In a shocking move, Bethesda states that it will no longer be providing advance review copies of its games to media outlets earlier than one day prior to release.
Like it or not, most of mainstream video game news and review coverage depends upon what many have admitted is a flawed system. Media outlets, in order to provide accurate coverage and review content for a new release, need to receive the game ahead of time to be able to complete it fully before it releases, which means publishers like Bethesda must provide early copies of the game to these outlets. The downside of this, which has previously been seen as a necessary evil, is that bad reviews that surface a day or two prior to a game's release can tank its sales.
That doesn't sit well with some publishers, of course, and now one of the gaming industry's biggest is doing something about it. Bethesda has officially announced that it will no longer provide advance review copies of its titles - a library which includes Fallout 4, Skyrim: Special Edition, and DOOM - with the caveat that media outlets can expect to receive these games roughly a day before they actually launch. It's a dramatic change to the industry that could shake up the way reviews are provided in the near future, so Bethesda released a blog post to help explain the shift in company policy:
"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."
Bethesda's statement more or less mirrors the way the publisher handled DOOM reviews earlier this year, so the new policy doesn't come as a total surprise, but rather more of an unexpected one instead. This decision will likely prevent any game reviews of Bethesda releases to be published in time for players to use them as a point of reference when deciding to buy a new launch title, which Bethesda also commented on:
"We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision, and if that's the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts."
Of course, given how much incentive there now is for preordering new game releases, including exclusive missions and other extra content, it's not as simple as fans just waiting to see how reviews shake out for one of their more eagerly anticipated games. While Bethesda's announcement seems to heavily imply the publisher will still offer media outlets hands-on previews and early trailers, it's likely that gamers who trust reviews to provide them with some insight into their purchases simply won't be able to pre-order or buy Bethesda games on launch day any longer.
The new policy begins with Dishonored 2 releasing soon, and the developers have said that Dishonored 2 can't be fully understood in one playthrough - that likely means reviewers will have to play through the game twice, leading to an even longer discrepancy between launch and review content being published. It's a complicated decision, and one Bethesda surely didn't make lightly, so it will be worth following the publisher's next few releases to see how it impacts sales and fan reception.