Thoughts on the Bethesda game reviews policy

Yesterday, Bethesda posted a short blog entry which basically said they won’t be sending advanced copies for media to review anymore. You can read it here, it’ll take you all of 30 seconds. Many people have been commenting, getting angry, getting passive aggressive. I’d like to do that too. 🙂

Oh, and before I start: this applies to tech as much as gaming. Companies in both fields (in all fields) have been on the same trajectory in the past few years, because of the new relationships they have with their customers, thanks to The Internets and “influencers”. God I hate that term… but it’s appropriate: there’s a reason the industry is not calling them “journalists”.
Anyway, Bethesday not giving advanced review copies, here we go.


It is 100% their prerogative

They have the right to do it, and no one can tell them how to run their business.

It is also 100% about controlling their message

That’s it. Control, and absolutely nothing else. It doesn’t benefit the media, it doesn’t benefit the players, and it it isn’t healthy for the industry. It’s good for Bethesda, because it allows them to sell more copies to people who might otherwise not have purchased their games. Period. That’s it.

Let’s look at this rationally:

What’s being taken away here? The fair evaluation and assessment that a journalist can do when they have a game product for a week and can play it in the comfort of their office or home.

What’s not being taken away? What remains is everything else, meaning all of the opportunities that Bethesda has to present their game in a controlled environment:

  • Big reveals at press conferences.
  • Short game sessions at trade shows (where they usually only show a portion of the game that has been carefully selected. This works well as an appetizer but rarely shows the whole picture).
  • Day long press tours or preview sessions organized by Bethesda (probably the most “fair” of this bunch – when they happen – but still far from ideal).
  • Partnerships with “influencers” where the information is either anemic and entirely promotional (unboxing of Collector Editions or other goodies), or entirely controlled by the company (official pre-launch streams, organized by their community / PR teams).
  • And of course, all of the usual marketing material (ads, trailers, gameplay videos).

So… Yeah. Control.

This passage is also one of the biggest piles of BS I’ve ever read

Ok, I might be exaggerating for emphasis, but you get my meaning:

“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.”

LOL would be an appropriate response to this. This throwaway line is also the most important one in the post. It allows them to say they’re technically on the good side of this, because it is true that you can wait for reviews to make your purchase.

And if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you might. We all should. But we all know most people won’t. For every person that does wait, two more (ten more) will not, having been hyped by the trailers and the E3 reveals and the YouTuber that’s super excited because ZOMG LOOK WHAT I GOT IN THE MAIL!

Let me rephrase, with more made up numbers: there used to be five people hyped by all those things, but two of them would reconsider on release day because of a review that said the game wasn’t as awesome as they hoped. Today, those two won’t have a review to read on release day; one will buy it, one will wait for reviews.

This is how the situation changes if you take away the reviews. Anyone who claims those theoretical two people will wait for reviews is high on PR Kool-Aid. Some might, but not all.

It’s a net positive for Bethesda.

Did they do a great job on this year’s non-day one reviewed Doom? Yes, it was awesome. But what about next year’s Doom?

So what can we do?

Technically, they’re right: don’t pre-order, wait for reviews.

Ok, maybe if you’re the biggest fan of that series the go ahead. But in any other case, don’t pre-order, don’t pre-purchase, don’t buy it day one. It’ll be hard, but wait a few days. A week.

Some media will put their review up in 24 hours (I won’t get into the issue of ad based business model here, but that’s a part of the issue). Don’t trust those; it’s almost impossible to do a good job in that time.

Instead, find media that align with your tastes, whom you’ve built a relationship with, who you know want to do their job properly, and trust them. There are many, contrary to what some idiots out there would have you believe, and they deserve to be supported.

That’s it, rant over. It’s not the end of the world.

It’s just how the world works. Games are part of a bigger culture now, and developers can go to consumers directly, and they’ll do all they can to present their product in the best light they can. That’s just how it is. Hopefully we’ll be among the consumers savvy enough to not fall for it. And the important thing is that we can. We still have good journalists, we still have choices. The key is to make the right ones.

October 26th, 2016