Bethesda Outline Anti-Consumer Review Policy

Bethesda, developers of Elder Scrolls and Fallout and publishers of Dishonored, Doom, Wolfenstein and more, say that their policy now is to send out “media review copies” one day before their games come out. That’s what they did with DOOM earlier this year and that’s what they intend to do with the approaching releases of both Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2.

We think this is a bad thing for you and for everyone other than Bethesda.

It’s a bad thing for you because it fundamentally means you will be in a worse position from which to make purchasing decisions before and on the day of a game’s release. It will lead to more people wasting more money on games they don’t like or which don’t work and it will embolden other publishers and developers to do the already-common practice of withholding review copies more regularly.

Bethesda explain that they’re outlining the policy now because when they held back DOOM review copies, it “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.”

This is true. Traditionally, when a company holds back review code it’s because they know that the game they’re releasing has flaws and they want to delay the low scores of reviews til as late as possible. At the very least they want to withhold information from consumers until after the release of the game so that those who pre-ordered don’t have a chance to cancel those pre-orders. In the instance of DOOM, this turned out not to be the case – a bunch of us loved it including Alec in his review. More and more frequently review copies are being withheld as a matter of course, regardless of the game’s quality.

The post further explains that Bethesda “want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time,” though they don’t specifically say why. I’ve seen people guessing at reasons such as the increasing prevalence of day-one patches, but that seems a poor reason: day-one patches have been coming on PC for a long time and reviewers have always been expected to accept a certain number of minor differences between review code and finished 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.

Betshesda also say that they “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.” That reads as particularly disingenuous to me. They “encourage you to wait” with this single sentence in a blog post which most of their audience will never see. Meanwhile, they encourage you to pre-order their games now on their own online store and every other online store, and in physical GameStop stores, and in adverts. In the case of Dishonored 2 that encouragement is backed up with “1-day early access” (just like the media), plus the Dishonored Definitive Edition, and the Imperial Assassin’s Pack DLC. Bethesda know that even the most popular reviewer or review outlet cannot compete with people’s love of their games or with the marketing onslaught they can afford to promote their game.

To be clear, I don’t think the quality of Bethesda’s games is the issue here. By all accounts, DOOM is good. Wolfenstein: The New Order was good. I loved Dishonored and everything we’ve seen of Dishonored 2 so far has been promising. Fallout 4 released with plenty of bugs, as the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series seem to do, but was still beloved by many, is still being played by tens of thousands right now on Steam, and was supported post-release by the developers with plenty of bug-fixing updates.

But I don’t think any of this matters. Because as noted above this is fundamentally a statement by Bethesda that they want their consumers to be less informed for longer when they make purchasing decisions. It’s also emblematic of an industry that wants to control the flow of information for themselves for longer. Companies do this either by handpicking and sometimes paying the “influencers” they want to work with, or by hiring their own writers and journalists (the review policy post is written by Gary Steinman, former editor of PC Gamer US) and streamers to talk about their games in the way they want them talked about.

In both instances, it’s tempting to forgive Bethesda’s policy as the inevitable act of a profit-seeking company: they have spent tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on creating something and so naturally want to do everything to guarantee its success. We are also not entitled to review code just because we want it. But I don’t think we should simply accept companies acting in unethical or amoral ways simply because it nets them more money, as if the pursuit of money was an inviolable force that could not be tempered in the face of honesty and decency.

I hope it’s clear why being less informed is bad for you. Bethesda’s games might have been good of late, but that doesn’t mean they won’t release another Elder Scrolls Online, another Wet, another Rogue Warrior. It doesn’t mean that their currently strong series’ won’t misfire.

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.

Of course, some people will also argue that this is simply our sour grapes: we’re not being given preferential treatment, other people are, and this hurts our business. I hope that it is clear why things that are bad for the games press are bad for readers of the games press, too, however. Most of all, I hope it’s obvious that though games companies have always done this, it will only happen more and more, because the games press is at a bigger disadvantage than ever thanks to the solely ads-funded business model and the audience being happier than ever to get their information either direct from a developer or from a favourite streamer or writer even if that person is employed or being paid by the game developer. There are lots of games companies already doing the same thing, such as 2K Games withholding Mafia 3 and only giving Civilization 6 review code to a single UK site. In many ways, I prefer that Bethesda have chosen to at least be clear about their policy upfront and in public.

If you do care, what can you do about it? Stop pre-ordering for starters, since to pre-order is to willfully abandon your ability to make a fully informed purchasing decision. Wait for reviews from genuine sources, even if they arrive a week after a game’s release date. Refuse to be swept along by marketing which aims to create artificial cultural moments in order to make you feel like you’re ‘missing out’ on something by not being able to take part in the immediate day-of-release Twitter conversation about a new game. For our part, we’ll continue to write honest reviews whether we’re able to publish them on the day of the game’s release or long after.

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212 Comments

  1. sp0q says:

    I’d say that in such case, if you are able to squeeze in even an hour of gameplay before the release and still have some time to type a short ‘first impression’ the game should get a pending 1/10 mark in case of any boot problems or stupidly obvious glitches. Send it to metacritic and then take you sweet ass time updating it :P

    • 65 says:

      Metacritic does not allow for updated review scores.
      link to metacritic.com

    • Luciferous says:

      I review for SPOnG.com and any company that withholds review copy until the last possible minute automatically earn their product a maximum score of 8/10 when its me doing the review and that 8 is only attainable if the game is absolutely phenomenal. I also put in disclaimers in my reviews when I remove a game from being able to score the maximum 10/10.

      For me, personally, it always shows a lack of confidence in your product. Doesn’t matter how big you are as a company if you are afraid reviews will hurt sales then you need to take another look at the product you are putting out.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        That sounds a little petty…

      • yusefsmith says:

        Yeah. That’s ridiculous.

      • Gothnak says:

        Then as a consumer i can’t really trust your final scores without reading the smallprint and am likely to buy a worse game because of the timing of a review copy… As a consumer, i only care how good the game is and therefore you’ve invalidated the scoring of games on your website for me.

        • April March says:

          Well, as a consumer, I don’t give a drat about the little number written at the bottom of a review, whereas game companies seem to care a lot; therefore, I’d appreciate a reviewer using the score to hinder an action by the company that would cause problems for me. I’d go further and agree with the OP; no review code, get a 1/10.

        • avgjoe says:

          At some point some trust should be given to a publisher like Bethesda. This outrage is negated by the fact that Bethesda is among an elite list of game publishers. The fact that a reviewer would adjust his review score on whether or not he got to play the game before the general public is appalling. They might as well adjust their score on whether or not the game was provided free of charge. On top of that, this guy outright admits he penalizes games, not because of anything a consumer is expecting their review to cover, but because he wants to throw a fit like a 3 year old in the check-out line of a supermarket wanting a candy bar.

          I had never heard of “SPOnG” until now, reading the faq and seeing it answer with “People of a less understanding nature please go elsewhere now…” with a link to link to downs-syndrome.org.uk tells me they are probably all people of a less understanding nature.

      • NetharSpinos says:

        Sounds completely reasonable to me. Why should you be given full marks for attempting to pull the wool over your customer’s eyes?

        • inspiredhandle says:

          In a situation where the developer has made a 10/10 game, marks shouldn’t be deducted from the total score because of the actions of a publisher, that isn’t necessarily even violating anyone’s consumer rights.

          The score should be reserved for the game’s quality. The disclaimer should be added aside from the score, if at all. If the marks were deducted simply for the game having no review copies ahead of release, then it makes no sense. Those that buy on day 1 or preorder are the sort of people that don’t bother to take the time to read reviews anyway.

          Publishers obey consumers’ money. Consumers should collectively vote with their wallets. Lowering a game score for this reason alone seems more like bitterness for not getting as much internet traffic on your review owing to reviewing post hype.

          As I said, petty.

          • ButteringSundays says:

            There’s lots of ‘should’ in your comment, as if there’s some canonical way to review media. There isn’t.

            They’re subjective assessments, and if as part of that assessment a reviewer wishes to subtract marks for shady business practices then that’s their prerogative – it’s no more ‘petty’ than marking a game down for having an art style you don’t like.

            If all you’re doing is looking at the numbers and NOT the small print then the reviews you’re reading are pretty meaningless already.

          • syndrome says:

            @ButteringSundays
            True dat and well said

        • that_guy_strife says:

          Because we’re not reading a review of the marketing department. Any shenanigans the company is up with the title in question should be mentionned – as a footnote.

          Edit:looks like inspiredhandle got to it a second before me !

