Publishers and their ability to provide critics with early copies of their games has become a more topical subject this year more than ever. Normally it was a given that a game withheld from reviewers until launch usually had something to hide, and you only have to look at this month’s Mafia 3 to see proof of that. But then 2016 also provided DOOM – one of the best games this year that also only got into critics hands on launch day. A game which Bethesda is using as an example going forward.
In a press release sent out yesterday, Bethesda confirmed that they will no longer be supplying advanced review copies to press, starting with Dishonored 2 and Skyrim Special Edition. Instead, outlets (like this one you find yourself on) will only get access to games a day before launch, without any sort of embargo.
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.
This does not rule out the possibility for Bethesda to supply copies to persons or outlets they wish well before launch, under conditions that the publisher can control everything a little more tightly. It does, however, mean that outlets committed to critical analysis of both content and stability will only have their impressions out well after pre-orders have shipped – which is likely the intent behind a move such as this.
To be clear though, there are both pros and cons to this. Bethesda has no obligation to provide copies in advance to anyone. You, as a consumer, also have no obligation to pre-order the title. But should you choose to, you run the risk of the game either being poor, or a heaping pile of a broken mess at launch. Without anyone to say otherwise, this could be just as likely as DOOM surprising everyone with the contrary in May, and it’ll be up to you to gamble with it.
On the flip side, it does encourage better critique from games media. Some of the best reviews for games arguably come after the wave of press and hype has crashed, and it’s likely consumers who choose to wait it out will have a much clearer image of the game they intend to purchase. It of course also means that outlets will race to get reviews out much faster than usual – the downside to not evening the playing filed with strict, fair play embargoes. It’ll make reviews a bit of a minefield, pushing you, as a reader, to pick your critics wisely.
It’s a sentiment shared by Bethesda too in the close stages of their press release, which encourages consumers to wait for their preferred writers’ thoughts before purchasing. It of course fails to mention the many monetary benefits you might miss out on with pre-order specials, but if it ends up saving you the pain of a bad purchase, maybe that’s worth it.
It’s a complex issue that could mean different things to you depending on how (and where) you choose to find your gaming opinions. But if you’re here, reading this sentence right now, there’s a high chance you come here for reviews. And those reviews are not going to change. We’re all committed to delivering timely but critical reviews on all the games we play, and changes like this will not shift that.
But understand that a move like this is also clearly consumer predatory. Bethesda is preying on the temptation of playing on launch day, at the expense of critical writing before that can happen. At the end of the day it benefits them exclusively – so the only thing you can do is exercise patience or gamble. And given the current unpredictability of game launches, the former is probably more advisable.
Last Updated: October 26, 2016