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.
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.
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.