Bethesda Softworks has confirmed that they will continue distributing copies of their games to press only one day before their release. The company explained that they will “continue to work with media, streamers, and YouTubers to support their coverage”, and that they “want everyone… to experience [their] games at the same time”. The developer intends to continue implementing this policy with their upcoming release of Dishonored 2, and just recently launched Skyrim Special Edition without sending developers early review copies. Bethesda hopes that players who make their purchasing decisions based on reviews will “wait for [their] favorite reviewers to share their thoughts”.
Review copies, which have traditionally been distributed to media far in advance of release, are essential to press sites, allowing them to deliver their opinions and judgements on games. The aggregate of the scores featured in these reviews is calculated on sites such as Metacritic, giving many gamers a general idea of a game’s quality close to it’s release. Held back review copies tend to worry both critics and gamers, sometimes inciting fears of a company’s distrust in their own product. Bethesda’s own DOOM, released earlier this year with a similar distribution of review copies, now appears to have been a sign of what was to come from the publisher.
The stance Bethesda is taking on review copies should be concerning to gamers. Holding back varying press outlets from being to do their job in a timely manner could create rushed and/or delayed opinions. In addition, companies are more likely to receive better sales and retain more pre-orders when the verdict is still out on a game’s quality, incentivizing them to curtail public opinion for as long as possible. Though not all games with withheld review copies end up being of poor quality (DOOM recieved rave reviews), it’s a mistake to think that this policy is pro-consumer. Let’s hope that Bethesda’s policy does not signal a trend that other publishers continue, as it could spell disaster for discerning gamers everywhere.