          • ButteringSundays says:

            Well, actually, you are, because that’s how they’ve chosen to review games. You don’t get to decide otherwise.

            Just another extension of the gamers entitlement complex – now even the reviews aren’t good enough! And god dammit they’re still not objective!

      • Star_Drowned says:

        And this is why you’ll always write for some website no one’s ever heard of. You give lower scores because you don’t get an early copy? Where’s the reason or logic in that?

        You’re not even rating the game based on it’s own merits, but on your own bizarre sense of entitlement. Why should you get an early copy? Who are you to warrant special treatment? How many people even read your reviews?

        The publisher is totally right to not give you a copy, because you’ve shown you’re a BAD reviewer.

        There’s no division between “reviewer” and not anymore. The fact that you’ve EVER gotten a early review copy just shows how much is wrong with that whole system.

        Reviewers generally care about getting early copies because that’s when their website will get the most hits. No one cares about yet another review 3 weeks after release. Acting like it’s their journalistic duty to protect us from bad purchases is just insulting.

        People just need to stop preordering or buying games at launch, then this whole thing is pointless. You can wait a few days.

        TL;DR- Thanks for warning us that your reviews are biased and your scores are bought with early copies! Any 9 or 10 you’ve ever given was ONLY because you got the game early. You said so yourself.

        • Emeraude says:

          Actually, no, what was said was that points were withheld in case of ill-timed review copy, not that copies rightly timed got better scores.

          I don’t think it’s a good idea either, but at least don’t make the issue into what it isn’t. Especially if as said the rview has a disclaimer explining that policy.

          • Zamn10210 says:

            Withholding points from ill-timed copies and giving better scores to rightly timed copies are literally the exact same thing.

          • ButteringSundays says:

            @Zamn10210 No, they’re not the same thing at all.

            Unless I’ve misunderstood nobody is being rewarded for providing review copy. Games that do not provide a review copy are punished.

            For example:

            Take two cars, A and B. A has a parking permit, B does not. B receives a parking ticket. Has A been rewarded?

          • ooshp says:

            Take every car in the world. Only one has a permit. Every other car receives a fine.

            Has the entire world been punished, or has that ONE car just become $50 richer, after the free market adjusts? Do you see his point?

      • Bforceny says:

        I have to question your professionalism (not your skills or judgement) when you automatically remove points because you didn’t get the game early. I think it’s fair to warn the consumer that you weren’t given access to the game beforehand (after all, that’s the whole point of your job – warning customers), but I don’t think it’s fair to downgrade a product for what is essentially a marketing issue…

  2. inspiredhandle says:

    I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind the crusade to rescue people from their own impatience. It’s not a big deal. Wait or take a chance. If you have doubts, get a refund. People will ultimately do what they want, the pre-order model is obviously working, as is this.

    • Bishop149 says:

      This is a good point, I’m sure that an awful lot (perhaps even the majority) of pre-orders are made long before any reviews are published at all.
      I agree that this is a bad, anti-consumer move however I think the gaming press are over estimating its ability to dissuade people from their own impatience and bad decision making.
      And despite the penultimate paragraph, I’m sure that protecting their own business has A LOT to do with this “crusade”

      If your are willing to pay an inflated price to buy a product you know nothing about, then you are taking an idiotic risk, such risks have consequences.

      So yeah, don’t pre-order. EVER. Simple.

      • John Walker says:

        Gee, thanks for calling us liars.

        No, it doesn’t. A post-release review generally gets more hits than a pre-release. But thanks for your suggestion.

        • Bishop149 says:

          That’s as maybe, but pre-release reviews (and other comment) do constitute a significant amount of content on games news sites such as this. The loss or reduction of this content would surely result in a corresponding reduction overall views / revenue.
          Doubly so for the big releases everyone wants to read about.
          At least so I would assume but hey, what do I know.

          Regardless, my point was:
          – The consequences of this decision for game news sites might be loss of income over which they have little or no control.
          – The consequences to a consumer apply only if they are impatient and/or make poorly informed decisions. . . both things over which they have direct control.
          So yes the two things are not really equivalent . . . . although the broad characterization of the decision as “bad” for both seems valid.

          Personally I never pre-order and generally only use post-release reviews (which have an experience base of >1 on which to draw) to inform of my purchasing decisions. So I find the whole debate a little perplexing.
          But the success of the pre-order sales model would suggest that in this I am unusual.

          • Archonsod says:

            The main problem I’d have with declaring it anti-consumer is that it kinda relies on the ‘myth’ that games reviews are some kind of golden standard as to whether a game is actually good or not. Truth be told I don’t think you can really call game reviews consumer guidance in the first place – probably the reason post-release reviews are more popular is that it seems to be the case that most people buy the game anyway, then check the reviews to argue/defend those reviewers who disagree/agree with their own opinion.

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            Nauallis says:

            To add to the point above: It’s also difficult to ascertain reviewer bias. Do you like the game, despite whatever flaws, because 1) you’re a person and you’re excited about new, shiny!; because 2) you’re a person and you get to play a week earlier than everybody else, which means your opinion is valued and wanted; because 3) you got the game free! As an individual, it doesn’t come out of your paycheck, and/or as a business owner/operator, it doesn’t come out of your bottom line – either way, it doesn’t cost you, except the time; or because 4) some other reason you don’t try to disclose/acknowledge, like loving post-apocalyptic rpgs or having a bad experience with an online shooter.

            It gets worse when reviewers, be they press, bloggers, or streamers, don’t disclose if they got any other perks from the developer/publisher in exchange for their opinion and publicity. I personally am not convinced that reviewers are doing what they do solely for my benefit and to protect me from “big bad publishers and developers.”

          • Blastaz says:

            Does this mean RPS see reviews as merely a buyer’s guide rather than a journalistic opportunity to hold forth on the nature of life the universe and everything?

            Reviews as consumer information seems a step back from NGJ…

          • John Walker says:

            No they don’t represent a significant amount of content on this site. Your conspiracy theory exists only in your head, and we are, as ever, telling the truth.

          • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

            No one is suggesting a conspiracy of any kind, John. You accused me of spreading lies and conspiracy theories the other day on another comment thread, and that was patently false too. I have have no prejudices against any member of RPS, and frankly you’re flattering yourself if you think I sit there, awake at night, formulating theories on the nefarious ways that you MUST be running your business. All there is to it is I agree with some stuff you say, and disagree with some things you say.

            Anyway on topic. It’s a point of discussion which you have taken to defending as though the discussion is a personal attack, be it on you or RPS in general. We are not privy to how all journalism works, and given the actions of many outlets around us, we have be objective here. What’s wrong with this picture is that you choose to attack rather than correct, which is basically unprofessional given the harmless nature with which this thread has come about. I’ve seen the likes of Graham come forth in a thread I made on the forum, one which polarised a great many people, and succinctly and professionally put his point forth with no judgement or rudeness. I may not have agreed with him in full, however I had a great respect for what he said, and also with the fact that clearly his (your?) actions in regard to this site and how it reports is carefully thought out to a degree which I did not consider. Unfortunately it’s a little difficult to respect someone’s opinion when their immediate response is ‘gee thanks for calling us liars’. It looks like projection, for one.

            Also you deleted my epic zinger. Totes unfair.

          • Bishop149 says:

            Good lord, overreactions much.
            Merely one readers impression, no conspiracy theory required.
            I do wonder where this extreme touchiness relating to any suggestion that RPS is in fact a business that might be concerned about making money comes from. No one is going to sneer at or judge you for that basic reality.
            No one sane anyway.

            On the other points raised.
            Yeah I think most people (who would bother to post here) have learned to become extremely cynical of ALL reviews due to the things already mentioned and probably try and sythesise a consensus opinion from as many sources as possible.

        • Raoul Duke says:

          I love you guys and your site, but I have seen a couple of replies from writers like this over recent months. Including one to me when I was speculating about why RPS is obsessed with publishing 20034945678 articles about Hitman.

          People visiting what is a commercial website will not unreasonably speculate about possible commercial motivations behind business decisions you make. Given that you are unlikely to share sensitive business information with us, it’s a bit rich to twist this into being called ‘liars’.

          I don’t think the comment you replied to is particularly well worded. But it’s not unreasonable for someone to think that as well as philosophical objections, it is commercially inconvenient to be in a position where you can’t get reviews ready in advance of publication.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        While I’m not against using the word “penultimate”, I don’t think I’ve ever used it when I could’ve just said “first” instead.

        Sorry, couldn’t help myself 😚

        • Sarfrin says:

          I think that comment was referring to the original article, which is considerably longer than two paragraphs.

