Death of the Critic

Bethesda's Review Policy

Written by: Tom Blaich

Much has already been said about Bethesda’s decision last year to stop sending out early review copies of their games to let “everyone, including those in the media, experience our games at the same time.” It is bad for many people, like those behind large websites, but most importantly it affects the consumers and how much information they have when they go to the store to pick out a product. It does actually benefit one other group besides Bethesda: small sites like ours that would never receive these copies in the first place. I’m not a fan of this policy by any means, but it allows me to sit on the same playing field as a writer for IGN, Polygon, Kotaku, or others.

Dishonored 2 came out, I got it the same day that everyone else did. I was able to play through it twice that weekend, and four days later I published my review. I managed to beat a lot of major publications to press (due in part to my ability to focus on one review instead of many things at once), and while being able to do this did benefit our site, letting us see a tangible traffic boost from it, it had no way for me to help those people that wanted to buy the game on launch day.

We don’t get many pre-release copies of games at this point. Most of our reviews come one to two weeks after a game has launched, and are aimed at the smaller group of players who are waiting to buy a game. But a large portion of a game’s sales happen launch or in the week following, and we cannot help these people. Traditionally, this is where larger outlets have been able to come in with Day One or pre-release reviews based off of early copies provided by the publisher. This lets Day One purchasers make informed decisions about how to spend their money and if the new game is worth it.

The problem, as it was seen by Bethesda, was that sometimes these reviews would turn out to be negative. Instead of taking this like the criticism that it is and improving their games, they shut it down, only letting people who would talk positively about the game (read: YouTube and Twitch channels) have access to games before launch. It is deceptive, and it presents a very real concern about publishers being able to manipulate the message before and after launch. But what is actually strange is that some applaud Bethesda’s decision.

Over the last few years, games writers have caught a lot of flak, and some people see Bethesda’s decision as an affront to the side that they dislike and not to themselves as consumers. It helps that the titles that Bethesda has published since this policy has been put in place (
DOOM, Dishonored 2) have turned out to be really good titles. But even with this relative confidence in the overall quality of games that Bethesda has put out, we should be able to weigh our options before we spend money on a game.

With decisions like these, Bethesda has proven that they just want your money, and the fact that they actually make good games seem to be less of a concern for them. No matter how many free things they give to streamers, or cool videos they put out, this is the cold hard truth behind their decision-making process, and in a way, it feels scummier than the blatant money grabs of publishers like EA or Activision, who are at least completely honest about wanting all of your money.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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