Bethesda recently released a short post on their news blog titled ‘Bethesda & Game Reviews’ informing their fans, games media and independent critics of their new policy for review copies. Below I will argue with what they have stated using the ‘responsive debate’ format to determine whether or not their intentions are well meaning or the consequences of their policy will result in anti-consumer policy.
The post begins with the following.
At Bethesda, we value media reviews.
We read them. We watch them. We try to learn from them when they offer critique. And we understand their value to our players.
With this statement Bethesda implies that they have an understanding of the purpose of review and criticism of their products and that their customer base finds value in reviews. Stating that they try and learn from reviews shows a willingness to improve their products based on feedback.
The clause of reviews needing to offer critique to be valid feedback could imply that they can invalidate the contents of a review or the intent of any criticism they disagree with if it is inconvenient to them. It could also imply that a review must have a certain level of professionalism or well meaning to worth their time which is more reasonable if you look at the customer review section on Steam.
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.
DOOM launched with review and pre-release copies being made available the day prior to release which led to speculation that this was done to prevent the public from learning that the game would release in a poor state or to cause a spike in last minute pre-orders and release day purchases. This speculation is always justified by the consumer and in most cases is vindicated by poor releases that followed this trend. Reviews ultimately concluded that DOOM was a solid game and this was reflected in the game’s sales figures and player base.
Early review copies being given to professional reviewers, YouTubers and streamers is generally seen as a pro-consumer method of ensuring a decent amount of the game has been played before publication of a review or other content for a genuine opinion to be expressed. Many gamers feel that holding review copies or not releasing any at all is a sign of the company wanting to withhold accurate information for as long as possible before and after release which usually implies a poor product or hidden anti-consumer business models.
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.
Bethesda is using DOOM’s critical and commercial success as justification to continue this policy with the mentioned future releases. They also acknowledge that this policy makes it so that both reviewers and gamers will be playing the game at the same time. This means of course that reviewers will be competing for clicks and may sacrifice a thorough analysis of the game to ensure their review is released before competing sites, increasing their web traffic and ad revenue.
This is problematic for professional game reviewers since the job of a games critic is to ensure that they are as thorough and accurate as possible. Creating a competitive environment for reviewers means that accurate information will be sacrificed to save time spent researching by playing the game. Since Bethesda are sending review copies out one day before launch, reviewers will still have about a days worth of gameplay experience by launch which will reduce the time between launch and review publication.
This is irrelevant since the games Bethesda plans to publish are not short games, one of the two games they mention will be following this policy is Skyrim: Special Edition. A re-release of an open world sandbox RPG with a large completion time if the player wants to experience the full game. Some notable reviewers choose to update their older reviews when reviewing a re-release or re-master of an older game that they had reviewed. This may cut down on
The other game is Dishonored 2 which is the sequel to 2012’s critically acclaimed stealth RPG Dishonored which takes on average seventeen and a half hours to complete. With the sequel offering two playable characters each with a unique way to play the game it would make sense that it would take even longer to complete. Assuming that reviewers for large sites are human, have lives outside of work and need sleep it should take days to complete the game and all of the side content. In that time gamers eager for the game’s release may decide that waiting for a review isn’t worth their time and may find themselves disappointed with the game they receive.
We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision, and if that’s the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts.
Bethesda recognises that fans of their games may read the reviews before deciding to buy it which makes sense considering the rest of the post. They encourage fans to wait for their favourite reviewers to release their reviews before purchasing the game. It’s great to see a game company encourage fans to read reviews, every game company should do so. Encouraging your fans to be sceptical and to inform themselves shows confidence in the quality of your product.
I believe that Bethesda is being sincere about wanting their fans to read reviews and make up their own mind. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for them to continue this policy of delaying review copies to the day before launch however. The ‘favourite reviewers’ clause makes their statement less sinister by reminding the reader that the reviewer is responsible for accuracy and a genuine representation of the game. Regardless of when the review copies are sent out, the reviewer is always responsible for the accuracy and quality of their review and this is where the real issue of this new policy lies.
This new policy means that reviews will release later than usual, this isn’t much of an issue really since gamers can wait for the reviews to release or they can get information and watch gameplay footage from live streams and gameplay videos. If games reviewers decide to make a poor quality and non-representative review for the sake of additional clicks and ad revenue they would have done so regardless of the late review copies.
I doubt that either of these two games will be poor quality due to Bethesda’s great track record with both series. Regardless of their track record it is worth waiting for reviews on principal and on the off chance that they decide to betray the consumer good will that they have garnered.
Bethesda finishes the post with the release dates of the two upcoming games they mention throughout the article.
Skyrim Special Edition releases globally on October 28 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Dishonored 2 releases globally on November 11 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
I will be reviewing Skyrim Special Edition so stay tuned for my thoughts on the re-master.