Wednesday, October 26, 2016

New "Review" Trend Could Affect How Frequently You Pre-Order Games

So there's a new trend going on recently with game developers that could push you to pre-order more instead of less. Bethesda, Fallout and Dishonored, announced on their website yesterday that they are not sending out games for media reviews until 1 day prior to the product's release. They cite Doom as their test, having sold well and receive great reviews even though people were unsure about the product given how very late the company issued copies out to media. Bethesda plans to continue this for upcoming titles, such as the Skyrim Special Edition.

But Bethesda is not alone. A number of gaming companies, big and small, are doing the same thing. 2K Games for it's fall releases of Mafia III and Civilization VI didn't provide the media with anything until less then 24 hours before the game was on store shelves. EA has been testing it this year with their smaller titles, and so has Ubisoft. Media site Kotaku has been tracking the trend and it could put a new burden on gamers as well as game reviewers.

Though YouTubers and Twitch streamers with huge followings seem to be exempt from this shift. A number of companies are putting their marketing dollars into those outlets over traditional media platforms as more people tune into the Markplier and PewDiePie for their gaming content. YouTuber Grohlvana received a copy of Skyrim's new version a month before launch to make videos and promote the game. The rest of the media was out of the loop until the day before. And it makes sense from the developer/publisher perspective. Why give a game to a media outlet that may pan it when you can give it to a fan who will be thrilled to have it early and will talk it up without any encouragement?

And games being release early to the media will sometimes be at a disadvantage. In a number of cases these days, games offer day one patches and extensive online systems that can't be fairly judged. It doesn't allow the game to get a full, comprehensive play when media outlets try to rush the review before the game's release. This is also why you're seeing more news sits like Polygon and IGN having "pre-reviews" and "provisional reviews" with the intent to add to the content later after the game's release. Does this work for all games? Of course not. It should be a game by game basis, but it's easy to understand why devs/publishers are holding back on releasing games to the media.

Of course there are negatives to attribute to this change as well. Eventually gamers are going to have less resources to count on when it comes to finding information about a game. Review embargoes (where publishers ban media outlets from releasing reviews until a specific date) already make it a little difficult for gamers to determine if a product is worth their money - wherein they either pre-order the game before reviews or wait until after the reviews are released. Because of the pre-order culture around games, more often then not people choose the former option. To have a ban on sending early copies to media outlets now puts the customer in a more precarious position. Do they pre-order? Do they wait? Do they spend extra money to get into betas (See Battlefield 1) so they can test the game before buying it?

It also means that more media outlets are now going to bum rush reviews to get them out on release dates. Overlooked game content, limited multiplayer access, and brief game sessions are going to curtail good, responsible reviewers. All in the sake of having that "day 1" upload to the media site they work for. And maybe that's good for the developer? It means that reviewers are going to gloss over mistakes and create generic reviews that may spur more sales. But it's also a downfall for reviewers that care about the quality of their work. They will not have the time to sit and reflect on a game in order to meet deadlines. Three weeks to review a product compared to three hours is a big difference. Big. Mega. Huge, in fact.

In an age where reviewers and more gamers are working against the pre-order culture, game companies are fighting back with more provisions to entice people to still pre-order. It's going to be a rough few years ahead of us.

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