda, we value media reviews,” they say, but their actions tell a different story. Instead of sending out copies of their games to be played days or weeks before a pre-release embargo, Bethesda are only going to be sending games to arrive a day in advance of release.

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They continue, “We want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time.”

Honestly, it’s not a particularly surprising decision, other than to codify a practice. It’s also a little bit difficult to see how Bethesda doing this is all that different from many of the other practices that publishers have employed over the years. There’s been embargoes which lift hours after the game has actually released – hello, AC: Unity – while dedicated review events are employed that give somewhat idealised playing conditions – this was the case with Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 in recent weeks – or simply deciding from game to game to withhold review code until launch.

That latter method, the one which Bethesda are effectively adopting, has often set alarm bells ringing. Does the company not have faith in their game? Is it a buggy mess? How big a day one patch does it need to make it playable?

Bethesda use their release of Doom earlier this year as an example, citing such suspicions and saying that the game then went on to be a critical and commercial hit. Several years ago, this would have meant that reviewers were working through the notoriously buggy Fallout 3 at the same time as eager pre-order players. That game was also a critical and commercial success, but it’s in consumers’ interests to be able to go into it with forewarning. Being able to play and talk about a game the day before release doesn’t let people cancel their pre-orders.

The wording is coddling, as if there’s some kind of cause and effect for Doom’s success, and elsewhere, as if this is somehow for everyone’s benefit. And maybe it is, in a strange way. There are pressures when reviewing a game to hit the embargo, to be able to post your views on a game and shout into the void of the internet at the same time as everyone else. We try to do that as often as possible, but it’s also important to wait until you’re ready to formulate your thoughts and express your opinions.

In that regard, not having an embargo is a little liberating, but at the same time, some will be tempted to rush through the game, reaching half baked conclusion just to try and be one of the first voices to be heard.

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Yet it also bucks the overall trend that I’m seeing in the industry. Ubisoft have struggled to regain a reputation for quality after the infamous release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, EA have taken to opening the doors to reviewers and players well in advance with EA Access and Origin Access, and multiplayer games in particular have public betas that allow people to sample the games ahead of time.

Really, if there’s one thing to take away from all of this, it’s in Bethesda basically saying not to pre-order their games. “We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision,” they say, “and if that’s the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts.”

The problem is that Bethesda think that millions of people will just buy their games anyway.

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20 Comments

  1. “The problem is that Bethesda think that millions of people will just buy their games anyway.”

    Very true…but not me…after buying Skyrim on the PS3 on 11.11.11 and it took a full year to get it in a playable state I’ve refused to buy another game from them.

    Ironically though, the remastered version of Skyrim should be ok on PS4…

  2. I don’t blame them to be honest, reviewers have the power to destroy a game & pretty much most reviews this gen have been mediocre even though the game didn’t deserve that.

    Reviewers are just trippy, they either get it right or get it wrong

    • Agree. While sometimes it’s nice to read them, i never let the reviews to affect my decision. Gameplay videos are usually enough.

      • and where are those gameplay videos going to come from before launch?

        oh yeah, the publisher.

        and as we all know, gameplay videos put out by the publisher are always trustworthy. ¬_¬

  3. To be fair, some reviews can be very unfair. Look at IGN, COD always seems to get 10 or 9 when other sites give it a 8. (First thing i could think of. Others can heavily crap on a game unfairly thus burying it. TSA doesn’t do that but it does happen on other sites. It may also be Bethesda feeling it’s a bit too much time consuming to send them out in advance, granted, that is the publisher, not the developer. But they may either be wanting to have faith in the public or just wanting everyone to go in without looking at reviews on day 1.

    However, Bethesda knows most stuff they release will sell well and it does make sense for them to just not do review copies.

    With Streamers, there’s probably thousands with huge audiences and whilst some use their…..assests, some have legitmate criticisms of games. Youtubers, again, same thing but well, Youtube hate youtubers with it’s stupid copyright id bots. Review sites, they kinda are limited by timing. A video could take, say, 48 hours to cover the major parts as they can just show stuff, a review(if not in video form) may take longer. Streamers may be more likely to be advertising it and are not a valid source of reviewing.

    But with SKyrim, is there really anything else to add to the current reviews? Apart from the graphics and mod support.

    They may also want to prevent stuff from being leaked. IGN used to(I don’t know if they still do) literally upload endings and cutscenes on the day of launch or worse, release spoilers before launch.