          • inspiredhandle says:

            You are correct sir. I must have misread “the” for “your”.

            Apologies. Shame on me.

        • MuscleHorse says:

          And you haven’t used it instead of first for good reason, as that’s not what it means.

          • inspiredhandle says:

            It was my understanding that it meant second last.

          • Blastaz says:

            Correct, so if there are more than two of something it doesn’t mean first…

    • dangermouse76 says:

      I guess it can come down to where the balance of influence lies for individuals.If most of the pre release info is controlled by the company it inflates their chance of a sale on release or a pre order.

      Early reviews as a service act as a counter/boost to that. I’m not saying it’s a must, but it’s helpful to some.

      The freedom of individuals to choose exists, but it’s fair to say a choice can be heavily influenced by marketing and good PR.

      To be clear this isnt me arguing people are sheep and need the light of truth to tell them what to think – that would be heavily ironic.

      But I see a valuable service in hearing professional critical review of a game just before release to set against a games companies often lengthy and complex marketing programs.

    • DThor says:

      Agreed. While I do see this as benefiting Bethesda for their less than stellar releases, it likely hurts their good games, where gushing pre-release reviews get players salivating and the pre-orders go through the roof. Lest we forget – you can release 3 crappy games but it’s all made up financially by one blockbuster. To me it just adds a week to release date. I can wait, and if I can’t then I’m a big boy – I can take responsibility for my own purchasing decisions.

    • Thankmar says:

      The reasoning is not to save people from their own patience. By taking an indifferent stance, you’re enabling the producers to sell their games on marketing and hype alone, not on the actual product.

      Games journalism was in an awkward position from the beginning, since games were seen as technical gimmickery rather than some new cultural artifact with an new way to communicate with its user, unlike any other media (its not text nor image nor moving image alone). The last complete new media – film – was greeted with much more enthusiasm by artists, which helped it to gain reputation as an art form as well as entertainment and a way to convey information. This did not happen to video games, so there was no development of an acknowledged sphere of cultural analysis of it as an art form for a very long time, it might not be there yet.

      So games journalism was, from the beginning, seen as part of advertising and since there was no help from outside of the business sphere like institutional subsidiation, because games were not seen as this new cultural artifact, just as a silly distraction for geeks, it understood itself as a business as well, and for a very large part of the coverage, this might be just true. Sites like this a a rare exception. So the other business players are treating it like that, a factor that has to be controlled to maximize profit. Games are seen purely as a product, not as as this cross between product and art form, or an art form that can make huge profits or something like that, like films were seen historically.

      As I see it, the development of games just skipped (or shortened, or diluted) this very long phase of film between the early raw beginnings of storytelling by moving pictures and the situation of today, where theres no connection any more between a certain quality of a movie as a piece of art and its commercial success (long story, not the place). In this inbetween phase there were many, many movies which could hold up as “good filmmaking” (for whatever reasons) and be a huge commercial success either. Artisanry, so to say, which was able to serve as entertainment as well as being artistically interesting. Now theres a big gap between movies that aim at either one or the other (with the occasional exception, of course).

      For me games are at this point, with the Triple-As here, that a impressive works in terms of scope, but are ultimately cautious and samey, and Indies there, which try to do different things, push borders of genres and such, but are very small in scope, being intimate things (maybe because of this were the hopes for No Man’s Sky so big, because it seemed to bring these things back together).

      Controlling the evaluation of games in terms of artistical significance to maximize profit by selling it on marketing and hype impact on day one hinders the development of games as an acknowledged cultural artifact which can be entertainment and artistical interesting at the same time. The focus of the production is not to make the game standing out in a certain way, but to focus how to market its average content most effectively. Thats why such a thing as not giving out review codes early is a bad thing.

      This got out of hand obviously, sorry for that. It seems this touched some disordered thoughts which I sorted out for me by writing this textwall-thing.

      • qrter says:

        What hinders games becoming acknowledged cultural artifacts isn’t how they’re marketed, it’s that most publishers and developers of triple-A games aren’t interested in achieving that goal. They’ve been trying to sell their games purely on hype for years.

        Personally, I don’t think this is a shocking development at all, and it’s just an extension of what was happening anyway.

        The simple rule is: do not buy a game until you’ve read a couple of reviews. If those reviews become available later, then do not buy day one.

        You do not have to play a game at release, that is a choice.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to preordering now and then myself – but I do make liberal use of Steam’s refund policy (I am aware that only stretches to two hours, and a game can really go down hill after that, but it’s something at least).

        • Thankmar says:

          I think I phrased that wrong: the development of games is not solely hindered by the marketing of the publishers, but the decision to withhold review code and people accepting it, even defending this as a legitimate choice because its “just business” does. Accepting this is pushing games more into the product category, away from art form.

          If you look at this from the outside as people who don’t play games, how could they get the idea that games are more than a product when even the ones who play them do not see more than that in it? It renders the evaluation of them as an afterthought, but if you want more from games, it should be the centre, it should be the topic of discussions. Not the chatter of how awesome this or that it, how spectacular, but how games achieve the feeling of “awesomeness” or “epicness”? How do they communicate that? Why is No Man’s Sky a failure when its so big? Because its empty? The Talos Principle, or Shadow of the Colossus are kind of empty, too, why is that kind of a boon in these games?

          The decision to refuse early review code says that to ponder these things does not matter, and players accepting this justify that decision. This decision just put it out front that publishers do not care about games being an art form, as you said they don’t. I think thats sad, because with film there was historically some kind of ethos to produce an equally relevant and commercially successful film. Bethesda just gave up even the pretension that they cared, and people accepting it justifies that. I wish the big companies had some of this ethos and cared for a debate in a meaningful way, not only in terms of spectacle. If they treat their games solely like a product, and players accepting it, they will be recognized solely like a product from everyone and not develop as a cultural artifact.

    • Poor People says:

      If you’re wondering why the culture of grabbing a game on release is such a common practice, blame it on the way marketing has harnessed the tactic of generating fear of missing out. They constantly hammer the point that if you don’t grab the hottest new product, you are not part of the cream of the crop, and you are an irrelevant outcast.

      Nothing is more powerful than the fear of being powerless through isolation from social circles.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Also I think there is what the Americans call the ” water cooler moments,” over your exploits in a game.

        I know that after a release my friends and I ( we are all mid to late 30’s ) would swap stories about our adventures in Skyrim or the Withcher.
        ” Have you found this cave yet ? ”

        Shove in a load of hours and swap stories – which I enjoy. It must be worse for Battlefield type games where getting through the unlock system is so important with online play. It positively encourages early purchasing / early access.

        It just seems some companies have taken a normal social interaction – discussing fun times in games – and basically monetized it.

        Of course you still dont have to buy into this.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        We are not all victims that need to be protected from our own lack of critical thinking. This way of protecting people leads us on a dangerous path.

        • Emeraude says:

          More or less dangerous than letting people that have a lot more power abuse those others that don’t?

          It’s funny how we collectively understand that concerted effort in manipulating the masses for political gain – propaganda – is dangerous and must be reigned in, but the very same process and means used at a much larger scale – advertising and marketing – for commercial reasons is so often deemed perfectly fair.

          As if commerce, the exchange and redistribution of riches, wasn’t eminently political at its very core.

          • inspiredhandle says:

            As far as I was aware, the general public are at least as good at disseminating advertising, as they are at disseminating propaganda, perhaps more so. Calling people victims of manipulation, rather than idiots that should of known better than to allow themselves to be manipulated in the first place takes the responsibility off of the general public.

          • Emeraude says:

            As far as I was aware, the general public are at least as good at disseminating advertising

            First, advertising *is* propaganda given another name (or well, using the same word in another language).

            Then yea, so people are good at disseminating what they’re being bombarded with – which is accounted for from inception and is part of the marketing ploys – manipulative by design. Still more victims than actors here, aren’t they? But as far as disseminating their own ideas and making it impact others ? If grassroot public campaigns had as much impact, were as numerous, and were as easily managed as advertising campaigns, I’m thinking the political landscape would look very different right now.

            Best case you would have is memetic (in the scientific sense of the word) transmission inside a given social body. And you’re going to be hard pressed to convince me this works in any way similarly to what a concerted, meticulously planned advert campaign does. Since it can use the same venues, and more.

            There’s a clear asymmetry in the means and powers at play, and calling people idiots rather than victims is putting the blame on those that have the least power by a magnitude.

          • Archonsod says:

            “More or less dangerous than letting people that have a lot more power abuse those others that don’t?”

