Traditionally, when game publishers are interested in day-one game reviews, they’ll work with various media outlets to help them secure advance copies so they can have a review ready by launch day.
But today, one publisher—Bethesda Softworks—has seemingly shot down that idea for good.
In a post on the company blog, Bethesda global content lead Gary Steinman writes that following the launch of Doom earlier this year, it will now be company policy to only supply review copies of games to media outlets a day in advance.
It’s not an entirely surprising move since Bethesda has expressed a somewhat negative attitude towards press and reviewers in recent years, but it also seems that Bethesda is making this policy official to draw a distinction between reviews and Let’s Plays/Streams of its games.
As some other writers have pointed out, Bethesda has already issued copies of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Special Edition to YouTubers, allowing them to showcase the first two hours of play (and who are possibly less likely to be critical of the game).
What’s also interesting here is that Bethesda is far from the only company to have this kind of review policy, but it’s one of the few to actually acknowledge it exists. Blizzard for instance, hasn’t sent out review copies of its games for the last few years, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and 2K have been recently reluctant as well.
Part of the reason might be that Bethesda is interested in stemming discussions on if the delayed review copies are an indication of a game's final quality. Steinam does allude to this (while also trumping up the success of Doom).
"We sent review copies to arrive the day before launch, which led to speculation about the quality of the game," Steinam writes. "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."
This move has drawn some criticism from the press, not just for possibly making their lives more difficult, but also for the fact that Bethesda seems be joining EA in allowing players to pay for 1-day early access to its games. This means players might lack some transparency in knowing the game’s quality before making a purchase of their own.
Steinman does seem to have anticipated this criticism, and writes “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.”
Bethesda also isn’t the first company this year to make waves for visibly prioritizing YouTubers over traditional media outlets. Sony for instance, gave YouTuber PewDiePie access to the long-awaited game The Last Guardian months before its official release.