Has Bethesda’s Review Policy Been Successful?

Last October Bethesda announced that they would stop sending review copies to outlets, in a decision that caused an uproar not only in the media but with consumers as well. Deemed as an anti-consumer decision, it received criticism for alienating gamers, removing their ability to make an informed purchase, something that if we stop to think about, makes sense.

The rise of the popularity of YouTube created a scenario in which some gamers tend to rely less on video games websites and more on famous channels. And Bethesda saw that as an opportunity to free themselves from the need of sending review copies ahead of release, looking to decrease the power of reviews, a situation that would be a dream to any publisher.

We have seen a bigger focus of the company on creating extended demos, as a way to appease consumers, giving them a glimpse of the initial hours. We saw that happening with the release of Dishonored 2 and the Prey reboot, both from Arkane Studios, that provided big chunks of gameplay. Unlike Doom, that in spite of following the same decision was successful, Prey and Dishonored 2 have failed.

Prey

Whereas Doom was successful critically and commercially, the others didn’t manage to appeal to consumers. Dishonored 2 failed to reach the top 10 in the US in November, and Prey only reached no. 5 in a weak month of May. Begging us to think if their policy has worked negatively to Bethesda. Missing the biggest sales window, the first month of release, where games tend to make the bulk of their revenue.

Doom, a franchise with a lot of history, ended up being successful, recognized as one of the best games of last year, both by big outlets and gamers. But that didn’t carry on with the release of Dishonored 2 and Prey, franchises with a smaller market and a focus on stealth, a genre that has struggled to find an audience. They couldn’t capture the mindset of the market, attracting little attention, appearing to have a more positive reception from the media than from gamers.

Troubled PC versions didn’t really help change that situation, as both games wouldn’t run properly on that platform. A big number of refunds also helped to create a negative reception.

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The aftermath of both releases goes to show that only a few games can get away without receiving the review push of major outlets. Bethesda’s track record of releasing quality titles wasn’t enough to make gamers trust that both games could appeal to them. If Rockstar decided to do that, maybe they could be successful.

But no matter the review score they received, both Dishonored 2 and Prey felt like missed opportunities. The first received several game of the year nominations, the latter, a revival of a beloved franchise, that impressed by its world-building and unique style. To see that happening is a real shame, but it can work as a wake-up call to publishers, that can now see that gamers won’t buy their games without having enough information, as they have been burned by that before.

Mafia III was an example, selling more than 4 million copies in its first month following the same model. 2K didn’t send any review copies ahead of launch, and that back fired due to a mixed reception, with many negative reviews. From that moment on, they went on to sell only 500.000 copies since November, stagnating completely.

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Maybe Bethesda will continue with the policy and things will change, but from what we’ve seen, it has failed and damaged two projects of the company. We can only hope that it will change before Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus and The Evil Within 2’s release, before it can affect permanently their image and the goodwill they have. After all, great games deserve to be played by as many people as possible.

 

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E3 Conferences Impressions

This year’s E3 conferences were quite different than past years, despite being good, there wasn’t one who stood out as remarkable or unforgettable. Without many surprising moments that would make the audience go crazy, most of them felt lukewarm, as if companies were keeping their cards close to their chests, or didn’t really have many novelties to show.

Here I’ll talk about them from worst to best, in my opinion, and some things I noticed about how companies are changing some aspects of how they approach their conferences:

EA

As last year, EA came up with the worst presentation, even though it certainly has improved. Many strange and cringy moments happened, mainly because it feels that the company is striving to look cool, trying to talk with the millennial generation without completely understanding it.

Youtubers that had problems with teleprompters,  feet out of place in a presentation willing to appeal not only to customers but also to stakeholders. Sports games would have overly long presentations at times, and yes, it is an integral part of the company strategy and finance, however, a leaner, more dynamic segment would work better for them. Jokes, long introductions, a trailer focusing on eSports also didn’t help the presentation, making it feel longer than it really was.