    I do find myself starting to pay less and less attention to reviews if i’m honest. Mainly because i’m on last gen but I kinda am starting to prefer a neutral view of it and well, after MGS:TPP, I am very hestiate about trusting them. I view that as a crap MGS game in terms of plot.

    As for EA, Square, different reasons or just not wanting to.

  4. I don’t really have a problem with this. What’s nice is that it isn’t about any particular game so we know it’s a company-wide policy. With that in mind, people need to be smart enough to either wait for reviews or take a risk with a launch-day purchase.

    • This echoes what I said on the other story originally about this. People need to learn patience to wait a few days and see a review if they so desire. It literally is about 3 days, surely they can.

      And the day one adopters? Most would have got it anyway I’d have thought.

      • Agreed. Personally, I’d love to see industry-wide rules come into place so both the community and the developers are looked after (without pissing the media around either). I’m convinced it’s possible.

    • This sums it up for me. I have no problem whatsoever, it’s degrees of patience. I like to rent anything I have genuine interest in and thereafter either purchase, or not.

  5. To be honest my policy recently has been to wait…

    BloodBorne was released…I wanted it…I waited…DLC came out…GOTY Edition came out…sale price…purchase.

    I have done that for many titles like Shadows of Mordor, The Witcher etc…

    Waiting for the game to be fully patched and with the added DLC is no biggie to me and means I can enjoy the game in its final state…reading all the reviews beforehand before my purchase.

    • Same here.

      I keep about 6 months behind release and get everything half-priced and patched.

      I don’t read reviews and I check gameplay when in doubt.

  6. As I have both SKyrim and Titanfall 2 arriving tomorrow I’ve decided to cancel Skyrim. I’ll wait till it’s patched.

    And half price.

    • Hmmmm sarcasm…

      Tt will be fully patched from the PS3 version anyway…and I can get it for £25…

      But I guess even though its not a new game and a remaster of the PS3 version it might still be buggy…look at the Batman Return to Arkham remaster…horrendous frame rate issues and constant crashing…and I DID buy that yesterday.

    • Interesting choices there.

      Skyrim, from a developer with some experience of launching with some bugs (but probably nowhere near as bad as some people claim), holding back review copies until launch (for completely bollocks reasons)

      Or Titanfall 2, from a developer that not only didn’t hold back reviews, but even gave us a beta weeks in advance. But which was just truly awful.

      Whatever goes wrong with Skyrim, it’s got to be the better choice. At least we know it’s a good game to start with. But their efforts with Fallout 4 on the PS4 might give some cause for concern. (Framerate in their PS3 games might have left much to be desired, but I never came across any massive bugs. Like dialogue options completely vanishing and having to guess which button to press. Shame, because Fallout 4 is actually quite good)

      • So you’re ignoring the very, very good reviews (of Titanfall 2) pretty much across the board and the fact that Tuffcub is surely going to choose what he wants to. You sound hell-bent on changing his mind. :-\

      • I loved the Titanfall beta, which is primary reason why I am buying the game. The second reason is Tef reviewed and gave it a 9/10, and I trust Tef.

        Skyrim I played on PS3 anyway and I was buying purely for nostalgic reasons. Reasons that can easily be swayed by rubbish decision by Bethesda. What can I say, I’m fickle.

  7. Really puts me off. Whereas the other day i saw titanfall 2 reviewed a week ahead of release more or less (on here anyway) and i thought ‘this is gonna be good’ before i opened the article i had mentally bought it as i knew the devs had faith in it and would look after the game.

    Plus i mean i really enjoyed the first

  8. It’s ridiculous, and frankly shouldn’t be allowed. No Man’s Sky had an embargo and look how that turned out.

    As this article points out, the answer is , Don’t pre order games. But when you’re a big fan of a series or really hyped by a game it’s so hard to wait the extra few days!!

  9. It’s their property and their perogative. I generally don’t preorder and although i read a lot of reviews i only rely on them for games i’m unsure about. I won’t need to see a review to pick up Dishonored 2 day one – but i’ll most likely read a few anyway :)

  10. *shrug* The more publishers try and control the message, the more likely I am to just not pay attention.

    The hype-train “bait and switch” pulled by many publishers in recent years has meant that I no longer pre-order games anyway. I rarely make day 1 purchases these days either.

    I usually wait 24/48 hours, then if the gaming portion of the internet hasn’t imploded, I’ll assume the game is at least in a playable state. Then I’ll look at some reviews from journalists I trust (or at least whose opinions/preferences generally match my own), as well as player feedback (from sites such as this). Then decide from there if I want to pay full whack or wait for a price drop/GoTY edition.

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