            Hyperbole much? It’s a game. If it sucks, the worst thing that could possibly happen is I play a different game. I’m also puzzled as to the disparity of power here – the companies can’t force us to buy the game (or indeed pay for it, as they’re wont to remind us when they slip in whatever dodgy DRM is flavour of the month).

          • hotmaildidntwork says:

            Am I to understand that your policy is that this large multinational corporation with extensive funding and a pool of experienced propagandists should be permitted to indulge in their attempt to manipulate the particular vulnerabilities of both your and society’s psyche to their financial advantage because what’s the worst that could happen?

          • Premium User Badge

            Nauallis says:

            Hey, hotmaildidntwork – I’ve got a whole line of designer tin-foil hats that I think you’d enjoy looking at!

        • dangermouse76 says:

          Sorry I don’t understand, what way of protecting people, and what dangerous path can it lead down ?

        • Poor People says:

          If you believe there is a nefarious intent behind that message, you have quite an imagination.

          I was only describing a marketing tactic that exploits social behavior and has proven to have worked. What others do with that knowledge is none of my business.

    • Star_Drowned says:

      No, you see, depriving review sites of clicks and ad revenue is ANTI-CONSUMER. The right thing to do is give away free, early copies of your product to anyone who asks, and just hope their totally subjective tastes lead to them liking it enough to recommend it.

      This format is obsolete. I expect Bethesda’s move to be followed by others. At least we’ll stop seeing dumb predictions about a game’s quality based on weather early copies are sent out or not.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        ” This format is obsolete. ”

        Do you think all pre release reviews – regardless of what the product is – are unnecessary ?

      • Otterley says:

        Do you assume that whenever there is an element of self-interest present, only this self-interest is being served?

  3. Halk says:

    You know what would be awesome? If all the large sites would just stop covering Bethesda games. Show them what you think about this policy.

    • cakeisalie says:

      They would never do that because you’d need most other sites to play along or put yourself at a disadvantage. In a similar manner, people continue to pre-order despite buying huge disappointments, broken games and games sold under false pretences.

      Also, I thought Wolfenstien: New Order and Fallout 4 were very mediocre games and that Doom was just plain dull.

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      The issue is that reviews (well, good reviews) act (or should act) as a counter to the hype and promises built up over time by the games’ marketing teams. Delaying review code means games are covered later, so the hype machine remains unopposed for longer.

      You’re suggesting these games get no coverage at all, so that hype machine would run unopposed forever – or at least until consumers have spent their money to work out the games true worth, at which point the studios are already laughing their way to the bank.

      What you suggest might work for less well known studios that don’t have large, well funded marketing departments. For AAA studios like Bethesda, it just makes the situation worse.

      • Regicider 12.4% says:

        Exactly. I know I’ve needed that a sobering slap on occasion when I’ve been anticipating something a bit too much.

        Just look at the resulting train wreck of comments for any review with people heavily invested in that hype when it’s not quite living up to it to see why timely reviews are needed.

    • Star_Drowned says:

      That would imply they actually care about taking a stand against this than they do getting clicks for coverage. Boycotting Bethesda is a good way to make your site irrelevant, while also not accomplishing a single thing.

      They can just hand it to some random youtuber. Or you know, a reviewer that cares more about actually covering games and informing their readers than getting into a fight with publishers over early hype coverage.

      Or would people really rather no coverage over waiting a few days? I find that very hard to believe.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Herring says:

    It’s a sad decision and I’m not sure what anyone can do about it.

    I rarely play the new hotness near release now (tending to wait for patches / sales / reviews) but it seems for the young-un’s being part of the initial conversation is a big deal, whether it’s films, games, music or whatever. I’m still young enough to see how these conversations go on Reddit and my kids are exactly the same when something cool is on the way.

    You only need to look at how well some dodgy recent releases have done to see that it’s like tilting at windmills. Mafia 3, No Man’s Sky and Batman:AK all had significant issues that were hidden until release and yet they still all topped the charts.

    Hopefully Steam’s return policy will take the edge off.

    • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

      That’s exactly it, and a very astute observation from yourself. I am young enough for the hype machine to have affected me, and old enough to be over it. But you’re absolutely right – oung guys and gals like to discuss the games upon their release, and be the pioneers of discovery. It’s also difficult to be enamored by a game after everyone has already finished talking about it. I liken it to when i watched Jerry McGuire for the first time the other day and realised the whole ‘SHOW ME THE MONEYYYYYY’ meme had long passed me by.

      • Premium User Badge

        Herring says:

        It’s one of the things I don’t like about it; it smacks of cynical people taking advantage of youthful over-enthusiasm.

        Hopefully they’ll change their minds and/or get bitten by bad PR. Hoisted by their own #hashtag ;)

    • Premium User Badge

      Minsc_N_Boo says:

      We don’t have to put up with this. We can all vote with our wallets. Don’t pre-order, and dont buy the game until the reputable sites have had a chance to review it properly.

      With games like Fallout or Skyrim, it will take 10’s of hours to be able to give an acurate impression of the game. Day 1 isn’t going to cut it.

    • KingFunk says:

      This is a good point. To be honest, I don’t feel like I’m affected by the decision (or trend, if you will). Being someone who doesn’t dedicate a huge amount of expendable income on buying loads of games and also someone who doesn’t engage with social media discussions then I usually end up playing games well after release and not giving a toss about being there during the initial ‘conversation’.

      This is not to say I’m not a dedicated gamer, because I’m obsessed (as my wife would confirm). I think I was just born in a different generation with different expectations (although I’m only 33). Quite frankly I find the sort of validation people gain through confirmation that the Twittersphere or everyone on Reddit et al. is engaged in the same activity and shares a general consensus a bit weird, but maybe that’s just me.

      In short, if you want to avoid the worst of this policy, be poor and anti-social. Because I’m still going to pre-order Persona 5 because it IS going to be awesome!

    • April March says:

      You know what the solution is. You just won’t admit it. Yes, that’s right: become a Hipster.

      “Man, [game that just came out] is awesome! Are you playing it?”
      “Pfft, no. It sounds like derivative drivel. I am right now playing through [game that came out three years ago and coincidentally was on a 90% sale], and I find that it has not been given the coverage it deserved at the time it came out.”

      Soon enough you won’t have to worry about peer pressure, because you’ll lose all of your friends! (Or at least they won’t talk to you about games.)

    • Raoul Duke says:

      I think part of the solution is that when the “final” game is handed over for review, RPS should be utterly merciless about any bugs, crashes or obviously incomplete parts. If the publisher isn’t going to give near-final review code, then what they do eventually hand over should be held up to a very strict standard in terms of whether it is a finished product.

  5. Lurkfish says:

    Keep up the good work RPS!

  6. Bull0 says:

    Game development should be about making the best game you possibly can, selling it to gamers who are pleased with it, and being proud of your work. Instead, it’s about bullshit like this. What a time to be alive.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      Eh, keep in mind we’re only talking about AAA guff here. The gaming equivalent of Hollywood movies. It’s a bit off topic but I find it utterly remarkable how much money Bethesda have squeezed out of that engine. I can’t imagine anything more dull than having to review Fallout 17, whether the code arrived early or not. There are so many interesting games out there! Thousands! More than you could ever play.

      It really is a great time to be alive as a gamer. I wouldn’t want to be in the business of reviewing games, though.

  7. skyturnedred says:

    “Stop pre-ordering” is pretty much all that needed to be said.

    • N'Al says:

      This.

      Bethesda’s policy clearly sucks donkey balls for the consumer, but at the end of the day it’s their code and they can parcel it out the way they see fit. The only way currently for the consumer to fight this is not to pre-order.

      Funnily enough, of the few games I pre-ordered Fallout 3 was pretty much my first. Not many games I’ve pre-ordered since (this has nothing to do with Fallout 3’s quality – personally, I liked it a lot – merely with the fact that pre-ordering is stupid).

    • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

      Fuck that. I preordered the shit out of Planet Coaster and I have no regrets. I also intend to continue whipping my expectations into an unassailable frenzy in order to maximise my disappointment.

      In other words I’m stupid and i just couldn’t help myself.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      With all due respect, no it isn’t. Not providing a preview copy to games media means that the new ‘buy on launch’ crowd is in the same boat as the preorder people.

      • Bishop149 says:

        True. Don’t buy on launch either, give it a week or two.
        Better yet, give it a month or two and you’ll likely get a discount!

