By now you have probably heard the news: Bethesda has stopped giving out early review copies and codes of their games altogether and a lot of people seem to be rather upset about it, but really you have to question why. Over the years has become more and more obvious that typical games journalism is not a reliable source, for those who want to get the game day one, when it comes to making an informed opinion. From broken multiplayer to game-breaking glitches that are missed by the game reviewers, sometimes by intent, other times simply because the retail launch has not hit yet and the servers did not account for the player load. Currently an early review is almost as reliable as a blind pre-order, you simply can not trust them.
Now this isn't to say that all reviewers can't be trusted, this is saying that there are currently too many bad reviewers who would rather push an agenda to be able to base a pre-order or day one purchases on through early reviews. To be clear, and I hope many of my readers feel the same, I believe you should not buy a game until at least several days after release. Though my personal exception to that rule has always been "Pokemon", feel free to lynch me in the comments below.
Many early reviews don't even account for differences in PC and console versions, which have lead to many upset PC gamers in the past: seen with game releases like "Batman: Arkham Knight".
Really An Inexcusable PC Port On Release
Bethesda however does not seem to be denying free review copies of their games, just early review copies. Which is both within their rights but also kind of sad, as it is still giving special privileges to people who are simply blessed by being more popular then lesser known websites or Youtube channels. A free game is no joke when it comes to getting out a review as fast as possible, commanding a lot of views which is something many websites strive for to help with their ad revenue.
There is just a touch of sarcasm here, I understand, to an extent that games media outlets need free copies: Though I will further explain why I do not completely see a lack of early review copies as anti-consumer.
People who claim this is anti-consumer, such as Jim Sterling, say things like this hurts gamers. I have to ask: How? At this point, you genuinely have to ask yourself that question. Gaming websites have a single goal: to get as many clicks and eyes on them as possible for ad deals, ad revenue, patreon money, whatever. Honestly, this has become so common practice that I would say reviews by traditional games media are almost inherently anti-consumer. Games journalism repeatedly tries to create one of two things: They either manufacture controversy, or they manufacture hype either through political agenda, or that sweet want for cold hard cash.
While trusting publishers and developers is definitely something any gamer shouldn't do blindly, every gaming website out there has an incentive to do whatever they can to get clicks. This can include lying about the game being reviewed and giving it a bad score to create a false controversy over an otherwise good game, under the guise of a difference of opinion. Or perhaps giving a good score when something is most definitely a bad game. Really, if they did either of those things how would you know without insider knowledge on par with trying to hack into the secret files of the DNC?
Recent political event humor aside, that is the beauty of an industry such as games journalism that has flourished without necessarily needing to meet any standards for the review process. They can shroud any of their reviews under the guise of a difference of opinion and act untouchable over it.
Early reviews have really become kind of pointless. It doesn't do anything to help gamers in a lot of ways and they have not really shown themselves to be a great motivation for pre-ordering and day one purchases. You can look at the sheer number of pre-orders "Fallout 4" got months before the game even had gameplay footage as just one example. John Bain, also known as Totalbiscuit, has advocated for having as many opinions as possible to help inform gamers when it comes to their purchasing decisions. He also views this practice of no early review copies as anti-consumer.
A million opinions throwing out different numbers, citing different things the game is or isn't, and consumers are supposed to benefit from this? How much are they going to have to sift through? Without some sort of curation process, this could be hours of work and they still wouldn't have an informed outlook. On top of all this, especially when it comes to early review copies, there is no way to cross reference it with the opinions of the people who bought the game if you are in fact going to buy it early. You have to take a leap of faith that the early reviewers got it right and of course, we all know how great early reviews have been when it comes to things like video games right? I mean just look at "No Man's Sky".
It is so hard to view this as anti-consumer because the reviews we are getting these days from games journalism are almost equally, if not more, anti-consumer for a different list of reasons. It is not because what Bethesda is doing isn't anti-consumer, but because the early reviews by games journalists have for a long time not been using this otherwise good thing for a pro-consumer purpose. They have been using it to manufacture controversy or hype and incorrectly represent the games. Of course, I can't call them out on it because "It's not their fault, it's a difference of opinion!". I'm not saying that what Bethesda has done is good, I am saying that what they have done just isn't as bad as people think it is.
Name some games media websites out there that deserve free, early copies of games that have not used this wonderful gift of early review copies to instead manufacture either controversy or hype for the sake of more views. Why do game reviewers deserve an early copy of the game, or even a free review copy at all? For the benefit of the consumer? Isn't it kind of hard to call early review copies pro-consumer, when so many outlets have time and time again not done things for the benefit of us, the gamers? Don't get me wrong I want to be as informed as possible, but games journalism has not instilled within me the level of trust I would need to say that they are informing me.
Early Reviews Totally Informed Us
Something few people have talked about in regards to all of this is how anti-competition early review copies have always been. Since early review copies are given to select individuals and gaming websites, anyone who is trying to get their foot in the door within the gaming reviews and games media sphere needs to get lucky to see any of the traffic that might come with getting a new game review pushed out as soon as possible: because someone else already got a review out a week before. This ensures new games media outlets and personalities have a harder go to start because they start at a distinct disadvantage compared to what is already popular.
Now this is not to say that early review copies can't be used to benefit those who are intended to buy it, on the contrary, it has every opportunity to be beneficial to all of us. It is quite unfortunate that many games media outlets have so squandered their trust by gamers that pre-ordering has become just about as reliable as an early review, for the purpose of getting the game at release. Why call this anti-consumer, when games journalism has shown itself not to care about the consumer either? I can resonate on some level with TotalBiscuit's feelings:
I am tired of publishers, developers and games journalists constantly doing things that go against gamers best interests. I am tired of talking about it, and I promise you I will stop talking about it when the day comes I no longer need to.