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.

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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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What’s Going on With the AAA Market?

2016 was a very strange year worldwide, it seems that we’re living a depressing moment everywhere. The gaming industry is not immune to this feeling, seeing reflections especially when it comes to sales. For some reason, the AAA market seems to be the most affected and analysts can’t really put a finger on why we’re seeing a decrease in revenue, and why so many franchises are underachieving.

While October presented an increase in software sales in the US, accruing $539 million, a 36% increase over the same period last year, in November, the biggest month when it comes to sales, we saw an 18% decrease,  reaching $955.2 million. With the biggest release, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare reaching the top spot, but selling approximately 50% of what its predecessor, Black Ops III did.

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Yes, you didn’t have Fallout, Battlefront to compete this year, but it is a significant drop. Many people talk about a possible crisis in the industry, that may be going through a franchise fatigue as a whole, but to claim that would be too simplistic. A lot of the franchises that underperformed have a troubled track record with consumers.

Call of Duty, for example, producing titles every year, without any major innovations for a while now, campaigns that don’t reach the same level as the Modern Warfare series did, a multiplayer that feels unchanged, is an example of this apparent fatigue. It can still be in first place, but the hype and excitement around it only get smaller.

Titanfall 2, that was sent to die, also burned players, by providing a first entry that was great, but fairly empty, without enough content to keep players for long, as what happened with Star Wars: Battlefront. The sequel also had a beta that left a bitter taste, and despite being considered one of the best of the year, it didn’t manage to capture the attention of consumers. But we might see a recovery after it charted both in October and November, but we can’t say that’s enough, given that is was released on more platforms than the first.

Watch Dogs 2 had a very difficult task ahead, overcoming the hate around their arrival in the gaming market. With little marketing to promote it, it was another game with little awareness, that failed to reach the same success, despite its quality. And it seems to be recovering after peaking at number 8 in the US, climbing positions in the UK, possibly being a slow burn, that will hardly match the success of the first Watch Dogs.

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Even Dishonored 2, that has received rave reviews, and improved in every possible way compared to its predecessor, failed to chart in the NPD. And this pattern keeps repeating, and we keep seeing major franchises failing to meet expectations.

It’s not only about quality

Poor decisions from publishers are a huge part of that too. Releasing games that lack the power behind the brand against established names. Although they have sold very well at first, Dishonored and Titanfall don’t have the force to fight Call of Duty, Battlefield. Like what happened to the great Sunset Overdrive, a new IP in the Fall Season, and even huge franchises, such as Tomb Raider, that couldn’t compete with Fallout 4. Doom, Overwatch, Dying Light are examples of a smart strategy, choosing months that are slower instead of launching in a crowded season.

And the overall moment that we are going through as a society can be another reason behind this apparent decrease in gamers interest. The landscape doesn’t appear to be very positive. Many countries are still going through a major crisis, as for example, the BRICS, with Brazil being the biggest example. Political, social, economic instabilities are affecting our society.

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Brexit, the migrant crisis that still persists, police brutality, fear of terrorism and the US presidential campaign are some of the reasons why entertainment is suffering. NFL ratings have fallen in an unexpected way, the gaming industry is producing less revenue, the blockbuster season saw many movies failing. Markets around the globe, from Asia to South America, saw a steep fall after Trump’s confirmation as the next American president. A leader that we have no idea how he’ll behave, like a shrewd business man, or as a racist, xenophobic, megalomaniac bully against other nations.

We saw the population being afraid as it hasn’t been in years, including big companies, that in face of a negative landscape, fired employees, withdraw their operations from countries in crisis, diminished investments. And that also affects the purchasing power of consumers, that being unsure about their future,  choose to spend less on entertainment.

The quality of games, an exaggerated number of releases, tainted brands are part of the problem. But the geopolitics are also a big part of it, in a moment of crisis, entertainment loses importance, and despite our love and fondness towards games, it remains as a luxury, something that we can live without. Gaming may be going through a crisis but so is the world, that is changing in ways that we can’t even fathom.