Battlefront 2’s multiplayer demonstration felt out of place, especially after EA’s focus on the singleplayer campaign ever since its announcement. Revealing that it won’t have a season pass is nice, and the multiplayer does look interesting, but showing just a little bit of the story would feel like a reward after the unimpressive Battlefront.

A way out

Although there were some problems, not all was lost. Need for Speed Payback looked amazing, with a truly great demo, showing a little bit of its mechanics, characters, mission structure, appearing to be a better game than we expected. And the best moment was A Way Out, part of the EA Originals program, a game that shows real innovation, with an unusual and unique gameplay mechanic. Becoming one of the best games to show at the event, with an effective trailer, and a very enthusiastic developer.

Sony

I might be too harsh on them, but after last year’s stellar presentation, this year’s just felt underwhelming. A repetition of the games seen last year, many still remaining without any release dates, a lack of new and exciting titles, and a feeling that something was missing, marked the presentation. By the way, I’m not considering the sound issues, these things happen.

Starting with Naughty Dog and Guerrilla was a smart move, but an Uncharted stand alone game and Horizon DLC doesn’t really hype up the audience. Destiny and Call of Duty being part of it isn’t a surprise, after all, both are expected to be the biggest sellers of the year, but none had an exciting showing.

The same can be said of Monster Hunter World and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, that looks very strange, with last-gen graphics, especially when compared with Street Fighter V and the superb Injustice 2. I have to say that I was surprised that they mentioned VR, with a good number of games, although they still feel more like tech demos than full-fledged games. Please, let’s stop releasing Skyrim on every platform, compared to more modern titles, it doesn’t look great, neither graphically, nor mechanically.

The one surprise of the presentation was the remake of Shadow of the Colossus, that looks incredible, but this one is on me, I can’t muster any excitement over a remake or remaster anymore. Detroit: Become Human is on the verge of saturation for me, it feels like I’ve seen this games more times than I needed too, and the lack of a release date doesn’t feel like a sign we’ll see it soon, probably next year.

God of War had a new trailer that highlighted the story and the relationship with Kratos and his son, what seems to be the part that the developers are giving the most attention to. The trailer itself was good, the story indeed looks intriguing, but the way it was cut was a little strange, I preferred last year’s gameplay chunk.

Days Gone

The best parts for me were the first gameplay reveal of Insomniac’s Spider-Man, and Days Gone, that after last year’s lukewarm presentation, they came out with an unexpected demo. Days Gone with a stunning demo finally gave us more on the background of the game, that may be very promising. God of War will be huge, but the prospect of a The Last of Us with an open world is something to look for. What looked like another zombie game that solely focused on action, now appears to one with a soul, highlighting human relationships, instead of waves of enemies. A game that I couldn’t care less about, became one I’ll keep my eye on, although Bend still hasn’t released anything that impressive.

Spider-Man is a beautiful title that based on the pedigree of the studio behind and what we saw, won’t disappoint. The combat is fluid, the world and the animations are beautiful, and the action set-piece was entertaining, reminding an Uncharted with a superhero as the main character. The high number of QTE’s can be troubling, but we’ll only find out next year, earlier than expected.

Bethesda

It started in a great way, with developers and their kids talking about what they did for a living and their excitement over games, something that was quite strange, as Bethesda’s game tend to be very violent, but it was fresh, funny and why not, cute. Then a video presentation started with great animation, showing the lineup of Bethesda, it was short, straight to the point, and very pleasant. However, the more I think about it, the less I like it.

Everything that was anticipated was there, Skyrim is coming out again, now in VR, Doom too, Elder Scrolls online, Legends were part of the presentation, but nothing that stood out. Quake legends appealed to the eSports side of the game. Dishonored DLC looked great, like every Dishonored trailer, with a very cool twist on the story, that may have some serious repercussion in the future of the franchise.

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The 2 surprises that ended up not surprising anybody, were the highlights. The Evil Within 2 had a very curious trailer that focused on the struggles of the leading character, the impact of his past on his life, and apparently, on his mind. With a beautiful soundtrack and a striking visual style, it showed great promise.

