Say goodbye to pre-release reviews?
Bethesda has announced that future releases will not have a code delivered to media outlets one day prior to release dates. There have been a number of games that have enforced the same policy over the years but a publisher has never made an acknowledged announcement to this effect. Earlier this year, Bethesda sent out review code to DOOM in this manner with many questioning the quality of the product, these worries were contradicted though with the release of a high-quality product. This decision could have massive repercussions for all parties, the consumer, the publisher and the media.
Not all consumers read reviews, this is a fact. The majority though, do look for an opinion of someone they trust to aid in their purchasing decision. If advanced reviews do not exist these decisions will either be made after release or on what the publisher has shown prior to release. Think about that for a minute, without advanced reviews of their product, publishers will be free to show what aspects of a game they choose. I find this extraordinary when looking at recent events related to one game in particular, No Mans Sky. Here we have a game that produced much hype within the community due to what they perceived the game to be. These perceptions were in fact generated by the select releases and showing of the game by the publisher. The end result was consumer outrage, the feeling of betrayal and threats of legal action. I am not here to critique No Mans Sky, but some would believe the process leading up to release was misleading.
From a publisher’s perspective not releasing review code to media prior to a games release is a double-edged sword. On one hand having a game receive mediocre reviews before release can drive pundits away from pre-orders and day one purchases, yet receiving positive reviews can prompt consumers that are pondering into a purchasing decision. It would be worrying to publishers that a percentage of profit relates to the words and opinions of media and a negative view from even one consumer trusted outlet can affect success. However, making a choice to not provide the opportunity for assessment of a product prior to release in an industry that thrives on pre-purchasing could in fact have the same negative result.
As a part of gaming media, on an independent site, that has a varying amount of support among publishers this is heaven. Often we have hands on extremely close to release date, if not after. Many times, being the small guy (when compared to your IGN’s Gamespots and the like) we actually purchase our games for review. Media outlets who solely print and don’t release reviews digitally, also won’t be overly affected as their reviews hit the consumer on specific dates. So in essence for some of us this may be the great equaliser. For those who regularly release reviews on embargo though, there is no doubt it hurts.
So in reality this seems an overwhelmingly strange decision that effects all parties. It is hard to say whether other publishers will follow suit but the foundation has been laid. I find it hard to think that pre-order numbers for Dishonored 2 or Skyrim Special Edition would suffer but it will be intriguing to watch how things unfold.
The Bethesda release is located here: https://bethesda.net/en/article/42QH1pTNpKSYIcgKK2C4wW/bethesda-and-game-reviews
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