Bethesda is a publisher I covered on this site before….in a more darker light this summer. But they do normally make solid games, making me question their new review policy.
Bethesda Softworks, publisher of Skyrim, Fallout, Doom, and other sizable video game series, has announced that they will no longer be providing advance review copies of their games to any media outlet any earlier than one day prior to release.
The publisher released a blog post on their official site earlier today explaining this decision, stating that “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.” This statement more or less echos how Bethesda handled the launch of Doom earlier this year.
They are releasing review copies to members of the press one day before launch, not unlike Doom (2016). This could be troubling for a few different reasons; many gamers might not be able to see reviews on launch day, creating issues regarding if they should get a game or not (if they are looking for opinions on the title or want to learn about it’s content) and it could force members of the press to rush through games if they want to release reviews on launch day/close to launch.
There are a few ways to work with this system, such as releasing a first impressions post/article on the day of a game’s launch or releasing a ‘review in progress’ like some outlets do for online titles. But this could be troubling, indicating that a game they are publishing might have problems. Considering the horrific launch of some past titles last generation from Bethesda, that is caution to be wary of.
However there is the idea that the publisher is using this as a way to control content of titles being presented, as Rock Paper Shotgun indicates in there own article covering this story.
I hope it’s clear why the information that Bethesda release officially – even when it’s livestreams done in partnership with media outlets as per those happening today and tomorrow with Twitch, IGN, GameSpot and PC Gamer – is less trustworthy than a review, because Bethesda will choose what parts of the game they show. These livestreams, like game trailers, exist primarily to sell the game and not to inform you about the quality of the game, and make the press – ourselves included – complicit in the marketing of games.
They also don’t reveal their hypocrisy: final code for Skyrim’s Special Edition is currently in the hands of ‘influencers’. Bethesda might argue that these do not count as “media review copies,” but they’re deliberately omitting the disparity from their policy in favour of the impression that they’re attempting to create a level playing field.
This is going to be an interesting development for the future of game’s coverage, as this policy Bethesda is employing can cause problems in the future. Jim Sterling does a great job detailing information about this policy in his latest Jimquistion episode and a unique article he recently published.