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus came with a long trailer that never ceased to amaze. The graphics are mesmerizing, the story fascinating. It’s nice to see that MachineGames appears to have improved on every area. The New Order was a great game, but The New Colossus may take the franchise a step further, with crazy characters, charismatic villains, and visceral action.

Microsoft

Unlike Bethesda, the more I think about Microsoft’s conference, the more I like it. When it ended I was completely deflated, mainly due to the lack of a massive AAA announcement of an exclusive for their new console, but pondering on what was presented, there were some very interesting games. Cuphead finally got a release date and a feature long awaited, OG Xbox backwards compatibility was announced.

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It started with the reveal of the Xbox One X, formerly known as Project Scorpio, that looks very slick in spite of being a lot more powerful than the original Xbox One, actually, it is smaller than the S model. The price is way too high, eliminating any chance to compete with the PS4 Pro, that may have fewer teraflops, but has better exclusives, let’s face it. Especially if multiplatform games don’t run that better on the X.

They promised to show more than 40 games, 22 exclusives, however many were timed exclusives, and others didn’t really impress the audience. Like The Newton Project and Lucky’s Tale, that felt generic and uninteresting. What was curious about the conference was that there were a significant number of good games, with a little bit for everybody, and that’s why I liked it.

First-party titles looked great, but nothing close to the size of a Halo or Gears. State of Decay 2 looks like an AAA title now, with many possibilities, although I would prefer a gameplay demo instead of the trailer shown, it felt a little long. Forza 7 is more beautiful than ever, it just didn’t make a lot of noise because everyone knew it would come out.

We saw Crackdown 3 after years of silence, bringing Terry Crews to the trailer, and the game, the letdown was that we didn’t see much of the title. Sea of Thieves had a much better showing than last year, with a mission that displayed the new features of the game, a little bit of the team aspect, finally revealing more about what it is all about.

Phil Spencer’s trip to Japan really worked out well for the company, a section was devoted to Japanese titles, with Dragon Ball Fighter Z standing out in a completely unexpected way.

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But the highlights for me were clearly The Last Night, an indie game that combines a beautiful world that resembles Blade Runner, using a pixel art aesthetic, attracting a lot of attention for its beauty and mysterious world. Assassin’s Creed Origins brought the franchise back to E3 after a year off, and it looked like that decision paid off, new features were shown, combat has changed, Egypt looks impressive, leaving some hope that the franchise might have a bright future ahead.

A Life is Strange prequel was revealed, and that was the moment in which I really got excited, in spite of the fact that Chloe’s voice actress has changed, it was nice to see the franchise being recognized on a big stage. And to finish things off, Anthem, the new Bioware IP had their gameplay reveal, and it looked amazing, maybe too beautiful at times. But the changes of gameplay that happened seamlessly were impressive, the world hypnotizing, it looked like a Destiny with a more fleshed out world and story.

Nintendo

I was baffled with how much I enjoyed Nintendo’s conference, given that I’m not somebody who really cares about their games or even consoles. The last one I had was a Super Nintendo, and for the first time since the SNES, I’m thinking about buying a console from them.

Their spotlight was short, effective, showed new games, and had a different feeling than the other companies had. The beginning was a little strange with a trailer focusing on the Switch, followed by Reggie Fils-Aime reflected on game and life, something that was funny, quickly proceeding to the games.

And here is where Nintendo always shines, their games don’t really have a story, but they have a trademark style. Starting with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a huge RPG that is exclusive to the console, looking massive, diverse and beautiful. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle looks like XCOM for kids, with a stunning art style, and a gameplay that genuinely looks fun.

New games of Kirby, Yoshi were shown, with different mechanics that work around the genre they’re in. They talked more about Breath of the Wild’s DLC, shedding some light on what could be expected from now on. Two projects stole the show, a Pokémon RPG is coming to Switch, and we expect for it to be a massive game, and Metroid Prime 4, that appears to be at the very beginning of its development cycle.

