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Column: Bethesda's new review policy anti-consumer in every way

With the rise of video games from a hobby for weird, nerdy kids to a multi-million dollar industry also came the rise of gaming media. Numerous sites like IGN, Polygon and Kotaku have built names for themselves by providing gaming content to gamers, including critical analysis of new releases pre-launch.

That last point might be starting to change. Last week, Bethesda, the creators of “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls” among many others, announced that it will no longer be providing media outlets with early review copies of games.

“While we will continue to work with media, streamers, and YouTubers to support their coverage — both before and after release — we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time,” global content lead Gary Steinman said in a post on Bethesda’s website.

The company tried this policy out earlier this year when it released the reboot of “Doom” and only gave copies of the game to the media one day before launch. This caused speculation on the quality of the game, with many gamers assuming that Bethesda was trying to hide that the game was low-quality. To Bethesda’s credit, “Doom” turned out to be a hit, garnering love from critics and consumers, however, that doesn’t change the fact that this new policy is anti-consumer in every conceivable way.

Traditionally, gaming sites receive copies of a game several weeks in advance, giving them the chance to spend a lot of time with the game and analyze it thoroughly. With Bethesda’s policy, these sites are forced to play the game as fast as possible so they can get their reviews out as soon as they can in order to stay relevant with their readers and viewers. When considering the sheer size of some modern games — especially open-world RPGs, which are as popular as ever — this could certainly lessen the quality of the review content being put up.

Some might think, so what? Why does it matter that game sites don’t have an early review copy? Why can’t people just wait for the review to come out? Bethesda does claim in its post that it encourages those who want to see reviews to wait for them, however the sentiment seems a little disingenuous when it is offering numerous pre-order incentives for its upcoming “Dishonored 2” including a digital copy of the first game.

And this is exactly why it is a problem. Bethesda can try to play innocent by saying it encourages people to wait for reviews, but all this move does is take potentially negative information away from the consumer and make them more susceptible to marketing. “Doom” happened to be a success story, but that hasn’t always been the case with games that were withheld from reviewers. The recent “Mafia III” was another example of this type of review policy, and this time it turned out that there were a variety of bugs and sections of dull gameplay that 2K Games was likely trying to hide from the public by keeping reviews from going up early.

Normally, gamers who need to be conservative in regards to how much money they spend on games could go to the gaming personalities they trust and get an idea of whether or not a game is worth their time and money and be prepared to make an informed decision on the day the game launches. With this new practice, if gamers want to make an informed decision, they must wait several days after the launch of the game to read a review and even then, as mentioned previously, the analysis likely won’t be as thorough and useful as it would have been if the reviewer had more time to spend with the game.

This isn’t a gigantic problem for me, personally, as I don’t particularly mind waiting a few days for a review, and I still stand behind my previous position that gamers should be smarter consumers. However, not all gamers will wait, and this policy is designed to get these people to make a decision to buy a game based solely on the marketing from the company releasing the game, which is undoubtedly biased. The situation grows even more sketchy when taking into account the reports of companies paying popular YouTubers to show their games in a positive light.

It might not be a massive problem right now, but Bethesda has a large presence in the video game industry. If other companies follow its example, it could lead to an overall less informed market and more individuals wasting their money. I personally would much rather get analyses of the games I spend so much money on from a company that lives and dies off of providing truth to consumers than a company that survives off sales, but Bethesda could be leading us into a future where I have no choice. 



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