  8. DrPolito says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Every time I read about day-one-review-codes for a game, I don’t pre-order and wait for long-term reviews.
    And I was right to wait about Mankind Divided. And about Mafia III, too. (Won’t even buy them anymore for different reasons.) I think of myself as an “aged gamer” who doesn’t want to waste his little gaming time with forgettable games. So, no day-one-“Dishonored 2” for me, even if I feel something like “trust” for developers like Harvey Smith.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Jdopus says:

    To look at this from another perspective – Isn’t there an argument to be made that in the long run this is a better step towards removing one of the most powerful tools publishers hold with which to influence reviewers?

    Speaking personally and knowing that most people probably don’t agree with me, I’m far more concerned with reviewer independence than I am with how early a review comes out. Knowing that negative reviews will lead to reviewers getting blacklisted has long undermined the credibility of reviews and I’ve personally stopped reading nearly every site bar this one as a result of ridiculous situations like 9/10 reviews across the board for Dragon Age 2 or the infamous Kane and Lynch fiasco.

    Personally, from my own point of view I would rather have later, more independent reviews than earlier, compromised ones

    • brucethemoose says:

      But they’re still giving the games out earlier to streamers.

      So instead of timely reviews + a blacklist, we’re getting no review time except for a selective whitelist. That is not a step in any right direction, IMHO.

      • Premium User Badge

        Jdopus says:

        The timing of this release does leave it a little ambiguous as to whether that’s their plan, since they gave those preview copies to streamers before announcing this policy. Perhaps they won’t issue them going forward?

        I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to though.

        In my opinion the risk of streamers being compromised is less than review writers though. If you’re watching a stream you’re seeing direct gameplay, it can’t be spun in the same way.

        • try2bcool69 says:

          I think you’re onto something there, watching someone (a streamer or ‘tuber that you know and trust) play the actual game, to me, is a far better way to get a feel for whether you will like the game or not, than reading it in print.
          Now I’m realizing that this media is dying too, much like newspapers are. Hell, look at IGN, they cover more film/tv/comics, etc. than they do games, because without that diversity, they would have went under a long time ago.

          • April March says:

            I have seen plenty of streams that offered me no valuable information, mostly due to the streamer’s style of play that resembles that of a chimp that was recently taught to play videogames.

            I have also seen plenty of streams that did offer valuable information, but almost all of them were by people unlikely to be targeted by such tools.

        • Regicider 12.4% says:

          There are pitfalls inherent to streams too, such as the influence of the streamer’s charisma overtaking the actual gameplay.
          A poor game can come across as fun if it’s a couple of enthusiastic face cam personalities looking like they have the sillytime of their lives with a Goat Simulator.

  10. gbrading says:

    Bethesda feel they can get away with this partly because of the new DOOM test case. DOOM launched and then it turned out DOOM was great and so the “hype” period around DOOM lasted longer than normal, and I think the late game reviews helped to elongate this period. I bet Bethesda looked at sales figures and saw sales for DOOM peaking longer after launch than other games had previously. So now they feel like they can do that constantly, to get more “hype” time.

    Personally, I think people need to take responsibility for their own actions. Look at No Man’s Sky. A lot of people were burned there because they bought into the marketing when no game reviewer had had a proper chance to actually play the game for an extended period. Then No Man’s Sky came out and it quickly became wildly reviled. The same could equally be true of Dishonored 2, or any other uncoming game. People must learn patience.

    This review policy of Bethesda is anti-consumer, but more than that it’s ultra-capitalist, in that Bethesda thinks its customers should simply dance to their tune. It speaks a lot about the self-importance Bethesda has in itself (and I mean no disrespect to any Bethesda developers in that). Book reviewers get advance book copies, film reviewers get to view films early. It only stands to reason that game reviews should get to play games early.

    • brucethemoose says:

      “Look at No Man’s Sky”

      This has ALWAYS been a problem in gaming, but I feel like NMS brought this issue to the front of a significant chunk of gamer’s minds. That failure went viral and inspired all sorts of memes and responses.

      Hopefully, that means Bethesda’s new policy will have a less than warm response from consumers themself

  11. montorsi says:

    I generally really like Bethesda games so I’m not sure what to think of this. Is it really necessary? It’s not like they are crapping out bad game after bad game that reviews poorly. What is their thought process here? If you guys can get someone to talk and explain at some point that would be nice.

    Frankly, as reactionary as the internet is this could backfire very badly for them. I don’t know that you want traditional games reviewers competing with people on reddit and the like to finish your game and talk about it, because we know the howling masses on reddit are going to play two hours and find something to cry about.

    So if that’s the word of mouth they’re looking for, well, I’m a little baffled here.

  12. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    Not that I think this article is in any way doing this, I think it is important to note that simply dismissing people who do pre-order as dumb is counterproductive.

    If you are reading RPS you probably care and know a lot about games but you almost certainly buy other products or types of entertainment you care and know a lot less about. In those circumstances you’ll rely on advertising and the most prominent reviews more because you don’t have the time or inclination to do deeper research.

    For some people this is how they go about purchasing games. If advertising, which for AAA games may have had millions of dollars spent on, has got people excited for a game and there’s no prominent contrary opinion (because there’s no pre-release reviews) then they’ll likely let the hype carry them into buying the game in a way that lets them play ASAP.

    Yes in an ideal world people should research every purchase and have the self control to not do that but a) none of us are perfect, b) publishers spend huge amounts of money to influence us to be less sensible and c) those with a shallower interest in games rely on mechanism publishers are actively undermining to make their purchasing decisions.

    • brucethemoose says:

      A $50+ pricetag for a few hours is a good motivator for looking at what you’re buying.

      However, I think thats relatively true for financially dependant or insensitive people.

    • Bishop149 says:

      This is true, and pre-release reviews in RPS and the like won’t change the behavior of said people one single jot.

      As I said earlier I think the gaming press is severely overestimating it’s own influence here. Those of us that care are already reading, agree with you, don’t pre-order and view a lack of pre-release code as a v.good indicator of a shoddy game.
      Those others are beyond your reach.

  13. Fredward says:

    Bioware closes their official forum, Bethesda makes their extremely unwelcoming and unintuitive and push review copies to a day before release… the cows will be quiet and complacent while they are being milked.

    • brucethemoose says:

      To be fair, Bioware’s forums got pretty toxic compared to their social media forums.

      As a result, devs ended up spending more time on Reddit anyway… I’ve seen this happen in other games too. So closing that down actually made some sense.

      • Fredward says:

        Not from my perspective, the forums filled a niche between casually keeping up to date on social media and Reddit’s ADD upvote enforced echo chamber. So ‘toxic’ in the sense of substantive criticism could stick around for a while, sure. But as someone who was active there (and on other gaming forums) I never really saw how it qualified for ‘Particularly Especially Toxic.’

        Dev participation was and is irrelevant, it was nice when they showed up but the forums were never marketed as a place to talk to the devs.

  14. shocked says:

    > We think this is a bad thing for you and for everyone other than Bethesda.

    That’s the weird thing: it should be a bad thing for Bethesda only.

    Just don’t buy their stuff on day one. Wait for reviews, check if the game is ok.

    Problem solved.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      The weirdest thing of all is that they did it for Doom of all games. All the signs leading up to Doom’s release pointed to it being awful, or at best, mediocre. I was 100% prepared to hate it. I think a great, great many people were.

      Then it turned out to be pretty effing good. If they had such a great game on their hands and people were under the impression that it was going to be awful, why the hell didn’t they get review copies out there early and put everyone’s fears to rest?

      As you say, the people this decision seems to be hurting most are Beth themselves.

      • Baines says:

        Doom was a safe test. Doom also muddied the waters.

        If you want to switch to a long term no-early reviews policy, then the best time to do it is with a solid game, one that won’t have release issues. (The latter rules out Fallout and Elder Scrolls.) Doing so sends the message that you aren’t hiding anything just because you didn’t send out review copies, even if the long term goal is exactly that. It tells people that it is safe to pre-order.

        Anything less is just reaffirming existing beliefs.

    • Ragnar says:

      The problem is that others will surely follow in their footsteps.

      I very rarely buy anything in release, but others certainly do. So there will be less info available for those consumers, more disappointed consumers, and reviewers will be killing themselves trying to get reviews out as close to launch as possible.

      I don’t care about people who pre-order, they get what they ask for. It’s the reviewers and their significant others that I feel for.

  15. Colthor says:

    Bethesda are doing what they perceive to be in their own self-interest.

    Maybe consumers should also pay more attention to their self interest? If one waits for a sale a year or so after a game’s release, one can not only read/hear/watch critical opinions aplenty, but will also get all of the patches and DLC for perhaps half as much money.