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The grand finale was the bizarre Super Mario Odyssey, and how crazy is that game. Taking the approach of bigger worlds, we managed to see the game running for the first time, and it reminds 64 and Sunshine, with open landscapes, a looser experience. And the hat, that we finally understand why was highlighted, allowing you to possess the body of any character in the world, creating endless possibilities for puzzles, representing something new to the genre. As I said, it was short, there weren’t dozens of games, but the ones that were shown were meaningful projects, in an E3 that felt lukewarm.

Ubisoft

I might be biased as I tend to enjoy their conferences, and the company as a whole, they make mistakes but they look honest, and I feel that this year they showed that. What an improvement when compared to last year, instead of overly long demonstrations, we saw a much better-structured show, if it was sports, it would’ve gotten the most improved player award.

Just Dance didn’t have a long dance routine that would bore everybody, it was short and swift. The way it started was brilliant, bringing Shigeru Miyamoto to the stage to talk about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and to see the emotion and the passion of the developers was truly remarkable. Although the Rabbids can be very annoying at times, the presence of Mario balances that, in a game that looks delightful to play.

Assassin’s Creed Origins had a smaller presence, after appearing with an extended gameplay on Microsoft’s stage. Here was the strangest moment, when we were shown someone playing on a screen announcing a gameplay that would air after the conference, it just didn’t make any sense.

The Crew 2 was impressive, with many different styles of racing, planes, boats, cars, a beautiful world, and an Inception style effect. It feels like a much-improved title, looking like another case of Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs 2 syndrome.

Some moments didn’t land, South Park appeared again, an Elijah Wood project didn’t have a lot of details revealed, Steep has DLC, and a toys-to-life game was announced, long after the genre died.

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A new game based on pirate life, Skull & Bones, surprised the audience, looking like the Black Flag spin-off we were all waiting for. Naval battles with a multiplayer focus, in a beautiful world, and the possibility of creating a pirate squad, that’s not bad. Far Cry 5 continues to look like a significant improvement over Far Cry 4, that felt tired. More options to use NPC’s as part of the missions, hiring friends to help you, a world that responds to your actions, it appears to be a real sequel.

To end things off, they brought Beyond Good & Evil 2 back from the dead. With a new look, characters, feel, working as a prequel to Jade’s adventure. To see Michel Ansel tearing up on stage was truly special, it was nice to see that in such a rich industry you can see love for what they do. Whether we’ll actually play it we’re not sure, but it was great to see such a beloved franchise making a comeback, let’s hope that for good now.

A few things that caught my attention:

  • Every company is crazy to get their share of eSports.
  • Long gameplay demos became more scarce, it feels that companies are preferring gameplay trailers.
  • Microsoft didn’t talk about new features and Game Pass.
  • Companies are looking to make open worlds more responsive, reacting to your actions, like in GTA V.
  • Some are taking the Nintendo approach, making the conferences shorter, usually lasting less than one hour, with minimal presence from executives, like Bethesda and Sony did.
  • Speaking of Sony, it was strange to see that Hidden Agenda, the new Supermassive project, was part of the pre-show, especially when their VR projects, that looked much worse, took the main stage. And it is intriguing to see the downfall of Gran Turismo, that was too a part of the pre-show. We’re talking about the highest-selling franchise Sony has, and it is astonishing that it wasn’t part of the main show.

 

What’s Behind Bethesda’s Decision To Withhold Review Copies

Last week an announcement from Bethesda sparked controversy, the decision to stop sending review copies to media outlets, youtubers, influencers as a whole. From the standpoint of journalists, it came as another stone thrown at websites that have been losing relevance in the industry, as youtube emerges as the main source of news for consumers. For youtubers it can affect their views, given that they will lose the leverage of posting material ahead of release. But what does Bethesda gain from that strategy?

Any company will impede anybody from saying something negative about their product, if given the choice, and it definitely feels like an example of this situation. Even though reviews have lost importance throughout the years, they still are the most reliable source for consumers to make an informed purchase. With those stories bringing more traffic than any other, and here’s another reason why these sites gave such a poor reception to this news, as they won’t post reviews early, with the number of reviews-in-progress increasing as a result of that.

