Critiques of Bethesda games prior to launch is a thing of the past.
Today, gaming goliath Bethesda announced it would only give critics games one day prior to launch. In their post, which you can read in full here, Bethesda cited the success of last spring’s DOOM as an example of the new policy working as intended.
Earlier this year we released DOOM. We sent review copies to arrive the day before launch, which 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.
Bethesda isn’t entirely wrong here. Despite holding critics back from playing the game until the day before it launched, DOOM has a respectable metacritic and was heralded by gamers as both a great blend of innovation and an embrace of classic mechanics. The publisher is choosing to ignore one important flaw in DOOM, though. The game’s multiplayer is a mixed bag of run-of-the-mill and outright bad gameplay, and DOOM has a season pass that players could purchase to further invest into a multiplayer that ultimately died shortly after launch.
And this new policy likely won’t impact the publisher’s next two games: Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2. Skyrim has been praised for half a decade and with console mods, the Special Edition is bound to receive high praise on console. While Dishonored 2 is a bit more of a toss up, the game has had extensive gameplay shared on social media, and developer Arkane has a track record of releasing solid games.
Still, these policies come from somewhere, and I’d argue that would come from insecurity in the final product Bethesda is shipping. These feelings of insecurity are understandable – shipping a game is very, very hard. Bioshock creator Ken Levine has gone as far as to say he wouldn’t release the games he and his team create if they didn’t need the money. It’s hard to share something of your own creation and put it out there for critics and gamers to judge. Exposing your creations to the public still isn’t an excuse for anti-consumer behavior.
Bethesda’s response is a knee-jerk reaction to shrug off hard criticism and embrace the now more popular Let’s Play series that dominate YouTube. Let’s Plays are a good tool for consumers to watch a favorite personality play a game they’re interested in, but by design, they don’t delve into the same scope of evaluation simply because the stream is taking place long before the game’s been completed. And while it isn’t a universal truth, it’s worth noting that companies like Warner Bros. and Ubisoft have paid streamers to play a game on stream and show it off for viewers. Again, these streamers are an incredible way to add entertainment value to the games we play, but they can’t be trusted in the same way critics can.
Bethesda has a respectable track record when it comes to publishing and developing games, but what happens when a company this influential makes the switch to snub critics? There’s no doubt that Activision, Ubisoft, EA and 2K makes some great games, but they also put out some that gamer’s are rightfully skeptical of. If those publishers follow in Bethesda’s footsteps, the gaming medium watch dogs have been eradicated, and much more pressure will be put on the shoulders of Lets Play streamers.
Although it’s easy to call out critics when they give a score to a game that we don’t agree with, a future without reviewers means gamers pre-order, buy and regret more games than they should have to. Bethesda’s move to protect their new releases is an assault on consumers everywhere.