  16. gsvelto says:

    Do we know how many sales are done on pre-orders and in the early days after launch? Personally I just put games in my wishlist then wait for them to be heavily discounted and fully patched – including games I love. There’s so much to play nowadays that I have no trouble waiting. I really don’t feel compelled to overpay for a game that’s likely to be buggy, unpolished or just plain bad.

  17. brucethemoose says:

    Remember the paid modding fiasco?

    Bethesda will reverse policies if the internet raises a big enough stink, though without Valves involvement and with the behavior of existing publishers, I doubt that will happen :(

    • April March says:

      Yeah, I think that was entirely on Valve. I don’t like them but they’re the only big corporation on games that sometimes recognizes when they fucked up and go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, let’s undo that.

    • Ragnar says:

      The paid modding fiasco?

      You mean when Bethesda wanted to charge for horse armour, and gamers complained? And now similar cosmetic DLC is widespread and prevalent throughout gaming?

      Yeah, that worked out swimmingly for consumers.

  18. Fnord73 says:

    Some f**king economist has done the numbers, and decided that its a smart strategy saleswise in some f**ing macroeconomical analysismodel. So thats how it is from now on.

    Edit: (F**ing hell, an edit button on RPS?)

  19. somnolentsurfer says:

    But… Preordering Dishonored 2 gets you a copy of Dishonored 1 and all the DLC for free. That’s a very hard deal not to recommend, to someone who doesn’t already own it anyway.

    • Colthor says:

      Alternatively: buy the Dishonored GOTY edition for a fiver in the next sale (which will probably be this weekend, and will definitely be within the next two months), play it, and then, if you liked it (you should, it’s ace), buy Dishonored 2 in the sale after if it’s well received.

      And if there’s a gap between those events try one of the three hundred unplayed games in your backlog while you wait.

  20. Deano2099 says:

    I don’t pre-order, and do try and ignore the hype and marketing.

    But it’s worth noting RPS is the only gaming site I read regularly and for me “avoiding the hype” means skipping all the news posts with trailers and release date announcements that go up. That’s not a criticism, just a genuine observation. The only pre-release coverage of PC games I see is here, so you guys have absolute control over that.

  21. Kefren says:

    I’ve only ever pre-ordered two games, and regretted both. I’ve often regretted paying full price for games. Generally now I only buy lower-priced games (either indie or those from devs like Frictional); for AAA games I always wait at least a year until the price is reasonable and they’ve included all the crud and passes and DLC and magic costumes.

  22. Halk says:

    While Bethesda’s behaviour is ridiculous, noone is forced to preorder a game or to buy it on release day.

    No matter the product, one makes a purchase once one has sufficient data to make it seem plausible that the product does what one actually needs/wants. One does not purchase a product simply because the act of purchasing it makes one feel a little better for 2 minutes.

    Also, one should only buy products that can be returned and/or resold in case/as soon as they either turn out unfit for one’s purposes or once one does not need them anymore.

  23. ohminus says:

    I’d disagree solely on one point. I think in the long run, this is also a bad decision for Bethesda. It’s conduct like this that breeds piracy.

  24. Gothnak says:

    The easiest way to solve the whole problem is to not have pre-order bonuses for non-boxed versions. Companies NEED pre-orders to prevent the rampant 2nd hand market for console games and therefore that is why they put specific content in those versions, but for a digital product you can’t trade it in anyway, so you shouldn’t get penalised for buying whenever you like.

    As far as not giving review code out, i can understand that to a degree as day one patches are pretty much the norm now, and for multiplayer games you simply won’t have the user base online to experience the game as it has been designed. If pre-orders didn’t give bonuses then we could all wait and see and buy the blooming game if it is good, but the console market sort of breaks that.

    • Emeraude says:

      As far as not giving review code out, i can understand that to a degree as day one patches are pretty much the norm now

      As far as issues go, that a whole other can of worms onto itself though.

  25. TheButler83 says:

    I am all for consumer protection but not sure I agree with the premise of this article as surely good reviews generate sales. If I read a positive review before launch then I am more likely to pay launch day price. If I have to wait a week to get the reviews then chances are a) they’ll be something newer and shinier out and b) if I’ve been forced to wait a week I might as well wait a month or more and grab a discounted price. Seems like Bethesda just looses out on being able to drive that hype train. Consumers can act same as they always do provided they can muster some willpower.

    • ohminus says:

      Quite the contrary. Bethesda is notorious for releasing bugged games, but equally notorious for being able to generate a huge hype on their own. So early reviews only risk people talking more about bugs than about features.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Benratha says:

    Could this be related purely to Bethesda wanting to achieve particular Day 1 sales figures? Basically, therefore looking to please their shareholders before their customers…

  27. thedosbox says:

    final code for Skyrim’s Special Edition is currently in the hands of ‘influencers’.

    I’m fully in agreement that people who pre-order are too gullible, but the above is the most pernicious aspect of Bethesda’s “policy”. They’re giving access to people who’ve presumably agreed to say nice things about the game.

    A reminder from 2014:

    link to eurogamer.net

    • April March says:

      Even if they’re not being literally paid to say good things about the game, streamers are a much larger group than videogame websites, so a company could filter for people who they know will like their games without it being very apparent that they’re doing that.

  28. GallonOfAlan says:

    Don’t buy one day one or order before. It’ll get drummed into us the easy way or the hard way.

  29. Zekiel says:

    I’m basically fully in agreement with the article (that this is a Bad Thing) but it exposes a bigger issue which I struggle with: that by reading sites like RPS I am deliberately exposing myself to the hype train which encourages me to get excited about the latest new thing. I’m never tempted to pre-order anything, but I am tempted to buy games at 4 or 5 times the price I could get by waiting just a year – yet I feel like I’m missing out on being part of the conversation if I do so.

    To be fair to RPS it’s good at highlighting old games as well as new ones, but nevertheless when everyone’s talking about XCOM 2 or Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3 its hard not to feel left out. The reality is that these games won’t have got any worse in a year’s time (and they might well have got better due to patches and video driver updates).

  30. syndrome says:

    “If you do care, what can you do about it? Stop pre-ordering for starters, since to pre-order is to willfully abandon your ability to make a fully informed purchasing decision.”

    To amend this hipocritical opinion before it gets any traction, yes please stop pre-ordering, but only for the AAA big-budget games, because pre-ordering was never meant for someone who can pour millions in advertising alone.

    There is nothing bad with the pre-ordering system if the developer relies on such funds to be able to complete the original vision.

    In any case, simply use common sense to gauge the developer’s ability to deliver what was promised, and pay ONLY if the developer sincerely lacks the funds to do so in a reasonable timeframe.

    • trashbat says:

      If you preorder for the purposes of providing a developer with the capital necessary for making the game, you change your role in that relationship from consumer to investor. I know this is complicated by the actual terms of the deal you enter into, but that’s fundamentally what you’re doing.

      The product that comes out at the end, or in some cases doesn’t, is your return on that investment. Like any other investment, it might come to nothing.

      It’s up to you to decide if that’s the basis you want to proceed on.

    • April March says:

      I do, in fact, preorder games from small indie studios. Not because they deserve my money more (although they do) nor because I trust them more (although I do). Simply because indie games often give discounts to preorders, while AAA don’t.

      I know buying a game before reviews are out is dumb. So I think the least the dev should do if I offer that bit of trust is giving be a bit of a discount.

      (It also helps that indie games are far cheaper, so even if I hate it it’s far less money down the drain.)

      Conversely, AAA games double down on it. They don’t let me pay less. They let me pay MORE. For extra content! And posters! And a toy! And a statue! And a pizza box! And briefs! These are all great things if I enjoy the game I haven’t played yet to such a degree that it starts defining my life. AAA starts from the assumption that I’ll love the game, and I don’t.

      • fabronaut says:

        Aside from the occasional Steam discount for pre-orders (which I haven’t noticed happening very often for big releases?), it seems that third party key reseller sites are the only way to snag a discount before or immediately after release?

        I bought the new Doom game for something like 40% off or so about a week after it released from Green Man Gaming. I had never used one of those sites before, so I did some research, and it seemed much more legitimate than some of the dodgier ones.

        There’s another major one I can’t remember the name of that has had some major problems with people scamming credit cards to purchase keys / codes. I think their loophole is that they act more like a marketplace broker similar to a system like eBay or the used section of Amazon, as opposed to selling the keys themselves.