But behind every decision from a major company, there’s a lot of study and research. And the release of Doom probably was their test prior to adopting this practice. No review copies were sent to the media, with many expecting a troubled title, especially because a lot of games in the same situation proved to be quite underwhelming. Assassin’s Creed Unity being one of the recent examples, plagued by bugs, becoming famous for the absurd amount, that almost permanently damaged the brand.

And it came as a surprise that Doom had a great reception, receiving great reviews, and being regarded by many as a game of the year contender. From what we can see, the test was very successful, proving that media coverage on release doesn’t necessarily equates as a rise of sales, actually going the other way. Without these first impressions, that may as well be negative, every company will be able to spare their projects from any unwanted effects on the first week of sales, the strongest and most important, and especially on pre-orders.

Nowadays they represent a huge source of revenue for publishers, with the pre-order culture being a vital part of the industry. And negative media can really hurt the sales of a title, with reservations being cancelled due to the revelation of a title being filled with bugs, glitches, or that doesn’t live to the up to the hype created by the marketing campaign.

Bethesda is in a privileged position, that only a small number of companies is, like Rockstar for example, of having a lot of goodwill with gamers. With huge multi-million selling franchises, that generate interest for years, with the Skyrim remaster being regarded as a big release in a Fall season filled with long-awaited games.

For many it isn’t a consumer-friendly decision, and they are the most important part of this equation. They can stop pre-ordering games from the company, wait and see in order to make a more informed choice. If Bethesda realizes that this experiment was poorly received and affected their sales, they will go back to normal.

But if this strategy ends up being fruitful to them, a lot of companies will likely follow suit, controlling the information on the first weeks of a project. Diminishing the influence of the media on a release like never before, and that’s the dream for any company, no matter if it is a consumer-friendly, after all, they are not doing charity, they are after profit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The only person that can revert this decision is the consumer, that can vote with his strongest weapon, his wallet.

 

 

 

E3 Expectations (Part 1)

It’s the best time of the year for gamers, our “Super Bowl”, “Christmas”, E3 has arrived and it begins today with EA’s and Bethesda’s conferences, and what can we expect from this year’s event? New hardware? The beginning of the end for E3? Surprises? Or just leaks confirmations? We’ll discuss here what we wish we’ll see there.

EA

Known for playing it safe and rarely presenting any surprises, this year seems like another opportunity for the company to show gameplays and possible minor changes in their franchises, what to expect:

Battlefield 1 gameplay: In last month reveal event we had a taste of the game, with a very interesting trailer, but with little gameplay and even though it was in-engine, it doesn’t mean that showed the real graphics capability of the game, and it will be nice to better understand how the close combat scenario will work in the franchise.

Mass Effect Andromeda reveal: After being in development for more than 5 years, it looks like we’ll have a first look of how the gameplay, world, graphics have changed after being built from the ground up to this generation, especially after some leaked videos showing some interesting innovations like a jetpack, and the possibilities brought by a new galaxy and a new leading character.

Fifa 17 changes: The first game of EA’s sports games to use the Frostbite, they’ll probably show how it’s has changed being powered by a new engine, and a possible reveal of the long rumoured reimagined career story mode.

Amy Hennig’s Star Wars: In a recent interview, Jade Raymond, head of Motive, that has been working with Visceral in Amy Hennig’s Star Wars project, said that the game still was a few years ahead, but we can hope that EA will at least show a teaser trailer of the project, expected to be released in Fall 2017, especially due to the high expectations the market has towards the game.

Titanfall 2 campaign: Despite being a great first entry for a franchise, Titanfall suffered for not having a campaign to explain the world behind the maps, and producers of the sequel promised a real campaign, that has been bringing a lot of expectations to it, most notably because of the team behind it, responsible for Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare’s revolutionary campaign.

Bioware’s new franchise: A story that baffled the media happened a few months ago, when a Bioware was wearing a shirt that revealed the studio’s new IP, and to his own amusement, nobody realized it, and even though it may be a long shot, there’s a possibility it could be teased in Sunday’s conference.

IndiEA: After Unravel’s success, getting a sequel, we might see new indie project from the publisher, especially a reveal of the announced game the Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons creators.

