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.
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.
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.
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.