Last year, Bethesda stopped giving video game critics access to their games early, and it has had an impact on pretty much everyone.
Bethesda’s review policy is bad for everyone involved, including Bethesda. The short of that policy, for those who don’t know, is that last year, Bethesda decided to stop giving game reviewers access to their games before release. Outlets like IGN now get Bethesda games at the exact same time as the public, meaning that critics don’t have a chance to assess the game and inform readers on the quality of the game before it comes out. Usually we’d get something early, have enough time to play it, and then publish the review on an embargo date that applies to all outlets. That means no one has to rush, because there’s no benefit to being first to finish.
Bethesda doesn’t do this, and of course, they don’t owe anyone early access to their games – it is their product, and they absolutely aren’t wrong to control how it’s marketed. But giving reviewers early access is a courtesy that has existed for games, movies, books, and music for a very long time, because it’s in the best interest of consumers and publishers to have informed opinions available right as the public is most interested in knowing if a thing is good.
Doom was the first game that was withheld from critics, and Bethesda actually specifically referenced it when they announced the policy, saying “DOOM has emerged as a critical and commercial hit, and is now one of the highest-rated shooters of the past few years.” And I agree, Doom is a great game, and so is Dishonored 2. So as long as Bethesda is pumping out high-quality games, this is mostly fine. But pretty much no one can only release amazing games all the time, and it’s only a matter of time before they release something that isn’t that great or has major bugs. When that happens, they’re effectively withholding information from consumers, which prevents people from making informed decisions before they purchase things.
To talk about Prey specifically – I personally haven’t finished it, I can’t comment on review scores, but from what I did play, I like it, and I’m thankful I’ve been able to take my time with it. There’s a race for some sites to get their review up first that has a negative effect on all games criticism, playing through games overly quickly isn’t going to give you an authentic experience, but it especially incentivizes smaller sites and YouTubers to cut corners. Uploading the first review of a game like Prey almost guarantees more views, and that’s an obvious temptation for smaller channels, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I definitely don’t think all small reviewers do this, but it’s certainly worth considering.
You could just say reviewers should take all the time they need, and in a perfect world I’d agree. But the conversation around new games moves fast. If a review isn’t there when gamers want it most, in most cases very few people will see it at all unless you happen to have a huge following already. Those audiences certainly want reviews as soon as it’s possible to get them, and a lot of people are really vocal about that.
And they have good reason: with Bethesda’s marketing campaigns and frequent encouragement to pre-order, a lot of people who are interested will have already bought a game but end up regretting it because it’s not what they expected. At the same time, more cautious people will have decided not to take advantage of attractive pre-order offers because they haven’t heard from critics they trust. Having reviews available would have made that a more informed purchase. That’s why traditional, early review copies work really well for the everybody.
Beyond even that, it turns out that the full-price PC version of Prey did have a bug that completely broke the game on release for some people, including our reviewer. Where this backfired for Bethesda is that when reviewers are playing ahead of release and they hit a bug, they usually let the publisher know about it, giving them an opportunity to have it fixed before the public release instead of after. Quality assurance testing isn’t our job, but it’s a side benefit that works out well for everyone.
Alanah Pearce is a Producer at IGN. She has pet multiple dogs throughout her lifetime.
Source: IGN Video Games