        I think GMG purchases the keys in bulk and is able to offer various discounts and promos on a regional / time sensitive basis, but I’m really not sure how all that works. As for myself, I practically never purchase a game anywhere near full price, so the latest Doom was an exception for me, as I wanted to give the single player campaign a whirl.

        I wish Bethesda wouldn’t do ridiculous things like this, but I can’t say I’m surprised. AAA games are a terrifyingly expensive and all that jazz, but it really feels like a distinct lack of faith in their own products to approach matters in this regard.

  31. Freud says:

    Perhaps they figure bad reviews hurt sales more than good reviews help sales and this is a rational decision?

    • Emeraude says:

      Rational an unethical (or anti-consummer) are not mutually exclusive. They often even go hand in hand. One of the reasons why we need regulations in the first place.

      Still, I’m thinking you’re right about what is happening here, really. There’s a push against professional reviewing.

      Youtubers have more pull, are more malleable and disposable on average, they don’t have delusions of being journalists and the ethical pangs that come with it – they’re basically what gaming journalism used to be and want to grow out of, fan-made content.

      That’s why a selection of Bethesda’s choosing already have those review copies.

  32. Wulfram says:

    Bad for the consumer and unethical are different things. Putting up the price is bad for the consumer, but also normal business practice if it’ll make you more money. This is bad for the consumer, but I really don’t see how there’s an ethical duty on Bethesda to submit their product for reviews if they don’t think it will boost their sales.

  33. Alien426 says:

    I think even a few days are often not enough to fully judge a game.

    Doom 4/2016 came out in the middly of May, but only with Errant Signal’s (link to youtube.com) and Bunnyhop’s (link to youtube.com) reviews in mid to late June there was some really insightful analysis.

  34. deadfolk says:

    The other effect this will have is that all reviewers will be encouraged to post reviews as soon as humanly possible for the early clicks, without necessarily having time to judge the game properly. This is the problem (or one of anyway) that timed review embargoes are intended to address.

  35. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I’ve been saying that Bethesda is awful for years. They refuse to innovate their games, release products positively riddled with bugs (some game-breaking), rely on the modding community to make their titles remotely interesting, and then turn around and hamstring the most popular mods by stealing their ideas and implementing them wholesale. Hopefully this leads to consumers cluing in and letting them die.

    I know it’s unlikely, but I can dream.

  36. Azhrarn says:

    This means a few things:

    1) Bethesda will be pushing pre-orders even harder than they already have. Actively denying the consumers an informed choice on their products on launch makes that very clear.

    2) Bethesda has no confidence in the quality of their products, so they can maximise revenue before reviews destroy their games.

    3) My interest in Dishonored 2 just dropped like a stone, as the timing of this means that they really do not expect that game to do well. So I wonder what they f**ked up with it.

  37. Rizlar says:

    Completely unjustified and anti-consumer. If the public don’t need to know anything about the thing they are selling they might as well flog bags of marbles.

    I get that this might come across as #firstworldproblems overreaction, but really there is absolutely no reasoning behind it, it’s just a ‘screw you’ to the consumer. Sure you could just wait a week for reviews, but these days pre-orders and release day hype is being pushed harder than ever before, and this is part of that same strategy.

  38. dungeoncrawl says:

    All this talk of “anti-consumer” is just silly. If you want to read a review before you buy your game, you can still do it. If you’re excited and want to get the game Day 1, you can still do it. You might be overeacting a bit. Oh wait, this is the Internet. Carry on.

    • Rizlar says:

      See my ninja comment above. Sure, the complaints might seem a bit petty, but there really isn’t any justification for it, it’s just trying to keep people in the dark.

      • dungeoncrawl says:

        sure there’s justification or they wouldn’t be doing it. Maybe they think their games are unfairly reviewed by early reviewers and it hurts sales. Not saying I believe that, or that they do. Just saying that there ‘could’ be some business justification other than “hey, I know…lets pull one over on all our customers.” That type of approach may work the first time…but then you lose your fanbase. There’s NO reason for B to try something that stupid. People who are saying “well I’ll never buy Bethesda again” are over reacting. Simply don’t buy until the reviews come out then EVERYBODY is happy….except the internet.

        • Rizlar says:

          Well yeah, it’s quite transparently justified in terms of making them money at the expense of their customers. That’s the problem. There is no way they can justify it as being necessary or benefitting their customers though, the best they can do is ‘we want everyone to enjoy the game at the same time’, while still providing code to youtubers.

    • deadfolk says:

      Other than the fact that they actively incentivise pre-ordering. They are saying two things:
      1) Please buy our game early – we’ll give you stuff as a reward
      2) But you are not allowed to see reviews before doing so

      Effectively this is normalised to:
      Here’s some stuff for buying blind.

      • dungeoncrawl says:

        Okay….so don’t blind buy. Unless of course you want the stuff and are willing to take the risk. I still don’t see a problem. They’re not saying the ONLY way to buy it is to blind buy it.

        • Otterley says:

          The issue isn’t that there’s no alternative to buying blindly. It’s about a lot of consumers being left in a less desirable position than before.

          Just as an example: I might want to actually pre-order for the bonus content if I’ve read favourable reviews from a trusted source. With this new policy that’s going to become difficult. Both blind-buying and forfeiting the pre-order offer are less attractive than the option I had before.

  39. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I always buy bethesda games at launch. AFTER reading reviews. Now though, I will take their advice and buy them for £3 when bethesda are doing their trademark price slashing 3 months after launch.

    Bethesda’s marketing department needs to be fired, they inexplicably manage to make people think some of the best games in the industry are shit with needless controversy.

  40. MaxMcG says:

    There needs to be some pushback from games journalism or all publishers will follow suit. Stop covering games pre-release that are being embargoed in this way or at least reduce coverage. Deny the publishers their precious hype and this policy would be reversed pronto.

    Never gonna happen of course, so the consumers lose out again.

    The lesson here is never pre-order. Maybe we should be thanking Bethesda.

  41. paddymaxson says:

    Thew funny thing about mentioning elder scrolls online is I genuinely think that game would’ve done a lot better without it’s open beta. That open Beta was Garbage, but it’s genuinely a very good MMO.

  42. Someoldguy says:

    I think you make a good case, but it’s badly undermined by this and every other site going ‘squeeee!’ and vomiting articles about big releases for weeks and weeks before you get to do a proper review of the product. Does your eventual ‘meh, not as good as it might have been’ review cancel out all the prior marketing hype you’ve been doing based on seeing a demo or very short hands-on episodes? Marketing hype that doesn’t reference the points you later say let down the product? I get that the site needs clicks to pay salaries and articles about the bigger games generate more clicks, but you need to adopt a consistent tone about pre-release information yourselves. Gushing for 10 paragraphs and then dropping a small caveat at the end isn’t enough. Companies have found that they get plenty of positive pre-release coverage by dropping a few facts or allowing carefully staged hands-on experiences. They don’t need to earn it by delivering fully stable, functional code for extensive examination any more. Reviewers can work to change that.

    In the end it will come down to companies and individual developers being generally trusted until they badly mess up on a product or two, then they’ll have a hard time selling their next game. Frankly that’s no different than it is already, give or take how high a volume of pre-orders or kickstarters they get. I’d kickstart Obsidian or inXile based on recent performance, but Molyneaux? No way.

  43. Eleriel says:

    perhaps they want to diminish or delay the hype.

    if the hype gets out of control, the game has to live up to it to be considered even ‘good’, if it doesn’t: well, just look at No Man’s Sky.

    or in the case of delaying the hype: it worked on Doom. when the review copies were delayed till the very last moment, everyone speculated that it’d be crap. When it turned out that it was actually good, that skyrocketed the hype at the moment when people could actually zerg-rush stores to buy it.

    • Otterley says:

      I don’t see them seeking to reduce pre-release coverage of the game. The hype train for Dishonoured 2 seems to be rolling along fine. Surely this is only an attempt at curbing pre-release criticism.

  44. Faults says:

    “Bethesda explain that they’re outlining the policy now because when they held back DOOM review copies, it “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.””

    What kind of arse-backwards circular non-logic is this? Fuck me. Bethesda are the absolute worst.

  45. Foosnark says:

    But I don’t think we should simply accept companies acting in unethical or amoral ways simply because it nets them more money, as if the pursuit of money was an inviolable force that could not be tempered in the face of honesty and decency.

    I want to live in that world.