New Skate (Please): It’s a long shot but we can alway hope, the best skated franchise in the marked, sorry Tony Hawk, deserves a new sequel produced to this generation that can’t be represented on the skate genre by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.

Bethesda

After being the surprise conference of last year, being regarded by many as the best, Bethesda surprisingly returns with another conference that despite not having a lot to show in the beginning, in the past week had some very surprising rumours about:

Dishonored 2 world premiere: The game will be shown for the first time after an enticing CG trailer, the sequel to a successful new IP, both critically and commercially, it promises to be even bigger and more impressive than the first one, with 2 protagonists, a bigger world and new ways to go through each mission.

Possible Skyrim remaster: After being longed by the franchises fans, it looks like we’ll finally see a Skyrim remaster to this generation, and this rumour came from a reliable industry insider, and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched, especially because Fallout 4 team remastered the title to become used with this generation machines.

Evil Within 2: Since the release of Evil Within, Tango Gameworks hasn’t released any news regarding a new project, and rumours floated claiming that a sequel might be presented in the company conference.

Wolfenstein 2: With the successful revival of the franchise, it might be a perfect time for a sequel announcement, since it’s been more than 2 years since The New Order’s release, MachineGames has released an expansion pack, The Old Blood, and a possible sequel might be revealed with a date for beginning of 2017.

Prey 2 Rebirth: Revealed in 2011, Prey 2 had an impressive reveal a few years ago presenting a beautiful game with a fast-paced gameplay in an open-world, but as far as we know the project was cancelled, according to rumours because of an impossibility of achieving the same quality in the game as in the demo, but according to an industry insider, the game will come back in this year’s conference, and using a more powerful machine the developers may have finally reached what they aspired at first.

Microsoft

Amidst reports of new hardware, Microsoft still needs to show a strong presentation, specially after Sony’s last year conference focusing on fan service, revealing games long requested by gamers.

New hardware: Still not confirmed by the company, reports claim that the company will show 2 new models of the Xbox One, a slim one with 2TB, and a more powerful one, as the PS4 Neo, codenamed Scorpio, due to release in 2017, as well as a streaming device, under the leadership of Phil Spencer we suppose they’ll have a smoother presentation than the infamous Xbox One reveal event.

Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2: The 2 biggest Xbox franchises are scheduled to appear in the conference will a new gameplay o GOW 4, hoping to clear the bad impression left by last year’s demo, and the first gameplay footage of Halo Wars 2, that’s being produced by the studio that produces Total War, regarded as one of the best strategy games of the market, as well as the announcement of an open beta, with both games expected to be part of the Fall lineup of the company.

Forza Horizon 3: Speaking of Fall, a new Forza game will be announced, and if they follow their pattern, Forza Horizon 3 will be announced as another Fall game, with a possible Australian Coast setting, serving as a follow-up to a beautiful Mediterranean setting in the great Forza Horizon 2, as well as new innovations to the franchise.

Rare presence: After a trailer that caught the eyes of long time fans of the studio, Sea of Thieves is set to make a return to the E3 stage, showing gameplay footage of the Pirate open world MMO game, that was highly praised as a possible comeback to Rare’s old days, another possibility, but with a smaller chance is of the reveal of another project from the English studio, possibly a Battletoads revival or a new Banjo game, specially after the latest Yooka-Laylee trailer showing signs that it may happen in the Banjo universe.

Recore and Crackdown: Present in last year’s conference, both games are expected to come back with Recore being shown after a quiet year since last year’s reveal of a CG trailer, with the expectation of the company showing gameplay of the mysterious game, and Crackdown is expected to show more about the its story and the impressive technology behind the game, creating a destructive environment like never seen before.

Red Read 3 and Dead Rising 4: Last week leaks of Dead Rising 4 surfaced with alleged Gamestop posters outing a new entry of zombie franchise being exclusive to Xbox One and PC, and a possibility that has gained force is of a Red Dead 3 reveal in the Xbox conference with a possible backward compatibility announcement attached to it, that has long been requested as one of the most desired by fans.