  46. Bearsbandit53 says:

    I’m actually glad that they are doing this and wish more game companies would as well. First of all, I think it is very unwise to buy a game day one, even if all the reviews are positive. I like to wait a few days and see what the community has to say about the game and also see if it is something I would really like through platforms such as YouTube.
    Second, this also helps demonopolize the game news industry. This policy allows for more people and sites to have a chance to offer a review on the game without being irrelevant by being weeks behind big name reviewers. It can make budding game sites prosper. Of course it is most likely this second reason that RPS and other sites are against this practice, as it is good for everyone else, but not for them.

    • Ooops says:

      I don’t think you have evidence supporting this. RPS has a history of showing concern for consumers (some recent unfortunate comments about DRM notwithstanding), and it’s a good reason enough to justify writing this kind of articles.

      To suggest this is done in self-interest borders on conspiracy theory.

      I do agree with you, however, that the decision will benefit hobby reviewers and I also agree that it’s a nice side-effect. But from a consumer point of view, it’s undoubtedly bad policy.

      • Bearsbandit53 says:

        RPS delivers a specific service, and this service is threatened by other competition, like any other service. They are obviously against this policy, as they have devoted an entire article on the subject stating they are against it. And why would they be against it?
        Because they are a business, and if there is more competition introduced to a relatively finite market, then their share of that market is potentially threatened.
        It is not a conspiracy theory to say that a business, or any organization/person, acts in it’s own self-interest. It’s actions reflect that self-interest. And any business would condemn an action or policy that threatened it.

        • Aldous Huxley says:

          The only “service” RPS deliver is entertainment. If you think otherwise, you’re delusional.

          • Bearsbandit53 says:

            Frankly, I don’t see how your comment pertains to my argument. I might be missing your point, but the only argument I was making is that RPS will respond to economic norms and act in it own self-interest to best ensure its existence and continued profitability, as businesses do. Obviously, the services that it provides deal with entertainment and informing its readers about games, individually and as a whole.

        • Otterley says:

          What Ooops and I aren’t buying into, is that RPS/Graham wrote this primarily out of self-interest. Even if Bethesda’s policy might create competition for RPS in the long run, it doesn’t follow that Graham was motivated by this ‘threat’.

          Personally, I find the suggestion that RPS are only motivated by economical considerations quite outlandish. The real concern they have for certain issues seems to obvious to miss.

          • Bearsbandit53 says:

            Everyone acts in accordance to their self-interest. Even if it is done for moral or altruistic reasons, such as charity, it is still done out of self-interest. Doing the opposite of self-interest would be to do something that puts you at a true disadvantage or damages you. It is an irrational course of action.
            And of course he is motivated in some way about this threat to his livelihood, after all, he published an entire article arguing against it, and it is a threat.
            Think of a game like the Witcher 3. It is a game that can not be reviewed in one day. By allowing those that make reviews, such as RPS and IGN, to receive the game in advance, these reviewers have days if not weeks to review. This ability nearly completely dissipates, especially with longer games such as the Witcher 3, if they are only given one day before it is released. Why this is a threat is because these reviews generated tens of thousands of page visits and comments. A lot of revenue, not all, comes from this access to the game and the ability to review it days before it comes out. If the practice of delaying review copies becomes popular in the way Bethesda has committed itself to, then these sites will lose revenue as there will be more competition, or even, many would go purchase the game rendering their need for a review pointless.
            As for RPS, I do not think that their sole motivation is revenue, or at least I hope that the writers and staff genuinely find enjoyment and purpose from this, which are very significant factors. However, I do hope that their primary motivator is to be profitable. There are a fair number of people that work for RPS, and to keep them employed and the site going, they have to make money. As such, they will only publish what is in their self-interest because to do so otherwise would threaten their ability to do the wonderful job that they do.

          • Otterley says:

            RPS regularly devotes entire articles to things that don’t threaten their livelyhoods ^^

            You said:
            Of course it is most likely this second reason that RPS and other sites are against this practice, as it is good for everyone else, but not for them.

            And:
            They are obviously against this policy, as they have devoted an entire article on the subject stating they are against it. And why would they be against it?
            Because they are a business, and if there is more competition introduced to a relatively finite market, then their share of that market is potentially threatened.

            I’ll gladly repeat how outlandish I find this reasoning. Of course Bethesda’s policy might have a detrimental effect on RPS down the line. They also regularly post pro-consumer articles (yes, entire articles).
            Of course it is most likely this second reason that RPS and other sites are against this practice, as it is good for everyone else, but not for them.

            They are obviously against this policy, as they have devoted an entire article on the subject stating they are against it. And why would they be against it?
            Because they are a business, and if there is more competition introduced to a relatively finite market, then their share of that market is potentially threatened. Self-preservation didn’t motivate those posts – why would you assume it’s the case here?

          • Otterley says:

            Damn, copy/past fail :p Let’s try again…

            RPS regularly devotes entire articles to things that don’t threaten their livelyhoods ^^

            You said:
            Of course it is most likely this second reason that RPS and other sites are against this practice, as it is good for everyone else, but not for them.

            They are obviously against this policy, as they have devoted an entire article on the subject stating they are against it. And why would they be against it?
            Because they are a business, and if there is more competition introduced to a relatively finite market, then their share of that market is potentially threatened.

            I’ll gladly repeat how outlandish I find this reasoning. Of course Bethesda’s policy might have a detrimental effect on RPS down the line. They also regularly post pro-consumer articles (yes, entire articles). Self-preservation didn’t motivate those posts – why would you assume it’s the case here?

    • Agarthan says:

      I agree, the only reasons RPS is kicking up a fuss is because this makes them less relevant – rather than some BS about consumer interest. Also, sucked in to consumers who preorder and buy games based on marketing copy – they are the ones feeding the bloated beast that is the games industry and reap what they sow.

  47. Michael Fogg says:

    I feel preordering a game is a way of expressing support for the creative minds behind that game, not unlike buying a band t-shirt. I don’t think it should be discouraged to such an extent in enthusiast circles.

    • Azhrarn says:

      I disagree. If you’re expressing support for the developers, buy their merchandise, just about all of them sell some these days.
      Pre-ordering benefits the publisher, not the developers or anyone else.

  48. DeadCanDance says:

    For old gamers like myself, playing pc games has always been a solitary experience which is fundamentally independent of conversations, posts, screenshots or anything socially related. Buying on day one as someone here already said it is mainly by fear of being left behind socially. You’ve got to think hard on why you game and pre order. Don’t let them bleed you dry or fool you. Keep reading reviews from professionals you trust and refund if need be.

  49. Ooops says:

    I agree with this article. This is an idiotic decision. I’d understand it coming from a company known for publishing bad games or at least with an inconsistent record. Bethesda games, however, have generally very favorable reviews and metascores, if you exclude DLCs.

    Why would a company want to throw away the hype of pre-release positive reviews? It only makes sense if it wants to invest less in its future releases and expects the quality will suffer as a result.

    It’s ironic because TES VI would be one of the rare games I’d be willing to pre-order. Not so any more, that decision makes me too suspicious.

  50. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    My advice to RPS: Don’t worry about it.

    The mantle of “consumer protector” isn’t worth taking up in the video games world. Doing so is to invite a torrent of straw men and attacks on your “objectivity” if you fail to meet the impossible standards of mouthy internet men. You are not Consumer Reports, and you don’t need to be.

    In a three-way tug of war between 1) “protecting video games consumers”, 2) writing interesting content and 3) making enough money to stay afloat, I’d much rather you keep your focus on the latter two.

    It definitely sucks that you have to compete against dishonest “influencers” who jump the gun, but I’m confident that quality content will win in the end.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      It’s kind of hard to divorce the field of games journalism from the goal of consumer advocate.

      It’s an entire profession dedicated to reporting on an industry which exists to sell products to consumers. However much we talk about higher ideals, artistic merit, and whatnot, it’s still what it is; a business that reports about a business. Customers, in the process of making a purchasing decision, must rely on either the journalistic integrity of the media, or the honesty of developers/publishers – and they do the latter at their own risk.

      I like to think of RPS as being pleasantly detached from the banal ‘buy or don’t buy’ style of games journalism, but that doesn’t mean that their readership isn’t made up entirely of game-consumers whose purchasing decisions are influenced at least partly by RPS’s articles. Nor does it mean that RPS should pretend that they aren’t exactly that thing – to do so would be disingenuous. They don’t have to ‘try’ to be consumer advocates. If they have journalistic integrity at all (and I believe they do), then being consumer advocates is merely an unavoidable byproduct.

      That there’s been a misguided and frankly unpleasant backlash against the games media by certain fringe groups on the internet seems beside the point. RPS is what it is, and there’s no running away from that.

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